Home to Hollywood and the stars, California has a long and rich history as the home of modern cinema. Whilst today film crews travel the world in search of the perfect backdrops for the next blockbuster, not so long-ago budgets were a little tighter and producers had to work with what they had on their doorsteps. From the beaches of LA to the Sierra Nevada mountains, you’ll be amazed at just how many of your favourite movie scenes have been filmed in America’s Golden State. Here are some of our favourites that you can still visit today…
Angel’s Flight, Los Angeles
This 91-meter long narrow-gauge railway has been operating in downtown LA since 1996, shuttling tourists and locals alike between the historic downtown area and Bunker Hill. Although a popular attraction in its own right, fans of the silver screen now have another reason to visit this LA classic. Who remembers Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone in the 2016 classic Lala Land? Yup, you guessed it – Angels Flight made a special cameo appearance in this modern-day classic, as well as other hits including The Glenn Miller Story, The Muppets and The Saint. Better still, the railway has recently re-opened after an extended period of renovations meaning that for a mere 50c, you can join the stars on this iconic journey.
Hotel del Coronado, Coronado
Having been featured in at least 12 films since it first opened in 1888, the Hotel del Coronado – affectionately known as The Del – has played host to many a Hollywood star, as well as US Presidents and visiting Royalty. Situated in the historic town of Coronado, just across the bay from San Diego, The Del’s iconic styling has made it a dream location for producers looking to capture the Californian coastline at its best. First used as a filming location for The Flying Fleet in 1927, it rose to stardom following the release of the 1959 classic Some Like It Hot. Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis were amongst the legends to cross the threshold at this time, when the hotel was selected to represent “The Seminole Ritz”. With rooms in this iconic hotel starting from around $400 per night, your very own Hollywood experience is well within reach!
The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Arguably one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge has been a favourite amongst movie producers for decades. From the Hitchcock classic The Birds, to James Bond’s A View to a Kill and X-Men: The Last Stand, the bridge’s towering from has featured in some of cinema’s most memorable scenes. For some reason, directors have particularly enjoyed depicting the bridge in dramatic collapses or catastrophic battles, none more so than in the 2015 hit San Andreas, where the entire central span of the bridge is washed away by a tsunami. Fear not, though, as the bridge is still very much intact and is a must-see attraction for all those visiting San Francisco and the Bay Area!
Railtown 1897, Jamestown
Part of the California State Parks, the historic railroad first featured on the silver screen in 1919, and has earned itself the nickname of The Movie Railroad. The Sierra Railway’s steam locomotives and classic carriages continue to operate today much as they have done for the last 100 years, over which time they have provided numerous producers with that classic ‘American Railroad’ scene. Remember Back to the Future III, Little House on the Prairie and Tales of Wells Fargo? Yep – you guessed it, they all feature shots of this iconic railway. Gunslinger fans in particular will love the location, as its where Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman & Gene Hackman came together to shoot the multi-award winning Unforgiven.
The Bradbury Building, Los Angeles
The original 1982 Blade Runner was a major hit with many movie aficionados. With a star-studded line-up including Harrison Ford and Sean Young, what could go wrong? Throw in plenty of action, suspension and some incredible shooting locations, and it’s no wonder that the film is still held in high regard to this day. With its enormous central atrium and stunning ironwork stairways and elevators, LA’s Bradbury Building is just one of the many great locations from the film that can still be visited today. Situated at the corners of South Boulevard and West 3rd Street, the first floor of the building is home to a number of retail shops open to the public, meaning you can get right in the heart of the action!
The Alabama Hills, Lone Pine
Lying on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, the dramatic hills and rock formations of the Alabama Hills have been a favourite shooting location for many a Western over the years. The Lone Ranger, Bonanza and Gunga Din are just a taster of the iconic films that have been shot in various parts of this stunning area. Modern movie fans may well recall the scene in Gladiator where Russel Crowe rides his horse through the mountains in Spain – except it’s not Spain at all! That mountain in the background of that particular scene is, in fact, Mount Whitney. Taking a drive along Movie Flat Road is the perfect way to explore this great area, with a number of short hikes taking you into the heart of the scrub for a chance to get up-close and personal with cinema history!
2640 Steiner Street, San Francisco
While many films achieve greatness through dramatic chase scenes, stunning visual effects or complex plots, very few films have captured the audience’s heart in the same way as the 1993 classic Mrs Doubtfire. This simple tale of a devoted father’s quest to bond with his children was brought to life by the incomparable warmth and humour of the legendary Robin Williams, for which he earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. Although the original choice of location was, in fact, Chicago, filming was actually relocated to San Francisco. Whilst many parts of the city appear in the film, none are more recognisable than the exterior of that famed family house at 2640 Steiner Street. Although it was in fact only the exterior of this building that featured in the film, that hasn’t stopped it becoming a popular destination for those in the city. Following William’s tragic death in 2014, the site became an impromptu shrine where countless fans paid tribute to their hero and remains a symbol of his legacy to this day.