Hiking To The Hollywood Sign (No GPS Required)

I studied abroad in Ireland but I never kissed the Blarney Stone. I visited the Great Pyramids at Giza but refused to pony up for the classic photo on the camel. And I went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, but didn’t bother to put a wish or prayer in one of its crevices. I don’t have an interest in checking off travel cliché to-do boxes or even making bucket lists, but for some reason that I can’t really explain, I wanted to hike up to the Hollywood sign while in L.A. last week.

In many ways, I hate everything Hollywood represents and rarely spend money on the kind of mindless, big budget movies that are produced there. But I love hikes that have some goal at the summit and, well, I wanted to see the damn sign up close. Don’t ask me why.

Earlier this year, there was quite a bit of press about how people who live near the foot of the Hollyridge Trail that leads up near the sign are sick of lost tourists following their GPS’s onto their dead-end streets in search of the trailhead. So rather than use my GPS, I Googled “Hike to the Hollywood” sign and was surprised to learn that there are a few ways to see the sign.

I drove north on Beachwood Drive in Hollywood until the street came to a dead end. There I found hand painted signs that pointed towards a horse stable to the left and the Hollywood sign to the right. It was a warm Thursday afternoon and there were only a smattering of people on the dusty trail, most of them speaking foreign languages and clutching cameras.

The wide path leads you on a gradual ascent through the scrubby, camouflage-colored landscape of the Hollywood Hills. After about 15 minutes, the trail split – to the right was an uphill path and to the left the terrain was level. There was no one around to ask, so I went left and in another 15 minutes came to a little rocky plateau where some French and Russian tourists were posing for photos with the sign as a backdrop.

It felt like a dismal letdown. We were relatively close to the sign but, in honesty, the darn thing looked more impressive from a distance when seen from Beachwood Drive. I headed back in the direction I’d come from and when I got back to the fork I asked a woman who was jogging down the hill from the other direction what was up that way.

“A great view,” she said. “Just follow the trail up and you’ll end up right on top of the Y and W in the sign.”

I followed the path up for about 20 minutes and eventually arrived at the top of Mt. Lee, where a 10- to 12-foot fence stops tourists from trying to hike down and actually pose with the sign itself. I stepped on a rock in order to snap off a few photos and was joined by a couple from Wisconsin that was irate when they saw the fence.

“We can’t even take our photo with it,” the woman complained. And her male companion was annoyed that only half the sign would fit in his camera frame. Nonetheless, they asked me to take their photo standing in front of the fence and I gladly obliged. It may not have been exactly what we imagined, but it was a little piece of Hollywood for us to take back to the Midwest.

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]