My latest trip to LA wouldn't have been complete without a hike to the iconic Hollywood sign. We had already spent a few days enjoying the glitz and glam side of Hollywood and by now were looking for some adventure. We absolutely love nature and hiking so this was a perfect way to wrap up our LA experience. Plus, seeing city views from this vantage point were an absolute must.
Rumor has it the hike can be confusing and knowing my sense or lack of direction, getting lost was a likely possibility. After much discussion of whether we should risk it or if we should just hire a guide, my boyfriend signed us up for a guided Hollywood Sign Hike via the new "Airbnb Experience" feature, costing us a cool $35 CAD each.
We arrived at 9:30 am on a wet, rainy and cold day. We were less than ecstatic about the weather but this was our only opportunity to make the hike, so we manned up, layered up and away we went. (I did undress a bit for the photo ops and it was cold af) As I mentioned, the weather was a bit of a bummer but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. Only half of our hiking group showed up and next to no one was hiking the trails. Major score! I hate crowds and lollygaggers.
Taking the guided tour was worth every penny. Our guide, Thomas, was an Aussie actor who was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the Hollywood sign. We got to hear it all (and in an Aussie accent :D), from the day the sign was built until recent history and he also added some of his recent encounters with celebrities.
The hike was twisty, turny and full of really confusing signage that tells you that you are trespassing. It turns out these signs were NOT put up by the county and you are NOT trespassing. They were put up by local residents who try to scare people away from hiking in their elite neighborhood. SNEAKY! On top of those confusing signs, there are signs pointing you to Mount Hollywood, where one would assume the Hollywood sign is located. Funny enough it doesn't actually bring you to the Hollywood sign. Mount Lee is the one that will bring you directly behind the sign. If it wasn't for Thomas, I don't even want to know where we would have ended up.
The Hollywood sign has been through a lot of shit over the years and didn't start off as the iconic landmark that it is today. The original sign was built in 1923 by a residential developer who was trying to advertise his new development "HOLLYWOODLAND". The development didn't end up getting funding and soon became a causality of The Great Depression. The sign was abandoned and by the 1940's had become a recognizable landmark but by this point was in really bad shape. In 1949 the City of LA decided to repair the sign but would only rebuild it to spell "HOLLYWOOD". The sign had to undergo another restoration project in 1978 and was funded by public donors who could purchase a letter. This project was headed by none other than Mr. Hugh Hefner.
Thomas told us all kinds of interesting stories but this one was probably my favorite and might just be the original Hollywood Celebrity Crime Story. I don't know about you but I have binged every single crime story on Netflix. So, when our guide Thomas started telling us about the Hollywood millionaire, Griffith J Griffith, I got super excited. You may have heard of Griffith J. Griffith? If not, the Griffith Conservatory and Griffith Park might ring a bell, both are named after him. Griffith made his fortune as a mining expert in the 1880's. Around the same time he moved to LA and purchased about 4000 acres, 3000 of which he donated to the city of Los Angeles to use as a public park. This is how Griffith Park got it's name, to honor the donor. This generous donation definitely became his legacy but there is more to how Griffith earned his fame. Griffith was a drunk, although never admitted it, those who were close to him knew him as an alcoholic. When drinking, he became paranoid and delusional. In 1903, while vacationing in Santa Monica with his wife, Griffith had too much to drink; He became convinced that his wife and the Pope were in on some elaborate plot to poison him so they could steal his money. He pulled out his gun and shot her but as he pulled the trigger, she moved and the bullet went straight through her eye. To his amazement she was still alive and in true Hollywood fashion she threw herself out of the window and landed on an awning a few stories below. She ended up surviving the fall with only a few broken limbs. Totally incredible! Griffith was immediately arrested and charged with intent to commit murder and assault with a deadly weapon. His lawyer was the best at the time and pleaded alcoholic insanity which miraculously got him acquitted of murder. Could you imagine if that was still a defense? He only ended up serving 2 years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon. While he was in prison he allegedly got sober and became a changed man. At this point the damage had been done and the city of LA wanted nothing to do with him so they renamed Mount Griffith to Mount Hollywood. After getting out of prison Griffith tried to donate more to the city but fearing public protests the city blocked the vote and didn't allow his donation. After his death in 1919 (of liver disease, how ironic!) he left almost his entire 1.5 million dollar estate to the city so they could build the Griffith Observatory and Greek Theater. It's crazy to think these unbelievable crime stories similar to OJ Simpson's were going on in the early 1900's.
Hiking to the back of the Hollywood sign was hands down my favorite activity in LA. I HIGHLY recommend doing a guided tour if you are hiking it for the first time. The stories made the walk to the top go by super quick and was truly a lot of fun. Not to mention, saved us from getting lost in the Hollywood Hills or arrested trying to climb the letters like they do in the movies (don't do it people, they monitor it closely!) The views from the mountains are amazing and crazily enough there is zero cell phone reception so you'll be able to unplug and truly enjoy the views, nature and company around you.