Where was Highway to Heaven filmed?
Los Angeles, California; Tucson, Arizona
Architectural, American, House, Mansions, Victorian, Schools/Colleges, Studios
Dated/Retro, Gothic/Victorian, School
About Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven is a fantasy drama series aired on NBC from September 19, 1984, to August 4, 1989. It starred Michael Landon as Jonathan Smith, who died and was sent back to Earth as a probationary angel to help people. If it’s your first time hearing about this show, this review will give you a tour of the Highway to Heaven film set and walk you through some crucial scenes from the series (spoiler alert!)
The story follows Jonathan’s mission to help individuals in crisis and turn their lives around. Then he meets Mark Gordon (Victor French), a retired officer of the Oakland Police Department. He first appeared in the Pilot episode and became Jonathan’s trusted partner and friend, assisting him with his task of saving lost lives.
At first, Mark is suspicious of Jonathan and even breaks into his apartment only to find nothing. Then Jonathan eventually reveals he’s an angel. Together, they carry out Jonathan’s heavenly missions. They begin traveling across the country, meeting different people as they receive assignments from ‘the Boss.’
Viewers are introduced to different characters and stories in every episode of Highway to Heaven as our protagonists travel on a mission. Endowed with spiritual powers, Jonathan is disguised as an everyday citizen, assisting those who are lost to find their way to their truest selves.
There are some episodes where we meet Mark and Jonathan’s friends and family members. They use their heavenly powers to comfort the sick, reunite broken families, heal emotional wounds, and help the homeless. As they are personally involved with the people in their mission, viewers also see them grow and learn with those they’re assigned to help.
The constant theme throughout the series is the message of love and kindness despite the differences. It addresses complex issues, including death, sickness, racism, and morality.
Highway to Heaven Locations
Jonathan and Mark travel from town to town to fulfill their mission of saving lives and bringing comfort to different individuals. That’s why filmmakers needed to find various Highway to Heaven locations to deliver every episode and story effectively and with much authenticity. While many scenes throughout the series were recorded inside a studio on a sound stage, most parts were filmed on location.
The majority of the Highway to Heaven production took place in Los Angeles County, California. It used several private estates and mansions, including the Former Max Busch House in Pasadena. Sure, the 21-bedroom manor is no longer as glorious as when it was featured in the fantasy drama TV series due to a fire that destroyed the property. But its beauty will be preserved through the shows and movies it once appeared in.
Part of the pilot episode was shot along Dawn Road, South of Tucson, Arizona. The filmmakers also used Soledad Canyon Road in California, near Acton, a small residential community, just off the Antelope Valley Freeway. Other sites you might recognize in the series are the La Grange Bridge, Big Sky Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, Van Nuys High School, and more.
Highway to Heaven was Victor French’s final TV series, as he died of lung cancer on June 15, 1989. It was speculated that the series ended due to his death. However, it had already been decided that it would end even before he passed away.
Jonathan walking on the road scene in Highway to Heaven
Soledad Canyon Road, CA
We can’t discuss some of the best scenes in Highway to Heaven and not mention the opening sequence. It’s a symbolic scene of the series where Jonathan walks on a long, narrow road before being picked up by Mark. You’ll see it throughout the show, except in the first part of the Pilot episode, as Mark doesn’t appear until later in this episode.
In the series opener, Jonathan tries to hitch a ride from an older man named Clyde (Eddie Quillan). But he wants to charge him $10, even when they’re heading to the same destination anyway. The man argues that “nothing is free in this world,” to which Jonathan responds, “kindness is… Kindness is free.”
If you want to walk or drive on the same road where Jonathan walked in the film, you’ll have to drive along Soledad Canyon Road. It runs from Santa Clarita to Acton, California, passing through the scenic Soledad Canyon. For those looking for a more exciting adventure, gear up and enjoy an amazing bike ride or take one of the easy and picturesque nearby trails.
The scenic section starts after the Highway 14 bridge near Lang Station. You can take the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line, which is the first train that goes to Soledad Canyon Road and Prima Way in Santa Clarita.
Time travel scene in Highway to Heaven
Old La Grange Bridge, La Grange, CA
This episode opens with Mark talking about his childhood as he and Jonathan drive to the town where he spent time as a kid on his grandpa’s ranch. Before the accident that will leave him critically injured, Mark expresses his regret that his grandad died, not knowing what he meant to him.
In a state between life and death, Mark is given a second chance to tell his grandad how he felt about him. Jonathan takes him back to his childhood, where he meets his nine-year-old self on his usual spot at the bridge. A little confused, he asks, “Jonathan, what’s happening? That kid was me when I was nine years old.”
Featured in this scene was the Old La Grange Bridge over the Tuolumne River. It was built between 1913 and 1914 until it was converted for pedestrian use from 1987 to 1989. Spanning 161.5 feet, Old La Grange Bridge is now a popular birding site where you can see different bird species year-round. The bridge also provides access to a volunteer trail that winds downstream from its southwest side.
The easiest way to get to the Old La Grange Bridge is by car. Go east into the La Grange town and pull into the quaint historical site where you see the road bends. You can leave your car in front of the museum and walk down the hill on Old La Grange Road. The bridge is only a few hundred yards from the road. But if you’re set on using public transport, take the BNSF line or the 330 or 331 bus, with stops near downtown La Grange.
Jane Thompson’s house scene in Highway to Heaven
Idlewild House, Monrovia, Los Angeles, CA
At the end of the Keep Smiling episode, Jonathan and Jane (Dorothy McGuire) walk hand in hand while Mark carries the luggage to the car. Jonathan kisses her forehead, and with a heavy heart, she says, “keep smiling,” a phrase her late husband used to tell when he was alive. But Instead of saying goodbye, Jonathan says, “till we meet again,” leaving Jane, who watches until the car leaves.
The house that made a cameo in this scene is the Idlewild House. It’s a towering Victorian home in Monrovia, a stunning and historically significant filming location of Highway to Heaven. You’ll see the residence’s interior throughout the episode, but its exterior is only shown briefly at the end.
The Idlewild home is described as an architectural statement piece that gives you an insight into the beauty and grandeur of the late 19th-century Victorian design. It’s a grand two-story home with four bedrooms, two bedrooms, a large kitchen, a dining room, and ample living space.
This house is hard to miss with a central stairwell, ornate coffered entry, and a sunburst-themed sign that reads ‘Idlewild.’ It was sold in 2019 and is now privately owned. Therefore, you can’t go there and expect to see the interiors. However, you can always check out the area and see the exterior of the house that was Jonathan’s earthly home in the show.
The student protest scene in Highway to Heaven
Van Nuys High School, Van Nuys, CA
Season 5, Goodbye, Mr. Zelinka episode opens with Mr. Zelinka (Lew Ayres) expressing his refusal to retire as a teacher. “This school - teaching - has been my whole life,” he says. “And why should I and a lot of other people be forced to retire because some bureaucrat said we had to at 70?” Even the students disagree with his retirement, as they protest in front of the school, with signs that say ‘We Need Mr. Z’ while yelling, “No, No. Mr. Z won't go!”
Van Nuys High School stood in for the fictional Lincoln High School in this episode. You might recognize its exterior during the rally scene. Many students march in front of the school with posters indicating their desire to make their beloved teacher, Mr. Zelinka, stay and keep teaching.
It has been over three decades since Van Nuys High School appeared in the original, classic series, but it still looks much like how it was in the show. Sure, there are some changes in the color of the front building, but it’s still easy to recognize from the episode.
You can visit the school and take a photo in front of the main building where the protest took place. Then you can explore other attractions in downtown Van Nuys, including the Japanese Garden on Woodley Avenue. It’s only a ten-minute drive from the school, spreading across almost seven acres of San Fernando Valley real estate.
Since it’s in a central location, Van Nuys High School is accessible via train and bus. You can take buses 233, 237, 761, 164, and 165 or catch the Metrolink Ventura County Line.
The president’s home scene in Highway to Heaven
Former Max Busch House, Pasadena, CA
The beginning of the Merry Christmas from Grandpa episode in Season 5 features a big house that serves as the president and his family’s home in the film. The exterior only appears briefly as the president’s grandson, Samuel (Will Estes), is dropped off after buying his grandad a Christmas present. But the house’s interior was seen in some parts of the episode.
The president’s house in this episode was the former Max Busch House. It was an elegant home that had caught Hollywood’s attention until it was destroyed in a fire in 2005. Besides being featured in numerous films and TV shows, it was also historically significant. It was built in 1929 by the renowned architect Paul Revere William, the first black member of the Architectural Institute of America.
Although this historical jewel has lost its glory and beauty due to the fire, it’s still worth a visit. Even after the incident, many people left flowers on the property’s front gate and even shed tears. It’s proof of how much the building meant to the community.
The wedding scene in Highway to Heaven
417 Amapola Lane, Los Angeles, CA
Do you remember the Change of Life episode in season 2 when Mark switches body with an attractive movie star, Linda Blackwell (Anne-Marie Martin)? Of course, everything works out in the end for the characters, especially for Linda and Sam (Greg Mullavey), who end up marrying each other. Just like what Mark tells his friend, Sam, “buddy, your dream came true,” it was, indeed, a fulfillment for him to marry the love of his life.
The short wedding scene we see at the end of the movie was filmed outside the luxury home at 417 Amapola Lane, Los Angeles, California. It’s located in the Bel Air neighborhood, built in 1942. With its grandeur and classy beauty, it’s no surprise that it’s been featured in numerous shows and movies.
This beautiful wooded estate sits on a 1.48-acre lot with views of Century City. It was sold in 2021, so fans of Highway to Heaven who wish to visit the property must respect the residence there. But if you can’t go inside the home, you can see it from outside or just explore several nearby attractions. You may visit Bel Air and tour the magnificent villas in the neighborhood.
It can be tricky to find the best Highway to Heaven locations for a series with five seasons and over a hundred episodes. It should create the perfect setting for every sequence, ensuring it delivers exactly what the story requires. And even if the filming site seems perfect, filmmakers can still find other surprises you’d never thought would impact your filming day.
Thankfully, the series’ location scouts and filmmakers knew what they were doing. The original Highway to Heaven’s success is not only due to the beautiful script and great characters. But it’s also because of the well-thought-out filming location of Highway to Heaven that complements the storyline.