For a moment, let’s pretend there are only two kinds of people in the world: beach people and hill people. If you love panoramic views and being surrounded by nature, you’re probably a hill person. And if you’re a hill person looking to buy a home in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Hills should top your list of areas to check out.
During the day, under the bright rays of Southern California sunshine, the Hollywood Hills offer an escape from the big-city hustle and bustle. At night it’s even better; the glow from the stars above and city lights below eases one’s mind into endless space. It’s easy to surrender yourself to the tranquil, enveloping starfield.
Moneyed lawyers, studio executives, and celebrities make the Hollywood Hills their home. But there are also artists, writers, and musicians holed-up in the canyons. The many enclaves and neighborhoods make great retreats. Living here gives folks a respite the grind of urban living while remaining close and connected to Los Angeles’ creative energy.
Because of the diversity of its residents, the hills are dotted with homes ranging from trophy mansions to funky bungalows. No matter the property’s size, shape, or style of the architecture, every home is surrounded by a lush environment – trees, flowers, grasses, and shrubs.
The Hollywood Hills are comprised of two major areas, Hollywood Hills East and Hollywood Hills West, which are divided by the Cahuenga Pass (101 Freeway). Each side of the pass contains canyons, parks, and distinct neighborhoods (some historic).
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Hollywood Hills West
Sunset Strip is one of the largest areas of the Hollywood Hills West area. Sunset Strip is a term for both the famous commercial drag known for its nightlife, clubs, bars and music venues along Sunset Boulevard as well as the neighborhood above the boulevard packed with luxury homes. The Sunset Strip neighborhood includes the enclaves of the Bird Streets and Doheny Estates. The western border abuts Beverly Hills to the west and Laurel Canyon to the east.
Perched right above the Sunset Strip, the aptly-named Bird Streets section of the Hollywood Hills is home to curvy and narrow roads with names like Robin, Nightingale, and Oriole. Driving through the neighborhood is like navigating a maze. Getting around is a daunting task for visitors and home shoppers alike. Once you’ve lived in the area for a while, getting around becomes easier. Until then, using GPS is highly recommended.
At the ridge top, along Mulholland Drive, sits Fryman Canyon Park, a recreational area that is a locals’ favorite for running and hiking along a 3-mile loop. Bird Street homes float above the L.A. Basin and sport incredible vistas. Nested within the neighborhood sits the smaller, more exclusive subdivision of Doheny Estates.
Laurel Canyon bookends the Sunset Strip. The main thoroughfare, Laurel Canyon Boulevard, cleaves its way through the Santa Monica Mountains and serves as one of the main arteries from the L.A. Basin to the San Fernando Valley. The Laurel Canyon neighborhood rests on both sides of this heavily-trafficked, twisty road. During morning and evening commute times, the flow of cars is heavy and slow. Mid-day traffic is not as brutal.
The canyon is best known as L.A.’s counterculture. In the 1960s and 70s, it was home to The Doors, The Eagles, and Neil Young. If you were famous but didn’t live there, you might be a venerable guest like Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles. The deep roots of art and rock music continue today at The Mansion, Rick Rubin’s recording studio.
Real estate shoppers will find homes in Laurel Canyon ranging from cozy cabins with the feel of a tree house to large, modern mansions.
Just over the ridge is the smaller Nichols Canyon, a narrow ravine with less overall housing development. Fire roads interconnect it with the next canyon over, Runyon Canyon, home to one of the city’s most-visited parks.
The first home built in Hollywood, an adobe home built in 1853, was constructed in Outpost Estates. Later, as the motion picture industry took hold in Los Angeles in the 1920s, the district was one of the original luxury neighborhoods for the well-to-do who’d moved to Los Angeles. In fact, the subdivision had a large, lighted sign to compete with the one in nearby Hollywoodland (later shortened to H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D). In the middle of the neighborhood sits the ever-popular music venue Hollywood Bowl, and above that, the Jerome C. Daniel Overlook.
Right below Outpost Estates and right above the Hollywood & Highland complex sits the Hollywood Heights neighborhood. Here you will find one of the many “secret stairs” of Los Angeles – public stairways built in the 1920s and 30s to provide people quick access to-and-from streetcar lines. For sure, L.A. is now car town, but the stairs live on and give folks a way to get a good cardio workout! The Hollywood Bowl, a top outdoor music venue, is within walking distance.
The venerable neighborhood institution, The Magic Castle, is a clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, a restaurant, and a nightclub. Evening and weekend performances are put on by pros and amateurs alike. Admittance is for members-only and guests by invitation.
Right above The Magic Castle is one of the most notable landmarks in town, Yamashiro Historic District. The property includes gardens, a replica of a 17th-century palace, and 600-year old pagoda imported from Japan. Oft-used as a filming location, the property can be seen in Memoirs of a Geisha, Blind Date, and Sayonara.
Whitley Heights Historic District
Whitley Heights is another affluent enclave in the Hollywood Hills West area. Luxury homes, especially Spanish-style houses, dot the district. Many homes were built during the rise of the motion picture industry in the 1920s. Early moguls and film stars connected to the industry bought houses and lived here.
Like Outpost Estates and Hollywood Heights, Whitley Heights residents are steps from the Hollywood Bowl. It’s easy to strap on a backpack filled with wine and snacks and walk a short distance to enjoy a relaxing evening at the Bowl.
Hollywood Hills East
Upper Beachwood Canyon is also known as Hollywoodland, an original Hollywood Hills neighborhood developed in 1923. In fact, the tract’s promotional billboard was the Hollywood Sign (as noted above, it once spelled out subdivision’s name: H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D-L-A-N-D). As pictures of the Hollywoodland real estate advertisement made its way into American culture, it began to represent the entertainment industry rather than the neighborhood. That’s why the sign was never torn down even though the subdivision no longer needed it to advertise homes and lots for sale. The sign deteriorated over the years, falling into disrepair. During a repair job in 1949, the last four letters (L-A-N-D) were removed and the wood letters eventually replaced with sturdier metal ones.
Beachwood Drive is the main thoroughfare from the Hollywoodland neighborhood down to Franklin Avenue. Lower Beachwood Canyon is mostly apartment buildings, but the side streets that branch off the main road and climb into the hillsides remain residential.
Resting in a saddle between the hills, just over the ridge from Beachwood Canyon, you’ll find the Hollywood Reservoir and Lake Hollywood Park. The reservoir loop is lined with shade trees, making it an excellent place to jog, walk, or ride a bike. The dog-friendly park has a small playground and picnic tables. This is one of the best places in the area to view the Hollywood Sign.
The Reservoir sits between Beachwood Canyon and the 101 Freeway and the neighborhoods surrounding it include Lake Hollywood Estates, Hollywood Knolls, and Cahuenga Pass. Below the Hollywood Reservoir Dam sits Hollywood Dell.
The Oaks neighborhood sits between Beachwood Canyon and Los Feliz Estates. Its northern border abuts Griffith Park. Homes in The Oaks range from small houses built at the turn of the century to modern luxury mansions. The streets can get quite steep, but fantastic vistas are the payoff.
Within The Oaks sits the small, exclusive, gated community of Valley Oak Drive. It is home the largest Craftsman home in the United States (nearly 14,000 square feet) as well as other architectural gems.
Hollywood Hills Homes and Architecture
The Hollywood Hills are known for stunning luxury homes with city or canyon views. Sitting on the south-facing slope of the Santa Monica Mountains, daylong sunlight is easy to come by. A fair number of homes are suspended on the hillsides, jutting out over the steep slopes. Houses with stilt foundations and cross-bracing systems will leave you asking how they hold up in an earthquake. This gives double meaning to “living on the edge.”
Architectural in the hills is diverse, from 60s-era hippie roosts to pricey mansions. With few exceptions, all are expensive. Here are few popular styles:
- Mid-Century Modern
- Spanish Colonial Revival
- California Modern
- French Normandy
- Tudor Revival
- Case Study Houses
Landscaping here tends to be lush and hedged-in, providing homeowners with additional privacy. Most trees were planted decades ago when Los Angeles transformed from a desert to irrigated city, courtesy of aqueducts that transport snowmelt and runoff from the Sierra Mountains. Some yards have been updated with eco-conscious, drought-resistant plants and grasses. Conservation is an ongoing and growing matter here; more frequent drought periods keep environmental and conservation issues top of mind.
Things to Do
Do you like hiking? If so, living in the Hollywood Hills offers the easy access to several trailheads and trail networks among local parks and open spaces.
In fact, hiking is a very popular activity here. It gives folks the chance to exercise in a less frenetic environment, away from the sidewalks and bustling traffic of the surface streets below. Hiking is also a social activity, giving friends (and often their pets) the chance to socialize. Plus, hikers are always rewarded with a great view.
Cyclists enjoy the challenge of pedaling up the canyon streets like Outpost Drive to Mulholland Drive. Once at the top, bikers can follow Mulholland for several miles and then speedily cruise back down either side of the Santa Monica Mountains. On weekends, pelotons (packs of cyclists) and sports cars take on the winding, steep roads and narrow side streets for white-knuckle rides.
Griffith Park covers 4,210 acres and is the 11th largest municipal park in the United States. It’s also the biggest park with an urban wilderness area. There are 53 miles of trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding. Here are some of the popular activities locals enjoy in the park:
- Hiking – to the Hollywood Sign, observatory and through the canyons
- Griffith Observatory – peering through telescopes available to the public at night, a great activity when friends and family visit from out of town \
- Golf – two 18-hole courses and one 9-hole course, both are public
- Open spaces – soccer and family picnics are popular
- The Greek Theatre – an outdoor amphitheater and serial award-winner as the best music venue in Los Angeles
- Los Angeles Equestrian Center – offers month-to-month boarding that includes feeding, cleaning, bedding, fresh pine shavings, plus direct access to all of Griffith Park trails
- Los Angeles Zoo – a family-favorite for decades
One of the more popular hiking spots in the city, the smaller Runyon Canyon is perfect for a shorter hike or workout when your time is limited. The park is also home to one of the only outdoor yoga classes in town. Fewer tourists use the park. It’s more of a “local” hangout.
The park is frequented by a lot of young people waiting for their big break in the entertainment world, so the crowd is usually beautiful. Guests wearing pricey designer tracksuits or donning makeup are not uncommon.
Nearby neighborhood parking is always tight, but that doesn’t stop crowds of people from using the park frequently, especially on weekends. Plus, the park is dog-friendly, so it’s a convenient spot (pun intended) for Fido to get some exercise.
Bronson Canyon is a lesser-known entrance to Griffith Park. But, it’s one of the best. Cruise up Canyon Drive from Franklin Avenue to the parking lot at the small playground and picnic area. You’ll find a trailhead just beyond the parking area.
If you’d like to warm up before a big hike to one of the park’s peaks, take a quick side journey to a quarry that produced crushed rock for local road construction. Abandoned in the 1920s, the operation left behind a pit and Bronson Caves, now used as a filming location for motion pictures and television shows. The main cave is best known as the entrance to the Batcave in the 60s era Batman television series.
Other Popular Places in the Hollywood Hills
- Jerome C. Daniel Overlook – one of the best viewpoints in town on a bluff right above the Hollywood Bowl, popular with tourists and photographers
- Secret Steps – originally built for folks to get to-and-from public transportation (streetcars), now a great place for stair climbing workouts
- Lake Hollywood Park – a great dog-friendly open space with green grass and picnic tables
- Hollywood Reservoir – a generally quiet and less-trafficked trail around the reservoir for biking, hiking or walking
- Hollywood Bowl – an historic outdoor music venue and home to L.A. Philharmonic’s summer concerts
Restaurants, Bars, and Shopping
Neighborhoods in the Hollywood Hills are nearly all residential. But there’s plenty of restaurants, bars, and shopping areas nearby. Just hop in your car and roll down the hill. Here are the commercial areas in and near The Hills, from west to east.
The iconic Sunset Strip is the most commercial and developed area; this is where you’ll find the widest assortment of restaurants and hotels. Bars, clubs (comedy, music), and nightlife are world-renowned. For routine errands and shopping, you’ll need to head a little farther down the hill into West Hollywood where you’ll find grocery and retail stores.
Hollywood sits right at the base of Cahuenga Pass. Recent revitalization and development in the area brought many additional stores like Trader Joe’s and Bed Bath & Beyond. Downtown Hollywood is home to many bars and eateries. The nightlife scene on weekends is quite busy. On Sunday mornings, the Hollywood Farmers’ Market draws seekers of local, organic produce.
Beachwood Village sits right below the Hollywood Sign, one mile up Beachwood Drive from Franklin Avenue. Two anchor tenants, Beachwood Café and Beachwood Market, serve locals and visiting hikers making their way to and from the upper canyon areas.
Franklin Village sits at the base of Beachwood and Bronson Canyons, right on Franklin Avenue. All the restaurants have sidewalk tables, creating a convivial atmosphere, particularly on nights when Upright Citizens Brigade holds improv shows; the entire block gets packed with people waiting for entry.
Final Thoughts on Living in the Hollywood Hills
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The neighborhoods of Hollywood Hills occupy several canyons on the southern facing slope of the Santa Monica Mountains, right above Central Los Angeles. Gorgeous homes rest within the forest-like setting. In addition to the area’s natural beauty, residents enjoy privacy and killer views. Living in the hills means seclusion but with the all the conveniences of a major U.S. city. You can have your cake and eat it, too.
Starting in the 1920s, residential development and home construction followed lock-step with the burgeoning motion picture, television, and music industries. Like a blank canvas, the area was open to varied architectural styles, from Tudor to mid-century modern.
The creation (and protection) of parks and open spaces add to the quality of life here. That means plenty of places to hike, bike, jog or let your dog blow off steam. With the year-round sunny weather in Los Angeles, you’ll never feel housebound.