The Truth About Homes of the Stars Tours
By Lisa Johnson Mandell
Anyone who has ever visited Hollywood or Beverly Hills has likely seen hoards of happy tourists shuttling through the hills in open-air vans, listening to an energetic guide pointing out which A-List celebrities live where.
Like most L.A. natives, I’ve always haughtily snickered at those tour groups and cursed at them for invading our privacy and holding up traffic. But deep down inside, I’ve secretly wondered what it would be like to actually take one of those tours. Is what they say really true, or are they just making that stuff up as they go along? Do you actually see the homes and catch a glimpse of the stars who own them, or do you just speed by gates, walls and hedges?
When my stepson, New Hampshire weatherman Josh Judge and his beautiful new bride Diane Ferguson Judge stopped by for a visit on their way to a Hawaiian honeymoon recently, we decided to give a Hollywood home tour a try. The fam had already hit all the usual L.A. tourist attractions, and we thought it might be a fun diversion for everyone. Besides, since I covered celebrity homes for Yahoo Real Estate and HGTV.com, and had visited many a remarkable mansion, who better to evaluate the tour guide’s veracity?
We decided to try the everyday tourist route, so we shopped for our tickets on Groupon, and selected the best reviewed company available at the time. (Not the one pictured at the top of this article.) With special daily discounts, we got our tickets for $25 each.
There are larger busses that will take you on homes of the stars tours, and while they may be more luxurious, the huge busses can’t maneuver the tight hillside neighborhood streets as well as the open air vans can. And even if those big boys could, there are strict weight limits for driving in these posh areas. Any vehicle weighing over 6,000 lbs. runs the risk of getting a ticket, so most of the smaller vans limit the number of passengers from 12-14. It makes for a much more intimate tour, although, since there are no tinted windows protecting you, tour goers are more likely be gawked at, and laughed at, by the natives.
More elite options include the top of the line TMZ Celebrity Tour, which features luxury vehicles, games, prizes, videos and professional entertainers as tour guides, and costs about $77.95 for adults.
Also, the StarLine/Turner Classic Movies Movie Locations Tour, which takes you to the sets and studios where iconic scenes were filmed, in the comfort of a luxury bus with stadium seating while showing you the actual scenes they’re talking about on a large screen. This tour lasts about three hours and costs about $60 per person. I went on the maiden voyage of this one, and was quite impressed.
But since we selected the more budget-friendly option, I will say this: We got exactly what we paid for — perhaps even a little more. Although the word “seedy” does come to mind when describing the van and the office where we registered and waited, that added a bit of Hollywood noir flavor to the excursion.
The van ran just fine, and the guide was entertaining, as most are since almost all of them are professional actors trying to make ends meet between TV, commercial or film gigs. Ours had his material down pat, which was a good thing, because he was also the driver, and frequent reference to notes could have been hazardous.
And as for accuracy? Did his info ring true? Yep! These days, when people can look up movie star addresses instantaneously on their smart phones, you’d better be using up to the minute information.
Personally, I wasn’t fact checking as we went, but from our party’s combined general knowledge of the area (which is not unimpressive) I’d say our budget tour guide was about 95% accurate. If his schpiel was a bit basic and simplistic for our taste, we had to take into consideration the fact that most of the people who take these tours are not Hollywood sophisticates.
But there is one dirty little secret about all these Hollywood homes tours, no matter how much you spend: You will see mostly hedges, walls, trashcans and gates. You will not see Leonardo DiCaprio sunbathing by his pool, nor will you be able to wave at Cameron Diaz as she schleps groceries into the kitchen. The biggest stars are big on security and papparazzi proof estates, and you can hardly blame them.
Oh, you’ll get a few full views of the homes of the stars; you can’t miss the bold, white brilliance of the late Jackie Collins estate in Beverly Hills, and Keanu Reeves’ modern manse is situated so that he really can’t come or go without pulling into one of his three garages while loyal fans look on.
So in the end, was our adventure classic kitchy fun, or a colossal waste of time? I leave it to my far less jaded relatives from New Hampshire to decide.
“It was really neat to see where the stars live. It’s too bad you usually don’t see more than gates, hedges and the occasional corner of a building.”
And oddly enough, after seeing the way the glamorous Hollywood folk live, they were more content than ever with their life in New England:
“Not being from from this area, the thing that stunned us is how close together and tightly packed most of their homes are. It’s hard to believe such big celebrities put up with what ordinary people wouldn’t where we live. But everywhere is different and we understand it’s a location thing.”
Their home in New Hampshire may not be within spitting distance of the Chateau Marmont, but it’s not within spitting distance of their nearest neighbor, either, and they don’t have to put up with busloads of tourists gawking at their trash cans. Kind of puts everything in perspective.
Tour the Homes of the Stars With Us
Photos by James Mandell
Katy Perry’s canyon home: Peak through the trees and you’ll catch a glimpse of the estate of Katy Perry, hidden on a hillside adjacent to the famed Runyon Canyon recreation area, where all of Hollywood jogs with their dogs and personal trainers. Katy’s buildings are the white plaster ones with red tile roofs.
Quentin Tarantino’s balcony…sort of: Look back up behind the top of that telephone pole in the center, and you’ll see director Quentin Tarantino’s white house with the reddish roof. Celeb home sitings do get better as the tour progresses. And closer.
Molly Ringwald and Drew Carey lived here (but not together): This popular Mediterranean Revival in the Hollywood Hills was once owned by the Pretty in Pink star, who sold it to The Price is Right host.
Justin Timberlake and Jessica Beal’s fence: We’re afraid this is all you’re going to see of the lavish estate once owned by Erol Flynn, but currently called home by the illustrious J.T. and his lovely and talented wife Jessica Beal.
Bruno Mars’ security gate: Just above that industrial strength gate you see what look like some classy modern marble columns and floor to ceiling windows. Rumor has it this one is on the market right now, but of course, no signs outside would indicate that.
Houdini Mansion: Our van drove by the white Spanish Revival Houdini mansion in a blurred rush, since it’s located on the very famous, busy and well-trafficked Laurel Canyon.
Jim Morrison’s former hangout: Not the laundry — the house with the red tiled roof to the right of it, hidden behind the big bougainvillea. If you’re lucky, you’ll stop at a red light right by this Laurel Canyon home that Jim Morrison leased for a time, within staggering distance of the recording studio and Chateau Marmont.
One of Johnny Depp’s many garages: Speaking of the Chateau Marmot, Johnny Depp reportedly owns a cluster of six classic Hollywood Mediterranean homes on a narrow street not far from the famed Hollywood hangout. We’re guessing he doesn’t park his car there much, if ever.
Johnny Depp’s servant’s quarters? Although this small garage apartment was probably originally built for the chauffeur, now it screams “vacant” to us.
Johnny Depp’s yard clippings: Johnny Depp’s gardeners were busy at work trimming his foliage when we pulled into his gated driveway to turn around, and they were very helpful guiding our driver so that he didn’t hit anything on the extremely narrow street. If we wanted to, we could have jumped out and grabbed a little piece of Johnny Depp lawn refuse to call our very own. But we controlled ourselves.
The home Meryl Streep sold to A-Rod: Finally! A front door! This home is much more striking from the inside looking out. We know. We’ve seen it. See inside by clicking here.
John Lennon lived here: Of course this ultra modern house has been substantially refurbished since John Lennon owned it from 1965-1980.
John Lennon’s former front door: The front entrance to John Lennon’s former home was right off the street — something that would not be possible or advisable in this day and age when hungry paparazzi shamelessly stalk their prey, and celebrity addresses are available to anyone, anytime.
Casa Colin Farrell: We were surprised to see that any good little girl scout could walk right up to Colin Farrell’s house and try to sell him cookies. We don’t think he’s home here very often, though.
Calvin Klein’s tighty whitey wall: We know this is getting a little ridiculous, but look alongside the green jeep and you’ll see the white wall and hedge that provide privacy for the house that the underwear king recently purchased for $25 million. See inside here.
Keanu Reeves on famous Bird Street: Remember the famous George Harrison song “Blue Jay Way”? It was written in a house on the famous Bird Streets above Sunset. This is not Harrison’s former dwelling, however. It belongs to Keanu Reeves.
Keanu Reeves sleeps here: This stainless steel modern seems like the appropriate dwelling for the star of the Matrix movies. It may not look like much from the street, but the home spreads down three stories in back and has a fabulous view of Sunset Plaza.
Leo’s back entrance: Leonardo DiCaprio and his mom live in separate houses on adjacent properties, according to our tour guide, and this is their well maintained back entrance gate.
Stan Lee’s lair: That tall, white modern house behind the hedge belongs to Marvel Comics maven Stan Lee. We would LOVE to see how it’s decorated. The memorabilia that guy must be priceless!
Jody Foster’s former digs: Once upon a time Jody Foster lived here. That’s all the info that was given.
Winona Ryder’s hedge: How’s this for consummate privacy? We’re betting it’s very dark inside.
Halle Berry’s foliage: We’re wondering if she presses her own olive oil from the fruit of those massive olive trees that shade and protect her home from curious onlookers like us.
From the Bird Streets to Beverly Hills: Second only in notoriety to the big Hollywood sign, this Beverly Hills sign is one of the most photographed town banners in the country. Not quite as posh as you might think it would be, is it?
Jackie Collins’ residence: The large, white, modern home of the late Jackie Collins sits boldly and beautifully (like her literary characters) on North Rodeo Drive, and is also currently for sale. Note that the lots in Beverly Hills are much larger than the lots in the Hollywood Hills.
Al Pacino’s place: Behind those hedges sits the low slung Spanish style mansion belonging to Al Pacino. The tour guide told us that his wife is very vocal about tour buses stopping in front of the place, so we just breezed by quickly.
Famous Whale House: We were told that this is the only Gaudi house in California, but a little quick research and common sense revealed that it is only “Gaudi-inspired,” and that of course the famed Spanish architect never made it to Beverly Hills. We do think the house is intriguing, though.
Beverly Wilshire Hotel: Recognize that facade from Pretty Woman? Although they change the color of the awnings every few years, you can’t miss that elegant exterior.
Marilyn at the Four Seasons: Marilyn Monroe never actually stayed at the Four Seasons, but her statue outside the lobby has become a local landmark. An interesting, little known fact about the “Beverly Hills” Four Seasons is that it’s not really in Beverly Hills at all. If it were situated just across the street, on the other side of Doheny, it would be within Beverly Hills boundaries. But its true location puts the swank hotel in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County.
Hollywood Goddess Gazebo: This famed sculpture, on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea, features diverse actresses Dolores Del Rio, Dorothy Dandridge, Mae West and Anna May Wong, with a little tiny Marilyn Monroe on top. It marks the beginning of the famous Walk of Fame, and the end of our tour, which would soon let us out in front of the famous TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theater.
The Truth About Homes of the Stars Tours
By Lisa Johnson Mandell