How to Tackle the TCM Classic Film Festival Like a Local*
April 23, 2018
*an economical local
I’m 96% sure the majority of TCM Classic Film Festival attendees travel from out of town for the occasion. Factoring in airfare, accommodations, passes, transportation and food, the four day mecca for movie fans commonly known as TCMFF can be extremely costly. I love to travel, so I totally understand the factors that come into play with a big trip such as this, and I admire the lengths my fellow classic film aficionados go in order to relish this incredible experience. (Like the pain of taking vacation days even though you return home way more tired than when you left!) While I admittedly don't have to worry about many of the above expenses for TCMFF, I do live in LA year-round, and as you may have heard, it costs a pretty penny to call this city home.
Only a few more days until TCMFF 2018! (Picture by Kim Luperi)
That said, I've learned to budget my movie-going habit quite well over the years and consequently, I’ve been able to navigate this festival – this year makes my 9th time attending –with a goal in mind: keep the costs low so I can keep the roof over my head. With that, my pal Danny's wonderful recent tips and tricks article inspired me to share some of my own pointers as a local who frequents not only TCMFF but other film festivals at the Chinese and Egyptian theaters several times a year. But before I dive in, let me start with a disclaimer: This piece focuses on more practical (read: less fun) components of attending the festival such as transportation and parking – by no means is it intended as an all-inclusive guide, nor will the information pertain to all attendees. Also, street signs and drink specials change occasionally, so while this information is up-to-date as of this writing, I can't guarantee it will always remain that way. I will undoubtedly mention some tips that have already been shared, and I’m leaving out a whole bunch of others that have been covered so thoroughly by my fellow writers and TCM fans; I’ll link to several of those posts at the bottom, and I encourage all fest-goers to pore these over and heed their advice. (And no, I don’t have any magical insight for conquering the Theater Four queue. If I did, I’d probably be charging you to read this article.)
Let's begin, shall we?
TCMFF art adorning a Starline tour bus last year. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
Most people traveling from out of town aim to stay close to the festival venues, and for good reason. When the daily program starts at 9am and can end close to 2am, you want your bed as close to you as humanly possible. Like in the theater would be preferred. (Seriously if TCM added comfy cots in the Multiplex as an option I know people who would take them up on that. Me.) But we all know Hollywood is expensive, so if you are staying a bit outside the main fest radius, or if you're driving to the fest each day, fear not, because you have a variety of options to get to and from all the important sites.
This includes the subway – most likely the red line, which runs underneath Hollywood and Highland – and the bus system. You may have heard that LA locals have an unnatural fear of public transportation, and that is absolutely correct. I own a car but live close to many bus lines and frequently take advantage of the metro system, which my friends somehow find alternately shocking and sad (so much so that they feel bad for me and are quick to offer me a lift). But buses and subways here cost only $1.75 a ride, they are central to Hollywood Blvd., and they aren’t generally scary – at least during the daytime and early evening. In fact, I always hop a bus Sunday morning of the fest, as I know I’ll be indulging at the closing night party. Pro tip: You can purchase a tap card for $1 at metro stations, which can be re-loaded and used for transfers.
If the metro isn't convenient or it simply doesn't fit into your schedule, check out rideshare apps like Lyft. To lower your cost, choose a shared ride if you can spare a few extra minutes. Beware, though, that traffic in and around Hollywood is generally atrocious, so plan plenty of extra time – like at least four minutes to sit at the light at Hollywood and Highland. Also, if you have a map app on your phone, I suggest plotting your route there too, so you can advise the driver on any less traffic-y alternatives he/she could be taking.
If you've rented a car or drove to LA and will be commuting to the fest, there are several parking options. I hate, I repeat HATE, paying for parking, so over the years I have cultivated a list of free spots around the Chinese and Egyptian theaters. Note: Some of these are a 10 minute hike and probably not the best option if you will be walking back to your car alone late at night. (I recommend traveling in groups after about 10pm in the area.) But if you'd like a save a dollar or 20 in parking fees, these do come in handy. Note two: Always carefully read/attempt to decipher the parking signs, even though they appear to be written in a different language intentionally just to throw you off. I say this because rules change – oftentimes in the middle of a block. ALWAYS. READ. THE. SIGNS. That said, below some are of my go-to free parking areas:
WEEKDAYS and WEEKENDS: Select parts of residential streets south of Sunset between Highland and La Brea, such as Mansfield, Orange, Sycamore and De Longpre, are free to park on all day, besides weekly street cleaning. HOWEVER, as I said before, STUDY the signs. Most of these streets do have restrictions on at least one part/side of the road.
WEEKDAYS (non-school hours) and WEEKENDS: The east side of Orange Drive next to the high school between Hawthorn and Sunset is free of restrictions in the evenings during the week (I believe after 5pm) and all day on the weekends. These are prime spots, and they are usually hard to snag. Also, Lanewood Avenue, which is perpendicular to Orange at the high school (between Sunset and Hawthorn) is also always up for grabs (no school limitations), save for street cleaning. However, I have never been able to land a spot there.
SATURDAY and SUNDAY: This is a screwy one. The north side of Sunset between Orange and Highland is generally open for parking on the weekends. That said, HALF of this strip has Saturday restrictions, while the other half is totally fine to park on either day. Read the fine print on the signs super insanely carefully, because if this isn't a prime example of LADOT trying to trick unassuming motorists, I don't know what is.
SUNDAY: You can park on the west side of Highland between Sunset and Hawthorn on Sundays only. If you get there early enough, these spots should be easy to win.
Final note on parking. I cannot stress this enough: If you need 10 minutes to decode the street signs, take the time. LA hands out parking tickets like Halloween candy.
The TCL Chinese Multiplex, one of the fest's main venues. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
Traveling between venues
Most festival screenings are held in the Chinese Multiplex, the Chinese IMAX, or the Egyptian Theatre, which is 0.2 mile/five minute walk from the Chinese theaters, though the new diagonal crossing at Hollywood and Highland may double that time. However, in addition to the Cinerama Dome (6360 W. Sunset), there are two new venues this year: the ASC Clubhouse (1782 N. Orange) and the Linwood Dunn Theater (1313 Vine). The TCMFF site features helpful, concise directions to each location, but if you’re adventurous and want to take advantage of public transportation or simply get your legs moving, I’ve outlined a few more options below.
Cinerama Dome (Sunset between Ivar and Vine)
Walking: From Hollywood and Highland, the Dome is a one mile/19 minute walk. To avoid the cluster of Hollywood Blvd:
Walk four minutes south Highland to Sunset and then head east about 13 minutes to the Dome
Alternatively walk two minutes south down Highland to Selma, head east until you hit Cahuenga, walk two minutes south to Sunset and the theater is a short block east from there.
From Hollywood and Highland station, take the metro red line one stop towards downtown and get off at Hollywood and Vine. From there, walk seven minutes south to Sunset, take a right, and walk two minutes west to the theater.
Start walking three to four minutes south on Orange to Sunset, where you can catch the 2/302 bus from Sunset and Orange east to Sunset and Ivar, which is basically next to the Dome.
Linwood Dunn Theater, in the Academy's Pickford Center (Vine between Homewood and Fountain)
Walking: From Hollywood and Highland, the Dunn is a 25 minute walk, about a mile and a quarter. If you have the time:
Walk four minutes south down Highland to Sunset, head east about 14 minutes until you hit Vine, take a right, and walk south five minutes to the theater.
You can also walk two minutes south on Highland to Selma, walk 14 minutes east till Vine, take a right, and walk south about seven minutes to the theater.
You can also take the red line one stop towards downtown, disembarking at Hollywood and Vine. From there, walk south on Vine for 11 minutes until you get to the theater.
Same directions as for the Dome: Walk south on Orange and catch the 2/302 bus at Sunset and Orange, getting off at Sunset and Vine. Walk five minutes south down Vine from there.
The ASC Clubhouse (Orange between Hollywood and Franklin)
This venue, which I never knew existed, is a short walk from the Chinese Multiplex and IMAX, north on Orange, right before you hit Franklin. I suggest exiting the Hollywood and Highland structure from the back, near the Chado Tea Room and Starline office/LA Visitor’s Center on the second level. From there, take a right at the roundabout bus area and the Clubhouse should be a two minute walk north on Orange.
Getting the red carpet set up for TCMFF opening night in 2016. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
If you’ve ever been to the fest before, you know that Hollywood Blvd. is brimming with tourists… and people more than prepared to rip those tourists off. I liken this part of Hollywood Blvd. to Times Square, another sightseeing area teeming with people that is usually best avoided, save for special events such as this. Though three of the biggest festival venues – the Chinese Multiplex, the IMAX, and the Egyptian – are all situated off Hollywood Blvd., I suggest trekking down alternative streets if you can.
Hawthorn/Selma: There is now a traffic light at Highland and Hawthorn, so if you’d like a break from the crowd, you can walk down to Hawthorn from Orange (one block south of Hollywood Blvd.) and take this street to the light. After crossing, I'd suggest heading south on Highland and taking Selma to Las Palmas (you can also walk south on Highland and cross the street at Selma, too). Once you hit Las Palmas, you'll see the back of the Egyptian on your left – you can enter through the parking lot and up the back ramp (to the left of the Arena Cinema entrance).
Thank you Google maps for this shot of the roundabout in the back of Hollywood and Highland off Orange Drive.
Orange to the back of the Multiplex: Chris also pointed this shortcut out, which is one I always try use. Some may be familiar with this location if you’ve waited in line for the IMAX Theater with number 558 or something like that; it's located off level two by the Starline tour bus pickup/dropoff, past the Chado Tea Room and the LA Visitor's Center and behind the Orange parking entrance.
What a clever name for a restaurant.
As you've probably read elsewhere, time is of the essence at TCMFF, which means proper meals are often kicked to the curb in exchange for, say, a nitrate screening, a 101 year-old guest, or a beloved favorite that you simply can’t miss.
Quick bites at Hollywood and Highland
I believe queue cards are handed out about 30 minutes before a film’s start time to those lining up for a screening (it's an hour for other festivals at the Chinese, so hopefully I'm not getting confused). This doesn't give you a lot of time to grab some grub, but if the line is rather long, there's some good news: Hollywood and Highland center has upped their game and now house several decently priced fast food joints in an area called The Deck, right outside the entrance closest to Hollywood Blvd. near the staircase that leads to the Courtyard and the street. My favorite of these are Jinya Ramen Express and Whealthy (rice/noodle bowls). Here’s a whole list of the restaurants you can find in Hollywood and Highland. I also love Chado Tea Room, which has surprisingly affordable lunches.
Some of my TCMFF snacks. I left out some of the chocolate and some Fiber One muffins. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
Lunch and snack time
I personally like to take it back to school days and pack a small lunch to eat on the go. If you don't have time to hit a store (RIP Fresh and Easy), there is a CVS on Hollywood Blvd. a block west of the Chinese theaters. Bread, peanut butter, and jelly will be overpriced but I can guarantee it will cost you less than a meal at the Roosevelt. (I pack peanut butter and jelly crackers, cause I like to be different.) If you have the time for a longer grocery run, there’s Ralphs at 7257 Sunset, between Poinsettia and Fuller, which is about a 12-13 minute walk from the Chinese, and in the opposite direction, there's Trader Joes at 1600 N. Vine, between Hollywood and Selma, which is approximately an 18 minute trek from the Chinese.
Pro tip: Bring some reusable bags from home. Win win for your wallet and the environment.
Speaking of home, I’d be sure to hit up your local grocery store for affordable snacks and refrain from stocking up solely on junk food, because without a healthy treat or two in the mix, there's a 94% chance your body will turn on you at some point during the weekend.
Meals out and about
I’ve also discovered some nearby gems over the years, in case you’re thinking of – GASP – taking a whole block off for a meal. (This is allowed, by the way.) For the most part, these options are pretty affordable as well.
By the Egyptian
Berry Que (1707 N. Las Palmas): A quaint little space tucked away on Las Palmas north of Hollywood serving coffee, juice and sandwiches. Free wi-fi, too!
By the Linwood Dunn
La Numero Uno (1247 N. Vine): Mexican and Salvadorian fare
El Floridita (1253 N. Vine): Cuban cuisine
Sassafrass (1233 N. Vine): New Orleans-style saloon with happy hour from 5-7pm (no food here!)
By the Cinerama Dome
Because food and drink prices in LA, particularly Hollywood, can be so exorbitant, I usually keep an eye out for happy hour specials. Well, if there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s a deal. Below are some of the most affordable happy hour spots around the festival venues, you know, in case you need to throw one back before that midnight screening of The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). (I think that's a requirement for this one?) Note: As with everything on this list, these specials can change without notice.
Jameson's Irish Pub (6681 Hollywood Blvd.): Monday-Friday two for one drinks from 12-8pm
Te'kila Hollywood (6541 Hollywood Blvd.): Specials everyday 4-8pm and all day Sunday
Pig 'n Whistle (6714 Hollywood Blvd.): Happy hour Monday-Friday 3-6pm
Boardner's (1652 N. Cherokee): Food and drink deals Monday-Saturday 4-8pm and all day Sunday
Power House (1714 N. Highland): I'm not sure of the hours for the specials at this divey on the outside, chic-er on the inside bar across from Lucky Strike.
Proud fest moment: being first in the standby line for one of my favorite movies, The Innocents, in 2014.
For those of you with a festival pass, that lanyard identifies you as a target for street performers, tour bus organizers, and Scientologists trying to lure you in for a “personality test." Just say no. If you are accosted, as in any big city, politely decline, unless of course you want to shell out like $20 for a photo with a Michael Jackson lookalike. And whatever you do, do NOT accept a “free” CD shoved in your chest. Obviously, they are not complimentary.
Don't have a pass? Hey, I didn't either for the first FIVE, yes, FIVE festivals. During those years I either tried my luck in the standby line or volunteered. If you're betting on standby, fear not; many people do it every year and have a wonderful fest experience. However, you need to be realistic about your choices, familiarize yourself with the venues and their capacities, prioritize your schedule and don't get (too) disappointed. If there's something you really MUST SEE, make it a point to get in line early – like, challenge yourself to be the first in the standby line; I’d hang around after the previous film in that theater goes in to assure your spot, or check to see if they are creating lines even before that time. But that's still no guarantee you’ll make it in – especially for any rare films or pre-Codes in Theater Four, anything with a legendary guest indulging us with a Q&A and the nitrate screenings. But you never do know. Heck, I’ve experienced some of my favorite festival moments via the standby line, so you certainly can catch several fest selections this way, you just have to manage your expectations. I even made it in to see Maureen O'Hara at the El Capitan on standby! (But I've also been shut out of most of the pre-Codes I've attempted, save for some of the re-played titles in the TBA slots.)
LA from The Getty.
For the most part, TCMFF is a contained, movie-lovers madhouse focused within the heaviest tourist section of the city. Truth: Hollywood is not representative of LA. If you have the extra time, get out and explore! Other top sightseeing spots include Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Observatory, Angels Flight, Grand Central Market, The Bradbury Building, The Farmer’s Market, The Grove and The La Brea Tar Pits, just to name a few. However, if you have the time and interest to meander away from those popular sites, check out some of my (admittedly very broad) recommendations, below.
Kenneth Hahn State Park
Marina del Rey
Downtown Culver City
Downtown El Segundo (by the airport)
Shout-out to my friend Danny for this lovely TCM chocolate bar... from 2016, I think?
If you've perused other informative TCMFF articles, you’ve probably heard all of these tips before, but they are important enough to bear repeating!
Wear comfortable shoes, because you will be walking and standing in line A LOT. Heels have no place on Hollywood Blvd., except on a red carpet.
It may be in the 70s or 80s outside, but I for one always get cold in the Egyptian. If you get chilly easily bring a sweater or cardigan.
Pack an energy bar or some type of edible item in your purse, pocket or backpack. You’ll thank yourself for doing so after realizing you forgot to eat anything after eight hours of movie-going.
Bring a phone charger or portable battery with you, because I’m pretty sure simply being in Hollywood depletes your battery faster than if you were anywhere else in the world.
WATER. Humans need this to survive. (There’s not enough in a cocktail or beer to keep you running for long.)
One final thought
TCMFF is obviously meant to be fun! As important as it is to have some kind of fest strategy, know that plans can and will change – and that's not a bad thing! Whether it's your first rodeo or sixth, I suggest being flexible and accepting the fact that not everything is going to play out as you hoped. I’ve experienced some of my favorite festival memories – whether that was catching up with a friend in Club TCM or watching a movie I never intended to see at the fest a first time, let alone a second time – during those slots when my original strategy didn't pan out. If you make it a point to be open and focus on enjoying yourself and your surroundings, you can't go wrong!
If you think I've left anything out, I have. Hopefully, most of my oversights are intentional, because others have already covered this terrain so well. I encourage you to read, read, read the articles below.
Danny's TCMFF Tips & Tricks: A superb comprehensive guide that covers everything you need to know before and during the festival, such as passes, flights, venues, scheduling – the works! Plus, he made a TCMFF bingo card, which has a space for getting shut out of Theater Four. (Only one, Danny?)
Chris' TCMFF Survival Guide: This is another fantastic, thorough run-down of basically everything one needs to know before attending the fest, with tips on souvenirs, the weather and booze, to boot!
How Raquel Budgets for TCMFF: This piece is from a few years ago, but I love the idea behind it. Plus, many of the travel, food and souvenir insights are still applicable.
Beth's Insider's Guide to TCMFF: If you're a member of the TCM Backlot, Beth runs through a number of festival tips on that site. I think this post is especially insightful for newbies.
TCM with a Twist: This awesome list of nearby swanky bars, the majority of which I’ve never actually been to, deserves to be bookmarked.
Will's 2014 Obsessive-Compulsive Festival Guide: Though some of this information pertains specifically to the 2014 fest, a lot of it is good to keep in mind. Will also included a great selection of local eateries.
Thanks for reading! I hope TCMFF attendees will find at least some of these tips useful. If you have any other insight to add, please feel free to share below!
thanks for stopping by!
I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.