L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks: Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard…. The day I landed in Hollywood, just seeing the sign on the street sparked visions of entertainment, glamor and  fame. I was a very impressionable 20 year old filmmaker and I was  absolutely in love with this city.  Sunset Boulevard was smack dab in the middle of where I wanted to be.

It had it all:  Fame, celebrity, wild nights where anything could happen, gritty rock n’ roll… yes and sex, drugs and and and….yet there was also a dignity about it’s winding streets that led to the ocean.  It could be a lady and get dirty too.  I liked that.

So I rented a charming bungalow  just off the Strip in West Hollywood so that maybe, just maybe, some of all’ that’ could rub off on me.

And some of it did.  But like all fascinating women, (and Sunset Boulevard seems to me to be female in form) beneath the facade and glitzy make-up, lies her true depth and meaning..  Meandering 24 miles throughout a good part of Los Angeles, Sunset Boulevard is much more than the strip!

Put the top down, or at least open your windows for this part of the ride….

It all starts at the Pacific Ocean, giving you a taste of the wildness, of nature… and of the newly redone Gladstone’s Fish.  The boulevard winds up from the sand through the Pacific Palisades, past Will Rogers State Park, which by the way, was where Will Rogers lived in the 30’s.  He pretty much owned all of Pacific Palisades.  Eucualyptus sways in the breeze, and if it’s a Sunday between April and October, you can picnic in the park and watch the Polo players stampede around on their horses.

As we glide through Bel-Air, Century City and into Beverly Hills, Sunset Boulevard gets slightly more urbane.  We’re in the city now, granted a ritzy part of it, but we’ve arrived.  The Beverly Hills Hotel sits off it like an icon.  The pool and the Polo lounge a hot bed of industry activity back in the day and it’s not so shabby now, either.  Perfect martini’s.  And the Coffee Shop is not so bad either!  The “Hotel” as it’s called by locals, was the album cover and muse for the Eagles, “Hotel California”.

Meandering east on this winding road, we hit West Hollywood.  this mile and a half strip is home to the infamous Roxy, Whiskey A-Go-Go (now just the Whiskey) and the Viper Room. Best experienced at night, the lights beckon with promise of music.  The club legacy of this area goes way back, first to underground speakeasy’s in the 20’s then in the 30’s it was home to The Trocadero and Ciro’s, watering holes of Hollywood’s finest.  By the sixties she had gotten a bit down on her heels, but that suited the defiant rock and rollers just fine.  The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Van Halen… all played at the Whiskey.  It got it’s name when a DJ danced behind some bars and the patrons thought it was part of the act…. sexy go-go dancers were born and the rest is history!  Sunset Boulevard reflected the hippies of that era… and the boulevard seems to do that over and over.  Capturing what is happening on the street, defining a moment.

Sunset Boulevard then weaves into Hollywood proper, where the traffic usually gets a little more congested.  As a street, if you hit it just right, Sunset is wonderful.  You can sometimes whizz across town in a heartbeat.  Just not in rush hour traffic.

Sunset and Vine is the famous street corner, and with all the new clubs, restaurants, condos and boutiques now in Hollywood, it’s hot.  The Arclight is on one corner, the ONLY place to see a movie in my opinion and right across the street is “The Hungry Cat”.  One of the consistently best spots for a fabulous drink and some perfect eats.  Always a winner.  If you love music, Amoeba records is right there… and DJ’s beware, you can definitely get lost in there!

As the boulevard moves on, Silverlake appears, hot, hungry and forever cutting edge.  Sunset Junction is where Sunset and Santa Monica join together, and the corner houses Intelligentsia, (okay as much as I wanted to hate them… they DO have the best coffee in LA)  one of the best flower shops in LA, a great cheese store and a french restaurant.

As you wind east, Sunset now officially ends downtown at Figueroa.  It used to extend all the way to Alameda, near Union Station, but was renamed Cesar Chavez Boulevard around ten years ago.

All in all, Sunset Boulevard is a grande old dame.  An icon of Tinseltown, a wonderful working street, it passes through every type of neighborhood giving you a perfect snapshot of LA, now and then.

6 thoughts on “L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks: Sunset Boulevard”

  1. Great stuff, Tammara. What a terrific start to the Greatest Landmarks series.

    I’ve lived in the greater L.A. area all of my life. I’ve been on every part of this street countless times. In fact, I live only a couple of blocks off of Sunset Blvd. now, so I’m on it every day. This piece has reminded me that it’s not just another street that gets me from one place to another. It feels like you’ve opened my eyes and reminded me to see all of the great things that have always been there.

  2. I agree…what a great kick-off to our series! I love how you can travel Sunset Blvd. and experience so many different neighborhoods and flavors of Los Angeles. I’ve worked on Sunset for 15+ years now and it has a variety of special places in my heart.

  3. Often, when heading home late at night from Hollywood or downtown to a point near the beach some miles to the South, I’ll take Sunset, even though there are faster ways to go. I like to experience the range and rhythms of the neighborhoods, which change during different times of the year and during various events. Sometimes I’ll even imagine that I’m in one of James Ellroy’s “L.A.quartet” books, chasing bad people who are doing bad things.

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