The term "photo op" used to refer to an opportunity that resulted in a memorable and effective photograph of a politician, celebrity, or notable event. However, this publicity-driven expression is used much more broadly today. It can now apply to any place with a scenic backdrop. Los Angeles has no shortage of such sites, so as Norma Desmond exclaimed in the classic Hollywood film Sunset Boulevard, "Okay, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up!"
Dubbed 'the shortest railway in the world' at less than 300 feet in length, this downtown LA funicular recently reopened. It was built in 1901 as the Los Angeles Incline Railway, closed in 1969 for redevelopment, reopened in 1996, and then shut down again in 2001 due to an accident. For its third incarnation, extra safety systems were added, but the archway, station house and railcars keep their signature (1930s) orange and black scheme. Best of all, the price of admission to snap a shot of yourself riding the rails is only 25 cents! Exiting up top leads you to the California Plaza Watercourt, a 1.5 acre courtyard of fountains, 'water stage' and waterfall, itself a potential photo op.
- Website: angelsflight.com
Graumans Chinese Theatre
You can literally put yourself in someone else's shoes, here! Picture yourself stepping into a star's shoeprints, and/or laying your hands over theirs in the cement forecourt of this historic theater. It is named for its builder and Asian-inspired architecture, but is famous for actors' impressions preserved in the pavement.
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- Graumans Chinese Theatre
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2010, this 'walk' honors entertainers from all walks of life. Over 2000 street tiles-each three feet across-line Vine St and Hollywood Blvd for a total of three and a half miles. So find your favorite star and squat down next to it for a souvenir shot.
- Related Guide Links
- Walk of Fame
U.S. Bank Tower
You'll likely need a wide-angle lens to fit the tenth tallest building in the U.S into your camera's frame, but it's worth the effort. At 1018 feet, this is also the loftiest skyscraper west of the Mississippi, let alone in California. Its tower is illuminated at night and in various colors during holidays and special occasions.
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- U.S. Bank Tower
Santa Monica Pier
The most recognizable pier in Los Angeles and the only one in the state with an amusement park, Santa Monica's ocean-bound boardwalk is still going strong at 100 years. Pacific Park's 85-foot Ferris wheel puts on a light show at night and is solar charged during the day, the only such ride in the world.
Korean Bell of Friendship
Another San Pedro landmark, this enormous, decorative bell and pagoda pavilion were donated in 1976 to LA by Korea to celebrate America's bicentennial, honor Korean War veterans, and promote peace. This 17 ton symbol rests on a knoll overlooking the LA Harbor, surrounded by good sentiment as well as great scenery.
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- Korean Bell of Friendship
Pt. Fermin Park and Lighthouse
Perched at the southernmost point of Los Angeles in the community of San Pedro are Pt. Fermin Park and its namesake lighthouse. The beacon was built in 1874 as part of an early Victorian style home for its light keepers, and is one of the oldest of such structures on the west coast. Its surrounding flower gardens and white picket fence only add to its 19th century charm.
- Website: www.pointferminlighthouse.org
Ceremonial chapels by their nature are situated on scenic sites, but Wayfarer's atop the Palos Verdes Peninsula cliffs takes the wedding cake! Designed by architect Lloyd Wright (son of more famous Frank) to be a 'natural sanctuary', this glass and wood 'tree chapel' with a birds-eye view and its grounds of native Californian plants is a photographer's--and romantic's--dream come true.
- Website: www.wayfarerschapel.org
Getty Center and Gardens
This 110-acre building complex nestled 900 feet above LA's freeways is known for its architecture and art collection, but the Central Garden is its focal point. A maze within a maze, you sideline a stream down winding walkways of plentiful plants to a plaza. The rivulet then runs over a rock waterfall, into a pool's puzzle-pattern of floating flowers. Getting lost in this labyrinth will grant you great photos.
Huntington Botanical Gardens
At 207 acres, including 13 gardens and a lily pond, this portion of the Huntington Library in San Marino boasts 14,000 plant varieties. The Chinese Garden, christened 'The Garden of Flowering Fragrance' is the estate's highlight. With colorful lotus flowers, pagoda pavilions and bridges traversing a tranquil lake, it is not surprising that parts of the movie Memoirs of a Geisha were shot there.
LA Arboretum and Botanic Garden
This sprawling, 175-acre arboretum in Arcadia hosts a collection of plants from every corner of the globe. Its crown jewel is the ornate Queen Anne Cottage, an 1885 Victorian home shown in opening scenes of TV's Fantasy Island. Circled by serene Baldwin Lake, this is a picturesque locale, as is the Meyberg Waterfall cascading nearby.
- Website: www.arboretum.org
Echo Park and Lake
Echo Park and its centerpiece lake-once home to the largest lotus bed in North America-were redesigned from a reservoir in 1892 to mimic the ambiance of an English park. Featuring a reconstructed antique bridge and Spanish-Colonial boathouse (rebuilt in 1932 from the original Victorian framework), the park retains its stately appearance over a century later. Another draw are Echo's two dozen zigzagging stairways that offer an array of viewpoints. At 230 steps, the Baxter stairway is possibly the longest in the entire city of LA.
- Website: www.historicechopark.org
Just off the Arroyo Seco Parkway between Pasadena and LA's Chinatown sit eight Victorian structures from the late 1800s consisting of a church, train depot and five homes, including an 'Octagon House'. Looking down the gravel path at these anachronisms is like staring deep into a Thomas Kinkade painting.
- Website: www.heritagesquare.org
Almost all tourists (and many locals) pose for pictures in front of Mount Lee's famous landmark. 450 feet in length, with 45 foot tall letters, this south-facing sign is fenced-off from foot traffic, but can be enjoyed from afar at the Hollywood Reservoir (closest point by car), the Hollywood and Highland shopping center and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, as well as aforementioned Griffith Observatory, Mulholland Drive and Runyon Canyon Park.
Runyon Canyon Park
Just two blocks from Hollywood Boulevard, celebrities often hike the trails of this 160-acre park. Inspiration Point at 800 feet in elevation is exactly that: awe-inspiring. A simple stone bench is all that separates you from the expanse of cityscape to the south. At 1320 feet, Indian Rock is the park's peak and offers a higher, but more recessed vista, including the Hollywood Sign in the distance.
- Website: www.laparks.org/dos/parks/facility/runyoncanyonpk.htm
Parker Mesa Overlook
A seven-mile roundtrip trek is required to reach this overlook in Topanga State Park, but you are visually rewarded: Santa Monica's coast curves to the southeast and the San Gabriel Mountains rise to the north. Many hikers photograph themselves reclining in repose on the bluff's lone bench.
Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
Once oil field land, then rescued from developers, this 50 acre park radiates from a recently renovated three-building, 10,300 square-foot visitor center atop its 500-foot peak. The center itself is a handsome, modern edifice designed to blend in with the surrounding hillside of sage scrub. Parking is plentiful (for $6) and a trail loop takes in city sights eastward.
- Website: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=22790
Mulholland Drive Scenic Overlooks
Kodak moments come in abundance along Mulholland Drive; this peerless parkway has at least seven scenic overlooks to satisfy most shutterbugs. The most easterly Hollywood Bowl overlook is also the most popular. From there, downtown LA, Griffith Observatory, and of course, the amphitheater itself are visible, and on clear days, even faraway Catalina Island.
- Related Guide Links
- Mulholland Drive
Mount Wilson Observatory
Accessible via Angeles Crest Highway, this mountaintop observatory boasts an even broader, clearer vantage point than most, due to its rural setting. Its telescope is housed inside an immense ivory-hued dome, and shares the mountaintop with a cluster of towers. Nicknamed 'antenna farms', the towers transmit many local TV and radio stations' broadcasts and make for interesting photographic subject matter.
- Website: www.mtwilson.edu
From either the rooftop observation deck or lower terraces, this observatory in the Hollywood hills has a far-reaching view of the LA Basin (provided the city's notorious smog is minimal) that is surpassed only by its unobstructed skyward sights. A towering stone sculpture of six of Earth's greatest astronomers stands on the front lawn; these stargazers make an excellent foreground for photos of the building's planetarium and telescope domes. James Dean fans can pose next to his bronze bust atop a monument to Rebel without a Cause, one of many movies filmed at Griffith.