12 Minute Read
12 Minute Read
When one thinks about Los Angeles, the first thing most think of is the iconic Hollywood sign. It’s just so quintessential to the area, and to California, much like the Golden Gate Bridge is. It’s visible from all over LA, except that maybe not quite as much so as you may think. For whatever reason, a lot of hills and valleys tend to obscure it depending on where you are, but it’s still pretty easy to spot.
There’s even a lot of odd history around it, too. Did you know it used to say “Hollywoodland” and was even lit up at night?
I used to live in Orange County and for a short time, Los Angeles itself. Even growing up in San Diego, a bit further south, I still managed to go a good portion of my life without really seeing this thing.
Let alone bike up to it.
Well, let me tell you, my friends!
When my girlfriend and I were last in the area, we both really wanted to go check this one out on the road bikes that we had with us. She’s originally from the Midwest, so visiting this landmark was a high-up-there bucket list item.
Now, you’d think it’d be pretty easy to find your way up to a sign so iconic such as this, especially since I’ve known several people who have gone up this way.
Except that you’d be wrong.
So let’s sort this one out! There are a lot of routes online, but I managed to combine a few resources together to come up with a weirdly scenic route that is nestled literally in the heart of LA that you basically never knew existed.
So this is the route that I came up with, starting from the “Valley”, which is anything north of the Santa Monica mountains / Hollywood Hills.
If you’re looking to save some money like we were, find a nice hotel to stay in over in the Valley just north, as there’s a lot still to do over there and the traffic (well, the drive) over to places like downtown, West Hollywood, Griffith Park, Santa Monica, etc, aren’t really too bad. And the cost of the hotel will likely be a bit less, as more of that area is residential by comparison.
We stayed at the Hotel Mariposa, which was super new as of 2020 and was incredibly clean, quiet, and the staff were very accommodating and friendly.
If you follow the route above, the first several miles, while interesting, are absolutely Los Angeles bike riding. That means large roads, fast cars, and, if I am to be honest, is a bit nerve wracking. Los Angeles, in my experience, is NOT that friendly on the whole as far as infrastructure goes for bicycling. The people who do it have nerves of steel and definitely in an element of their own.
That being said, I’ve done quite a bit of riding in LA, and there are definitely some sections that are okay at some times, while those same sections are definitely not okay at other times. It was actually in LA where I had my first real memorable moment of anxiety on the bike, which gave me a healthy respect for the mental aspect of riding and just how important it is.
For this particular route, and specifically the first few miles, I’d only recommend in the early morning hours on a weekend or a holiday. Going anywhere near Cahuenga Blvd on a bike is not really a great idea if there’s a lot of traffic. People do it, but there isn’t much shoulder for you, and cars definitely tend to rip through there as a hopeful shortcut to get around the 101’s traffic over the mountain.
There’s a turn off as you get near the Hollywood Bowl (you’ll see signs for it, actually), that is actually part of the famed Mulholland Drive which will take you over the 101 freeway. Get to the other side and it will suddenly get quieter, and you’ll be greeted by a steep-ish climb.
It’s amazing how good the views get while climbing up there! Take in the views and admire some of the older, very distinctive Hollywood-style homes that have commanding views out over the west side of Los Angeles.
The road meanders a bit, but just follow the street signs so that you stay on Wonder View Drive. It may not be immediately obvious. It will eventually take you around past a roundabout and eventually around to the right to a trailhead that gets crazy busy on weekends.
It’s actually a reservoir, but seriously, who knew this was even here? You certainly can’t see it from a distance, and it’s been there forever. The homes around this area definitely evoke what is very iconic about Hollywood style, mixed in with changes and gentrification as it has occurred here over the years.
There’s a trail that goes around the entire reservoir, and it’s quite scenic. Quiet, blocked off to cars, and beautiful. Watch out for pedestrians here though, as you’ll definitely see a lot of them on weekends. You’ll see their cars parked, so be mindful of traffic, doors, and people generally not paying attention to you.
Google won’t show you a bike route around the southern and western sides of the reservoir (or at least it won’t route you through it), but I promise, it’s there. Go through the gate and enjoy the view overlooking the Hollywood Sign over the water once you reach the dam.
Continue heading around, be a tourist and take pictures, and eventually get out to Tahoe Drive just past another gate with a fanciful Hollywood logo with stars on it.
There are more houses through here, along with some speed bumps. I guess this area gets a lot of traffic, something I absolutely would not want to deal with, even if it meant living in one of the beautiful homes along here.
Around the bend, you end up going up quite a bit - it’s definitely a bit of a climb, and with all the parked cars, you need to be wary of doors and irritable people behind you trying to find parking through here for their morning walk / search for a celebrity.
If you do stop in the park, though, you’ll get more awesome views of the Hollywood Sign. But perhaps leave that for the descent! I believe there is water over there if you need it.
Once around the bend, the road flattens out a bit, but definitely still continues upward, becoming Mulholland Highway again. I think people just love that name in LA.
If you stick to the left of the road, you eventually come up to a dirt path with a walkaround gate. Don’t worry, it’s short, so if you’re nervous about your road bike on this stretch, it’s really not too bad, even if you have to walk it (it’s a bit gravelly if you’re not already familiar with riding road bike tires on gravel). You can see some of this on Google Maps, but only from single points where users have submitted images.
You’ll end up eventually in what looks like a private road that almost looks like a driveway. Don’t worry, just get off the bike and take a walk around the gate that’s along the sidewalk.
This takes you out to Mt. Lee Drive, which is the road that you’ll take to get all the way up to the Hollywood Sign!
At this point, it’s an out-and-back. It’s actually quite a lot steeper than I thought it would be, too. A lot of resources online made it sound easier than it was, so keep that in mind.
What makes this climb tricky isn’t really the traditional reasons for tricky climbs - first, the road, if you can really call it that, is rough. Like, really rough. It’s definitely okay on a road bike, but it’s basically a gravel path mixed with spots of asphalt. You’ll occasionally feel your slick road tires, if you’re running them, slip around a bit behind you on the steeper pitches. But secondarily, this is tricky because of the sheer amounts of people you may encounter while you’re up there.
It’s an incredibly popular hike for people, almost as much as Runyon Canyon (which is typically where you go if you’re trying to spot a celebrity - there are signs banning photography), especially on weekends. However, this being said, I had a buddy who did this same climb somewhat more recently on an extremely hot day and has footage of it being nearly empty. So take that for what it’s worth.
The road, somewhat tauntingly, doesn’t actually show you much of the Hollywood Sign as you go up it. In fact, you actually go up, over, and above it as you approach it from the back. It’s still crazy beautiful up there though, and you actually get some really incredible views over the San Fernando Valley north of you before the road twists back over to the southern-facing side of the mountain. It’s from there where you get to see the Hollywood Sign, looking down over it and further out towards the City of Angels.
At the top there is a lot of fencing, both at the top of the hill above the sign itself and around the radio tower that you’ve seen up to this point. Both of which are definitely off limits, so don’t try to get around them. Take a few moments, look out over the valley on both sides, and enjoy the descent down, being very careful of the gravel patches that you passed on the way up.
I know, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis went down to the letters themselves in that one movie, but it doesn’t mean that you should! There’s 24 hour surveillance out there and the fines are pretty hefty from what I hear.
Again, be careful, and take your time going back down. If you’re comfortable with this kind of riding, I’m sure you’ll be fine, but if you’re new, take your time. Enjoy the views and take some pictures. There’s a national landmark near the top pointing out Cahuenga Peak that may be a nice place to check out as well.
You can pretty much take the exact same way down that you did on the way up, all the way back down to the reservoir. The descent past the park will definitely go quickly, and we ended up riding through the northern part of the path that goes around the reservoir to complete the loop.
Once up Lake Hollywood Drive, as you get past more parked cars, instead of taking Wonder View Drive back towards the freeway, try taking Lake Hollywood Drive (which is actually a left at the stop sign) around towards Barham drive. This will actually take you back down past Universal Studios, which is also pretty fun to see from the back of a bike.
When we went through this area, Universal was closed. And it was January 2nd. We rode along the road where normally there are tons of people trying to get into the park. So perhaps my route to take from this point onward isn’t the best one for you, unless it’s on a day to similar to the one when we went. We ended up going through some side streets past some parking structures, and eventually up and over a road that honestly looked like a freeway onramp.
Again, LA is not always very friendly to cyclists. I do think it’s fascinating how fast things can change, though, as you could be riding along through a quiet neighborhood, then turn the corner and it suddenly looks like you’re riding on a freeway. Zoning, I guess?
Eventually you can find your way to Ventura Blvd, which, while not super friendly to cyclists, isn’t exactly the worst either, at least by LA standards. Moving along at speed more closely matched to cars definitely helps. I know Phil Gaimon recently posted about an incident that happened to him (careful, the start of the video is quite jarring), and it happened while riding a few miles west along this road. It’s an interesting road that reminds me a lot of the main roads on the southern side of the Santa Monica mountains like Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, but is less…intense? Yeah, that may be the word for it. At least from a driver’s perspective.
If you’re heading back to the same area we were, take one of the roads heading north (we ended up on Colfax) to get back to Riverside.
Honestly, this ride was rad. While we planned to do this route on our way back from Arizona that year, this ride felt a bit more ad-hoc than some of the others we’ve done.
Perhaps it’s just the constant meandering that we did to get up there. Maybe it was the sense of exploration behind it because Google Maps didn’t have as much data as I’m used to referencing. Or maybe it was simply that we had only a few hours before we had to check out of the hotel that morning and we managed to make it work anyway, even getting an acai bowl on the way out for breakfast at Kreation.
So if you’re planning to do some riding in Los Angeles and feel like being a bit touristy, definitely keep this ride in mind. It’s not any kind of hugely epic climb like GMR, Baldy, Wilson, or even anything about Malibu, but it’s still super fun and well, interesting. LA often gets a bad rap from a lot of us who grew up in south of there, and while it absolutely has its quirks and sense of insanity, there’s something that always seems to draw me back in.