I recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles where, truth be told, I wanted nothing more than to steer clear of the typical tourist hot spots while in town. But with my having, oh shall we say, a moderate-to-borderline-obsessive interest in all things celebrity, the one thing I simply couldn’t pass up was a photo op with the infamous Hollywood sign, perched atop Mount Lee. The approach I took, however, was decidedly non-touristy.

What many people don’t realize is that you can actually hike to the very top of Mount Lee. It’s such a guarded “secret” that even the official Hollywood Sign website will have you believe it’s illegal to hike anywhere near the sign. Not the case. There are several roads—devoid of vehicular traffic, save for the sporadic security car—that wind around the mountain, one which goes to the top. As long as you stay on one of these roads, you’ll be fine—just make sure you’re off the mountain by nightfall.

The path I hiked with my resident friend/guide led me to the peak of Mount Lee, above and behind the sign. Fencing has been set up to prevent hikers from actually approaching the sign (graffiti used to be a big issue). Regardless, once you’ve reached the top, the sign becomes secondary to the breathtaking panoramic view. To the north is San Fernando Valley; Los Angeles and its many neighborhoods sprawl out to the south; and on a particularly clear day—I know, hard to imagine in a city infamous for its excessive smog—it’s said that you can even see the ocean to the southwest. (Tip: the clearest days are those after a rare L.A. rainfall.)

The entire trip took roughly three hours, including the 20 or so minutes we spent at the peak…not to mention an extra 20 after we took a wrong turn. Oops!

Joshua Pramis is an online associate editor for Travel + Leisure.

Photos by Joshua Pramis