Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign has to be one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. Every time I see it on the big screen I always think wouldn’t it be lovely to go hiking to the Hollywood sign.

To be honest, hiking to the Hollywood Sign has always been a pipe dream. Not something I have really considered in any great detail. I had never even been to the west coast of America. Up until very recently that is. Up until I was invited to the Oscars!

Anyone who knows me will immediately wonder how I would ever be invited to such a prestigious event. How could someone with zero creativity, a healthy disdain for hard work and negative artistic abilities ever get going to the Oscars? The answer is of course to marry a creative, hard working, intelligent and all round amazing woman who works in the film industry. After that, all I needed to do was be the Plus One as my wife fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams of attending the Oscars ceremony. 

Arriving in LA

We jetted off to LA on a grey Dublin Friday afternoon. After an 11 hour flight we touched down in LAX tired but excited for what would turn out to be the weekend of a lifetime.

Being involved in a film that gets nominated for 11 Oscars and wins 4 takes a lot of hard work. The Saturday before the ceremony involved breakfast meetings, flurries of emails and lots of calls for my wife Paula. I on the other hand, had no plans. As such, I decided to combine the trip to Los Angeles with one of my favourite things – time for a hike!      

The best option for walking in LA is the massive Griffith Park. Home to the famous Griffith Park Observatory, as well as other attractions such as The Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles Zoo and the Griffith Park Merry Go Round

How Close can you get to the Hollywood Sign?

For me though, the star attraction of Griffith Park is the Hollywood Sign. Not everyone knows though that the sign itself is in a restricted area with no access to touch or even get that close to the global icon.

However, some options do exist for getting amazing views when hiking to the Hollywood sign.

  • Via Canyon Lake Drive
    • The 10km out and back Canyon Drive Trail brings you up to the summit of Mount Lee right behind the Hollywood sign.
  • Via Deronda Drive
    • Similar to the above trail but with an access point that allows for a shorter 5km hike.
  • From the Hollywood Reservoir
    • The 5.5km looped walk around the Hollywood Reservoir is one of the nicest walks in LA and offers fantastic views of the Hollywood sign.
  • From Griffith Park Observatory
    • This is the option I chose as not only will it get you close to the Hollywood sign but it also includes the beautiful surroundings of Griffith Park. Plus you have the Griffith Park Observatory to take in before or after your hike.

Getting to Griffith Park Observatory

There are public transport options available to get to Griffith Park Observatory and start hiking to the Hollywood sign. The Los Angeles Department of Transport operate a public bus service from downtown Hollywood starting at the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line Station.

The only problem with the above is getting to the Metro Station. For me being on a tight time schedule, the connecting bus/metro links didn’t really work. As such, I ended up getting an Uber to the Observatory. While this is an expensive option, Uber does seem to be the most common way of getting around the vast sprawl that is LA.

My Uber driver dropped me off just beside the Observatory at around 8.30am on a beautiful sunny morning. Immediately, I was hit with stunning views of the Hollywood sign from the viewing points available in front of the Observatory. 

Griffith Park Observatory

The terribly named Griffith J. Griffith gifted the lands of Griffith Park to the city of Los Angeles in 1896. In later years, Griffith also provided funds to the city for the construction of a research observatory within Griffith Park. Observatory building works completed in 1935 including the installation of a state of the art Zeiss telescope.

Today, visitors can still look through that same telescope as well as explore the many exhibits held within the Observatory. Entrance to the observatory is free and opening times and further information can be found via the Observatory’s website.

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

Griffith Park offers a myriad of paths and trails that crisscross the more than 4,000 acres of public land. 

The park offers designated routes that take in the various attractions on offer. For me, while I would have loved to complete one of the marked trails, I knew that my free time available didn’t allow that option. Instead, I decided to wander around for the couple of hours I had available to me. Ultimately I wanted to get close to the Hollywood sign, take in some other points of interest and then loop back to my starting point of the Griffith Observatory. 

I think the below route I ended up taking covered all of these points.

Charlie Turner Trailhead

When starting from the Griffith Park Observatory, all trails commence from the Charlie Turner Trailhead. I took the opportunity to fill up my water bottle from the fountain available here and headed northwards.

The Berlin Forest

Los Angeles is a sister city of Berlin and the Berlin Forest acts as a symbol of the friendship shared between the two cities. The Forest itself is a tranquil setting which offers lovely views of the Hollywood sign.

From the Berlin Forest, I followed the Mount Hollywood Trail. The Hollywood sign is located on Mount Lee with Mount Hollywood lying to the west of the famous icon.

Getting Closer to the Hollywood Sign

Leaving the Berlin Forest, the trail descends to a bridge over a small ravine. After the bridge, I turned left and headed towards the Hollywood Sign looming impressively ahead of me.

After about 1km of walking, I reached what would be the closest I would get to the Hollywood Sign. While it is possible to get closer via the Deronda Drive and Canyon Lake Drive routes noted above, the view offered here is still very impressive.

Reflections on My LA Story.

I took a while to stop at the concrete seats that mark the viewing point. It certainly felt strange being here. Three weeks ago, I didn’t even know I would be visiting LA. Now I was here, taking in the stunning views of the Hollywood sign. What’s more, the following day I would be attending the Oscars! Life certainly does provide some crazy twists and turns.

I tried to imagine what the next couple of days and the ceremony would be like. Even in my wildest dreams could I have envisaged what actually did happen. From being introduced to A List celebs at Oscars pre-parties, the incredible ceremony, my wife’s film winning four Oscars, meeting most of those Oscar winners, champagne soaked after parties and getting my picture taken with an Oscar award while some of the most famous people in the world just floated around the room. Truly this was the most surreal and unforgettable few days of my life.

I wasn’t to know all of these while I sat looking up at the Hollywood Sign. The sun shone down on me and I just let the excitement seep over me too. 

Back on the Trail

Eventually, I stumbled out of my reverie and continued with my hike. For the first time I had my back to the Hollywood sign as I moved towards Mount Hollywood. 

While the path wasn’t busy, there was a steady flow of other walkers and even some joggers along the route. Walking back this way offered some lovely views of Griffith Observatory as it juts out in front of the sprawling metropolis behind it. Being in Griffith Park really gives you an idea of the scale of the city of Los Angeles. It seems to stretch on forever.

Mount Hollywood

One of my aims of my trip to Griffith park was to get to the top of Mount Hollywood. Standing at 1,625ft, the summit offers a wonderful opportunity to view the city of Los Angeles from a height overlooking the metropolis. 

As the trail meets a crossroads at the crest of a hill, a signpost offers two options to reach the summit of Mount Hollywood. To be honest, I probably should have chosen to take the route to the left (offering a more gradual incline) but instead I took an alternative slightly off road version of the worn path that leads directly to the top. This third option understandably is very steep and I was in a bit of a sweat by the time I reached the top. 

Tom LaBonge Panaroma

The summit of Mount Hollywood is marked by a fenced off area called the Tom LaBonge Panorama. And what a panorama it offers!

The tracks and trails of Griffith Park dominate the foreground, with the Griffith Park Observatory marking the perimeter of the uplands. Thereafter, the urban sprawl of LA dominates the view with skyscrapers soaring out in the misty distance. The contrast makes this such a lovely view.

Tom LaBonge himself served as an administrator for the City of Los Angeles for nearly 40 years and hiked to the summit of Mount Hollywood every morning for 45 years. Having just undertaken the same walk, I can understand his reasoning. The viewpoint dedicated to this servant of Los Angeles feels like a fitting tribute to the man.

Towards Dante’s View

Leaving the peak of Mount Hollywood, I took the north east path and made my way towards Dante’s View.

After a few hundred metres, the sign posts directed me to take a sharp right and onwards towards Dante’s view along the Hogback Trail.

The Dante in question is Dante Orgolini, a Brazilian immigrant of Italian descent who created a garden by terracing this section of Griffith Park and planting wonderful flowers and shrubs to showcase the vista over the Los Angeles Basin.

The colour and perfume of the flowers and plants (especially the wonderful scents of the eucalyptus) in conjunction with the fantastic views make this a real treasure for the senses.

I had only walked just over 2km at this point, however, all the wonderful sights on the walk so far made it feel like I had experienced so much over such a short hike.

Back Towards The Griffith Observatory

Leaving Dante’s View, I followed the signs for the Griffith Observatory and headed downhill and south west.

Soon, I found myself back where I began my summit to Mount Hollywood. This time, I followed a more established trail that moved downhill.  Shortly thereafter (just after the 3km mark), I found myself walking back over the bridge that crosses the ravine. I headed back again towards the Berlin Forest.

Finishing Hiking to The Mount Hollywood Sign

I made my way back up to the Berlin Forest and then down to the Charlie Turner Trailhead. I topped up my water bottle again and then headed back to The Griffith Observatory.

More Reflections

With WiFi available as I approached the Observatory, I ordered an Uber to bring me back to the hotel. 

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign had been an amazing experience. Since arriving in LA, the congestion of city life had felt a little oppressive. The ability to get out into the public park had been a pure tonic. The Park is a great asset to the city dwellers of Los Angeles.

While waiting for my Uber, I felt refreshed and really excited about the Oscar Ceremony that would unfold tomorrow.

Who knows, I said to myself, maybe I would even get to hold one of the fabled Oscar trophies! The fact that this hope came to fruition made this a truly amazing experience.

While the above post is a little different from the usual articles talking about the amazing Irish Countryside – I do hope people enjoy it. This post is part of the “Irishman Abroad” series I have been working on recently on which also includes a cool story about my trek to the top of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – check it out!