Article and Photos By: Scott S. Smith and Sandra WellsnnIn our story about Hollywood a couple of years ago, we focused on the neighborhood as the City of Los Angeles defines it: roughly Fairfax or La Brea on the west, Western Ave. on the east, Hollywood Blvd. or Franklin on the north, and Melrose as its southern border. We highlighted some of the 200 celebrity handprints-footprints on the Walk of Fame, the tour of the final resting places of stars at Hollywood Forever, the colorful murals, and a tour of Paramount Pictures (the last studio in the area). Here are some other things to do that even residents and frequent visitors may not have experienced.

Groundlings recently celebrated its 50th anniversary as the best place to catch improvisational and sketch comedy, sparking uncontrolled laughter in its 99-seat theater on Melrose. Shows are Fri. and Sat. 7:30 and 9:30 pm. It can take years of rigorous study, writing, and rehearsal to qualify to be on the stage. The training and networking have boosted the careers of such alumni as Kristen Wiig, Paul Reubens, Lisa Kudrow, Will Ferrell, and Kathy Griffin, helping to make hit movies and filling the ranks of TV series like “Saturday Night Live” and “MADtv.”

Madame Tussauds Hollywood (pronounced like too-sews) proclaims itself the world’s greatest wax museum and some of the statues are so lifelike that it’s scary (such as Johnny Depp in the first room, but see the photo of him as Edward Scissorhands). You can learn about the evolution of wax technology from signs on the walls and an exhibit about Madame at the end. In between, there are fun scenes depicted, such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing (you can join in and take photos using costumes). There are also fun facts on signs in Spanish and English (“Cleopatra” required Elizabeth Taylor to go through 65 costume changes). Next to the dramatic statue of Charlton Heston as Moses parting the Red Sea is an explanation about the special effects. Music accompanies the figures of Shakira, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, Beyonce, and others. The new highlight is Robot Riot 4D, an immersive interactive ride that anyone will enjoy.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not lives up to its namesake, Robert Ripley, an illustrator specializing in finding strange, but true, people, places, and things to feature in his column as he traveled to over 200 countries starting in 1918. As you enter, the statue of the tallest man ever known (8’11”) can be activated to stand up and greet you while you watch a TV show about his life. Inside, you will come across wide variety of fascinating, humorous, weird, and glamorous-beyond-belief exhibits, such as a cyclops-lamb and a two-headed calf (see photo), cannibal skulls, a man-eating giant clam, artifacts from exotic places, and interactive experiences that show how the eye and brain can trick you (one sign looks incomprehensibly misspelled until you speed-read it). There are also hundreds of matchboxes with celebrity signatures, a sensational dress of Marilyn Monroe (who took three hours a day to apply her makeup), and jigsaw puzzles of Sophia Loren and Clark Gable made from 90 puzzles picked up at yard sales by the creator. While there, use Ripley’s restrooms–believe it or not, they’re fun!

Guinness Book of World Records is next door to Ripley’s and documents the astonishing feats of everyone from astronauts to basketball players (see photo). There are displays on the oldest man (over 120 years), the smallest woman (24″), and the man who ate the most cockroaches. Other exhibits include the largest snowflake, the highest kangaroo jump, and the message in a bottle that took longest to arrive (1910 to 1983). One video shows dozens of tricks in one minute by a dog. Hollywood is celebrated with Michael Jackson’s gold albums and recognition of the most popular TV series: “Baywatch” had the largest audience ever, while “The West Wing” won the most Emmys. There are also lots of interactive games for the whole family.

Amoeba Hollywood moved from its original Sunset Blvd. location opened in 2001 to a huge space in the El Centro complex at Hollywood Blvd. and Argyle in April 2021. It has the world’s largest collection of vinyl LPs and the largest inventory of CDs in the U.S. (if you have a lot to sell, they will come to you to evaluate). And it boasts the largest selection of used videos in the country, including DVDs, VHS, and Laserdiscs in all formats. You could spend days browsing everything from posters to turntables. But Amoeba is much more than a unique store, it’s a community, sponsoring lots of live shows (including Paul McCartney, Los Lobos, Stevie Nicks, and The Roots) and album/book signings. The staff are experts on everything.

CAVA Hollywood opened on Hollywood Blvd. just past Vine St. in February 2024 and is part of a popular national chain of fast-casual restaurants whose menu of bowls, pitas, dips, and other items are inspired by the healthy Mediterranean diet and especially appeal to those seeking more dining diversity. They can already be found in many locations in SoCal, including Westwood, Santa Monica, Woodland Hills, Pasadena, Irvine, and San Diego. The core menu allows you to personalize the ingredients across dozens of choices, some familiar to most and others more exotic, including balsamic date chicken, high-protein rice, spicy lamb meatballs, feta cheese, eggplant dip, hot harissa vinaigrette, and falafel (see photo of our vegetarian bowls). The workers were well-informed about the options and enthusiastic about their jobs. It’s a place you could bring anyone in your clan and all would find something delicious, no matter their dietary preferences. nn