Visit these real film locations in the West that brought your favorite Hollywood movies to life.
There are two ways to film a movie these days: In a studio in Los Angeles (or Vancouver, or elsewhere), or on location at extraordinary spots around the world. Over the years, the American West has provided reliably rich backdrops for on-location shots in a variety of movies, from Midnight Cowboy and The French Connection to Lady Bird and A Star Is Born. Here’s a rundown on some locations you might recognize, and how to follow in the footsteps of actors on the silver screen.
La La Land, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
While La La Land was filmed all over Los Angeles, one scene sets the movie soaring. When stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling show up at Griffith Observatory, they levitate and dance among the stars. Visit the observatory at sunset for spectacular views of the city below before taking in the celestial show.
A Star Is Born (2018), West Hollywood, California
Life imitated art in early 2019 when the studio that distributed the 2018 version of A Star Is Born bought an “Ally” billboard in West Hollywood across the street from the Chateau Marmont—the very same place where Ally (Lady Gaga) herself sees one in the movie. The billboard in real-life is a bit lower than the one in the film, so just about anyone with eyeballs can see it from street level. To relive the Ally and Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) bar scenes, head to the Virgil in East Hollywood, a stand-up comedy bar that doubled as the drag bar where they met, and the Short Stop in Echo Park, a Dodgers bar that was portrayed as the cop bar where Ally punched a guy. (Jackson's stunning house has been the envy of many: The property, a private residence, is situated at 481 Canyon Road in the hills of Calabasas, northwest of West Hollywood.)
Lady Bird, Tower Bridge, Sacramento, California
This lyrical coming-of-age comedy makes beautiful use of its Sacramento setting, transforming California’s state capital from what was once thought of as a cowtown to a place where anybody would be glad to grow up. After the outcast Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan) and her best friend attend their high school prom together, they go to the Tower Bridge—its Streamline Moderne vertical lines beautifully backlit by the dawn sky—to say goodbye to the city. For the best views of the bridge, take the River Walk Trail to the waterfront park of the same name.
Say Anything, Seattle, Washington
Seattle nostalgia runs strong in this 1989 film about teenage love. The scene when Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) and Diane Court (Ione Skye) drive home after their party date is especially meaningful—they pass over the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which was closed in January 2019 to make way for a new tunnel. Other Seattle backdrops that make cameos in the film include Westlake Center mall downtown (it’s called Bell Square Mall in the film), and the Waiting for the Interurban sculpture in the Fremont neighborhood. (In case you’re wondering, the classic scene where Dobler holds up his boom box was filmed at a studio in Los Angeles.)
The Searchers, Monument Valley, Arizona
Arizona and Utah meet at Monument Valley, the juncture of truth and legend in this classic John Ford western. John Wayne—who looms almost as large as the two giant buttes that flank him in one of the movie’s opening scenes—once described the dream diorama of an untamed frontier as “the place where God put the West.” It remains the best place on earth for a cavalry charge. Take a guided tour of the valley to learn about its past and current inhabitants, and to see the wild west up close.
Scream, Healdsburg, California
Healdsburg, a small destination town in the northern part of Sonoma County, was transformed into the fictional town of Woodsboro in this classic horror flick from the mid-'90s. Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich, as high-schoolers Sidney Prescott and Billy Loomis, were filmed near the fountain in the plaza downtown, and TV reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) reported the news in front of what is the Taqueria El Sombrero on Center Street. Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) also made a number of appearances around town; today the building that was transformed into the Woodsboro police station for the movie is a popular lunch spot called the Oakville Grocery.
Vertigo, Legion of Honor, San Francisco
By the time James Stewart and Kim Novak, the stars of this Alfred Hitchcock thriller, arrive at the Presidio’s Fort Point, they have taken us through a travelogue of late ’50s San Francisco with shots of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, Mission Dolores, and the Legion of Honor. Re-create your own world-tilting experience with a quick stop at Lands End Lookout before moving on to explore the grounds and halls of the Legion of Honor.
The Descendants, Hanalei Bay, Kauai
In many ways, this 2011 drama was a paean to Hawaii—specifically the islands of Oahu and Kauai. Much of the second half of the movie was filmed in Hanalei Bay, on Kauai’s north shore. Here, Matt King (George Clooney) can be seen jogging in the sand of Nalu Beach with the Princeville Resort Kauai in the background. Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) and his family rent the Nalu Beach Cottage, which travelers can still rent today (starting at $1,200 per night). Later in the movie, King’s Cousin Hugh (Beau Bridges) is seen hanging out at a Hawaiian tiki bar—that bar exists in real-life as Tahiti Nui, and it’s located in the town of Hanalei.
Jurassic Park, Manawaiopuna Falls, Kauai
When the scientific team arrives by helicopter to an island supposedly off the coast of Costa Rica, the waterfall that is among the natural—and more than a few unnatural—wonders that await is Kauai’s Manawaiopuna Falls. The stunning waterfall is available to the rest of us via helicopter tour. There are also ATV and Jeep tours through the park that are dino-mite.
Mrs. Doubtfire, 2640 Steiner Street, San Francisco
Aside from the Tara property in Gone With the Wind, few houses have played a bigger role in film than the Victorian at 2640 Steiner Street—the address is even mentioned in the movie!—where Robin Williams’s English nanny sets his bra, and the screen, on fire. The house has become the centerpiece of a bus tour of San Francisco film locations, but you can also see it on foot. Start at Alta Plaza Park to take in views of the neighborhood and the city beyond, then walk down Steiner to the now famous building.
Up, Fentons Creamery, Oakland, California
At the end of this animated confection from Pixar, elderly widower Carl and young wilderness explorer Russell conclude their epic journey with a favorite Bay Area indulgence: ice cream at Fentons Creamery in Oakland. You don’t have to go on a high-flying adventure to get a scoop, but don't be surprised if there's a line. You will have ice cream in hand in no time.
The Goonies, Cannon Beach, Oregon
Set along the Oregon Coast, The Goonies brought Hollywood magic to the small town of Astoria. Dig for treasure in front of the massive Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach before heading into town. Stop by the Oregon Film Museum—housed in the former county jail—to see where the opening jailbreak scene was shot.
This article was published in May 2018 and updated in February 2019. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.