Last Christmas I went to California for the first time. I spent a week in L.A. followed by a trip to Big Sur and then another week in San Francisco.
I was very excited to visit some of the places I knew from my favorite movies and TV series, and even though I made a list of all the places I wanted to see, I ended up discovering more…
Here is my eclectic selection of filming locations along the coast of California (in ascending order from south to north):
1. The O.C.: Redondo Beach Pier
Well, of course, I had to start with the best show in the history of television. I remember as a teenager singing over and over again “Californiaaaa here we cooooome….” and dreaming of one day visiting Newport Beach. But much to my advantage, prior to my trip, I discovered that I didn’t need to go that way south of Los Angeles to visit the place where everything happened (or almost everything).
Only a 30-minute drive from Downtown L.A., and very close to other filming locations I will be telling you about next, Redondo Beach Pier is a charming place to visit with a beautiful ocean view and places to eat and shop.
Remember the diner where the gang used to eat?
2. LA LA LAND: HERMOSA PIER
Just a 10-minute drive north from Redondo or a 40-minute walk (as you prefer), is Hermosa Pier. You’ll remember this place from the scene where Ryan Gosling starts singing “City of Stars” after leaving The Lighthouse Café (that you’ll also find right by the pier).
3. THE DOORS: VENICE CANALS & VENICE BEACH
In 1964, Jim Morrison moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. He lived a bohemian life in Venice Beach where he started The Doors and also met Pam, his love partner.
In Oliver Stone’s movie, you can see Venice Beach when Jim sings Moonlight Drive to Ray Manzarek and the canals when he sees Pam for the first time and climbs to her balcony at night.
It is a 30-minute drive from Downtown Los Angeles and also a 30-minute drive from Hermosa Beach, our previous stop.
4. SPIKE JONZE’S HER: Santa Monica Pier
Only an 8-minute drive from Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier has been featured in several movies and TV series. You’ve seen it in Forrest Gump and also in Gilmore Girls (remember the episode in which Jess goes to find his father?). It also appeared in Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy.
In the movie Her (2013) you can see Joaquin Phoenix’s character having a great time walking among the rides at night accompanied by Scarlett Johansson’s voice. You can even see during that scene the rollercoaster and some other attractions.
5. taken 2: Malibu Pier
Just a 22-minute drive from Santa Monica Pier, with the most breathtaking views of the ocean, is Malibu Pier.
Picturesque and fortunately not as crowded as the other piers we visited before in this post, Malibu’s is featured in the movie Taken 2 when Liam Neeson’s character eats with his family at the restaurant.
There are some nice places to eat and very beautifully decorated shops.
6. KUBRICK’S SPARTACUS: HEARST CASTLE (SAN SIMEON)
We drive north on Highway One to the central coast of California and we find this magnificent and eclectic castle near the town of San Simeon (4-hours drive from Malibu).
Famously known as an inspiration for Orson Welles’ Xanadu mansion in Citizen Kane, Hearst Castle was a residence for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
“La Cuesta Encantada” or simply “The Ranch” as Hearst called it, was designed by architect Julia Morgan and features several European Revivals.
This section of the mansion, called “The Neptune Pool” was used as a filming location for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.
In order to visit the Castle you have to book a tour through their website: http://hearstcastle.org/tour-hearst-castle/daily-tours/ It costs $25 and lasts 60 minutes.
7. MICHAEL POLISH’S BIG SUR: BIG SUR
Between San Simeon and Carmel Highlands spreads Big Sur. Absolutely stunning with its forests and beaches, Big Sur has been an inspiration for several artists. One of them was Jack Kerouac, who spent a few days in early 1960 at friend poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Bixby Canyon and based his novel Big Sur on his time there.
In 2013, Michael Polish directed an adaptation of Kerouac’s novel and used this dramatic scenery as filming location.
Even though in this post we are traveling north, if you plan to visit Big Sur I highly recommend doing it southbound. That way you can get a better view of the ocean and park in the different vista points along the highway.
8. Big Little Lies: Monterey WHARF
Following our path north and past the beautiful city of Carmel by-the-sea, we reach Monterey Bay.
One of Monterey’s most visited places is the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, where you’ll find several restaurants, candy stores, and gift shops.
Nowadays, Monterey is also known as Big Little Lies setting. You can actually eat in the restaurant used as a filming location during the show.
9. GIRLBOSS: GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Finally reaching San Francisco, we hit its most famous landmark: The Golden Gate Bridge.
In the epic and also very nostalgic episode 4 of Girlboss (Ladyshopper99), Sophia, the protagonist, has to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on foot in order to deliver a wedding dress.
Even though she is afraid of bridges, she faces her fears and runs from end to end reaching her goal to the sound of Imogen Heap’s “Hallelujah” (in reference to The O.C.’s heartbreaking third season finale).
It takes approximately 30 minutes to walk the bridge from one point to the other and it is totally worthwhile.
10. VERTIGO: FORT POINT and palace of fine arts
With an epic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, we reach Fort Point, a seacoast fortification at the entrance to San Francisco Bay.
Right here is where Kim Novak’s character suddenly jumps to the water on Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo.
Just an 8-minute drive from there is the Palace of Fine Arts, a monumental structure constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.
The Palace is spotted several times during the movie and more closely during a scene in which Scottie takes Judy on a date.
It is open from 10 am to 5 pm and has no entrance fee.