The location: Marissa's Death Scene.

Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. The deserted stretch of wooded road where Marissa Cooper died in a car accident.

Q. Where is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. The location isn't specified. But prior to the incident, a sign is shown saying "You are now leaving Orange County".)

Q. When did we see it on the show?

    A. It is the closing scene of the final episode (25) of Season 3 ("The Graduates").

    Ryan and Marissa have just left a final pool party (with Seth & Summer) at the model home, and we then see them driving in their car as they somehow end up on a dark, isolated road. They drive through a tunnel and are then confronted by Volchok, who repeatedly smashes his car into theirs, trying to force them to pull over.

    Their car goes out of control on a hairpin turn, rolls down a steep, wooded embankment, and comes to rest upside down on the road below. Ryan survives, and manages to pull Marissa out of the car before it explodes into flame, but Marissa is badly injured and dies in Ryan's arms.

Ryan & Marissa's car enters the fatal tunnel, in season three's final episode of "The O.C."

Q. What is it actually in real life?

    A. A wooded road in a park, and a tunnel in that same park.

Q. Where can I find it in real life?

    A. The car crash scenes and Marissa's death were actually filmed up in Griffith Park, a huge 4,200-acre park in Los Angeles (the largest urban park in the nation).

    Griffith Park is roughly bounded by the Golden State (5) Freeway on the east, the Ventura (134) Freeway on the north, Los Feliz Blvd on the south, and the Hollywood Hills on the west. The park's official address is 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles.

    The tunnel that Ryan and Marissa drive through (right before Volchok attacks them) is known as the Mount Hollywood tunnel. The tunnel is in Griffith Park, on Vermont Avenue, just north of the Griffith Park Observatory, in the Hollywood hills.

    This particular tunnel has a Hollywood film history of its own. It has appeared in a number of hit movies, including "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (where it was the entrance to Toontown), "Back to the Future 2" (where it was the 'River Road Tunnel', where Biff tries to squish Marty on his hoverboard), "WarGames" (where it was the entrance to NORAD), and in 2007's "Nancy Drew" (where Nancy is almost hit by a truck coming out of the tunnel).

    The first two films both used the tunnel's east entrance, the same one seen in The OC. "Roger Rabbit" painted up the tunnel to look more like the ornate tunnels on the old Pasadena Freeway, so it's not easy to recognize in that film. "Back to the Future 2" went back to the tunnel's plain white look, but they put fake lights inside the tunnel that don't exist in real life. Also, note that it is actually a very short tunnel. In the movies, it is often filmed in a way that gives the false impression that it is much longer than it really is.

    The same Griffith Park tunnel as seen in "Back to the Future 2" (with lights added inside).


    The same Griffith Park tunnel in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", fancied up with paint and two fake lampposts.


    (For those who may be wondering, no, the Griffith Park tunnel is not the tunnel you see in the TV series "Stargate". That tunnel is actually the entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain military facility, and is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.)

    To find the tunnel, from Los Feliz Blvd, turn north up Vermont Avenue (aka "Vermont Canyon Road"), and follow it up its winding route (past the Greek Theatre, which will be on your left side). When you get to Observatory Drive near the top, almost everyone else will turn left to get to the Observatory. But don't turn left. Instead, continue west on Vermont (which is renamed again, this time as "Mount Hollywood Drive", as soon as you pass Observatory Drive), and you will quickly see the east entrance to the tunnel.

    ( Immediately after exiting the tunnel via the west side, turn left to get back on Observatory Drive (it's a two-sided street), and go see the Observatory, which has also appeared in a large number of Hollywood films. )

    Here is a map link, with both tunnel entrances marked.

    Here is a birds-eye aerial photo of the tunnel's east entrance (looking west).

    And here is a birds-eye aerial photo of the tunnel's west entrance (looking east).

      A word of caution: this is a dark, relatively narrow tunnel, so exercise reasonable caution. Watch out for bicyclists and also for people on skateboards. Why skateboarders? Because 'Marty McFly' rode his 'hoverboard' through this tunnel in "Back to the Future 2", so hardcore fans of that film series sometimes like to ride their skateboards through the tunnel. Try not to kill them.

    The subsequent road scenes of the car accident & Marissa's death were also shot nearby in Griffith Park, and after months of searching, I finally found the exact filming location, with the help of a fan, mel39 (see below for details).

    The death scene was filmed on a small stretch of Western Canyon Road, just a few yards west/northwest of the intersection of Observatory Drive.

    Here's how to find it:

      From the tunnel: As you come out of the west end of the tunnel (heading west), you will immediately come to a fork in the road.  Do not go straight on.  Instead, bear left (south) onto Observatory Drive. Mere seconds later (after about 250 feet), you'll come to Western Canyon Road, on your right (west) side. Turn right (west/northwest) on this road (Western Canyon Road), and you will almost immediately see the accident scene right in front of you. (Look for the large palm tree at the end of the road, and the rock retaining wall on the right side.)

      From the Observatory: There are two streets leading up to the Observatory: Vermont (on the east) and Western (on the west). If you are coming back from the Griffith Observatory, you have two roads (both named Observatory Drive) to choose - one road on the east (that leads to Vermont) and one on the west (that leads to Western). Choose the one on the west. After you have driven about a third of a mile northwest (from the Observatory parking lot), you'll come to Western Canyon Road, which will be on your left side. It's the first paved street you come to, and the main road leading down out of the park. Turn left (west/northwest) on Western Canyon Road, and you will almost immediately see the accident scene right in front of you.

    Here is a map link, and here is an aerial photo with the key locations marked.

    If you click on these two small photos of the crash scene (below), you'll get much larger versions of the same photos to study, including one where I have marked some of the identifying attributes:


And here (below) is a photo I shot (during daylight hours, in 2007) of
the actual road in in Griffith Park where they filmed the death scene.

(We are looking west/northwest up Western Canyon Road, just west of Observatory Road.).
(Click on it to see a much larger version)

Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?

    A. At first, I assumed that Marissa's death scene would be somewhere in Palos Verdes, since the kids had just left a pool party at the model home, which is actually located in Palos Verdes. But when I couldn't find the hairpin road there (and faced with trying to find it somewhere in the vast Santa Monica Mountains), I decided to start looking for the tunnel instead. I figured I'd have a better chance of finding the tunnel, and doing so might, in turn, lead me to the road.

    I was unaware of any tunnels of that size in Palos Verdes, so I started looking in Malibu, Googling the term "Malibu and tunnel". I found more than one tunnel in Malibu, but both of them failed the test. One was a double tunnel (the one on The OC was clearly a single tunnel) and the other simply didn't resemble the OC tunnel. So I expanded my Google search to all of Los Angeles, and eventually turned up the name "Mount Hollywood tunnel".

    I then Googled for an image of it, and since the tunnel was used in so many other films, there were photos of it on the web. I found this one on Flicker, and this one from a "Back to the Future" site. A comparison between The OC tunnel and the Mount Hollywood tunnel showed that they were definitely one and the same. There are some obvious similarities.

    Once I knew that the tunnel scene had been shot in Griffith Park, I assumed that the remaining crash scenes were probably also shot there, since the wooded roads in those scenes resemble those in the park. So I Googled for griffith park and "The OC" and crash and marissa. That search hit pay dirt. My hunch was confirmed by Ben McKenzie ('Ryan') himself, in an interview with Zap2it:

      "McKenzie had to lift Barton and carry her away from the exploding vehicle, and he muses that filming it was "very odd. We were up late at night almost until sunrise in Griffith Park, which is a huge park in Los Angeles. It's pretty and sort of eerie, and everyone knew it was the last scene Mischa would be in."

    So I knew that the road scenes of Marissa's death were also filmed somewhere in Griffith Park. The problem was determining exactly where. Unfortunately, the massive park is filled with similar curving streets and hairpin turns, making finding the right road sort of like looking for a needle in a haystack. And to make matters worse, the scenes were filmed at night, revealing little detail.

    But there were a few clues: the actual death scene was shot on a road with a 4-or-5-feet-high stone retaining wall on one side, and a low (less than a foot high) stone guard-rail (or edge) on the other side . The stone retaining wall holds back a steep slope filled with thin trees, earth and vegetation. There was a double-yellow line painted down the middle of the road (lined with 'button reflectors'). There was a 25 mph speed limit sign on the right side. And lightening the photos of the final scene (via PhotoShop) also revealed a large palm tree back at the curve (the rest of the trees in the area are thin non-palms).

    I compared and mapped over 50 hairpin turns in the park (all in vain) before throwing in the towel for several months...

    I finally found the exact spot in late 2007. A fan, mel39, emailed me to say that she had been coming back from the Griffith Observatory when she realized that the territory looked familiar. She shot a number of photos of the road from inside her car, and sent me a photo that matched the screencaps of the accident scene.  It was definitely the same stretch of road.
    (Thanks, Mel !)

    The only minor problem was that she couldn't pinpoint exactly where it was, although she thought it was most likely somewhere on Western Canyon Road. But the important information was that the scene was shot on a main road heading back down the hill on the west side - and that was all I needed to know to locate it if I went there in person.

    So, the next morning, I got up early and took advantage of the light Sunday morning traffic to drive out to Griffith Park. I headed through the tunnel, made a left on Observatory Road, then came to Western Canyon Road.  Turning right (west) on Western Canyon Road, I hoped to find the location somewhere on the road before I reached the bottom of the hill. But I was shocked to immediately see the "accident scene" right there in front of me - just a few yards west/northwest of the intersection of Observatory Road & Western Canyon Road.

    So why was it so hard to find on the maps and aerial photos? Although the road appears to be a sharp hairpin turn (on the show and in the screencaps), in real life it's actually just a rather gradual right curve in the road. The details of the road are hidden by trees in the aerial photos, and that large palm tree (which marks the end of the road in the scene), is almost invisible in Live Local's Birds-Eye view - making it virtually impossible to pinpoint the location using just the maps & photos. But once you know where it is, it's very easy to find.

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