A Movie Lover’s Guide to West Hollywood
Just in time for the Oscars, explore Old Hollywood haunts, new celebrity hangouts and famous filming locations on this cinematic tour through West Hollywood.
West Hollywood has played a starring role in the film industry since its earliest days. Classic movies like West Side Story and Some Like it Hot were filmed here, and stars like Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe lived, worked and played here. These days, West Hollywood’s star continues to grow as a celebrity playground and filming location for movies, television, reality shows and music videos.
Come walk in the footsteps of Tinseltown’s most iconic stars, past and present, on this movie lover’s tour of West Hollywood.
1. Sunset Boulevard
What better place to begin? Billy Wilder made Sunset Boulevard (1950) more than 70 years ago, but the glamor and mystery of Old Hollywood still hangs heavy in the air along this iconic roadway. Stop for refreshments at the lobby bar of the Pendry West Hollywood (8430 Sunset Blvd.), located in the former House of Blues, which itself was featured in movies like Freaky Friday (2003).
2. The Original Schwab’s Pharmacy
8024 Sunset Blvd. (corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights)
In the 1930s, Schwab’s Pharmacy—a hair over the border from West Hollywood to Hollywood—was a prime hangout of studio bigwigs and movie stars like Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland and Orson Welles. When rumor began to spread that a young Lana Turner was discovered while drinking a milkshake at the Schwab’s soda counter, wannabe starlets began flocking to Schwab’s hoping for their big break. Schwab’s has since been replaced with a shopping center that houses a Trader Joe’s, among other businesses, but film buffs can still pay a visit to one of the most iconic blocks in movie history.
3. Sunset Tower Hotel
8358 Sunset Blvd.
Ever since this dazzling art deco hotel was built in 1931, it has been a hotspot for L.A.’s glitziest set. Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable and Errol Flynn all called the Sunset Tower home, as did gangster Bugsy Siegel. Perhaps the hotel’s most legendary resident was John Wayne, who reportedly kept a milk cow on his balcony. You’ve probably seen the Sunset Tower in films such as Get Shorty (1995) and Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), which features a pivotal scene that was shot by the hotel pool.
4. Whisky a Go Go
8901 Sunset Blvd.
Whisky a Go Go may be better known for its rock ‘n’ roll history, but this venerable music club has also been featured in several movies. Appropriately, it was a filming location of Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991)—Jim Morrison was a Whisky regular and The Doors served as the venue’s house band for several months in 1966. It has also appeared in HBO’s Entourage, A Night at the Roxbury (1998) and Get Him to the Greek (2010).
5. Rainbow Bar & Grill
9015 Sunset Blvd.
Another rock ‘n’ roll institution of the 1960s, Rainbow Bar & Grill was also the scene of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s first date. At the time, the Rainbow was an Italian restaurant called Villa Nova. On March 8, 1952, the movie star and the Yankees slugger sat down for what was the first of many dates in their storied romance. The rest is history.
6. Dan Tana’s
9071 Santa Monica Blvd.
Geographically, West Hollywood lies between Beverly Hills, where many stars, directors and producers lived, and the film studios of Hollywood and points east, where those same people worked. This is still the case today, but it was especially true in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when the Los Angeles film industry had an ultra-concentrated, small-town feel to it.
As a result, West Hollywood’s bars and restaurants became convenient destinations for after-work drinks, power lunches and other starry get-togethers. One of those restaurants was Dan Tana’s, an Italian joint that opened its doors in 1964. It wasn’t long before industry folks such as Richard Burton, Al Pacino and Harry Dean Stanton started to crowd into its famous red-leather booths. Bands like The Eagles and the Mama’s and the Papa’s were also Dan Tana’s regulars. The restaurant still caters to the celeb set, counting Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Barrymore and Leonardo DiCaprio among its patrons.
8826 Melrose Ave.
Most of the locations featured in this guide revolve around classic Hollywood, but to spot the stars of today, head to Craig’s. Heralded by the Observer as “the best place in L.A. to spot celebrities,” this upscale restaurant has been visited by everyone from George Clooney to Kim Kardashian. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the right place when you spot the paparazzi gathered outside.
8. Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Ave.
This massive blue building in West Hollywood’s Design District is a furniture and design showroom by day, but its striking interiors and exteriors have been used in several film and television appearances. It was a futuristic apartment block where Sandra Bullock’s character lived in Demolition Man (1993). And in season one of HBO’s Westworld, PDC doubles for Delos headquarters, its psychedelic escalators making a memorable appearance.
9. Urth Caffé
8565 Melrose Ave.
This local-favorite café and coffee shop on Melrose is an under-the-radar celebrity hotspot. Not only was Urth Caffé featured as a frequent filming location of HBO’s Entourage, it’s a real-life hangout of stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner and Jessica Alba.
10. Barney’s Beanery
8447 Santa Monica Blvd.
Free of pretense and chock full of history, Barney’s Beanery has been a Santa Monica Boulevard staple since 1920. It’s seen its fair share of famous clientele in those 100 years, including Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, Marlon Brando and, more recently, Quentin Tarantino, who reportedly wrote the bulk of Pulp Fiction (1993) here. You may have also seen it on the silver screen in movies including Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991) and Brian de Palma’s Body Double (1984).
11. The Charlie Hotel
819 North Sweetzer Ave.
This circa-1924 building, designed in the style of an English cottage, was owned by silent film star Charlie Chaplin from the late 1920s through the 1940s. Today, The Charlie is a high-end hotel made up of 14 bungalows named for celebrities who once resided in them. The remodeled interiors infuse a modern design sensibility, but the original architectural details remind you that you’re in the presence of movie history.
12. The Lot Studios
1041 North Formosa Ave.
This complex, a mix of old and new buildings, tells almost the entire history of the movie industry in one city block. Though most of the original buildings have been replaced, the lot got its start in 1919 as Hampton Studios, but was soon purchased by silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to house their Pickford-Fairbanks Studios. That same year, the duo co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith; the lot eventually changed its name to United Artists Studios in 1928.
Movie production continued throughout the ’30s and ’40s, and by the 1950s it was the headquarters of both Samuel Goldwyn Studios and RKO. Classics like Wuthering Heights (1939), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Some Like it Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960) and West Side Story (1961) were all filmed here. Between 1980 and 1999 it was Warner Hollywood Studio, a sister location to the main Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank. More recently, HBO’s True Blood was filmed here. Today, it serves as the home of Showtime and Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network.
13. Formosa Café
7156 Santa Monica Blvd.
Owing to its location directly across the street from the movie studios mentioned above, Formosa Café was a haunt of countless Hollywood heavyweights throughout the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. A former railroad car turned Chinese bar-restaurant, Formosa was visited by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, James Dean and Elvis Presley. You might remember seeing it in L.A. Confidential (1997), in a scene where the detective played by Guy Pearce mistakenly confronts the “real” Lana Turner.
14. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
6067 Wilshire Blvd.
Continue your tour at the Academy Museum, located about two miles south of West Hollywood on Wilshire Boulevard. The museum houses seven floors of exhibition and event space where you can explore everything from early Black cinema in their current special exhibition REGENERATION: BLACK CINEMA 1898–1971 to the actual desk used in The Godfather (1972) in their exhibition The Art of Moviemaking: The Godfather.
During the month of February, get 15% off admission to the Academy Museum. Click here for details.