When you emerge, squinting, from the cavelike darkness of the Hollywood/Highland subway stop in Los Angeles, your eyes may need to adjust. Not to the city's surreal sunniness, but to the uncouth collection of Iron Man impersonators, bong shops, tattoo parlors and strip clubs that clog the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an 18-block stretch of sidewalk studded with five-pointed stars honoring the industry's greats.
An estimated 10 million tourists visit the Walk a year; on any given day, it seems 9.9 million show up, shuffling along on a futile pilgrimage to fix the fleeting joys of a film or a song, or their imaginings of fame, to a favorite actor's terrazzo star or concrete handprints. If you can stand the disappointment, the Walk has a rude, shattering honesty about it - the place where Hollywood dreams, or the silicone manufacture of them, collides with the grime, economic inequality and desperation that also underpin this town. If you must experience it firsthand, you can recover with a classier LA tradition: a drought-dry martini at Musso and Frank's Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.
Location: North Highland Avenue at Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles.
For a more contemplative consideration of stardom, head less than two miles southeast to Hollywood Forever, a 62-acre cemetery where many Golden Age greats have found their final resting place. For a cemetery, Hollywood Forever can be buzzingly alive - it hosts sold-out outdoor movie screenings, rock concerts in its Masonic Lodge and the longest-running ritual in Hollywood: an annual memorial service for silent-film star Rudolph Valentino. But the cemetery really reveals its charms in the quiet of mornings or late afternoons, before or after the sun flattens shadows and strollers alike.
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Peacocks stalk between the markers, which are a riot of architectural styles: Armenian gravestones adorned with pointillist portraits etched with a hammer, chisel and generations of technique. The neoclassical mausoleum built for Los Angeles Philharmonic founder William Andrews Clark Jr., surrounded by water. A statue of Johnny Ramone rocking out on his guitar. Valentino's crypt, covered with lipsticky kisses from his devotees. And cenotaphs - markers to those buried elsewhere, such as bombshell Jayne Mansfield and Toto of Wizard of Oz fame (actually named Terry, and a female dog).
The cemetery is perhaps best enjoyed through historian Karie Bible's deeply researched weekly walking tour - a 2 ½-hour sojourn into the stories of old Hollywood. Bible hopes to guide her audience not just past gravesites but on to an appreciation of the living art her subjects created, from Peter Lorre's turn in the brilliant German expressionist film M, to indelible Estelle Getty in the senior-sitcom The Golden Girls, all of which she details on her tour and website. When a little girl on the tour became distraught at the tomb of "Man of a Thousand Voices" Mel Blanc, who had given Bugs Bunny his cockiness and Porky Pig his stammer, "I told her to watch the cartoons," Bible recalls. "That's where he lives. That's how we can honor these artists."
Location: 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; 877-844-3837; hollywoodforever.com.