“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

~Eleanor Roosevelt

Bucket lists are a curious thing. There are the splashy, someday places we dream about that often take a lifetime to reach. And then there are the little aspirations, smaller in scope and sometimes not too far from home, requiring only a bit of planning and that precious commodity called time.

I’m thrilled and forever grateful when a major destination on my travel wish list manifests itself as a wonderful adventure. But it’s the smaller aspirations, I believe, that truly fuel us. These not-so-impossible dreams offer a literal high-five in our everyday lives. They encourage us to keep going, keep growing and never stop being inspired by our own ideas.

For me, the Hollywood Sign that looks out over the hills of Los Angeles is such a bucket list destination. I’ve thought about it on our many drives to and through LA, wondering how close you can actually get to the sign and what it would be like to try to reach it. As I began my research, I discovered that not only is hiking to the Hollywood Sign possible, but it also seems to be an incredibly popular activity. And to complicate the planning process, there are a host of trails – with varying degrees of ease and time required – as well as a variety of routes to get there.

A Little Hollywood Sign History

The Hollywood Sign was constructed in 1923 as a billboard for Hollywoodland, a real estate subdivision at the end of Beechwood Canyon.  According to The Hollywood Sign Trust, the subdivision offered four architectural styles – English Tudor, French Normandy, Mediterranean and Spanish – that were designed to create an old-world storybook feel. Details on who can be credited for creating the billboard are a little fuzzy. Possible inspirational sources include a competing real estate developer and an early promotional brochure that featured a sketch with the word “Hollywoodland” penciled in the surrounding hills.

©The Hollywood Sign Trust.
©The Hollywood Sign Trust.

“So, if these origin stories seem unreliable, who did come up with the idea for the Sign? After years of research, it appears that a verifiable answer has been lost to history.”

~The Hollywood Sign Trust, The Saga of the Sign

In 1944, the Hollywood Sign and its surrounding undeveloped land were donated to the City of Los Angeles. The word “land” was removed from the sign three years later, and in 1973 the Hollywood Sign was designated Historic-Cultural Monument #111 by the Cultural Heritage Board of the City of Los Angeles. Over the years, attempts to repair the sign from weather damage – toppled letters, rusted metal facings and an eroded wooden frame – had resulted in only temporary fixes. In 1978, after an extensive fund-raising effort, the Hollywood Sign was completely rebuilt.

Lake Hollywood Park – The Hike Begins

After an early San Diego wake-up call, we arrived at our L.A. starting point at 8:30 a.m. Patchy morning fog had drifted away, revealing those famous white letters set against the bluest of skies. We parked our car along Canyon Lake Drive and headed to Mulholland Highway. This route to the sign is rated easy-to-moderate and is among the shorter trails, typically taking hikers about an hour to reach the top.

Lake Hollywood Park, 3160 Canyon Lake Drive, Los Angeles.
Ready for our hike!

Mulholland Highway

Mulholland Highway skirts the edge of the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood. It’s a narrow, winding road dotted with warning signs prohibiting vehicles and parking. Several years ago, residents petitioned the city to close a trail that brought visitors directly through their neighborhood streets. This route with parking along Canyon Lake Road seems to be a win-win for visitors who want to hike to the sign as well as residents who don’t relish traffic clogging their streets.

Heading up Mulholland Highway.
I couldn’t help but notice this most unusual garage door!
The Hollywood Sign is visible at various places along Mulholland Highway.  Here the “D” peeks through the trees.
A not-so-subtle sign.
The trail transitions to a dirt path at this unbuilt residential lot called The Last House on Mulholland. A sign invites visitors to post selfies from the site on Instagram.

Deronda Drive Gate & Hollywood Sign Photo Spot

Mulholland Highway appears to dead-end at a gate on Deronda Drive. However, a hidden walkway to the left of the gate leads to a clearing with terrific views of the Hollywood Sign as well as the next leg of the trail. From my research, this is as close as you can get to the front of the sign.

The Deronda Drive gate…
…the “hidden” pathway…
…and the photo spot!

Mount Lee Drive

The final leg of the trail winds upward along Mount Lee Drive in a series of S-shaped curves that lazily zigzag in one direction and then another. It’s a tranquil setting, rich with interesting vegetation and lovely vistas of Los Angeles stretching out below. I was intrigued by a sign that described the area as an urban wilderness and later learned that it refers to “the inclusion of biodiversity in urban neighborhoods as a part New Urbanism movement.”

Looking across the Mount Lee trail…
…and looking out over L.A.
A helpful trail marker and the “urban wilderness” reference.
I love these wispy colorful grasses that bloom along the trail.

At the Top – The Hollywood Sign

The last curve of Mount Lee Drive leads to a chain link fence and the familiar-looking communications tower that is such a prominent part of the view from below. The Hollywood Sign is perched on the hillside just beyond the fence, its letters facing backwards from this vantage point. A rugged dirt path around another corner leads to the summit, the official spot for claiming Hollywood Sign Hike bragging rights.

Mount Lee communications tower and the fence protecting the Hollywood Sign below.  
Herb held his iPhone above the fence and almost captured all the letters. According to the Hollywood Sign Trust, each letter is 45 feet high, and the sign is 450 feet long.
The dirt path leading to the summit.
View from the summit.
We made it!

We headed back down the trail, past the vistas and the vegetation, the trail markers and tranquility. The sign was now in front of us, oh-so-stately and far away. The trail was getting busier, and I was happy we had arrived when we did. It’s moments like these when I’m most content to be one of those people who loves the early morning.

Just before the beginning of Mulholland, we looked back to see where we had been. A narrow band of clouds was shooting through the sky, like a searchlight pointing the way to the sign.

A Hollywood ending, indeed.

10 Comments

  • This post is now on my ‘favorite’ list and the Hollywood sign has long been on my Calif bucket list. Maybe I’ll hike to it to celebrate my milestone b’day this year. Appreciate the history lesson, info on best way to view it and impressive photos. Thank you.

    • Linda, I love your idea of celebrating your milestone birthday at the top of the Hollywood Sign! I’m glad to know you enjoyed the photos and the little bit of Hollywood history. It’s interesting, I think, how something so unintentional grew to become a cultural icon and a permanent part of a city’s landscape. I hope you have a chance to cross it off your bucket list!

  • How lovely to be taken to one of our favourite spots! Our sweet friend “LA Mary” lived just below that sign for many years and it never failed to give me a buzz whenever I caught sight of it as our plane came in to land at LAX. She’s now moved to another district, but I still look out for “the sign” whenever we are there and your post was a lovely reminder of happy days in the city of stars. Indeed, it’s a prompt to look forward to the possibility of more memories to be made! Let’s hope that happens soon! I really enjoyed your hike, thank you 😎

    • Gill, I know what you mean about the feeling you get whenever that sign comes into view. It’s such an intangible thing. Thanks for sharing your story about visiting your LA friend. I’m happy to have rekindled some warm memories!

  • Finally have had time to finish the whole piece! Thanks for the perfect description! I love the bookshelf garage door and cannot wait to chat to hear more about it.

    • Ann, thank you! That garage door is quite the book lover’s statement, isn’t it?! Looking forward to catching up again soon 🙂

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