This Lesser-Known Hike Promises The Best Photo Ops For LA's Iconic Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood sign. You know it from the opening credits of dozens of movies and TV shows: The ultimate symbol of Tinsel town's magnetism for everyone, from film buffs to aspiring actors. Of course, when you visit La La Land, sometime between your visit to one of California's most stunning beaches and fitting your shoes into Tom Hanks' footprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, you want to strike a pose wearing cool Tom Cruise sunglasses in front of the sign.


Well, for being so famous, the sign can be frustrating to get close to. Managed by the Hollywood Sign Trust, it's off-limits to hikers, and guarded 24/7. The closest you can get is via a steep, hot, dusty hike up Brush Canyon, and then you can only see the sign from the back. Instead, you want the perfect spot where you can snap a selfie with it hovering on the hillside right above your head.

Our advice? Opt for an easy stroll around Lake Hollywood in a quiet residential neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills, which offers one of the very best views of the sign. As a bonus, it's also totally off the tourist trail. It's so off the radar, in fact, that lots of Angelinos are astonished to learn it's there, even after living in the area for decades. You won't find it in any brochures or lists of sights; it's the kind of place you learn about purely by word-of-mouth.


See the Hollywood sign the way locals do via the Lake Hollywood Trail

The 3.2-mile trail around the lake is almost perfectly flat and surrounded by foliage, revealing views of the sign and the city below you as you round the path's graceful curves. This is the real Hollywood. Those walkers and joggers you're sharing the trail with? They're screenwriters, producers and makeup artists, not tourists. There is local lore to sample, too: See that garish red and ochre striped mansion? That's Castillo del Lago. The gangster Bugsy Siegel once called it home, and Madonna painted it those controversial colors when she lived there in the '90s. Mulholland Dam, which contains the reservoir, was built in the 1920s by William Mulholland, the water tycoon whose robber baron ways inspired the 1974 film classic "Chinatown," and scenes from the movie were actually filmed here. If you're a TV buff, you might recognize the lake scenes from shows like "Ray Donovan," "Bosch," and "Goliath."


The woodsy lake environs are teeming with wildlife like ducks, hawks and squirrels. There are even mountain lions and coyotes on the prowl -– you aren't likely to see the former, but the latter are bold enough to saunter around in broad daylight. Hard to believe that when you set out from the trailhead on Weidlake Drive, you're less than two miles from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, yet you're more likely to startle a mule deer than a Marilyn Monroe impersonator here. Just pack the DEET, because you're near water, and LA is the most mosquito-infested city in the country.

Getting close to the Hollywood sign

Once you've finished your circumnavigation of Lake Hollywood, it's a short drive over to Lake Hollywood Park for another set of great views. A simple greensward with a playground, this parklet is positioned perfectly for sign-seeing. It's so close that you can take a selfie posing as if the sign is sitting in the palm of your hand. Walk up the sidewalk past the park for a short ways, and you'll come to another, slightly higher viewpoint, where you look up at the sign, down at the Hollywood Reservoir you just visited, and the neighborhood of Hollywood beyond that.


Curious how the famous sign came to be? In the 1920s, around the same time Lake Hollywood was under construction, some real estate developers built a 500-acre subdivision in the Hollywood Hills. To advertise it, they erected a 45 foot-tall set of white metal letters spelling out the name of the development: Hollywoodland. The sign was meant to be temporary, but it became an instant symbol. Today, four letters shorter, it's the most recognizable landmark in Los Angeles. 

Now that you're an insider, are you primed to see more of the real Hollywood? When you leave Lake Hollywood Park, don't head for Hollywood Boulevard's tourist traps. Instead, head for nearby Silver Lake, a thriving, bustling, contemporary neighborhood full of unforgettable food, art and hikes. That's where those joggers you passed earlier will be working on their screenplays over lattes, or taking lunch meetings.