Welcome to Hollywood

By Mike Yardley

It's award season in Hollywood: the red carpet, the glinting stretch limos, the gazillion-dollar gowns and designer jewellery are out in force as the entertainment industry kicks up its heels in typical self-congratulatory fashion.

What makes a trip to Hollywood extra appealing is that the neighbourhood has undergone a renaissance in the past 10 years, rekindling the glamour that elevated Tinseltown to its starry-eyed zenith many moons ago.

Kick off your sightseeing on Hollywood Boulevard by traversing the Walk of Fame. Both sides of the street are encrusted with more than 2000 brass stars, starting with those for Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

Every year about a dozen stars are added to the parade, and it is great fun to mooch along the footpath in search of your favourite celebrity's homage.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre is the majestic movie palace that has lorded over Hollywood Boulevard since 1927. Ornate and ostentatious, the theatre was inspired by Chinese imperial court architecture. In the forecourt, check out scores of famous hand and footprints etched in concrete.

The new home of the Academy Awards is right next door to Grauman's. The Kodak Theatre has become a familiar sight on television since it became the official home to the Oscars a decade ago. Theatre tours run every half-hour and the theatre is well worth a look. Its interior resembles a 21st-century version of a European opera house, with balconies and budgie cages.

A trip to Hollywood would not be complete without seeing where the celebrities live, shop and play. Beverly Hills and Bel Air are two of the most exclusive residential enclaves in the world, and the average house sells for US$10 million ($11.9 million).

For more than 45 years, the crescent-shaped Century Plaza has been a hotel of choice for the red-carpet brigade. Savour the storied hotel for yourself, which is set on 2.8ha and boasts more than 700 spacious guestrooms.

The lobby court is a prime haunt for people-watching over an indulgent drink. Soak up California's golden rays from the sparkling pool, jacuzzi and cabana deck and nosh nutritiously at Breeze.

The hotel also has an exhibit with stories and photos of its illustrious guests over the decades. President Nixon hosted a lavish party here to celebrate the Apollo 11 astronauts, and during President Reagan's era the hotel was known as the "Western White House", as he was a big fan. President Barack Obama recently worked out in the hotel gym.

Experience it all for yourself, in Tinseltown.

Star-struck tours

Movie buffs must set aside time for what I believe are the best all-star attractions.

Universal Studios' back-lot tour traverses a slew of shooting locations - from Jaws and Psycho to Jurassic Park and King Kong. More recent innovations include the eye-popping Simpsons ride, which is like a computer-generated roller-coaster experience, and the white- knuckle Revenge of the Mummy ride. Another crowd-puller is Wisteria Lane, from the hit TV series Desperate Housewives.

Next door is the sprawling studio park of Warner Bros. Its VIP tour showcases magnificent outdoor film sets, towering sound stages and a stunning transport museum, which boasts a fleet of famous vehicles including the General Lee and the Batmobile. You'll also get the chance to walk in the footsteps of the stars of Friends in the show's cafe set.

The Hollywood Museum has over 10,000 exhibits, with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia a top- drawer. You'll also visit Hannibal Lecter's jail cell from Silence of the Lambs. Housed in the historic Max Factor building, it's a must-see.

Madame Tussauds recently rolled into town, immortalising stars of screen and stage with masterly attention. You'll encounter the waxwork doubles of VIPs ranging from President Obama to Harry Potter. Taking the shrine-hunt one step further, many tourists visit the Holly wood Forever Cemetery, which is the final resting place of a galaxy of stars.

- Hamilton News

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