top of page
  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Photographing Los Angeles

Place. Los Angeles, the second largest city in the USA, home to Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Beverly Hills.

Where: Southern California, a three hours drive from the Mexico border.

Postcards: the Hollywood sign, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Griffith Observatory, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Pier, Venice boardwalk.

Quote: "Yes, the weather is perfect. But there are so many more under-the-radar reasons why people love the City of Angels—moments, places, and experiences that make living here so pleasant and unbelievably magical that sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re still alive or have died and gone to heaven." L.A. Curbed

We’ll begin with the beach and continue to the ritzy hotels and shopping district of Beverly Hills, the stars and footprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and end at the Griffith Observatory for the best city views and a good shot at the Hollywood Sign.

The back of the Hollywood Sign

The back of the fabled Hollywood Sign, as viewed from the Griffith Hike Observatory hike. On a clear day, you can see all of Los Angeles glistening in the background. On an overcast day, like here, she still shines, but in a different way. 

1. We land at Los Angeles International Airport on the west side of town, and then head 6 miles over to Venice Beach, to experience the wild street scene. To look for: the iconic SoCal beach, street performers, local art, silly gift items like henna tattoos and your name written on rice. If you have time, head from the beach to the Venice Canals, which were created in 1906 by Venice’s founder Abbott Kinney, who set out to re-create Venice Italy in Southern California.

The Venice sign in Venice Beach, California

The Venice sign, at Windward and Pacific Avenue, seen just after sunset. 

2. Next up Santa Monica,  2.7 miles up the road, where the highlight is the Santa Monica Pier, often described as a photographers paradise. Pacific Park is a fully functional amusement park, where rides include a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and lots of games. From the Pier, there are great views (on a clear day) of Malibu to the north and Venice to the south. Or just walk or rent a bike and enjoy the paved walkway, where you’ll probably have to dodge electric scooters, which are all over Santa Monica. End your time here by cruising through the open air Santa Monica Promenade mall and Wilshire Blvd.

The Santa Monica Pier, in Santa Monica, California

The Santa Monica Pier, the gateway to the Pacific Park amusement center of rides and fast food. You can drive over the pier to find way to parking. 

3. Head seven miles up Wilshire and you’re in a land of ritz, glitz and glamour, the real 90210. In Beverly Hills the attractions are ultra-expensive stores on Rodeo Drive (treat the storefront windows like an art show) and historic hotels (the Beverly Wilshire, the Beverly Hills Hotel) which have served as locales in “Pretty Woman,” “Argo” and countless other movies.  Also check out the huge palm trees on Beverly Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd., which scream “California.”

Huge palm trees of Beverly Hills.

The huge palm trees of Beverly Hills.

4. From the Beverly Hills Hotel and Sunset Blvd., go east 5.8 miles and you’ll get to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We could tell you not to waste your time, as the area can be seedy, ultra-crowded and there’s not much to see beyond cement stars of people you probably haven’t heard of on the ground. But you’ll go there anyway. Most of the action takes place around the TCL Chinese Theater, where costumed performers, usually in superhero outfits, are ready to pose with you, in exchange for a tip. Posing with Spiderman is probably as close to a star as you’ll get on this trip. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live tapes across the street at the El Capital Theater.

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles by Jefferson Graham

The Griffith Observatory, photographed at night, with the city buildings behind it. Shot on a Sony RX10IV camera at 600mm, which compresses the buildings and brings them closer..

5. From Sunset, head 4.5 miles east to the Griffith Observatory for the best city views and the closest you’ll probably get to a selfie with the Hollywood Sign behind you. The Sign, the symbol of Los Angeles, is actually quite a ways away, up on Mt. Lee, but the Observatory has the best posing spot, with the only available parking on a seven day a week basis. (You can get closer in residential neighborhoods, but there’s no parking available Saturdays and Sundays.)

That said, parking can be challenging at the Observatory as well, especially on weekends. The city recommends dropping the car down the road at the Greek Theater lot and walking up the hill, or taking public transportation. (There is a parking lot at the Observatory, no climbing required, that charges $6 an hour.)

The city lights of Los Angeles

The city lights of Los Angeles, as photographed from the Griffith Observatory.

At the Observatory, showcased in the recent film “La La Land,” as well as the 1956 classic “Rebel without a Cause,” it’s all about the views. You can go inside for a space and stars show, or just marvel at the city lights and skyline of Los Angeles from 1,100 feet up. And if you’re up for it, the Observatory is the starting point for the Hollywood Sign hike, which is either 2.8 miles away, for a frontal view, or just under 4 miles (and uphill most of the way) to get behind the Sign, for one killer Los Angeles view.

Musso and Frank Grill

Musso and Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood


bottom of page