The most I knew about Los Angeles before my first visit was that it was the city where my favorite movies were made, and the home of many of its stars.
For years, I believed Hollywood was the place where artists partied and worked. Some of the reasons for this perception included the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Academy Awards, which are hosted in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre nearby.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across Culver City, a city in the western part of the Los Angeles area, and learned it is the original home to many of the major studio houses associated with our most beloved films and television shows.
If you are a film geek like I am, spending a day touring through this historic area of Los Angeles is a definite must. Here are some tips to help guide you.
Traveling to most parts of L.A. requires a car. Culver City, however, is reachable by public transportation in the form of the Metro train. This is practically unheard of in the Los Angeles area, and I was beyond thrilled to move around without getting stuck in traffic or having to pay hefty cab fares.
Single rides on the city’s subway are less than US$2, and the system is easy to navigate. Visit the Metro site for route maps and train schedules.
Viewfinder Tip: The Metro only allows one swipe per rider per ride. This means it’s best for everyone in your group to purchase separate passes.
Where to stay
Immerse yourself in the full-on movie star experience with a stay in the Culver Hotel. Founded in 1924 by Harry H. Culver, the guy who started Culver City, this National Historic Landmark was a popular place to stay for cast and movie production teams throughout history. Teams from the original Wizard of Oz, which was filmed in 1938, stayed here then..
Guests can enjoy old films from the hotel’s lobby and drinks from its bar, a former speakeasy. (The bar was one of several found in the area during the Prohibition Era.) Signature drinks include the tequila-based “The Good Witch,” which pays homage to the margarita; and the vodka-based “Cucumber Mule,” the Culver’s spin on a Moscow Mule.
Where to eat
There are many great eateries from which to choose in the area. My pick: the lively gastro pub named Father’s Office. Here, order a glass of cold beer from the vast beer selection and a burger with fries. If you have room, order the chorizo fritters too.
If you’re looking for something different, Bucato is a wonderful choice for authentic, high-end Italian.
These eateries are among the restaurants and shops located in the Helms Bakery District, the same area (and in some cases, the same buildings) where the historic Helms Bakery once operated. This bakery served as the official bakery for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. It ceased operations in 1969.
It’s easy to walk off all that good food by checking out the fun shops. One of my favorite stores was Arcana, which houses a beautiful collection of prints, photography, and art books that cover everything from graphic design and architecture to music and film.
Helms Bakery District
What to do
There are a few ways to take in the local history of film-making when visiting the city where it all started. Sony Studios, formerly MGM, offers two-hour tours that give you a behind-the-scenes look into movie-making in a working studio. The experience takes you back to the days of Hollywood glory.
For a different kind of immersion into local industry, visit the Sony Pictures Museum, where you will learn about new and classic films, the ever-changing film techniques, and studio’s history from its MGM days until today.
Also, see if you can catch a live performance at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, a former movie theater built in 1947 that still shows signs of the era with the original box office and mezzanine tiles.
You won’t need a car to explore any of these areas, as all of them are easily walkable from the train station, something this New Yorker really loved.
Los Angeles is a collection of many little cities, each with a distinct vibe, look, feel, and identity. Culver City definitely is one of the area’s hidden gems. Especially if you like films, check it out.
What city neighborhood has been your favorite discovery and why?