What’s more Hollywood than the Hollywood Sign? It’s seemingly featured in every California movie that takes place south of San Francisco, those big whitewashed letters lying against the hills like the world’s coolest tattoo.
Today, the sign is emblematic of Los Angeles and one of the city’s proudest cultural monuments. Although it originally had nothing to do with the movies, it is now intertwined with the cinematic glow that illuminates everything in LA.
So, naturally, you’re going to want a picture of it. If you’re planning a trip to the City of Angels, we’ve got you covered with 11 of the best spots from which to view the sign as well as several FAQs to make planning easier.
But first, let’s take a little trip down Memory Lane…
A Brief History of the Hollywood Sign
There’s a reason the Hollywood Sign is such an institution: it is now officially 100 years old. And it has amassed a lot of history in that time.
“Since its installation on a hill overlooking Los Angeles in 1923, the Hollywood sign has served as a billboard for a real estate development, a backdrop for countless films and television shows, and a decaying reminder of silver screen excess,” explains Smithsonian Magazine.
It was never intended as a tourist destination, though, and isn’t even located in Hollywood, but can rather be seen from the neighborhood. In actuality, it’s in the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood, atop Mount Lee.
Why the sign, then? It was originally installed as an advertisement for a housing concern named “Hollywoodland.”
If you dig around on the internet, you can still find pictures of it. However, that development never came to be, dying as so many things did at the hands of the Great Depression.
By the 1960s, adds the sign’s official website, “Hollywood’s once-proud Sign now served as a glaring badge of dis-honor – rusted, dilapidated, soon to literally crumble under its own weight.” By the 1970s, it was losing letters to old age, and an arsonist had set fire to one of the Ls.
In an unlikely turn of events, Hugh Hefner stepped in to save the day, holding an auction to raise the money to rebuild the sign from new. Since then – 1978 was the year – it has stood as a proud landmark above the city.
11 Options for Seeing the Sign
Today, the sign is a testament to all that is glitzy and glamorous about the city. Well-maintained, bright, and bold, it’s a popular tourist attraction both because it’s so well-known and because, let’s face it, it just makes a dang good shot.
“But from where?” you’re wondering. Wait no longer… here are 11 of our favorite options for seeing and photographing the sign.
1. Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory is a classic LA destination, sitting atop the hills amidst the beautiful surroundings of Griffith Park. More than 4,200 acres in expanse, it is one of the largest municipal green spaces in the country (compare that to 840 for Central Park).
From the observatory grounds, which are themselves gorgeous and Instagrammable, you’ll have an amazing view of the Hollywood Sign. Make sure to take the DASH Observatory Bus, which leaves every 20 minutes and will save you the headache of finding a parking spot at the top.
2. Ovation Hollywood
A large shopping and entertainment center in the Hollywood neighborhood, Ovation Hollywood was formerly known as Hollywood & Highland.
Today, it’s a mecca for those who love movies, boutiques, and dining – and the perfect stop to add to your vacation itinerary. Make sure to stop by the Dolby Theater, which has hosted the Oscars for decades.
You’ll also find the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the TCL Chinese Theatre, and countless other forms of entertainment. This is also one of the best places to see the Hollywood Sign.
There are multiple viewpoints at Ovation Hollywood, the grandest of which is from the 4th-level bridge. You can capture a perfectly framed shot from this high-up vantage point, and while the day away in comfort at the same time.
3. The Hollywood Reservoir
The Hollywood Reservoir – more colloquially known as Lake Hollywood – is a 2.5-billion-gallon reservoir in the Santa Monica Mountains. It is beautiful in its own right, and a walk there will also bring you to great vantage points of the Hollywood Sign.
Take the 3-mile loop around the reservoir, an easy path that will bring you past interesting architecture and eventually to Mulholland Dam. There, you can look across the lake to see the sign sitting at the summit of Mount Lee.
4. Lake Hollywood Park
Located about 15 minutes from the Hollywood Reservoir and 30 minutes from Griffith Observatory, Lake Hollywood Park is another popular destination for sign viewing.
It sports another clear view of the sign, mounted on the hills above the park’s green spaces. Note: the park is in a residential area. Make sure to drive safely, park responsibly, and watch out for children.
5. The Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl is an amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills, famous as an orchestral and concert venue. Spin up there in a car and stop near Highland Avenue for great views of the sign, only 9 minutes from the reservoir.
6. Sunset Ranch Hollywood
To see the sign from Sunset Ranch, you’ll need to take one of their inimitable tours. As the only horse ranch within the boundaries of Greater Los Angeles, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth when you hop on horseback here – and the views of the signs from below couldn’t be more beautiful.
7. Barnsdall Art Park
Olive Hill’s Barnsdall Art Park offers the perfect combination of serene setting and excellent views. Its 11-acre grounds offer views of the city as well as the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory across the way.
8. The Beachwood Café
According to their website, the Beachwood Café offers “fresh farm-to-table fare in the historic Beachwood Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles.” From its adorable grounds, you can peep the sign in between trees, which makes for a real cutie of a photo.
Don’t forget to try some of the noshes, btw. From delicious sandwiches to flaky pastries to perfectly turned barista drinks, the café has thousands of 5-star ratings on Google for a reason!
9. Best Hiking Trails for Sign Viewing
Many trails lead you up into the hills and within good photographing distance of the sign. These include the Burbank Peak, Bush Canyon, Innsdale, and Griffith Observatory Trails. From these trails, you can see the sign from various angles, as well as sweeping views of the hills and city.
10. Best Hotel Rooftops for Seeing the Sign
There are plenty of hotel rooftops throughout the city where you can also get a good snap of the sign. These include Bar Lis, the Highlight Room at Dream Hollywood, the Mama Shelter, the WET Deck at W Hollywood, and I|O Rooftop at The Godfrey Hotel Hollywood.
Make sure to call ahead and check if you need a reservation at any of these places, and take notice of the dress code, which varies by establishment. Plan to purchase drinks and/or a meal in exchange for the privilege of viewing the sign and other amazing LA views.
11. Overhead Views: The Aerial Tour Option
Several helicopter tours in the area will buzz you past the sign, which offers some of the best picture opportunities you can get. You will, of course, pay for the privilege.
Costs vary considerably, depending on the duration of the tour, the company you fly with, and the itinerary offered. Expect to pay hundreds of dollars per person.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common FAQs about seeing the Hollywood sign:
How can I get to the sign on the bus?
The DASH Observatory Bus operates 7 days a week, taking tourists up to the Griffith Observatory and the Greek Theatre. The bus runs every 20 minutes from 12 to 10 PM on weekdays, and 10 AM to 10 PM on weekends.
You’ll board the bus at the Vermont/Sunset Station of Metro B Line (Red), and it will cost $.50 per person.
When is the best time to see the sign?
The sign does not light up at night, so you’ll need to go during the day. Early morning is beautiful, as is late afternoon, since the sun has a golden glow that creates interesting shadows and is perfect for pictures.
Midday is also fine, photography-wise.
However, if you’re hiking, it’s not the ideal time. It gets hot on the exposed hills of LA and the crowds amass during this time, which can make it harder to get a pristine shot.
How can I get the best photo?
I won’t lie to you… a good zoom lens will help. However, if you’re not a photographer with a “real” camera, your phone is up to the challenge. Make sure your lens is clear and, if desired, use a tripod for stabilization.
Can I climb it?
First of all, you’re not the only one who has fantasized about climbing the sign and staring out over the city like the queen of the world. But unfortunately, you’re not Mila Kunis and you don’t have a permit and a team of cameras, so… no.
Second of all, it’s illegal. The area is heavily surveilled and hard to get to, and you’d need climbing gear to get any higher than the lower openings of the Ds and Os. Don’t do it.
Plan Your Hollywood Sign Tour Today
And that’s it! Enjoy your tour of the Hollywood Sign and make sure to bring back some pics!