When Edward, the rich and handsome businessman played by Richard Gere, gets lost in the sprawling city of LA, he stops in Beverly Hills to ask the way. And that, of course, is when he meets Vivian (Julia Roberts), the good-hearted hooker he is destined to fall in love with, and the story starts to gain its own momentum until he finds his whole world turned upside down. It's a story that couldn't really have happened anywhere but in Los Angeles, a city of dreams where, in a single moment, a chance meeting can change the world and where a fine line – invisible and crossable – separates the actual from the potential.
It's appropriate that this modern-day fairytale should start on Hollywood Boulevard, perhaps the most famous avenue in the world thanks to the Walk of Fame. Vivian's patch is on this street lined with plaques bearing the names of greats from the worlds of radio, music, screen and stage: Groucho Marx, Julie Andrews, Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Norris... Since 1960, over 2,000 famous names have been inscribed on the legendary five-pointed stars.
Naturally, this is one of the main destinations for film buffs visiting the cinema mecca. It is also one of the most vibrant streets in a city full of endless, deserted avenues, a city with nearly four million inhabitants and a dozen different residential neighbourhoods where the locals go from house to car and car to house and no one walks. On Hollywood Boulevard, however, you'll find souvenir shops overflowing with kitsch and memorabilia, restaurants, fashion shops and major tourist attractions such as the great Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars themselves have been hosted since 2001. This iconic building is located inside the vast Hollywood & Highland mall and guided tours are available that will put you right in the picture with anecdotes and curiosities from the film festival.
Right alongside the Kodak Theatre is Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where visitors are greeted in the forecourt with the hand and foot prints of stars including Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren, Clark Gable – and Richard Gere. Dating from 1927, this legendary pagoda-style theatre is still the venue of choice for the hottest Hollywood premieres.
Three blocks south, across Sunset Boulevard which stretches far out on either side, you reach Santa Monica Boulevard, home to Boulmiche, the haute couture boutique where, in true ugly stepsister style, the snooty assistants refuse to serve Vivian dressed in her hooker's gladrags; later, of course they realise their mistake when she returns in different garb, laden with parcels and packages. In the film, the road makes do for Rodeo Drive, in reality somewhat farther south, which boasts the largest number of fashion boutiques in the city.
Also on Hollywood Boulevard are some of the best hotels in LA, including the luxurious Beverly Wilshire, where the unlikely couple stay. The actual suite that appears on screen in Pretty Woman is a studio creation, but the real hotel rooms are just as spectacular, with bathrooms featuring oversized tubs perfect for a bubble bath just like that enjoyed by Julia Roberts in one of the most memorable scenes of the film – though you have to provide your own leading man.
Fans of the film whose pockets aren't quite so deep should try Las Palmas Hotel, some nine kilometres north of Hollywood Boulevard. It's the fire escape of this more modest hotel that the hero climbs, heading towards one of Hollywood's most endearing happy endings, an ending that made Julia Roberts America's best-loved girl, and Richard Gere the most sought-after Hollywood heart throb.
From here to Deronda Drive – by car, as is the norm in LA – is just five minutes. This is the best site from which to view the mythical image of the Hollywood sign, the worn white letters stark against the hillside welcoming everyone to take their chance in this city of dreams. And if you want to get behind the scenes of the dreams, sign up for a movie studios tours at Universal Studios or Warner Bros Studios.
When to Visit
There's plenty to do all year round and the Southern California weather deserves its reputation, but even so, summer is the best time to enjoy the immense city beaches.
It is pretty much impossible to get around Los Angeles without a car: the city is huge and many of the avenues are unsuitable for walking and not served by public transport.
Where to stay
The Beverly Wilshire is where the characters stay in the film. Other hotels for cinephiles include the exclusive Millennium Biltmore, where scenes were filmed for such classics as Vertigo, New York, New York and King Kong, Westin Bonaventure Hotel featured in Rain Man with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, and Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where scenes were filmed for Internal Affairs, also with Richard Gere, and Almost Famous.
Where to eat
The Cicada restaurant, where Julia Roberts' character send the snail flying across the table in Pretty Woman is in Downtown, the city's historic centre. Another film-related option, this time Memoirs of a geisha, is Yamashiro in Hollywood Hills, where the delicious food is complemented by spectacular views of the city.
The movie trail
The company Starline Tours offers guided tours of movie locations, movie studios and tours of the mansions of the famous actors.
There's more to Los Angeles than Hollywood, so don't miss visiting the Downtown area with it monuments, museums and city parks, as well as Long Beach, home to the Aquarium of the Pacific, the port and community of San Pedro, and the Griffith Observatory in the vast GriffithPark.
Tourism in Los Angeles