Towering above the city of Los Angeles is one of the most recognizable man-made landmarks in the world: the Hollywood sign. It’s been featured and satirized in film and popular culture for nearly a century, which is quite impressive, given it’s just nine wooden letters.
So what’s the big deal with the big H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D? Let’s take a look.
The Hollywood Sign: A Weird History
The Hollywood sign has been up there for quite a long time. In 1923, a real estate company wanted to get their name out there so they spelled out HOLLYWOODLAND on top of Mount Lee. It measured 50 feet high and nearly 400 feet wide, with each letter outlined in a row of 8-watt light bulbs. The sign was an advertisement only meant to be up for 18 months, but the city fell in love with it. Due to popular demand, the sign became permanent.
The sign looks a lot different today because it’s been through rather a lot. The original sign was constructed with an expiration date in mind, so the materials used weren’t long-lasting. Time, the elements, and a drunken caretaker (who crashed his truck into the H) punished the sign.
After only 25 years, it needed to be completely reconstructed. The City of LA helped out in the reconstruction under the condition that the LAND be left off — along with the light bulbs, which were too costly to maintain.
This new sign lasted up until the late 1970s when it once again needed refurbishment. The sign doesn’t make the city any money directly, so any state funding was too expensive.
Fortunately, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner hosted an auction at his mansion in which all proceeds went to preserving the sign. Each donor bid for individual letters in the sign, with Hugh Hefner winning the bid for H.
Stranger Still: More Hollywood Sign History
The sign has received plenty of negative attention. Peg Entwistle gave the Hollywood sign even more fame — or perhaps notoriety — after she committed suicide by jumping off the letter H back in 1932.
Vandals also periodically target the sign, even as recently as New Year’s Eve 2016, when someone placed a white and black cloth over the double O’s turning them into double E’s. A prank alluding to the city’s allowance for recreational marijuana.
Getting to the Sign — Or as Close as Possible
Climbing the Hollywood Sign itself is dangerous, illegal, and basically impossible, so don’t try it.
Because of previous vandalism to the sign and the dangers of getting too close to it, access is restricted and the area is heavily surveilled.
However, if you want to get a bit closer to the sign, you can visit the Griffith Observatory and get a better look. To get even closer, drive up to the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood, park your car, and snap some Instagram-worthy up-close pics.
Keep in mind, however, that you’re not the only LA visitor with this idea. Parking near the sign is extremely limited, and it can get crowded. Beachwood Canyon is also a hilly, residential neighborhood with narrow, difficult-to-navigate roads, so proceed with caution if you decide to drive to the sign. If this is the option you go with, my best advice would be to go very early in the morning before many other tourists are there.
Hiking to the Hollywood Sign
In my opinion, the best, most stress-free, and most exhilarating way to get to the sign is to hike to it.
The Hollywood Sign is located on Mount Lee and can be accessed from the Griffith Park trails with many signs along the way. What’s cool is that when you hike to the sign, you actually get to go above and behind it, so you see the sign backwards with a gorgeous view of LA below.
The hike to the Hollywood Sign also lets you see a lot of Griffith Park in the two hours or so it takes to get there. The hike is fairly easy even for novice hikers as there are plenty of paved areas, and none of it is very steep.
Depending on which route you take, you can even find gates from the hiking trails that lead directly to the Los Feliz neighborhood. This is a great place to get an up-close look of some of the 1920s homes dotting the lower part of the hills.
The closer you get to the Hollywood sign, you’ll also catch glimpses of the valley, the other side of LA that sits behind the sign, as well as the city of Burbank.
In short, the hike is scenic and a classic LA experience. Don’t skip this one!
Answers to (Most) All Your Questions About the Hollywood Sign
Where exactly is the Hollywood sign?
The Hollywood sign is located atop Mount Lee in the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles at the very end of Mount Lee Drive.
Can I go there at night?
While you could drive through the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood after dark, hiking to the sign at night is not recommended. Griffith Park closes at 10:30 p.m.
How long does it take to hike to the sign?
The hike from Griffith Park is about 2-3 hours. It’s a fairly easy hike on paths that are mostly paved.
This hike tends to be appropriate for a variety of skill levels, including families with kids, but please bring plenty of water, and lather up on the sunscreen. If you’re hiking with us, we recommend packing a light lunch, too.
The Hollywood Sign: Time for Your Closeup
Whether you drive or hike to the Hollywood sign, it’s definitely worth getting a glimpse of this famous landmark. Not only will you have the bragging rights of having been up-close and personal with what might well be the most famous sign in the world, you’ll also get to glimpse real LA neighborhoods, like Beachwood Canyon (if you drive) and Los Feliz (if you hike).
And hikers trekking to the Hollywood Sign get the added bonus of enjoying the beauty of Griffith Park. I recommend combining that with a stop at the Griffith Observatory, a gorgeous — and free — LA attraction.