Relive your favorite cinematic memories in this journey that begins in Los Angeles and includes desert and mountain stops.
Set on Los Angeles’ Mount Hollywood 1,134 feet above sea level, Griffith Observatory and its surrounding green space were created from a donation by Griffith J. Griffith, who dreamed of giving his adopted hometown a world-class park and a facility where citizens could marvel at the stars. Since opening in 1935, the iconic domed buildings have hosted knife fights in Rebel Without a Cause and the first appearance of a muscle-bound future governor in The Terminator. Take in a show at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium to gain a deeper understanding of cosmic happenings from the big bang to the northern lights. Visit after dark to explore space through the Zeiss telescope or examine the sun during the day with the state-of-the-art coelostat.
This 117-year-old railway, which claims to be the world’s shortest, ferries riders 300 feet up Bunker Hill for $1 each way. Connecting Hill and Olive Streets, the classic orange and black cars of Angels Flight were initially constructed for use both as a unique attraction and a way for residents to get up one of L.A.’s steepest climbs. You might recognize the historic funicular from La La Land; it’s where Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling shared a memorable kiss. At the top, visit the Water Court mall, and down below, duck into the massive food hall at Grand Central Market where Mia and Sebastian spent a date night on the stools of Sarita’s Pupuseria.
In the Broadway Theatre and Commercial District of downtown LA you'll find the hip Grand Central Market food hall.
Thanks to easy access from Los Angeles, the desert oasis of Greater Palm Springs has long-served as one of Hollywood’s favorite filming spots. Drive to the city from the west and you can’t miss the massive wind farm in the San Gorgonio Mountain Pass where Ethan Hunt dodged spinning turbines while hanging from a helicopter in Mission: Impossible III. In the heart of the city, step inside the Palm Springs Convention Center to see where Bradley Cooper played a gig in A Star Is Born. Get a 360-degree view of the Coachella Valley from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, featured in (the unfortunately named) Skyway to Death and Hanging by a Thread. Book a room at Casa de Monte Vista for a taste of Liberace’s fabulous lifestyle: The resort served as his fictional home in Behind the Candelabra.
In the high desert about 20 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park, Pioneertown looks like it has been around since the 1800s. But these rustic structures were originally built as a tourist attraction and film set in 1946. You can stay in western-style rooms decorated with Native American blankets, cactus, and rustic furnishings at the Pioneertown Motel. Or catch dinner and live music at Pappy & Harriet’s, where Sir Paul McCartney once played a show.
Death Valley National Park encompasses mountain-size sand dunes, below-sea-level salt flats, and colorful wildflowers and sandstone canyons. The park is the hottest and driest place in America, with summer temperatures peaking above 120 F°/49°C, and average rainfall of 2 inches/5 cm per year. Also extreme are the park’s elevations: Badwater Basin, the park’s lowest spot, rests at 282 feet/86 meters below sea level while Telescope Peak soars to 11,049 feet/3,368 meters.
You don’t want to miss Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, when early morning light accents the dunes’ many contours and ripples. Another must-see stop is Zabriske Point and Golden Canyon, where every imaginable shade of gold is visible in the wrinkled cliffs, whose layers glow at sunrise and sunset. Pick your favorite perspective: Drive to Zabriskie Point and survey the scene from on high, or see the vibrant beauty up close by hiking in Golden Canyon.
Insider’s Tip: spring season is the best time to spot rare wildflowers in the park.
The stark and lovely terrain surrounding Lone Pine, sandwiched by Sequoia National Park to the west and Death Valley to the east, has served as the backdrop for more than 400 feature films. At the Museum of Western Film History, guests can view memorabilia from movies shot in the nearby wilds: Samson and Delilah, Gunga Din, and Django Unchained to name a few. Old-fashioned cars, pianos, saddles, and original scripts create a rich understanding of “where real West became the reel West,” according to museum officials. Grab a film-set map to embark on a self-guided tour of Movie Road, which twists through the Alabama Hills, a rugged landscape of rock formations backed by the snow-capped Sierra Mountains.
The most famous stop on Movie Road, the geologically impressive route that marks the spot of famous filming locations, Lone Ranger Canyon has been featured as the backdrop for many a box office blitz. Located in the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, the site can be accessed by car with just a short drive on dirt. The otherworldly rock formations have been used as a stand-in for spots all across the globe. It’s the site of the ambush that brought Tonto and Ranger Reid together in The Lone Ranger; stood in for Afghanistan in Iron Man; and emulated the Spanish countryside Russell Crowe galloped through in Gladiator.
Mammoth Lakes is a lovely and laid-back ski town with the 11,000-foot-tall Mammoth Mountain as its namesake peak. Take to the slopes during the extended season—with more than 30 feet of average annual snowfall, the resort has been known to stay open through early summer. In late spring, Mammoth’s lower-elevation trails transform into a mountain biker’s paradise with runs through forested paths. The impressive snowy summit stood in for the Himalayas in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. After ditching their plane, Indy and co. made an improbable descent in an inflatable life raft. There aren’t any (practical) white water rafting opportunities in Mammoth, but opportunities for activities like fly-fishing and hot spring soaking abound.