In Northern California, where cinnabar towers pierce through the cool fog as they rise to the heavens, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the region’s most recognizable landmarks. But in sunny Southern California, one of the most popular sights is a 45-foot-tall whitewashed metal sign affixed to the Hollywood Hills.
While builders in the other 47 contiguous states promoted real estate development with more mainstream marketing tactics, Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler propped giant white letters atop Mt. Lee in the Hollywood Hills to create a three-dimensional billboard for his upscale neighborhood, Hollywoodland, in 1923. Although the $21,000 sign (about $320,000 in today’s dollars) was only intended to last about 18 months, nearly a century later it’s still filled with star power and is seen as an international icon.
In the years that followed, the neglected Hollywood Sign was torched by an arsonist and a letter O tumbled down the hill. On at least two occasions, pranksters rearranged the letters with the ease and cleverness of an El Arroyo restaurant sign, spelling out Hollyweed in support of looser marijuana laws and Holywood.
As the 1980s dawned, Hugh Hefner united an eclectic group of singers, stars, and other Hollywood elite under the roof of the Playboy Mansion to save this iconic Hollywood sign via a one-of-a-kind auction at a price of over $27,700 a pop. Shock rocker Alice Cooper sponsored the first O in honor of Groucho Marx. Crooner Andy Williams couldn’t take his eyes off of the letter W, and Warner Bros. Records saved the third O.
What awaited the Hollywood Signin 2023? The centennial makeover!
10 Tips for the Best Views of the Hollywood Sign and Recommendations for Epic Photo Opportunities
1. When Time Is Limited
If you have limited time in Los Angeles, the best place to see the Hollywood sign is from Hollywood & Highland. Just east of the TCL Chinese Theatre, where handprints and stars fill the sidewalk, the northeast corner of this upscale shopping and entertainment district feels as if it were built specifically to see the Hollywood sign.
About two miles east of Hollywood & Highland, another relatively easy way to take in the Hollywood sign is from the top of the Home Depot parking lot at 5600 Sunset Boulevard. Peer over the north side of the building for a direct shot of the nine white letters and the famous Hollywood Hills.
Finally, if you are driving or walking around Hollywood Boulevard, you can simply look north at just about any intersection and you will see the Hollywood sign.
2. For Classic Hollywood Sign Views (Using Public Transportation)
With time in your itinerary to explore Griffith Park and wind your way through its hilly terrain to the Griffith Observatory, you’ll not only be surrounded by the beauty of one of the nation’s largest urban green spaces, but you’ll also have plenty of opportunities to see the Hollywood sign.
One of the best things about this hollywood sign viewpoint is that you can avoid wasting time searching for a parking spot by using public transportation. The DASH Observatory bus regularly shuttles between the Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory for a round-trip fare of less than a dollar.
Fun Fact: At 4,310 acres, Griffith Park is more than five times the size of Central Park.
3. My Favorite View Of The Hollywood Sign
But my favorite view of the Hollywood sign is from Lake Hollywood Park in Greater Los Angeles. About a 30-minute drive down the hill from the Griffith Observatory and around the mountain bend, follow the residential road that climbs above the Hollywood Reservoir to this viewing spot. From the edge of Hollywoodland, you’ll discover one of the best views of the sign.
However, there are several things to keep in mind when trying to see the Hollywood sign while down Lake Hollywood Drive. Most importantly, remember that this is a residential area. People live in these homes, and kids play in this park.
In addition, expect limited parking and a steep hike up the sidewalk to the best viewing spot.
Respect the area as if it were your neighborhood, being mindful of private drives, traffic, and speed limits. Although a lesser-known spot for viewing this piece of Hollywood history, it’s often visited along with other popular Hollywood locations.
Pro Tip: In addition to my favorite viewing spots, this website provides a helpful map and several other sign-viewing tips including the best selfie spots.
4. Hiking To The Hollywood Sign
Hiking to the Hollywood sign is a challenging uphill trek, but there are several options. Most of the hiking trails are quite steep, with very little shade and no potable water or restrooms along the way. Hikers need to take plenty of water, pack nutritious snacks, apply sunscreen, wear sensible shoes, and watch for rattlesnakes!
Another less crowded spot is above Sunset Ranch Hollywood. You would need to take the dirt path. Most people just don’t see it walk right by it. If you can find it, it’s got one of the best and least-seen views of the famous Hollywood Sign. You’ll also get an areal view of Sunset Ranch Hollywood.
This only horse ranch (no ORVs or ATVs) organizes horseback tours so you can take a closer look at the sign. Take the Sunset Ranch Hollywood tour if are looking for something definitely different.
Mount Hollywood Trail
Generally considered a moderately challenging route, the Mount Hollywood Trail takes an average of 2 hours 46 min to complete. It is a 5.3-mile, easy-to-moderate hike that begins at the Griffith Observatory parking lot. The trail will take you on a winding journey through the mountains, offering a new perspective of the sign at every turn.
There are two Mount Hollywood Trail versions. The quicker way is about three miles and starts at the north end of the Griffith Observatory parking lot. The Berlin Forest which is half a mile into the hike features a grove of pine trees that provide the precious shade. There are also tables and benches along the trail.
As you go along, you can take a detour to Captain’s Roost rest stop or the Dante’s View garden. These spots offer the opportunity to stop, rest, and enjoy the coolness of the pines. The last part of the trail leads you another quarter of a mile to the Mt. Hollywood summit. From this vantage point, you can get a clear view of the Hollywood Sign.
Moreover, you will have some of the best views of Downtown LA, and Griffith Observatory, as well.
The Cahuenga Peak Trail
The Cahuenga Peak is part of Griffith Park and also its highest summit. Most importantly, it features some of the best views of the back of the Hollywood Sign.
To begin this hike, head east 0.25 miles up Wonder View Drive, past the yellow vehicle gate to the trailhead. Continue up the dirt road to the unsigned Wonder View Trail on your right. Next, look for the singletrack named the Tree of Life Trail to the right side of the road. The section up to the Wisdom Tree is very manageable, though some will find it rough because of the steep rocky climb with uneven footing and loose gravel.
Once you are there, you can take a break to go through the summit logbook stashed below the Wisdom Tree as some of the impressions written in the book are very creative. From the Wisdom Tree, continue along the Aileen Getty Ridge Trail toward Cahuenga Peak. Push on for the last couple hundred yards that lead to Mt. Lee Drive and take in the well-earned view from behind the Hollywood sign
To trail the Cahuenga Peak you don’t need a permit and there is no fee required, so just go out and have a good time!
Runyon Canyon is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Los Angeles and a must-see when you’re in LA. Spreading over 160 acres, at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains it is easily one of the most popular hikes because of its amazing views, from Catalina Island to the Santa Monica Mountains.
Runyon Canyon trail is given a moderate rating due to a few steep uphill climbs and declines at certain points, but you don’t have to be a fitness guru to complete this trail. This is why it is ideal even for beginners and inexperienced hikers. It can get a little crowded, but on a more positive note, whether you’re a local or just visiting, you can definitely expect to meet and see some interesting people or celebrities on the trail.
Runyon Canyon Park can be completed in one or two hours and, as a bonus, Runyon Canyon is also a dog park, so you can exercise yourself and your dog at the same time!
Great in the day, but even better at sunset, this is a perfect spot to take some really inspiring photos of the Hollywood sign.
Lake Hollywood Park
This is one of the best spots to take amazing photos of the Hollywood Sign. It is a huge park surrounded by some of LA’s most luxurious residences and the end of the road for anyone who wants to drive to a viewpoint. Whether you are looking for the easiest or closest view of the Hollywood Sign, this is probably your most favorable option. Distance from the sign is 0.6 miles and the quality of the view is fantastic.
The park is also a brilliant spot for those looking to get here without a car. If you want to hike closer to the sign, you can hike a somewhat strenuous 1-mile route to the top of Mt. Lee, which puts you in the perfect spot, right behind and above the sign.
On the other hand, the park and the area around it is a nice place to just spend some time there relaxing. The best time for a visit is early in the morning on weekdays when you can have this park almost whole for yourself. However, later in the day or at weekends, you can expect some serious crowd here.
The Ferndell Trail is an amazing long-distance hiking route that features splendid vistas of the city and the chance to see the Hollywood Sign. Ferndell Drive is a pretty, meandering Griffith Park entrance located on the north side of Western Avenue. The good thing about Ferndell Trail is that it’s relatively accessible by car. If you drive, you’ll do good to find a spot near the Trails Cafe, where you can grab something to eat, fill up your water bottles, and use the restrooms.
It is an attractive route but it is more difficult. While out on the trail, you will climb uphill through Griffith Park, before summiting Mount Lee to soak up the incredible scenery. While it may be a long hike, this route has stretches that see high volumes of foot traffic so make sure to arrive early.
If you want to soak up some famous Los Angeles sights or simply want to go on a longer adventure without leaving the city, the Ferndell Trail is a great alternative. Apart from hiking, you can go horse riding and running. The trail is open all throughout the year and is dog-friendly. Your furry friends are welcome but it is not an off-leash dog park.
Burbank Peak Trail
At three miles round trip, this is the shortest trail. But the Burbank Peak Trail is also the most challenging hike to the iconic Hollywood sign.
Although it is about half a mile longer than the Burbank Peak Trail, the Hollyridge Trail has an elevation change of about 750 feet. Sadly, the Hollyridge Trail was closed to the public in April 2017 and as of March 2021, this trail is closed indefinitely. A recommended alternative hike to the Hollywood sign is Brush Canyon Trail to Mt. Lee.
This hiking trail is 4.6 miles round trip with a mix of dirt fire roads, paved trails, and residential streets. You’ll experience an elevation change of about 750 feet and some nice views looking up at the iconic Hollywood sign right from the start.
Bush Canyon Trail
Nearly double the length of the Hollyridge Trail, the Bush Canyon Trail is a recommended alternative now that the Hollyridge Trail is closed indefinitely. This 6.4-mile round trip hike has the highest elevation change at 1,050 feet.
Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park
At 8.8 miles roundtrip, the hike from Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood sign atop Mt. Lee is the longest.
Pro Tip: Although hiking Mt. Hollywood doesn’t take you to the Hollywood sign, the trails on this prominent peak in Griffith Park deliver Instagram-worthy photos of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory plus amazing views of the city.
5. Look But Don’t Touch
Although Hot Chelle Rae sang about dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign in their 2011 hit song, “Tonight, Tonight,” any actual party on the top of the world likely occurred elsewhere. In order to protect the iconic sign (as well as the native plants and critters that live in the area), the Los Angeles Police Department monitors a variety of motion sensors and cameras 24/7. So be sure to keep your distance when admiring the Hollywood sign up close.
Pro Tip: While cameras will prevent you from touching a piece of history, you can see the Hollywood sign from anywhere in the world via this live webcam.
6. Out Like A Light
While the original roaring twenties Hollywoodland sign was once illuminated, the Hollywood sign of the 21st century is not. In fact, the last time the sign was brightened by bulbs was on New Year’s Eve 1999 as the world counted down to 2000. However, based on the shimmering city below, sometimes the Hollywood sign appears to be lit when the city’s glow reflects on the tall white metal letters stretching 350 feet across Mt. Lee.
7. Avoid Rain, Haze, And Fog For The Best Sign Views
Like much of the Golden State, Los Angeles has both wet and dry seasons, which means you can expect several inches of rain per month from late fall to early spring and then next to none during the hotter, drier months of June, July, and August.
When the sun’s sizzling summer rays heat the smoke and exhaust produced in the valley, a depressing brown haze descends over the City of Angels, obscuring views of the Hollywood sign. So the best time to see it is on a clear day in the cooler months, typically October through April, provided it’s not rainy or overcast. Then the sign is clearly visible even during the stroll down the Hollywood Boulevard.
Pro Tip: Round out your trip by adding all classic Hollywood locations to your Los Angeles itinerary but aim for the perfect weather, as well.
8. Get Up Early Or Go Late
While the Hollywood sign is an iconic landmark that most people are excited to view at any time, the most beautiful views are at the beginning of the day as the sun rises and in the evening as the sun sets (especially when the sky is clear).
Pro Tip: If you want to see the Hollywood sign from any of the spots within Griffith Park, it’s open from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
9. 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. (But remember, traveling to the observatory via DASH is less than a dollar compared to approximately $10 per hour to park your car.)
10. The Hollywood Sign Has Copycat Admirers
From the Dunedin suburb of Mosgiel in New Zealand to the green hills that once framed the animated world of Mickey’s Toontown, the world-renowned Hollywood sign has inspired others. Even Dolly Parton has cited the Hollywood sign as her muse for the Dollywood sign featuring a more elegant font and substituting a butterfly for the letter W.
Fun Fact: Known as SF Hollywood Hills, ShyFoundry created a font family that mimics the lettering used to create the Hollywood sign.
How Big Is the Hollywood Sign?
The original Hollywoodland sign was 50 feet tall by 800 feet wide. The current Hollywood sign is 45 feet tall by 400 feet wide. In 1949, the last four letters, “land” were removed. Hence the decrease in width.
Why Isn’t the Hollywood Sign Lit Up at Night?
The Hollywood Sign isn’t lit up at night because it overlooks a residential neighborhood whose access narrows from a two-lane road to a steep, winding single lane. So, if it were lit up, that would be a driving hazard for the residents.
The original sign, however, was lit up by 4000 bulbs which were maintained by a single man for decades.
Did Hugh Hefner Help to Save the Hollywood Sign?
Yes, the late Playboy founder Hugh Hefner helped to save the Hollywood sign twice. First, in the late seventies, he managed to gather enough money to restore the decrepit old sign by throwing a fundraiser. Then, in 2010 he donated the last $900.000 to help the Trust for Public Land to provide $12.5 million in order to protect the 138 acres around the sign from developers.