Few monuments are quite as iconic as the Hollywood sign perched in the hills above Los Angeles. The sign, along with the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building in New York City, Big Ben in London, is one of the most recognizable structures ever built.
However, unlike these other buildings, which at one time or another served an actual purpose, the Hollywood sign has pretty much always been that: a sign.
Its significance derives not from its architectural beauty but rather from its symbolic meaning. It has come to represent not just a place but also an industry, as well as an entire way of life. After all, everyone knows a “Joe Hollywood.”
All of this means that no trip to Los Angeles can be considered complete without seeing the Hollywood sign and, of course, taking a picture with it in the background. Remember, if it doesn’t go on the ‘gram, it didn’t happen!
Obviously, that’s not true. But while you’re in town, you should definitely find a way to see the sign. Here are some of the best ways to do it.
A Brief History of the Hollywood Sign
The actual best way to see the Hollywood sign is as an informed tourist. Knowing what you’re looking at, and why it’s important, makes for a much better experience, and also helps you better understand the place you’re visiting.
So, while you may know that the Hollywood sign currently serves as a marker for America’s film industry, you might not know how it got to be that way.
Interestingly enough (although perhaps not for Los Angeles), the sign was actually built as a billboard. And also not surprising for L.A., it was a billboard designed to advertise a real estate development, the industry that has and always will dominate Hollywood and L.A.’s economy.
Initially, the sign actually said “Hollywoodland,” as this was going to be the name of the development. It was constructed in 1923.
To catch attention, it was outfitted with lights and set up to blink – first “Holly” would illuminate, then “wood,” and then “land,” with a giant period at the end.
The sign cost $21,000 to build, which is the equivalent of about $330,000 in today’s money. It was meant to stay up for just a year and a half to help advertise the development. But considering it’s still standing today, it seems things may have changed.
This is because, by the 1920s, the United States had fallen in love with film. Booming economic times, plus advancements in technology, brought movies to the big screen regularly, and people were going crazy with it all. Hollywood became a hot spot for film production because of its scenery and good weather. Because of this, and the sensational nature of the sign, the two quickly became linked, and so even when the promotion was over, the sign stayed and became one of Southern California’s, and the world’s, most recognizable landmark.
Restoration in the 1970s
Although the Hollywood sign quickly become an icon, it was not designed for this. Remember, it was designed to be a real estate billboard that would be up for no more than a year and a half.
It’s not surprising, then, that the sign deteriorated significantly over the years. In fact, things got so bad that the “H” actually collapsed, leaving the sign to read just “ollywood.” Later on, someone vandalized the “O,” and someone actually committed suicide by jumping off one of the letters.
All in all, the sign fell on hard times.
Part of the reason for this was that no one was paying for it. But its degradation also matched the changing landscape in Hollywood at the time. After World War II, people began leaving Hollywood and moving to more suburban areas, such as the San Fernando Valley, where real estate was cheaper and more readily available. Movie studios also fled, choosing to relocate to more affordable and less-crowded areas.
In other words, the sign fell apart as Hollywood did too.
Things changed in the 1970s. Hollywood started to make a comeback, and as it did, there was renewed interest in fixing the sign. The only thing that was needed was money and motivation, which both came from Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
Wanting to preserve the sign and also make a statement about Hollywood’s revival, Hefner launched a fundraising campaign to have the sign rebuilt. In total, eight different celebrities, including Gene Autry, Alice Cooper, and Hugh Hefner himself, contributed a total of $250,000 to have the sign remade using steel for the letters and a concrete foundation.
Much later, in 2009, the Trust for Public Land got some money together and bought the 138 acres of land surrounding the sign, for a cool $12.5 million (which was actually a discount). They were motivated into action by the possibility of the land being turned into a real estate development (shocker!), but now it is fully protected, meaning the Hollywood sign will be visible to all for many more years to come.
The Best Ways to See the Hollywood Sign
Now that you know a little bit more about the history of the sign, why it’s important, and how it got to where it is today, you will be able to appreciate it so much more. But now it’s time to see the thing!
There are several different ways you can see the sign, some that are free and some that are a bit more expensive. Below you’ll find the best options, so you can pick the one that works for you and have the experience you were meant to have.
Hike Through Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory
If all you want is to see the sign from relatively close up while also enjoying some views of the city, then head to Griffith Park.
To get there, you can either drive all the way up to the Observatory and pay to park (around $10), and then the sign will be visible off to your right, just a few feet from the parking lot. This is probably the easiest way to see the sign, and it also gives you a nice view of the surrounding mountains.
Avoid paying for parking by leaving the car on Vermont Canyon Road, just up from the Greek Theater, and walking the rest of the way to the Observatory. Or, there’s a three-mile hike that leaves from the same spot and winds through the mountains. It eventually brings you to the top, giving you the same view but with the added bonus of going for a hike.
You can also take the DASH Observatory bus, which connects the Greek Theater and the Observatory for just $0.50 each way.
One of the nice things about seeing the sign in Griffith Park is that there are so many options. You can stay close to the Observatory and see it from there, or you can go on one of the many hikes located throughout the park, all of which will give you a more up close and personal shot of the sign.
Plus, when you do one of these hikes, you stand a better chance of taking a photo with no one else around. Again, if you don’t take a picture, then it didn’t happen.
See it From Hollywood and Highland
For those that want to see the sign but don’t really care about hiking, then head to Hollywood and Highland, a major tourist spot located within Hollywood.
It’s a mall, so don’t expect an intimate setting with a great view. But the Hollywood Sign Trust, the organization in charge of protecting and promoting the sign, claims this is the best view you can get of the sign.
Let’s be honest, though, it’s not. The views from Griffith Park are much better. The only reason they say this is to lure you to the mall and to get you to spend money on the many tourist traps located there.
However, the view of the sign, while from far away, is still good, and it gives you a nice perspective of the entire town.
In reality, this is the best option for those who either don’t want to hike or who don’t have a lot of time in L.A. It’s located right in downtown Hollywood, so you can check out the rest of the sites in the area and then catch a glimpse of the sign. But if you want to get a better view, it’s best you go see the sign from one of the other vantage points we’ve discussed.
Get Up Close and Personal on the Wonder View Trail
With a name like that, who wouldn’t want to hike it? Technically located within Griffith Park, this trail is a recent addition to the area. But what’s different about it is that it brings you to the sign from the back.
In total, the hike takes about two hours, so it’s a pretty mild one. Though if it’s summertime you will likely tire out as there is little shade and the sun can be punishing.
However, the catch with this trail is that you will not actually be able to see the sign the way everyone else does: you’ll instead see it from behind.
We think this is fun, and this is also the closest you can get to the sign without having to pay a bunch of money. Doing this will give you the chance to see for yourself how big the letters are, as well as how sturdy the construction is. But if what you’re after is the iconic photo, then this trail isn’t going to be for you.
To get to the trail, park on Lake Hollywood Drive and then follow Wonder View Road to the end. It will turn into Wonder View Trail, which climbs quickly up towards the sign.
Explore the Area Around the Sign on Horseback
For those who are feeling a bit more adventurous, consider getting a view of the sign on horseback. You can do this by visiting Sunset Ranch, which is the only remaining horse ranch in the Greater Los Angeles area.
For anywhere from $65 (during the week) to $125 (for a sunset ride) per person, you can jump on the back of a horse, explore some of the trails in the Hollywood Hills, soak in views of the city, and, of course, see the Hollywood sign from all sorts of angles.
A little more expensive than the other options (which are either free or at most $10), this is definitely a worthwhile adventure that will not only get you awesome views of the sign but will also leave you with a whole new view of Southern California, and memories that will last a lifetime.
Soak in the Sights from the Sky
Lastly, if budget is not really a concern, consider seeing it from a helicopter. Yes, we said helicopter.
Several tour companies will take you from Long Beach (where there’s a heliport) up into the hills, providing you with unforgettable views of the city as well as some of the best shots of the sign you can possibly get.
Of course, to get all of this, expect to pay $200 per person or more.
In the end, don’t do this just to see the sign. But if you’re up for an adventure and have the cash to spend, seeing it in this way is definitely worth it and will be something you are sure to never forget.
Time to Go Sight Seeing
Now that you’ve got some ideas as to how to see the sign, it’s time to do some sightseeing. Grab your phone, camera, hiking shoes, some sunscreen, and a bottle of water, and make your way to one of the many vantage points from which you can see the sign. And when you get there, make sure to tell all your friends all the interesting information you learned about the sign. It’ll make you look smart, and how could that hurt?!
The best place to see the Hollywood Sign is at Griffith Park. There are multiple hiking trails on Mt. Hollywood leading from the back corner of the Observatory parking lot. The main Griffith Observatory hike leads to an advantageous spot that allows you to view the sign in comfort.Where do you drive to see the Hollywood Sign? ›
The closest place to park and take a snap of the Hollywood Sign is at 3000 Canyon Lake Drive, Hollywood. There's free street parking available outside Lake Hollywood Park.Can I drive up to the Hollywood Sign? ›
Yes, the Hollywood Sign is in a restricted area and attempting to get close to or touch the Sign is prohibited. The closest you can get to the Sign is behind and above the Sign where you can enjoy fabulous views of the City. The Sign is monitored 24/7 by the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments and Park Rangers.What street is the best to see the Hollywood Sign? ›
Locals know the best unofficial Hollywood Sign viewing spot is is from the top of the Home Depot parking garage on Sunset Boulevard. But if you want an experience, the most rewarding option is to go for a hike in the oak-studded hills of Griffith Park.Where is the best place to take a picture with the Hollywood Sign? ›
Canyon Lake Drive, AKA the Hollywood Reservoir
If you want to visit the best place to take pictures of the Hollywood sign from your car, the best place is on Canyon Lake Drive (put 3000 Canyon Lake Drive into your nav), which gets you closest to the landmark on wheels.
However the good news is that it is possible to hike up to the Hollywood Sign and it is also completely free of charge to do. It is not a difficult hike (it's more of an uphill walk) and it will take you to the top of Mount Lee where you can also get an incredible view of Los Angeles.Is it worth hiking to Hollywood sign? ›
Although this hike is around 3 miles each way depending upon the route you take, it's the most enjoyable hike. There's plenty to see, it's a moderate hike, and it's low-hassle (aside from the time). If time and hike duration are no issue, this is the option we recommend.How long does it take to walk up to Hollywood sign? ›
The Hollywood Sign hike will take you about 2-3 hours round trip, including parking and walking to the trailhead. This depends on your experience level as well. Hiking one way from the trailhead to the sign is about one hour.How much does it cost to go to the Hollywood Sign? ›
There is no need to pay. As one scholar explained, these creative works don't violate trademark laws when they simply show the Hollywood sign to signify that “the scene took place in Hollywood.” That's called descriptive fair use. There's also the First Amendment.How hard is the walk to the Hollywood Sign? ›
The trail is pretty easy, and there are views of the sign and LA for most of the way up, so take your time and soak in the views when you need a break.
Viewing The Hollywood Sign Is Free
There is no fee to view the Hollywood sign. However, expect to pay for parking when viewing the sign from the Hollywood and Highland entertainment district or the Griffith Observatory.
Want to know the best time to view the city skyline? Go the day after a rain for the clearest view of Los Angeles and the surrounding area. The view from above the Hollywood Sign is amazing. As you come along side of the letters, there is a fence keeping visitors from crossing over and getting too close to the letters.How much is parking at the Hollywood Sign? ›
And although small, there's usually plenty of parking, it's completely legal, and most importantly—it's free. Keep in mind, Lot 2 is closer to the trail and on the left side.Why is the Hollywood Sign not lit up at night? ›
Change came in 1933, according to Zarrinnam, who said, “It was getting costly to keep maintaining the sign's light bulbs, and the Sherman Company, which owned the sign at the time, decided to turn them off.”Where is the best place to see the Hollywood Sign from with shortest walk? ›
Formally known as the Wonder View Trail, the Burbank Peak Trail is ideal for those looking for a little adventure while on the way to the Hollywood sign. Although the most challenging, the route is also the shortest, being only 3 miles round trip with an 875 foot elevation change.Is there free parking at the Hollywood Sign? ›
Hollywood Sign Hike Parking
There is no free parking near Hollywood Sign Hike.
What is each trail to the Hollywood Sign like? The shortest, most challenging route takes Burbank Peak Trail (formerly known as Wonder View Trail) and Aileen Getty Ridge Trail to the top of Cahuenga Peak and then crosses a ridge to the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee.Is it safe to hike to the Hollywood Sign alone? ›
It is no longer safe near the Sign. Instead go to the LA Observatory, or Runyon Canyon to see the Sign. There is great parking, hiking trails and more amazing views that include the Hollywood sign.What time does the Hollywood Sign hike open? ›
Authorized hiking trails are open the same hours as Griffith Park, from Sunrise to Sunset, 365 days a year. While enjoying hiking, please stay on authorized trails. Please beware of the extreme fire danger on the trails, parts of which are still recovering after a devastating wildfire in 2007. Trespassing is illegal.Is there security at the Hollywood Sign? ›
You may be surprised to learn that it's illegal to get close to the Sign, which is set behind restricting gates and protected by security cameras and Park Rangers. Additionally, a Los Angeles Police Department officer is also stationed at the Sign 24/7.
And if you want to see the sign at night, it's unlit—though that didn't used to be the case. In 1923, when the sign first went up, it went up with lights (4,000 lights to be exact), making it easily visible at night.Is Griffith Park Free? ›
Access to Griffith Park is free, though there is paid parking closest to the Observatory.Can I park at Griffith Observatory? ›
Road parking and lots are open. There is paid parking available in and around the Observatory (see below).Can you walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame at night? ›
Get your camera ready as you wander the Hollywood Walk of Fame at night. This vibrant street is the beating pulse of Los Angeles. Notice the celebrity stars along the Walk of Fame begin to glow. Although it's a busy section of Hollywood, try to find a moment to take it all in.When was the last time the Hollywood Sign lit up? ›
The iconic Hollywood sign, which was first constructed in 1923, hasn't been lit since the 2000 New Year's celebration. Once upon a time, the sign was illuminated from 1923 to 1933 in an effort to help advertise the luxury Hollywoodland housing development (the sign read “Hollywoodland” at the time).What did the Hollywood Sign say before it said Hollywood? ›
Origin. The original sign was erected in 1923 and originally read "HOLLYWOODLAND" to promote the name of a new housing development in the hills above the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.Can you photograph the Hollywood Sign? ›
The best place to photograph the back of the Hollywood sign is on the asphalt road directly behind the sign and just below the peak. From the peak, you will look down on this asphalt road about 40 feet below you.How long does it take to get to the top of the Hollywood Sign? ›
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.
There is no need to pay. As one scholar explained, these creative works don't violate trademark laws when they simply show the Hollywood sign to signify that “the scene took place in Hollywood.” That's called descriptive fair use. There's also the First Amendment.
However the good news is that it is possible to hike up to the Hollywood Sign and it is also completely free of charge to do. It is not a difficult hike (it's more of an uphill walk) and it will take you to the top of Mount Lee where you can also get an incredible view of Los Angeles.Do they light up the Hollywood sign at night? ›
Though the sign is not currently illuminated at night, that hasn't always been the case. A sign reading “Hollywoodland” in flashing bulbs was first illuminated on Dec. 8, 1923, said Jeff Zarrinnam, chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust, a nonprofit in charge of repairing, maintaining and refurbishing the sign.What is the easiest hike to the Hollywood Sign? ›
The Easiest – Hollyridge Trail
One of the easier hikes to the Hollywood sign is the Hollyridge Trail. Taking roughly 2 hours, the trail covers about 3.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 750 feet.
The “H” even toppled over, so that it briefly read “Ollywoodland.” After ownership of the sign passed to the city in the mid-1940s, the L.A. Recreation and Parks Commission apparently wanted it razed. But the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in, and in 1949 it removed the last four letters and restored the rest.How much is the Hollywood Sign hike? ›
$69. Breathe the air and get up close and personal with the Hollywood Sign and see it on foot! You will hike the best trails and have spectacular views of greater LA basin on this 3.5 trek starting at the Greek Theatre box office in Griffith Park.