Ever since we travelled to Hong Kong and tackled Dragon’s Back we’ve been big fans of urban hiking. There is something about being able to be out in nature and still having the opportunity to take in the city scene from a bird’s-eye view. The Hollywood Sign is one of the most recognizable symbols in Southern California, but it’s usually seen high up on a hill in the distance. Of course, the idea to get closer and viewing the sign in the foreground set against the bustling metropolis of L.A. sounded pretty epic, so we just had to do it! Below we’ve got some suggestions on how to best experience this legendary sign.
What’s the Big Deal?
The Hollywood Sign was installed in the hills in 1923 as an advertisement for an up-and-coming housing development. Over time the billboard letters, which originally spelled “Hollywoodland,” deteriorated. As such, the decision was made to tear down the “land” portion of the sign and leave the Hollywood portion as a tourist attraction. Even after the sign became iconic, however, it went into ruin and was in danger of falling down permanently. Many efforts to save the sign were launched, but in the end it was a group led by Hugh Hefner of all people who raised the money to save the sign.
Pre-Hollywood Sign Hike: Seeing the Sign from Below
Lake Hollywood Park is no secret, but it’s got a lot going for it if you have kids (besides the fab view). Sure, others may argue that there are better places to see the sign from down below, but how many of those places come with a large open space filled with green grass where your littles can run free AND a neighboring playground? Not many. We suggest checking out this public space before the hike for a fantastic view since the Wonder View Trail (described below) will take you to the backside of the sign atop Mt. Lee. As you climb higher up, you will have several views of the park from above, and it is very cool to be able to peer down on where you just were.
Lake Hollywood Park:
- Admission: Free
- Parking: Free, street parking can be found along Canyon Lake Drive
Hiking Overview: The Wonder View Trail
There are a good (perhaps overwhelming) number of ways to hike up to the Hollywood Sign and it’s kinda tough to say which is “best.” Given that we didn’t have a ton of time to devote to this excursion and were in the mood for a good sweat we opted to hike up via the Wonder View Trail (also known as the Burbank Trail). This trail is reportedly the most challenging way up to the top of Mt. Lee, but also the shortest (3.25 miles roundtrip). In the context of other family hikes we would grade this trail as “Moderate” and feel it’s a bit more challenging than majority of urban hikes we have completed as a family. There were definitely sections where we needed to scramble up or down steep grades.
With our oldest little hiking the entire way (our 5-year-old did the entire hike without an issue while our 2-year-old rode in the Deuter carrier) as well as stops to cool off, water, and for photos our family took 2 hours and 20 minutes roundtrip. Bottom Line: This is a short + quick hike, however, it is steep in parts and much of it is single-track, so set exceptions accordingly.
Getting to the “Wonder View Trail” Trailhead
If you aren’t already in the area it takes 35 minutes to reach the trailhead from LAX and about 2 hours 15 minutes from San Diego International Airport (of course depending on traffic).
If you’re coming from Lake Hollywood Park, you’ll hop back in the car and drive to the end of Wonder View Drive. You won’t be able to drive right up to the trailhead so swing a left when you see Lake Hollywood Drive and park along the road (and yes, this is free parking, but as always just watch the signs). After parking on the downhill, hike back up to Wonder View Drive and take a right. Fairly soon, you’ll see the signs and gate below.
Walk around the gate and continue making your way up the road. Eventually, the road will turn to a dirt road and you’ll see the sign for Burbank Peak Trail. This is the trail you’ll follow up the mountain for the first part of the hike.
Much of the hike is dry (duh.), rocky, and uneven. In hindsight, I think we miss judged the difficulty a smidge as it would have been nice to have either trainers or hiking shoes instead of just our “adventure shoe” Teva sandals we set out in. We use the term “adventure shoes” anytime we feel a little nerdy wearing Teva or Chaco sandals. Makes the whole thing feel a bit more EXTREME! I think true hiking boots would be overkill, but keep the uneven terrain in mind when choosing your footwear.
So here we went half-mile up to Burbank Peak. Our first stop was the Wisdom Tree aka the lone pine tree that survived the wild fire in 2009. In addition to the tree, there is also an American flag flying proudly on Burbank Peak. You’ll cash in on some great views here and perhaps your only ounce of the shade the entire hike, so enjoy (!!) and if it’s not packed yet, throw in a bottle of sunscreen, you’ll want it.
The good news is that by this time you have most of the elevation gain behind you (yaasss!), but due to the single track and rocky terrain it still takes longer than expected to reach the sign and you still have some work to do! After setting out, you’ll walk along the Aileen Getty Ridge Trail towards Mt. Lee Ridge headed to the Cahuenga Peak (aka the 12th highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountain range).
Once you reach Cahuenga Peak, you have one more downhill section and then one last push up to the top of Mt. Lee. When you get to the cement road you’ll follow that up the rest of the way. Hike behind the sign and then go up onto the hill situated just behind the letters! If the bench is open, take a seat and enjoy!! Ahhh…you’re here!
What to Pack
Sunscreen: We love mineral-based sunscreen and our family go-to has been the brand, Blue Lizard. It’s a bit more expensive than many of the other brands out there, but, in our opinion, well worth it. Mineral sunscreens are a bit different than the typical ones you can find on store shelves (many of them chemical-based) as it sits directly on your skin instead of penetrating into the skin’s layers. This essentially creates a better barrier from the sun. It also doesn’t rely on chemicals that can stain your clothes and is generally regarded as better for the environment. While they all include zinc oxide, note that NOT all Blue Lizard sunscreens are oxybenzone free. Check out their website for details, but in short their face, regular, and original sport variations do have oxybenzone (If you want to stay away from oxybenzone then give their sensitive sunscreen a try!). We’ve tried many of their products and have been extremely happy with how they feel when we use them as well as how they don’t leave us looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost!
Sun Hats: Rock one. Whether it’s a wide brim like the Outdoor Research Sombero (Seattle Sombrero hats for the kids) that we purchased for our 4-day trek through Nepal or a simple baseball cap, you’ll want something to give you some shade!
Sunglasses: After you hit Wisdom Tree there is barely an ounce of shade on the hike. Do your eyes a solid.
Deuter Kid Comfort Hiking Pack: It’s no surprise that Penny digs this carrier as it has a rockin’ sunshade, easy access to the water, and a pillow for when the hike gets to be just a tad too much work (wink, wink).
Water: Obviously any water-bottle will do here, but I’ll shamelessly plug our Nalgene wide mouth water bottles and have found them to come in handy on multiple trips. Unlike several insulated metal options they are not too heavy and seem to be close to indestructible.
Osprey Backpack: This beauty has been on nearly every trip (+10 countries!) with us since we purchased it years ago. Osprey products are no doubt expensive, but are incredibly durable and there seems to be a spot for everything.
Snacks: If you have kids you know the value of throwing in some trail mix, a piece of fruit, or a bar is a good measure. The hike isn’t long, but a cranky child can dampen the fun. Amen?
Running shoes/trainers/hiking shoes: We’d love to invest in some hiking shoes as we currently only have boots and in our opinion they would be a bit much for this trail. In the meantime, for urban type hikes we’ve been relying mainly on our trusty trainers and they have yet to let us down (really should have packed them for this adventure instead of relying on our adventure sandals)!
Post-Hollywood Sign Hiking
Whether you choose to complete the hike during the morning or evening hours we are betting that you’ll be hungry after. Lucky for you there are some good spots close by! Mel’s Drive-In is a chain which normally would really turn us off, BUT the place is home to some pretty good shakes and our kids love a reward after a job well done! Additionally, if you’re looking to escape the excess calories, their salads are large and delicious! As a side note, if you’re looking for a good deal (heck, we always are!), the Mel Burger on the kids’ menu is the same burger as the one found on the main menu – just cheaper. Afterwards if you have time you can stroll through and explore Old Hollywood. Sound good?
- Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 0700 – 2400 and Friday – Saturday, 0700 – 0300
Mel’s Drive-in Tip: Download the full menu here!
Enjoy the Trails,