This Popular California Park Is A Great Addition To Any Film Lover's Bucket List

It was a century ago this year that the world-famous Hollywood sign was first erected over Los Angeles on Mount Lee. Since then, the sign and the surrounding Griffith Park have both become popular tourist attractions, appearing in countless films. For its part, Griffith Park is the biggest municipal park in LA and one of America's largest urban wilderness parks. In addition to the Hollywood sign, the park also holds attractions like Griffith Observatory and the Los Angeles Zoo.

While Girl Scouts hiked right up below the Hollywood sign in "Superman: The Movie," you can't get close to it from a bottom angle in real life. This is because the sign is part of a restricted area, which includes a city-owned radio tower, and which is monitored by police round-the-clock. The nearest you can get to the sign is the top of Mount Lee, where you'll be looking down on its white letters and all of LA from above. The mountain's summit can be reached via hiking routes like the Brush Canyon Trail or the combination route of Innsdale Drive, Mulholland Highway, and Mount Lee Drive.

In the sprawling, 4,210-acre Griffith Park, however, there are plenty of other hiking opportunities, some of which will take you around to alternate vantage points where you can see the sign. One of the best views of the Hollywood sign is from Griffith Observatory, which has appeared in films like the James Dean classic "Rebel Without a Cause" and the Oscar-winning musical "La La Land."

Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign

Griffith Observatory, which first opened in 1935, is perched on Mount Hollywood, another peak adjacent to Mount Lee in Griffith Park. The observatory and its planetarium are free to visit, and the original Zeiss telescope looking out from its dome has had over 7 million people peer through it — more than any other telescope on Earth. If you squint hard enough through the telescope and employ some imagination, you might see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone waltzing among the stars, as their "La La Land" characters famously did in one planetarium-set scene.

It's the idea of visiting a key "Rebel Without a Cause" location that compels Gosling's and Stone's characters to visit Griffith Observatory. The building's appearance in that 1955 film formed such an indelible association in the minds of moviegoers that there's now a monument with a James Dean bust outside the observatory. You can even get a picture of the monument with the Hollywood sign over Dean's head.

In "The Terminator," when Arnold Schwarzenegger's killer robot first time travels to 1984, he arrives buck-naked outside Griffith Observatory before stealing some clothes from a gang of street punks. Like Arnie, you can admire the lights of LA from the parking lot, or you can make the 2.5-mile hike across Mount Hollywood to Cathy's Corner, where the sunset tap-dancing scene in "La La Land" was filmed. The only downside to arriving at Griffith Observatory after sunset (versus late afternoon) is that the Hollywood sign isn't illuminated at night.

Other attractions in Griffith Park

Animal lovers in Griffith Park may want to check out the Los Angeles Zoo or go horseback riding with tours like Sunset Ranch Hollywood. Though its carousel horses are obviously fake, you could also saddle up on the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, which is said to have inspired Walt Disney to build Disneyland in Anaheim. For more real horses, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park was featured in the polo scene in the Julia Roberts film "Pretty Woman." While it's outside the park, the Beverly Hills luxury hotel where her character stayed will also put you right in your favorite movie setting.

Elsewhere in Griffith Park, Bronson Canyon and its caves have appeared in everything from the John Wayne western "The Searchers" to the 1960s "Batman" movie and TV series. That's right: The Batcave is in Griffith Park, too. It's just a 10-minute drive from the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine in LA.

Even if you can't make it all the way up to a mountaintop in Griffith Park, you can still see the 100-year-old Hollywood sign from streets just like those. The sign's massive letters — now 45 feet tall and 450 feet long altogether — originally spelled out the name of the Hollywoodland housing development back in 1923. However, as the sign became a greater symbol of Hollywood (both the place and the industry), the "land" part was eventually dropped before the sign was rebuilt as the Griffith Park centerpiece that it is today.