Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

Getting as close as legally possible to 
the Hollywood Sign!

Most people who travel to LA are eager to catch a glimpse of the famous Hollywood Sign, but I wanted to do more than merely see it. I wanted to get as close as legally possible to the Hollywood Sign. A friend told me that he knew how, then he led me on a hike to the top of Mount Lee, just above the iconic letters.

Through a tall chain-link fence, I looked down at the backward corrugated metal letters and support beams, a behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood Sign that most people never see. There were also gorgeous views of multi-million dollar homes; the glimmering man-made, but lake-like, Hollywood Reservoir (Lake Hollywood); and, because it was an exceptionally clear day, the Pacific Ocean. The Hollywood Sign Hike instantly became one of my favorite things to do in Los Angeles.

A few years later, I was charged with helping my little brother with one of his elementary school projects. My brother, Matthew, mailed me a paper cutout version of himself, “Flat Matthew," along with a note asking me to show Flat Matthew around California and photograph his adventures. Of course, Flat Matthew had to do the Hollywood Sign Hike.

A friend and I drove Flat Matthew to Hollywood. At the intersection of Franklin Avenue and North Beachwood Drive, we headed north on North Beachwood Drive. Soon, we could see the Hollywood Sign in the distance. This is where many tourists take their Hollywood Sign photos, and then head back home, satisfied. We photographed Flat Matthew with the sign, jumped back in the car, and kept going.

As we continued north, we drove through Beachwood Village where the Hollywoodland Realty Company is located. When the Hollywood sign was originally built in 1923, it read Hollywoodland, to advertise homes for sale. Over the years, the sign has been repaired, rebuilt, and shortened to read Hollywood. We took a photo of Flat Matthew with the Hollywoodland Realty Company and continued north.

We knew that we had arrived at the trailhead when we saw a sign for Sunset Ranch, a horse ranch that offers guided horseback rides through Griffith Park. We parked in a dirt lot just before the stables. (2015 Update: This dirt parking lot is now permanently closed. Instead, you will need to park 0.15 mile south of the trailhead on Beachwood Drive, outside the new security gate. Street parking by non-residents is forbidden on weekends and holidays during certain hours, therefore, plan to do this hike Monday through Friday.)

We tied on our hiking shoes, tossed some bottled water into a backpack, and began our hike. Just a few steps from the trailhead, at the top of a short, steep, dirt path, we were rewarded with our first views overlooking Hollywood and picture-perfect views of the Hollywood Sign. The die-hard tourists who make it this far usually snap their pictures here and then head back to their cars. We kept going.

Our moderately strenuous, mostly shade-free, hike gave us beautiful views of Griffith Park. Depending on the time of year, the park is mostly green-brown (winter to spring) or brown-green (summer to fall). In the spring, the park is peppered with wildflowers.

As we gained elevation, we could occasionally see Griffith Observatory sitting regally on a hilltop with downtown Los Angeles visible in the distance.

About half-way to our destination, our trail changed from dusty dirt to a paved road. The road wrapped around the north side of Mount Lee. We looked out over Burbank where we could see Forest Lawn cemetery, Walt Disney Studios, and NBC Studios.

Finally, we continued around to the south side of Mount Lee and photographed Flat Matthew with the backside of the famous Hollywood Sign.

Two years later, when “Real Matthew” visited Los Angeles, I took him on that same trail to see the Hollywood Sign. Although Matthew’s visit to Southern California included many exciting adventures, he told me that Hollywood Sign Hike was his favorite!
P.S. I wrote a novel called Lost in Los Angeles, about a young woman who travels to L.A. looking for a reason to live. The above experience inspired one of her adventures. You can check out Lost in Los Angeles on by clicking here.

I did this most recently in 2014 in Hollywood, California, USA.

Dr. Jen (California, USA)

Find Jen's list of bucket-list-worthy things to do in the Los Angeles area here.

Update: In 2012, the Hollywood Sign received a "face-lift." Below are photos of the freshly-painted sign as it appeared in January 2013.

Hollywood Sign Hike 2013
Hollywood Sign Hike 2013

Hollywood Sign Hike map T-shirts and water bottles are available at Cafepress for men, women, children, and dogs!

Hollywood Sign Hike map t-shirt