x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

My kind of place: The moviemaking capital of the world offers glitz, glamour and a good helping of tackiness, writes David Whitley.

Hollywood and downtown skyline, Los Angeles, California. Wendy Connett/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis
Hollywood and downtown skyline, Los Angeles, California. Wendy Connett/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

David Whitley

Why Hollywood?

It’s a name that’s permanently associated with illusion. Fittingly, Hollywood’s elaborately crafted image of film-star glamour is make-believe, too. None of the film studios are actually in Hollywood – they decamped to elsewhere in LA’s sprawl a long time ago. And Hollywood Boulevard is tawdrily touristy rather than red-carpet ravishing. Yet it’s impossible to avoid being sucked in. The absurdity of people dressed as Jack Sparrow and Spider-Man trying to earn a crust by posing for photos is oddly compelling.

Veer off the main drag and different stories emerge. To the north, the Hollywood Hills have a barely tamed, dusty wildness. To the south, long-standing urban grit is being progressively replaced by the sparkle of quality restaurants. And the reality ends up charming more than the myth.

A comfortable bed

On a budget? The only realistic option is one of numerous identikit, thoroughly uninspiring chain motels.

Would-be movie stars should check in to the Hollywood Roosevelt (www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt, 001 323 466 7000). The first ever Oscars ceremony was held here and all manner of star names have checked in since. The painted, beamed ceilings of the public areas resemble Renaissance palaces, while the mostly monochrome rooms go for slick smartness. Kings cost from US$250.51 (Dh920).

The Redbury (www.theredbury.com, 001 323 962 1717) has more of a theatrical, moodily lit rock ’n’ roll vibe. Four-poster beds, wooden ceiling fans and plenty of red paint give it a tongue-in-cheek flamboyance, but pop-out bedside plug sockets and kitchenette facilities nod to the practical. Rooms from $294.93 (Dh1,083).

Humbler, and with a distinctive holiday vibe that comes from being built around a pool, the Magic Castle Hotel (magiccastlehotel.com, 001 323 851 0800) is a good family option. Spacious junior suites with full kitchens start at $206.10 (Dh757).

Find your feet

A stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, checking out the pavement stars awarded to entertainment’s greats, quickly morphs from giddy star-spotting to geeky curiosity. The big names are mixed with those that you’ve never heard of, with no sense of pecking order. Charlie Chaplin is next to Ken Maynard, for example, and Tom Cruise next to Phillips Lord. It’s worth veering off Hollywood Boulevard for the Hollywood Museum (www.thehollywoodmuseum.com, 001 323 464 7776). This surreally eclectic mix of moviemaking memorabilia manages to slip in a few good stories among the costumes from Alien: Resurrection, a room dedicated to Marilyn Monroe and a mock-up of Hannibal Lecter’s jail cell. The thousands of old photos are engrossing, as are the tales of how Hollywood’s female stars would be relentlessly groomed to fit their designated image.

A different type of people-watching takes over in the Hollywood Hills. Runyon Canyon Park is awash with mass outdoor yoga sessions, professional dog walkers being pulled along by nine or 10 hounds and people in full jogging kit who seem reluctant to break into a jog. The trails through the dusty canyon lead steadily upwards, with views out over the city and the Hollywood sign getting increasingly spectacular, if the smog isn’t too bad.

Meet the locals

Also up in the Hills is Los Angeles’s most atmospheric live entertainment venue, the Hollywood Bowl (www.hollywoodbowl.com, 001 323 850 2000). The outdoor amphitheatre becomes a gathering point during the summer months – the Los Angeles Philharmonic makes the Bowl its temporary home. There tends to be a crowd-wide, warm, fuzzy glow, helped immeasurably by the hill-ringed setting.

Book a table

Hollywood’s best food tends to be found on Melrose Avenue. Couples have been going on dates to Pizzeria Mozza (www.pizzeriamozza.com, 001 323 297 0101) for donkey’s years – and it still does what are probably the best pizzas in town, for US$17 (Dh62). Around the corner, Chi Spacca (www.chispacca.com, 001 323 297 1133) is a swanky new Italian addition from the same owners. Dishes along the lines of porcini-rubbed beef short ribs and lamb neck stracotto come in around the $25 (Dh92) to $35 (Dh129) mark.

The seafood-focused Providence (www.providencela.com, 001 323 460 4170) is the top spot, however. The $95 (Dh349) three-course, fixed-price menu features lip-smackers such as wild Alaskan halibut or striped bass from Massachusetts, served with roasted grapes and eggplant.

Shopper’s paradise

The Hollywood and Highland mall, on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, is the best bet in a part of LA known for cheap and nasty souvenirs. The mall, which incorporates the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are held, is more impressive in looks than content. But among big designer names – Louis Vuitton, Oakley et al – are some smaller chains offering affordable threads. Try Lucky Brand, BlackJack and XXII.

What to avoid

You’re in famous person central, so why pay to see feeble waxwork imitations in Madame Tussauds? Or even shabbier versions in the Hollywood Wax Museum? Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum completes a triumvirate of tack.

Don’t miss

Sometimes tacky should be embraced, however. The Starline tour (www.starlinetours.com; 001 323 463 3333) of celebrity homes essentially drives slowly past mansions owned by Madonna, Tom Cruise and Simon Cowell. But it’s done with such OTT, tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm that it somehow works. The unbridled enthusiasm of fellow passengers adds to the surreal spectacle. Tours start at $42 (Dh154).

Getting there

Emirates (www.emirates.com; 600 555 555) flies direct to Los Angeles from Dubai, with economy return flights costing from Dh6,925.

travel@thenational.ae