Woman holding LP Los Angeles, San Diego and Southern California guidebook with Hollywood sign in background.

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Hollywood Sign

Los Feliz & Griffith Park

If you go to Los Angeles and don’t catch a glimpse of those nine letters looming large on a Hollywood hillside, did you really even visit Tinseltown? Just as the Empire State Building is to New York City and the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the Hollywood sign has become a symbol of LA. But even more, this iconic advertisement, originally built to attract buyers to a 1920s real estate development, has become a global emblem of the entertainment industry. Adding to its allure, checking the sign off your list isn’t as straightforward as visiting other landmarks. The closer you get, the less you can see it as a whole. But the adventure of seeking out the sign – whether that means hiking the hills of Griffith Park or driving winding streets past multimillion-dollar homes, many owned by insiders of the very industry the sign represents – is half the fun.

The Hollywood sign seen from a distance in Los Angeles
You can get close to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles on foot, but it’s illegal to touch it © Maks Ershov / Shutterstock


The Hollywood sign is actually missing four letters from its original form. When it was built in 1923, it read “HOLLYWOODLAND,” the name of the new housing development it advertised. Each sans serif letter, cut from sheet metal and anchored to telephone poles, measured 50 feet tall. The project took 60 days to complete and cost $21,000 (equivalent to about $335,000 today). 

Only meant to be temporary, the sign wasn’t built to brave the elements. By the ’30s, the H fell off and for several years the sign read “OLLYWOODLAND.” Eventually, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, recognizing that the sign had taken on more meaning for the city, stepped in to save it. They fixed the missing H and removed “LAND.” In 1949, the sign finally read “HOLLYWOOD,” as it does today.  

The sign got another makeover in 1978, when a group spearheaded by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and the rocker Alice Cooper gathered funds to rebuild it in a more weather-resistant form. The project stayed true to the original design as much as possible with one difference: the new letters measured 45 feet tall. 

Hefner would become pivotal to the sign’s protection again in 2010, when he and others (including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks) helped the city of Los Angeles purchase the land surrounding the letters.  

People walking on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is outside the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, which was designed with sign views in mind © Walter Cicchetti / Shutterstock

Best places to see the sign

For easiest access, head to Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The Hollywood & Highland shopping complex was designed with sign views in mind. Plus, you’ll be near other major attractions, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre

Griffith Observatory is another prime spot. On the west side of the observatory’s lawn, you can snap a picture with both a bust of James Dean and the sign in the frame. Public parking is available but limited and includes a fee Monday-Friday from noon to 10pm and on weekends from 10am to 10pm. Alternatively, the DASH Observatory/Los Feliz public bus service stops at the observatory every 20-25 minutes and costs just 50 cents. 

Deronda Gate gets you even closer. Though parking is permitted on Deronda Drive, it’s best to have a ride service drop you off (better for ogling the surrounding real estate, too). The entrance may look intimidating, but don’t worry – a timed lock opens the gate from sunrise to sunset. Right past the gate, you can capture dream selfies near Tyrolian Tank, or follow Mt Lee Drive for a hike to the back of the sign. This route meets up with the second hike mentioned below.

Hikes to the sign

Although you can’t actually touch the Hollywood sign’s letters (not only is it illegal, the sign is set behind a fence and monitored by camera 24/7), the closest you’ll get is by foot. 

The Mount Hollywood Trail, which is the most popular and least strenuous hike with views, will bring you up a neighboring peak for an eye level, though slightly side-angle, look at the sign. For a three-mile round-trip route, start at the Charlie Turner Trailhead, which leaves from the parking lot of Griffith Observatory. Bonus: the parking lot area has bathrooms and drinking fountains.

If you’re set on summiting Mount Lee (home to the sign), head to the Brush Canyon Trail for a 6.4-mile (round-trip) hike that brings you to the backside of the letters. There are free public parking lots near the trailhead at 3200 Canyon Drive, Griffith Park.

Are there any tours? 

Plenty of LA’s greatest hits tours (like those that include stops at the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Rodeo Drive) also include photo ops for the sign. If you’re down for a hike but don’t trust your sense of direction, Bikes and Hikes LA will take you on a guided group amble. Or, see the sign from horseback on a one- or two-hour tour through the Griffith Park hills with Sunset Ranch.

Top spots near the sign

At 2700 N. Beachwood Drive, you’ll find a storybook cottage that’s the original Hollywoodland Realty office. In the same area, two stone gates mark the entrance to the historic neighborhood, and Beachwood Cafe makes for a charming lunch spot. 

Changes to the sign

In addition to losing its H and later “LAND,” the Hollywood sign has appeared altered a number times due to pranks. Most notably, strategically placed fabric made it “HOLLYWeeD” in 1976 and again in 2017.

Is the sign lit up at night?

Today, the Hollywood sign does not have lights, though back in the 1920s bulbs did illuminate the billboard in four flashing stages: “HOLLY,” “WOOD,” “LAND,” and finally “HOLLYWOODLAND.” Lights have returned for a few special occasions, but generally, any glow you see is just a reflection off the white letters.

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