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On a flat-topped hill overlooking the sprawling city of Los Angeles, the grass has been worn bare by thousands of eager feet. A constant stream of visitors tramp up to this point and make pouting, starlet poses for the camera, lining themselves up with a set of rather plain and higgledy letters that rise behind them on the slopes of Mount Lee – the world-famous Hollywood Sign. These 14m-high letters were originally erected as ‘Hollywoodland’, an advertisement for a housing development, with no connection to the movie business at all. However, partly due to the restoration efforts of, oddly enough, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner – the sign has come to be a central part of this town’s showbiz mythology.

The mere names of the streets are enough to conjure glamorous celluloid images: Rodeo Drive, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive. Then there are the trendy restaurants jammed with lunching execs in designer shades, sprawling studios with serious-looking security guards, and gangs of paparazzi lying in wait outside hotels and boutiques. On Hollywood Boulevard, visitors kneel down to squash their hands into the cement imprints left by stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age – and the cast of the Harry Potter movies – while the floor of the nearby shopping hub, the Hollywood & Highland Center, is paved with starry-eyed success stories. The message is clear: you too can be a star. Once they’ve read the inspirational quotes, tired shoppers can rest on a conveniently provided casting director’s couch. ‘LA is so saturated with people who are engaged in filmmaking and television, it’s hard to go about your normal life here without getting bopped across the head with it,’ says Kestrin Pantera, settling into a poolside chair at the glamorous Roosevelt Hotel. Like many hopefuls who come here to follow their destiny, Kestrin arrived in LA eight years ago to pursue her acting career. She has already achieved some success, having appearing in several independent films and commercials.

‘I don’t think I would have chosen to move to LA if I hadn’t wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry,’ she says. ‘But when you go to other places and try to ‘make it’, people are constantly asking you: “Why don’t you move to LA?” It’s like it’s ingrained in our cultural DNA.’

She pauses for a moment, then laughs and admits, ‘I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, so I have a natural aversion to Los Angeles. It’s just that there are very few other places where you can be walking along the street, be spotted by an agent or manager, and then suddenly you’ve made it. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, you don’t know what you need to do, it just somehow chooses you. It’s confusing and mythic, but it happens here. That’s Hollywood.’

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The article ‘The road to Hollywood, California’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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