“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.