Behind the Hollywood Sign

Behind the Hollywood Sign — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Behind the Hollywood Sign

We all know the story behind the Hollywood Sign. But this is the story of how to get behind the Hollywood Sign.

Behind the Hollywood Sign — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

We’ve all heard the stories about the Hollywood Sign. How it used to say Hollywoodland. How it was only meant to be a temporary advertisement for a new real estate development in 1923. How it used to be adorned with lightbulbs. How the “Land” was removed in 1949 at the behest of the Parks Department. How a group of celebrities led by Hugh Hefner (of Playboy fame) saved it in 1978. And, most infamously, how Peg Entwistle jumped off the H to her death in 1932.

No, I’m not going to bore you with any of that. Countless articles on the legend behind the Hollywood Sign have already been written. Instead, I’m going to tell you how to get up close to it.

The Hollywood Sign as seen from Mt. Hollywood Drive in Griffith Park. Photo from the author’s collection.

Getting Behind the Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign sits, not on Mt. Hollywood as one might expect, but on Mt. Lee, the next mountain to the west in the Santa Monica Mountain range. The sign itself sits just inside the northern border of Griffith Park.

So, as you might guess, the first step to getting behind the Hollywood Sign is to get yourself to Griffith Park. For our purposes, the best way to do this into Los Feliz and head up Vermont Avenue.

You’ll pass the Greek Theatre and the Bird Sanctuary before eventually coming to the Mount Hollywood Tunnel. Go through the tunnel, then turn left and head up toward Griffith Observatory, winding your way though the confusing arrangement of orange traffic cones. Don’t drive up too far, though — this hike starts at Mt. Hollywood Drive very near where you exited from the tunnel. So grab the first metered parking space you can.

The best time to do this hike is in the morning. There are two reasons for this. First, there is no shade along most of the most of the route up to the sign. This means the trek can be brutally hot in the afternoon. Second, parking in Griffith Park is not cheap or easy to come by. A metered space along Observatory Drive — if you can find one — will set you back a staggering $10 an hour. But by arriving early (8:00AM to 9:00 AM is ideal) you not only beat the crowds, but you avoid the $10 hourly parking fee — that isn’t enforced until Noon.

Parking on the road to Griffith Observatory is $10 per hour, but it doesn’t go into effect until noon. Photo from the author’s collection.

Walking Along Mt. Hollywood Drive

Once you’re parked, head back down the hill to where Mt. Hollywood Drive meets Observatory Road (located around 34.123659, -118.301707) and start walking up Mt. Hollywood Drive. Along the way, you’ll have regular views of the Hollywood Sign and the expanse of Griffith Park (named for Griffith J. Griffith, who donated all this land to the City of Los Angeles in 1896) below it. You’ll pass by the occasional informational sign pointing out various park features (along with the distances to them).

An informational plaque along Mt. Hollywood Drive. Hollywood Sign in the background. Photo from the author’s collection.

Mt. Hollywood Drive is paved, but not accessible to traffic. The road rises gradually and steadily upward, but incline isn’t anything too severe.

After about 1.5 miles, you’ll come to a wide dirt trail on your left. This is Mulholland Trail, and it’s the next step in our journey behind the Hollywood Sign. Mulholland Trail weaves back and forth with a slight downhill grade.

You’ll pass a few different side trails. Ignore these. After a mile of walking on the Mulholland Trail (you’ll have logged about 2.5 miles total so far) you’ll come to a paved road. This is Mt. Lee Drive. Turn right and head uphill. The climb is reasonably significant here. After walking another mile or so, you’ll come to a junction with what was once known as the Wonderview Trail. It appears to have been re-named after a Getty.

When you see this sign, you’re almost there. Photo from the author’s collection.

This dirt trail will take you further west to Cahuenga Peak (also saved by Hugh Hefner when he paid $900,000 to stave off a group of developers in 2010 — the Hef loved Griffith Park) and the Wisdom Tree. These are sites worth visiting, but skip them for now and keep heading up the paved path to get to the Hollywood Sign.

On to the Sign!

Just after the Wonderview Trail, you’ll see a long, tall chain-link fence along the right-hand side of the road. It’s adorned with cameras and No Trespassing and No Drone Zone signs.

The Hollywood Sign is on the other side of this fence. Photo from the author’s collection.

Congratulations! You are now behind the Hollywood Sign — and about as close as most people can legally get. You’ll have to keep walking just a bit more to get the best view, so resist the temptation to climb over the fence and touch the Hollywood Sign. The area is surrounded by cameras and motion sensors. As soon as anyone get too close, the police will know it.

Instead, keep following the paved road, occasionally looking out to enjoy the view of Griffith Park, the Hollywood Reservoir, and the city of Los Angeles beyond.

The view of the city and the Hollywood Reservoir as seen through the fence protecting the Hollywood Sign. Photo from the author’s collection.

Soon enough you’ll come to the closed and locked gate in front of the communications tower used to support pretty much every agency in the City of Los Angeles. This used to be a broadcasting tower for W6XAO, once owned by Don Lee Broadcasting (which is why this peak is called Mt. Lee), the group that founded what would eventually became KCBS (which is now broadcast from nearby Mt. Wilson).

To get an even better view of the Hollywood Sign’s 45-foot-tall letters, scramble up the small hill to the left of the gate and walk out to the edge of the (short) cliff.

The view from behind the Hollywood Sign with views of Griffith Observatory, Downtown Los Angeles, and the Hollywood Reservoir. Photo from the author’s collection.

All in, the hike is about 3.5 miles, one way. Depending on your fitness, it’ll take you just over an hour there and an hour back. Bring water, sunscreen, a hat, and maybe some snacks. If you want to a top-down view of what the route to the sign looks like, you can download the Griffith Park Hiking Map (PDF) from the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Congratulations. You made it behind the Hollywood Sign. Photo from the author’s collection.

For the Non-Hiking Explorers

If you don’t want to make this hike or would prefer to see the famous sign from the front, there are many places throughout the city that offer great views of it.

The easiest place to get an unobstructed view of the sign’s 350-foot length is from the often crowded viewing platform at the Hollywood and Highland complex. Another popular spot that offers a great photo point for the sign is along the Canary Island Date Palm-lined Windsor Boulevard in Hancock Park. And of course you can see it quite clearly from Griffith Observatory.

But the closest place to see the front of the Hollywood Sign is from the Last House on Mulholland. Getting here requires a little work (parking can be a real challenge), but if your goal is to get a photo standing in front of the Hollywood Sign, this is your best option.

While you’re in Griffith Park …

Griffith J. Griffith Statue

Griffith J. Griffith Statue

Just outside the entrance to Griffith Park, a 14-foot bronze statue honoring Colonel Griffith J. Griffith welcomes all visitors to his namesake public park — the largest of its type in the United States.

Keep reading

On February 7, 1973, the Hollywood Sign (and the land underneath it) were named the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 111.


Behind the Hollywood Sign


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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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