On location in Los Angeles

Add movie-star shimmer to your wedding album


It was a rickety little cottage with a condemnable deck we might well have been in danger of falling through, like the wedding guests pounding the perilous patio in Mamma Mia! But oh, the view! When a friend invited us to get married from her home overlooking the Hollywood sign in 1979, we jumped at the chance. It was the year after the equally rickety billboard, originally put up to promote an Art Deco housing estate high in the hills, made the news with a massive, celebrity-led renovation project which restored its broken-down letters and gave it a fresh coat of paint.

This year, celebrating our son’s LA wedding with a post-nuptial sentimental journey en-famille to the city’s most famous landmark, we thought of dozens of other new brides and grooms hoping to follow in our own footsteps by bagging a venue with one of the world’s best-known backdrops in the year the sign celebrates its centenary.

They may not be able to get as close as Woody Trail, where a freelance rabbi came to preside over our homemade chupah off one of the narrow lanes which wind around the hills and through the canyons, but down in the flats there are plenty of opportunities to hold a wedding sprinkled with stardust in the commercial heart of the neighbourhood.

At least three hip Hollywood hotels overlook the sign from a distance, including the W, which can seat 240 in its rooftop event space and works with kosher caterers. Both Mama Shelter, a fun and funky French-owned hostelry and the more sophisticated Dream Hollywood, have their own outdoor rooftop spaces overlooking the sign which can be booked for private hire — beware the wind, though, except in summer — as well as bedrooms with views from which to admire the sign nightly, even if getting married somewhere else.

Given their youth focus, these hotels are good choices for stag and hen parties, and with its excellent kitchen Mama Shelter’s street-level restaurant is also suitable for the “rehearsal dinner” traditionally staged for the wedding party and out-of-towners the night before the big event.

While its own billboards are dedicated to today’s stars rather than properties of the past, West Hollywood, a mile or two down the road, is a more affluent and less edgy neighbourhood renowned for its dining and entertainment opportunities, and also home to the second most famous landmark in Los Angeles, the curving mile of sky-high billboards, clubs and neon signs known as the Sunset Strip.

Its first-ever hotel, the Continental, was renamed the Riot House in the bad old days when the British rock stars, who spent years misbehaving in its corridors and occasionally lobbing televisions off their balconies, made it the hippest but not necessarily the most serene perch in town. All that changed when Hyatt rebranded its legendary hotel as Andaz in 2009, having glassed in those balconies to create sitting areas from which to enjoy a thrilling Sunset Strip view. The beautifully-refurbished hotel, which has paid due respect to its origins by naming its coffee shop The Riot House, has various event spaces and is close to several synagogues.

Given that West Hollywood, now known as WeHo, was a lawless outpost during the golden age of Hollywood, movie stars who had made it chose to decamp to what was then the countryside, favouring the newly-developed residential neighbourhood of Beverly Hills. There they still live, now surrounded by a sizeable affluent Jewish population enjoying the safe, attractive surroundings which make the Beverly Hilton hotel as popular for weddings and bar/batmitzvahs as it has been for A-list gatherings for half a century. One reason is the size and splendour of its huge international ballroom, long-time home of the Golden Globes, but a newer attraction is the glamorous rooftop restaurant presided over by an Israeli executive chef who has added distinctive Middle Eastern touches to a classic American-Mediterranean menu.

The hotel can accommodate kosher catering and is close to a major synagogue on Wilshire Boulevard and many smaller shuls and resident freelance rabbis, like the one we found to marry us in that rickety house on Woody Trail.Just a shame our DIY approach included entrusting our wedding photography to a friend who had one too many Pimms on the night, resulting a set of charming but blurry shots with not a single one of that iconic backdrop we had to commit to memory instead!

Celebrating Hollywood history either side of the wedding

Bikes and Hikes LA run excellent tours of the Hollywood sign including a 90-minute easy, flat walk around the base which takes clients into the 1920s Hollywoodland housing estate the sign was put up to promote. Getting right up to and behind the sign is a tougher, three-hour challenge which the company also organises, though not vital for decent photo-opportunities.

While Paramount is the only major studio in Hollywood itself, its rivals in North Hollywood operate excellent tours, and Warner Brothers, who rescued so many fellow Jewish film-makers fleeing persecution that they were dubbed “the refugee camp”, is celebrating its own centenary this year. Expect an old-fashioned tram ride through backlots used for modern TV shows following the movies of old, and enjoy a coffee at Central Perk, star of the Friends set.

Universal Studios, first to make backlot tours a theme park experience, has been given a new lease of life by the advent of new technology which thrillingly brings both Jurassic Park and the Fast and Furious franchise to life with immersive 3D set pieces within the classic studio tram tour.

A younger generation obsessed with video games is being lured in by the brand-new Nintendo World, whose stars are Super Mario and his friends. Given the distance needed to cover Universal on foot and the high ticket prices, allocate at least a half-day to this experience.

Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, Musso and Frank, is a great place to absorb the atmosphere of golden age Tinseltown with old-fashioned service and a huge, classic food and drinks menu. The martinis here are famous, and it’s possible to dine in booths once reserved for the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. Cocktails are the raison d’être of the Formosa Cafe opposite the old Samuel Goldwyn studios in West Hollywood with its beautifully-decorated oriental bar once frequented by Sinatra, Presley, Bogart and James Dean.

Nate ’n’ Al’s is a classic Beverly Hills deli rescued by a Jewish showbiz couple who were its most fervent customers when it announced during Covid that it was closing its doors after 70-odd years. Great smoked salmon bagels and new greens are served in a room which was the late Larry King’s daily breakfast spot (he preferred the matzo brei); this is still a Sunday-morning favourite of movie executives and comedy writers.

Live entertainment fans are spoilt for choice in West Hollywood, whose legendary 60s music venues — the Whisky A Go Go, Roxy, Viper Room and Troubador — all endure, as does the Comedy Store, next door to the Andaz. Stars are still made here; we saw an unknown Robin Williams make his live debut on open mic night, when television’s now-legendary chat show host David Letterman was the humble MC.

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