Hollywood: Face to face with stars of the silver screen

Hollywood studio tours bring widescreen magic, says Priscilla Pollara

Aside from the appeal of contemporary blockbuster films, Hollywood's long and gilded history is what helps makes Los Angeles one of America's most fascinating cities. After all, this is where celebrated stars of the silver screen – Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Clark Gable – once lived and worked. The plethora of modern-day Hollywood studio tours are the perfect way to feel one's way around the industry, but also present a unique opportunity to relive the historic days which have seen us become devotees ever since.

There's likely to be plenty going on during the two-hour guided walking and tram tour of Paramount Studios (001 323 956 1777; paramountstudiotour.com; Mon-Fri; $48/£30). This 65-acre lot, founded exactly a century ago, is still in use today. You'll navigate past the Blue Sky Tank, where the one million gallons of water has long helped create "at sea" scenes, and view props, costumes and set items from Sunset Boulevard, Saving Private Ryan, and supernatural horror Paranormal Activity on show.

A Streetcar Named Desire, the original Ocean's 11 starring Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack, and hit drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are among the films created on the Warner Bros sets. On the two-hour Warner Bros studio tour (001 877 492 8687; studio-tour.com; Mon-Fri; $49/£31) you hop on the mini-tram and visit an authentic Parisian street, a New York boulevard, a park and a jungle lagoon, and you can enter the stage buildings where scenes from the Harry Potter franchise were filmed. The most popular element of the tour is the vast split-level museum, where four Best Picture Academy Awards and memorabilia from nearly a century of film-making can be viewed.

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios once stood where Sony Pictures Entertainment (001 310 244 8687; sonypicturesstudios.com; Mon-Fri; $35/£22) exists today. A walk around this particular lot is to follow in the footsteps of Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. The two-hour walking tour leads guests past historic props and scenery used in MGM-distributed films including Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, while the studio stages used in Sony's more recent movies, such as Spider-Man, Charlie's Angels and Men in Black are all available to explore, too.

Admission to the Studio Tour at Universal Studios ( universalstudioshollywood.com; daily, $80/£50) is included in the ticket price to the Universal Studios theme park – it's considered one of the rides. An electric train meanders through the world's largest working studio and past well-known props (Back to the Future's DeLorean and Psycho's Bates Motel). Visitors encounter a flood and come intimately close with Jaws. Then there's the 3D King Kong ride, where special effects bring passengers to within inches of a 30ft tall King Kong doing battle in a forest.

Tired out? Hold on – there's one last stop. The Hollywood Heritage Museum (001 323 874 2276; hollywoodheritage.org; open Wed-Sun; $7/£4.50) is located opposite the Hollywood Bowl. The plot was used by the film pioneer Cecil DeMille in 1913 and is where he shot Hollywood's first feature film, The Squaw Man, a year later. DeMille's office is still intact inside, as are ever-changing exhibitions on the earliest days of film-making.

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