By Harry Medved and Bruce Akiyama, co-authors of Hollywood Escapes: The Moviegoer's Guide to Southern California's Great Outdoors
Outdoor enthusiasts and moviemakers have long sought the same kind of destinations: awe-inspiring, far-flung and picturesque locales that make you say, “take me there” and grab the attention of Academy voters. Luckily for Los Angeles locals and visitors alike, many of those memorable cinematic places are right underneath our noses, in our own backyard.
For film fans, hikers and lovers of the great outdoors, here are ten of our favorite big-screen backdrops that have appeared in Oscar-recognized films.
1. Zuma's Point Dume Beach, Malibu
Oscar Nod: Planet of the Apes (Honorary Award to make-up artist John Chambers)
Malibu's Westward Beach Drive will take you to a wide swath of white sand underneath spectacular headlands and rewarding whale-watching spots. Point Dume was the site of Dr. Evil's Volcano Island in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and the memorable finale of the original Planet of the Apes.
2. Malibu Creek State Park, Calabasas
Oscar Nod: How Green Was My Valley (Best Picture Winner)
Beloved by M*A*S*H fans as the location of the 4077 army hospital, this scenic Santa Monica Mountains wonderland has also appeared as Wales in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a Southern ranch in Elvis Presley's first film, Love Me Tender, and a Shangri-La swimming hole in 1937's Lost Horizon. Park features include the Rock Pool, climbing wall, and an extensive overnight campground. The park’s visitor center played a New England home in From the Terrace with Paul Newman.
3. Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Hills
Oscar Nod: La La Land (six Oscars) & Rebel Without a Cause (three nominations)
Multiple hiking trails converge at this 1935 retro-futuristic LA landmark. Best known for its star turns in La La Land and Rebel Without a Cause, the Griffith Observatory has also made appearances in Devil In a Blue Dress, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Transformers and Gangster Squad.
4. Bronson Canyon Cave, Griffith Park
Oscar Nod: Julius Caesar (Best Art Direction winner, four nominations including Best Picture)
Nestled in the foothills above Hollywood Boulevard and at the northern end of Canyon Drive, Bronson's iconic quarry has been seen in everything from classic Westerns (The Searchers, Ride the High Country) to beloved sci-fi (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Robot Monster). The cave is most famously identifiable as "the Batcave" on the 1960s Batman TV series.
5. Point Fermin, San Pedro
Oscar Nod: Crash (three Oscars including Best Picture)
This seaside urban green space, complete with a 1874 Victorian lighthouse, historic Band Shell, and sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean, is located near the southern terminus of L.A.’s Harbor Freeway. It's here that detective Jack Nicholson discovers what happened to the missing reservoir water in Chinatown. Surrounding highlights include Walker's Cafe (Gods and Monsters), Fort MacArthur Military Museum (Pearl Harbor), the 1932 Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse (Face/Off), and the Korean Friendship Bell (The Usual Suspects) at Angels Gate Park. The entrance to Angels Gate was the setting of a pivotal scene in Crash, when Matt Dillon rescues Thandie Newton.
6. LA County Arboretum, Arcadia
Oscar Nod: Marathon Man (Best Supporting Actor Nominee Laurence Olivier)
You can get lost in this vast city park located east of Downtown LA, which was originally a private ranch and botanical garden used for filming Tarzan the Ape Man and Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious. The main attraction is the 1885 Queen Anne Cottage, best known for its role on TV's Fantasy Island and as the Florida home of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand in Meet the Fockers.
7. Arroyo Seco's Gabrielino Trail, Pasadena
Oscar Nod: Back to the Future (Best Original Screenplay Nominee), shot at the nearby Gamble House
This shady jungle-like forest near Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) served as a crime scene for Murder by Numbers with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Gosling. Other films shot in this surprisingly lush glen at the edge of the Angeles National Forest include Michel Gondry's Human Nature and Rob Reiner's North. Neighborhood landmarks include the Colorado Street Bridge (from Charlie Chaplin's The Kid), the Huntington Gardens (Bridesmaids), the 1908 Gamble House (Doc Brown's home in Back to the Future), and the Langham Hotel (Saving Mr. Banks with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson).
8. Vasquez Rock Natural Area Park, Agua Dulce
Oscar Nod: Little Miss Sunshine (two Oscars including Best Supporting Actor Alan Arkin)
Named after Tuburcio Vasquez, the famed Mexican bandit who used this spooky desert backdrop as his hiding place, Vasquez Rocks are the strange rock formations that can be seen along Highway 14 (the Antelope Valley Freeway) in northern Los Angeles County. Its most famous appearances include TV's Star Trek, Blazing Saddles, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Adventure, Short Circuit and as the modern Stone Age family community of Bedrock in 1994's The Flintstones. The rocks can be glimpsed during a road trip scene in Little Miss Sunshine. Nearby movie ranches include Melody Ranch, seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning Django Unchained and the site of the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.
9. Paramount Ranch, Agoura
Oscar Nod: Beau Geste (1939 Art Direction Nominee)
Paramount Pictures bought this expansive Santa Monica Mountains parcel in 1927 as a wilderness backlot. The first 3-D blockbuster, 1953's Bwana Devil, used these Malibu hills as an African jungle setting, but it's best-known for its still-intact Western town, which made numerous appearances as the towns of Sweetwater and Escalante in Season 1 of Westworld, and played a Colorado hamlet in the 1990s TV series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The ranch is located just a few miles from the Kanan Road exit off the 101 Highway.
Note: Most of Paramount Ranch was destroyed by the 2018 Woolsey Fire, but there are currently plans to rebuild it.
10. Leo Carrillo State Beach, Malibu
Oscar Nod: Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima (Best Picture Nominee)
The highlight of this picturesque shoreline at Malibu's northwestern end is a hidden sea cave near Lifeguard Tower #3. It was the site of Drew Barrymore's and Adam Sandler's first kiss in 50 First Dates and the witches' ritual incantation in The Craft. The rocks nearby can be seen in Gidget, Beach Blanket Bingo, Grease, The Karate Kid and the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, when Keira Knightley gets Johnny Depp drunk on rum.