For the sake of simplicity, let’s say there are two kinds of lifestyle mindsets in Los Angeles: there are beach people and hill people. If you love a good view, being surrounded by nature and tranquility, living in the Hollywood Hills means you’re most likely a hill person.
During the day, the Hollywood Hills offer an escape from the rat race under the bright, sunny skies of Southern California. By night, the glow from the stars above and city lights below eases the mind into endless space. This is the place to feel solitude, even within the borders of a big, bustling metropolis.
Moneyed lawyers, studio executives, and celebrities make the hills their home. But there are also artists, writers and musicians holed-up in the canyons, making the Hollywood Hills a retreat of sorts – a feeling of being far enough away from the grind of urban living but still connected to Los Angeles’ creative energy.
Because of the diversity of its denizens, the hills are dotted with trophy mansions and funky bungalows alike. No matter the size, shape or style of the architecture, every home is surrounded by a lush environment – trees, flowers, grasses, and shrubs. What’s more, homeowners get great canyon or city views – from downtown, across the basin, all the way out to the coastline on the clearest days.
The Hollywood Hills are divided into two major areas, Hollywood Hills East and Hollywood Hills West, split by Cahuenga Pass (101 Freeway). Each side of the pass contains a bundle of canyons, parks, and distinct neighborhoods.
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Hollywood Hills West
Perched right above the Sunset Strip, the aptly-named Bird Streets section of the Hollywood Hills is home to curvy, narrow side 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. Once you’ve lived in the area for a while, getting around becomes easier. Until then, using GPS is highly recommended.
At the ridgetop, along Mulholland Drive, sits Fryman Canyon Park. The recreational area is a locals’ favorite for running and hiking the 3-mile loop.
To the east of the Birds Streets, Laurel Canyon Boulevard cleaves its way through the Santa Monica Mountains, one of the main thoroughfares 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 is not so bad.
The canyon is best known as L.A.’s counterculture enclave. 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.
Just over the ridge is Nichols Canyon. Narrow fire roads interconnect with the next canyon over, Runyon Canyon Park, a popular hiking spot.
Outpost Estates housed the first home built in Hollywood, an adobe home built in 1853. In the 1920s, as the motion picture industry took hold in the region, this area was one of the original luxury neighborhoods for the well-to-do who’d moved to Los Angeles. In fact, the tract 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 is 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 streetcar lines. For sure, L.A. is a 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. Residents of Outpost Estates and Hollywood Heights can strap on a backpack, filled with wine and snacks, and enjoy a relaxing evening at the Bowl.
The Magic Castle is a clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, a restaurant, and 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 L.A., 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.
Hollywood Hills East
Upper Beachwood Canyon is Hollywoodland, an original Hollywood Hills neighborhood developed in 1923. In fact, the tract’s promotional billboard was the Hollywood Sign, which once spelled out the letters H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D-L-A-N-D. As pictures of the real estate advertisement made its way into American culture, it began to represent the entertainment industry. That’s why the sign was not torn down even though it was deteriorating. During a repair job in 1949, the last four letters (L-A-N-D) were dropped, and the wood letters were eventually replaced with sturdier metal.
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.
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 which is used often 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.
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’ll 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 as 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 issues top of mind.
Things to Do
Do you like hiking? If so, living in the Hollywood Hills offers the easiest access to several trailheads to the networks of trails in local parks and open spaces.
In fact, hiking is a very popular activity here. It gives folks the chance to exercise outside, away from bustling traffic of the surface streets below, which can often be less relaxing for runners. 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 also 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 ride 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 a white-knuckle ride.
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 for 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, month-to-month boarding that includes feeding, cleaning, bedding and fresh pine shavings / direct access to all of Griffith Park’s trails.
- Los Angeles Zoo
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 track suits or donning makeup are not uncommon.
Nearby neighborhood parking is always tough, but that doesn’t stop throngs 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.
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 100% 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, from east to west.
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.
Beachwood Village is one of only two, small commercial areas within the hills. Right below the Hollywood Sign, one mile up Beachwood Drive from Franklin Avenue, you will find Beachwood Village. Two anchor tenants, Beachwood Café and Beachwood Market, serve locals and visiting hikers making their way to and from the upper canyon areas.
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. Nightlife on the weekends is busy. On Sundays, the Hollywood Farmers’ Market draws seekers of local, organic produce.
At the base of the Bird Streets, you’ll find the iconic Sunset Strip. Restaurants and hotels dominate the scene. Bars, clubs (comedy, music) and nightlife is world-renowned. For routine shopping, you’ll need to head a little farther down the hill into West Hollywood where you’ll find grocery and retail stores.
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.