8 Must-See Iconic Californian Film And TV Locations

Beautiful California is pretty much one massive film set.

Hollywood is a hive of movie making activity, but directors don’t stay inside the studio lots whey they need an evocative landscape or bustling city scene. Whether it’s urban chic or wild wonder, here we list eight must-see movie and TV locations from a California beyond the Hollywood hub.

If you need help finding your favourite movie locations, mapping sites like The Movie Map and Facebook pages like this one can help.

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
Griffith Observatory
Nestled high in the Hollywood hills and commanding stunning views of downtown LA and the rolling Pacific Ocean, the Griffith Observatory is a popular (and free!) space- and science-themed tourist attraction set in tranquil parkland. It is also instantly recognisable as the setting for one of the most iconic scenes in Rebel Without a Cause, the ground-breaking 1950s teen drama starring the late James Dean. Griffith has made more recent appearances in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Transformers.
LA River, Los Angeles
Studio 642 via Getty Images
The urban section of the LA River, which starts in the Simi Hills and empties into the Pacific at Long Beach, is no natural paradise. Flowing along a concrete culvert for much of its course and secluded
despite its inner city location, the river often runs dry, making it the perfect location for gang fights, clandestine meetings and illegal car races, at least in the movies. Most famously, the dry river bed provided the track for the high speed car race in seminal Fifties-set musical, Grease.
Quality Cafe, Los Angeles
If you own a TV or watch films, you’re almost certain to have come across LA’s famous Quality Café, a diner that became so popular as a movie set that it stopped serving actual meals nearly a decade ago. Catch Me If You Can, Se7en, Million Dollar Baby, Gone In Sixty Seconds, Ghost World, Mad Men and lots, lots more, all feature scenes set within the Quality Café, a stand-in for archetypal American diners across the nation.
Vasquez Rocks, Los Angeles
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This imposing slanted rock formation in northern Los Angeles County has had a long and fruitful relationship with long running sci-fi epic Star Trek, providing a stark and otherworldly setting for an iconic scene in the original TV series (when Captain Kirk battles the reptilian alien Gorn) as well as providing a convincing alien landscape in subsequent movies. You may also have come across the rocks in TV series Bonanza and movies Hot Sots II, Blazing Saddles and The Flintstones.
Bradbury Building, Los Angeles
gregobagel via Getty Images
This landmark Los Angeles office building is noted for its unique interior, which has made it a favourite location for directors keen to evoke a moody dystopian vision of the city’s future. Most famously, a dimly lit and trash-filled version of the Bradbury staircase became one of the most iconic locations in sci-fi classic Blade Runner, and the building has also featured in Chinatown and the TV show Quantum Leap, among many others.
Redwood National and State Parks, Northern California
Jordan Siemens via Getty Images
Northern California is home to the tallest, and among the most massive, trees on Earth, and the lush forests of mighty Redwoods have provided the perfect backdrop to both ancient and alien drama. They have featured as the forest world of Endor in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and in the recent Planet of the Apes movies, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Long before the apes arrived dinosaurs rampaged through these ancient trees in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and the TV show Walking with Dinosaurs.
The Gamble House, Pasadena
Flickr CC-BY Ken Lund
The Gamble House in Pasadena is known primarily as one of California’s architectural gems, a spacious craftsman-style home that cleverly utilises natural materials and light and features exposed joinery and decorative wooden panels. It’s also a fine example of the way a landmark can quickly become associated with a particular movie, if the movie happens to be one of the most iconic in Hollywood history. For those who haven’t recognised it, the house is used as the home of Dr Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy.
The Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California
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This pristine wilderness area is a must-see for anyone interested in spectacular desert landscapes, and its stark beauty has provided the sun-bleached backdrop to TV shows and movies like Entourage, Seven Psychopaths and Less Than Zero. Just north of the park is the strange desert outpost of Pioneertown, built in 1946 as a location for Western TV shows but featuring real bars, hotels and houses rather than facades. Pioneertown is a living recreation of an old West settlement, with – today - a knowing nod to its celluloid past.