Almost as soon as the first motion pictures were produced, filmmakers began building gigantic studio lots, filling them with plaster and lath backdrops to conjure the dreams they were putting on film. From Casablanca to the Land of Oz, studio sound stages could create a world vastly more vivid than Main Street.
But by the 1970s, artifice had given way to gritty realism, with films shot on location such as Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, Rocky, and The Deer Hunter winning Best Picture Oscars. The West has provided a reliably rich tableau for Hollywood in movies like these, where it’s all about location, location, location.
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.
Read More: Lady Bird: Love Letter to Sacramento
The Searchers, Monument Valley, Arizona
Arizona and Utah meet at Monument Valley, the juncture between 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.
Read More: Arizona’s Best Photo Ops
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 exploring the grounds and halls of the Legion of Honor.
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.
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.
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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.