'Old Hollywood', Los Angeles: The historic hotels, restaurants and bars Hollywood's greatest stars visited (and you can too)

It was in 1937 when, during an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Hollywood star Joan Crawford, who had just been named Life magazine's first "Queen of the Movies", delivered one of her more famous quotes: "I never go outside unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door."

Indeed those words ring loudly in my mind as I press my face against the glass case containing what is purported to be the "personal make-up, eyelashes and mirror" of Joan Crawford. I am mesmerised by the lashes taking pride of place in the salmon-pink Brunette Suite at the imposing, art deco Max Factor beauty parlour just off Hollywood Boulevard on Highland Avenue.

Today, more than 80 years later, the salon forms part of the much larger Hollywood Museum (thehollywoodmuseum.com), one of the kookiest attractions in Tinsel Town. I could not have chosen a better place to begin my tour of Old Hollywood. Over the next four days I intend to eat, drink and sleep like the stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, a time of glamour and artifice long before Instagram influencers and the endless conveyor belt of reality television "stars".

Old Hollywood is big business right now. Quentin Tarantino's much hyped new film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood opens this month and tells the story of Sharon Tate's gruesome murder against the backdrop of Hollywood of half a century ago. Next month Renee Zellweger takes on Judy Garland in another mega-budget ode to Tinsel Town.

But for me, standing under the twinkling chandelier in the heart of the Max Factor salon, there is nothing more Old Hollywood than where I am, imagining all those famous stars, swaddled in fluffy bathrobes and being pampered in this multi-floored shrine to beauty.

It was Max Factor, a beautician and wig-maker from Poland who emigrated in 1904 and duly dropped his original name Maksymillian Faktororwicz for the Americanised version, who created a global cosmetics empire on the back of his celebrity clients from this salon.

The pink and grey marble-clad exterior offers just a small indication of the glamour within these hallowed walls, where Factor claims to have dyed the hair of Marilyn Monroe, Mae West and Jean Harlow platinum blond, and transformed Lucille Ball and Rita Hayworth into redheads.

Scattered throughout the museum are Monroe's old foundation compacts and hair brushes, and sitting in a corner there is even a wig in curlers said to have once belonged to Judy Garland. Though I have doubts about the provenance of the nearby ruby red slippers, supposedly from The Wizard Of Oz. There are only four pairs known to exist and all are accounted for elsewhere, and each is worth more than $1 million.

I can't help but wonder if in 80 years' time people will pay money to discover the beauty secrets and get up close with the cosmetic detritus of today's Hollywood royals. Will Kim Kardashian's "falsies" last the distance? Or Beyonce's hair extensions?

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CHECKING INTO OSCAR'S HOME

The signature hotels of Hollywood, with their glamorous bars, luxurious bungalows, elegant restaurants and lavish ballrooms, are the social epicentre of this town today, just as they were in Old Hollywood. For the full, immersive experience steeped in history, I check into The Hollywood Roosevelt (thehollywoodroosevelt.com).

Today it's an edgy, design-focused hotel that pays homage to its rich heritage with discreet touches, such as the stunning photographic portraits of its famous guests which line the corridors. From the window of my suite I can see the iconic Hollywood sign and the street below, which is the busiest part of Hollywood Boulevard. All the key attractions are a mere stroll from the hotel, which was originally financed by three Hollywood royals: Douglas Fairbanks jnf, Mary Pickford and Louis B. Mayer.

The hotel opened in 1927 and two years later hosted the first Academy Awards. I enter the ornate ballroom where the cream of Hollywood paid $5 to attend a ceremony that had little surprises as the winners were announced three months prior. That first Oscars ceremony lasted only 15 minutes, and the stage seems quaint compared with today's extravaganza.

Over the years, the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard have all stayed at The Hollywood Roosevelt, with special suites named in their honour. I walk up the same stairs where a young Shirley Temple famously rehearsed her tap dancing routine with Bill Bojangles Robinson atop the shimmering Spanish tiles. Taking in the entire Spanish-influenced lobby, with its leather sofas, fountain and huge chandelier, it is breathtakingly beautiful.

Afterwards I adjourn to a sunbed by the hotel's famous palm-fringed Tropicana Pool and Cafe. It's a great place to spend an afternoon star-gazing, but in the absence of any, I console myself with a dive into the pool's mural by David Hockney, which was originally painted in 1988.

LET'S DO LUNCH

Finding myself ready to escape the crowds, I make a booking for lunch at the historic Musso & Frank Grill (mussoandfrank.com) right on Hollywood Boulevard. As soon as I walk through the doors it is clear this remains a tranquil oasis of genteel calm from a time long before mobile phones, emails and Instagram.

Opened in 1919, this dining institution has been a perennial hangout for Hollywood's movers and shakers, from Ernest Hemingway, to Dorothy Parker, Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall. The interior, with its cosy timber booths and ornate bar lined with red leather stools, remains virtually unchanged, as does much of the menu, which includes classics such as Welsh rarebit, or liver and onions, a favourite of the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards.

I am seated in one of the cute booths and soon have a bottle of water and bread basked delivered to my table. Browsing through the menu I opt for the house chowder followed by the shrimp salad and a glass of Californian chardonnay, which a woman in the neighbouring booth recommends.

I decide to return for a martini (gin and dirty) that evening at the bar just to soak up the ambience. Donning a jacket, I arrive back to find a perfectly Old Hollywood experience awaiting me, amplified by the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald from the sound system.

The next day I find there are also plenty of dining options within the thoroughly modern Hollywood and Highland Centre (hollywoodandhighlandcenter.com), an imposing shopping and entertainment complex that is a comparatively recent addition to the area, having opened in 2001. This is also home to the Dolby Theatre (dolbytheatre.com) where the modern Academy Awards are held.

I am exploring this centre after hearing about the internal courtyard with views to the Hollywood sign, where a slice of Old Hollywood has been painstakingly brought back to life. But I am not prepared for what I find: a full-scale recreation of the gargantuan Babylon set from D.W. Griffith's 1916 silent movie epic Intolerance, made for a then whopping $3 million. I later discover that this recreation is just a fraction of the size of the actual set which was built just a few blocks away on Sunset Boulevard.

WALK THIS WAY

Back on Hollywood Boulevard, where I began my Tinsel Town tour at the Hollywood Museum, I can only imagine what the likes of Crawford, Monroe, West, Harlow and Ball would make of this strip today with its huge fast-food outlets, celebrity impersonators, tourist traps, gleaming shopping malls and street hawkers selling everything from smelly hot dogs to dodgy CDs.

But beyond the noise and tat, I soon find there are still fragments of Old Hollywood here, you just have to look hard enough, squint your eyes a little and suspend your disbelief. Stretching for almost eight kilometres, Hollywood Boulevard remains the top attraction for any Tinsel Town pilgrimage.

The key section is between La Brea Avenue and Vine Street, consisting of an easy, flat walk and filled with tourist attractions such as Madame Tussauds and the Hard Rock Cafe. Surrounded by impersonators dressed as Spiderman, Marilyn Monroe, Chewbacca and Charlie Chaplin, I soon learn we are not at Universal Studios. Here the "street performers" expect payment in return for selfies.

This is also where you will find the Hollywood Walk Of Fame (walkoffame.com), dating to 1958, which comprises more than 2600 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street. When stars die, floral wreaths are placed atop a golden easel over the star. But I discover that around big names like Michael Jackson's, flowers, tributes, stuffed teddy bears and other odds and ends are placed on a daily basis.

BEST FOOT AND HAND FORWARD

It's here on Hollywood Boulevard that I also find one of the other remnants of Old Hollywood, the Chinese Theatre (tclchinesetheatres.com), where today you can still find the foot and hand prints of everyone from Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe to Clark Gable and Douglas Fairbanks outside the elaborate and iconic gathering point.

With its impressive courtyard fronting the busy strip, the area is packed with tourists comparing shoe sizes with John Wayne's boot imprints or marvelling at Monroe's tiny feet. The Chinese Theatre opened in 1927 and is easily the most famous picture palace still in operation in Hollywood.

Standing back from across the street the building is festooned with ancient Chinese dragons on its pagoda-pastiche roof. The interiors are equally rich and are inspired by the ancient palaces of China. The Chinese Theatre was built by one of Hollywood's great impressarios, theatre owner Sid Grauman, the son of a travelling vaudeville showman.

Canny Grauman saw the potential of celebrity foot and hand prints after actress Mary Pickford, who was also an investor in the theatre, mistakenly walked in wet cement during construction. Soon he had all the stars dipping their hands in wet cement, which they continued to do for decades.

He also built the nearby Egyptian Theatre (egyptiantheatre.com) in 1922. As the name implies, this theatre is resplendent in faux hieroglyphics and towering mock pharoah busts on its facade, with an ornately designed, gold leaf ceiling dedicated to the Sun God Ra inside.Grauman is credited with creating the first red carpet premiere at The Egyptian, with punters paying a dime entry fee to see the stars of Robin Hood arrive, most notably heart-throb Fairbanks in the titular role, along with his Maid Marian, Australian actress Enid Bennett, who had left Sydney in 1917 and sailed to America to make films.

Together Grauman's theatres, along with the Disney-owned El Capitan (elcapitantheatre.com), a fully restored triumph of Spanish Revival design built in 1926, collectively hosted hundreds of star-studded world premieres and now provide a glimpse into the lavish and fantastical picture palaces of the early 20th century. You can still see films at the cinemas, with guided tours available at the Chinese and Egyptian theatres.

HEAD TO THE HILLS

Swanky Beverly Hills is a name synonymous with Hollywood. It has long been the luxurious enclave where the biggest stars and movie moguls built their mansions, and still call home to this day. And the beating heart of this manicured oasis remains The Beverly Hills Hotel (thedorchestercollection.com), the huge "Pink Palace" sitting on Sunset Boulevard.

Despite recent controversies, this hotel remains the benchmark in absolute luxury and style in Los Angeles, from its hallways lined with the iconic banana leaf wallpaper, to the beautifully manicured gardens and enormous suites. On arrival, I'm invited to take a seat on one of the velvet sofas in the vast circular lobby while my suite is prepared.

I feel like a movie star among the huge vases filled with bouquets of fresh flowers. My ear picks up a decidedly British accent and I turn to see a woman looking much like Joan Collins sashay past. I can't be sure if it is La Collins, given the enormous sunglasses and huge sun hat she is wearing. The hotel has been the subject of a celebrity boycott by the likes of Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney over its owner, the Sultan of Brunei's championing of anti-gay laws in his home country, so I'm somewhat reassured to see a little bit of camp panache alive and well here.

I later discover there are plenty of LGBTQI people working at The Beverly Hills Hotel, which has a long history of inclusion and diversity when it comes to staff and guests. The hotel has also hosted many same-sex weddings in its lavish Sunset Ballroom.

The Beverly Hills Hotel was opened in 1912, before Beverly Hills itself had grown around it, and by 1914 it had become a favourite of Hollywood directors, actors and producers. Gloria Swanson ended up living in the hotel's bungalows during one of her divorces, while Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Will Rogers and Rudolph Valentino – who each had homes nearby – used the hotel as their community centre.

In 1942 Howard Hughes bought up half a dozen of the bungalows and lived there at various periods over many years, the hotel accommodating his odd peculiarities, including his request for roast beef sandwiches to be delivered to a nook in a tree. Elsewhere in the hotel, I manage to get a look inside Marilyn Monroe's bungalow No. 7, now named in her honour. It's a triumph of femininity, from the cream "love seat" and pastel colour scheme to the art on the walls.

Diving into the hotel's swimming pool, I discover it has an underwater sound system. A sign tells me cameras are banned. Sitting on my sunbed, I discover the more famous bathers prefer to draw the drapes on their luxurious poolside cabanas when they want a bit of extra privacy as I attempted to sneak a snap of my Joan Collins lookalike.

After a rigorous afternoon on the sunbeds, it's time for a date in the booths of the Polo Lounge, the hotel's famous restaurant. I arrive to a moody, dimly lit time-capsule of Old Hollywood. With its baby grand gently tinkling away in the background and battalion of waiters eager to please, the emphasis is on relaxation here. Management, after all, famously changed the Polo Lounge's dress policy so regular diner, Marlene Dietrich, could wear her trademark pantsuits.

TO THE CHATEAU

You don't get much more "rock star" Old Hollywood than the Chateau Marmont (chateaumarmont.com). Originally built in 1929 as an apartment building, it was converted into a hotel during the Great Depression and has been the on-off home away from home for everyone from Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in 1968 to Jim Morrison from the Doors in 1970.

It was here, where I've made a dinner reservation, that James Dean, while auditioning in one of the suites with Natalie Wood for Rebel Without A Cause, jumped through a window to impress director Nicholas Ray. Clearly, it worked. And legend has it Dennis Hopper hosted one of the wildest parties ever at Chateau Marmont, somehow managing to cram 51 people – mostly attractive young women – into his suite.

I arrive promptly at 7pm for our table reservation in the courtyard restaurant. The evening sun is setting and the space is relaxed and summery. I am invited to go on a tour of the entire property before dining and soon find myself getting a bird's-eye view of some of the 63 rooms, cottages and bungalows that make up this unique hotel.

But it is when we reach the top floor and walk into the magnificent penthouse, which I learn is a personal favourite of regular Lady Gaga and where she also shot scenes with Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born, that I am rendered speechless. With expansive views over Hollywood and Los Angeles, the terrace unfolds around me in all directions.

Inside is a huge fireplace and plush blue velvet sofa. With the media full of speculation about Gaga and Cooper's relationship, it is easy to see how a person could fall head over heels in love staying here. If only that damned fireplace could talk.

The Chateau Marmont has been owned by playboy hotelier Andre Balazs since 1990. He has undertaken a complete upgrade of the boutique hotel, not that you would know. He has ensured it retains all of its historic charm. The hotel is filled with antiques and feels like you are visiting a gothic castle in Europe, though the very Californian accents give it away.

Those big, luxurious velvet sofas around the lobby bar continue to host some of the most famous showbiz faces of today, just as they have for decades. Over dinner I can't help but wonder if Joan Crawford has sat in this very spot being wined and dined. I'm surrounded by beautiful people, mostly ambitious young actors who need to be seen, like the gorgeous blonde smiling away beside me. Indeed, she is hardly the girl next door.

Andrew Hornery travelled as a guest of Visit California. Qantas operates daily flights to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with connections from other cities. See visitcalifornia.com/audiscoverlosangeles.com; qantas.com

FIVE MORE OLD HOLLYWOOD SIGHTS TO SEE

HOME SWEET HOMES

The best Old Hollywood mansions, once home to everyone from Clark Gable to Mae West, line the magnificent streets that make up Windsor Square, Fremont Place and Hancock Park. The Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society has regular house and garden tours which are ticketed events. See windsorsquarehancockpark.com

CAFÉ CULTURE

Following a multimillion-dollar renovation which has recreated its Hollywood glory days, the Formosa Cafe reopened in June. Once a favourite for Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, today it is definitely an Old Hollywood icon. It was even the setting for one of the most iconic scenes in the 1997 film LA Confidential. See theformosacafe.com

FROM CHARLIE TO KERMIT

This Tudor-style studio, now known as Henson Studios, was built by silent film icon Charlie Chaplin in 1917, and if you look above the gates you will see Kermit the frog dressed in Chaplin-looking attire, including a cane. While tours are not available, you can get great pictures from the street and through the gate. See hensonrecording.com

BACK TO THE BACKLOT

Warner Bros has maintained a great deal of the backlot, including the French cafe from Casablanca along with original props and set dressings from films such as Mildred Pierce, The Maltese Falcon and Auntie Mame. An entire floor of the museum holds rotating exhibits of classic film costumes and set pieces. See wbstudiotour.com

HOLLYWOOD IN THE RAW

It's not so much the sushi but the venue itself which makes Yamashiro, meaning "mountain palace", so worth a visit. The Bernheimer brothers began construction of this hilltop mansion in 1911 to house their priceless collection of Asian treasures. In the 1920s it became a private club for the Hollywood elite. See yamashirohollywood.com

TOWER OF POWER

With its fireplace and discreet seating, it's easy to see why Hollywood's powerbrokers are drawn to the chic Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel for a slice of Old Hollywood. Housed in infamous gangster Bugsy Siegel's former apartment on the ground floor, it is connected to the newly expanded Terrace Bar. See sunsettower.hotel.com

FIVE MORE OLD HOLLYWOOD PLACES FURTHER AFIELD

LA CONFIDENTIAL

While not strictly Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles has featured in countless films. LA also has its own Broadway, which for decades thrived as the entertainment epicentre of greater Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Conservancy runs an excellent walking tour on Saturdays, which, depending on availability, can include the interiors of the Los Angeles, United Artists and Orpheum theatres. See laconservancy.org

REST IN PEACE

Billed as "The Cemetery of the Stars", Hollywood Forever has some impressive residents including Cecil B. DeMille, Tyrone Power, Rudolph Valentino, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Each Saturday tours of the famous resting places are conducted. There are also regular film nights held among the tombstones. See hollywoodforever.com

SPRINGS ETERNAL

Two hours' drive from Los Angeles, Palm Springs has been a magnet for Hollywood stars since the 1920s. There are more than 40,000 swimming pools in the desert city of just 47,000 as well as 100 manicured golf courses. It's also where you will find the mid-century holiday homes of everyone from Elvis Presley to Elizabeth Taylor. See visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

CELEBRITY CITADEL

A four-hour drive north of Los Angeles up the 101 is Hearst Castle, the ultimate Old Hollywood experience. This extraordinary pleasure palace was built by publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst between 1919 and 1947. Reaching its social peak in the 1920s and 1930s, the property's guests included Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. See hearstcastle.org

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