If you are a movie fan, you may have thought more than once of visiting Hollywood, the place where the story of US cinema was born, but you may not know that in Hollywood there is the place made just for you: Universal Studios.
What is Universal Studios? It’s a theme park in Los Angeles with attractions dedicated to the world of cinema, and in particular to movies produced by Universal Pictures (There’s no need for me to tell you that this is one of the most important companies in the film industry), which also has another similar theme park in Florida: Universal Studios Orlando.
At Universal Studios, you can immerse yourself completely into some of the movies that have become part of history and our common knowledge, through tours of movie sets, shows, rides, 4D and other forms of technology as well as other extraordinary resources, and have fun at the same time. In addition to visiting the attractions in the strict sense of the word, it can also be a pleasant experience to walk around the park through the reconstructions of outdoor film sets and actors disguised as movie stars with whom you can take a souvenir photo.
At first, the price of the ticket might discourage you ($100 per person), but trust me, you won’t be disappointed. So walk on the red carpet of the Universal CityWalk movie stars (the commercial district just outside of Universal Studios) and visit Universal Studios. Now let’s see what’s in store for us and how to arrange a visit.
- Where Is Universal Studios?
- Things to Do at Universal Studios Hollywood
- How Much are Tickets to Universal Studios? How to Get Them?
- Where to Eat
- Where to Stay Near Universal Studios California
- Universal CityWalk
Where Is Universal Studios?
Universal Studios in Hollywood is located in the San Fernando Valley, which is part of the Greater Los Angeles Area in California. Approximately 70% of the theme park is located in Universal City, which is owned by Universal Pictures, while the remaining area is within the city limits of Los Angeles.
More specifically, it is a few miles north of the famous Hollywood neighborhood and about 15 minutes away from Los Angeles Downtown (traffic permitting).
How to Get There by Car
The address to enter in the GPS is 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608. If you don’t have a GPS, you can take into account these basic directions: the big city artery leading to Universal Studios is the Hollywood Freeway, one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles. There are 2 exits that you can take to get to the park:
- Exit 11 B: Universal Studios Boulevard
- Exit 12 A: Lankershim Boulevard / Universal City
To have a more precise estimate of the travel time, here are the distances from the main places of interest in the surroundings (I tried to factor in traffic as well, but obviously, it varies depending on the travel time):
- From Hollywood: About 10 minutes
- From Santa Monica: 40 minutes
- From Los Angeles Airport: 45 minutes
- From Anaheim/Disneyland: About 1 hour
- From San Diego: About 3 hours
- From Santa Barbara: 1 hour and 45 minutes
- From Death Valley: 4 hours
Parking at Universal Studios: Prices and Locations
- General Parking (E.T. and Curious George)
- Preferred Parking (Jurassic Park and Woody Woodpecker)
- Front Gate Parking (Frankenstein)
If you continue driving and follow the signs, you will arrive at a tollbooth where you will have to prepay for parking. The standard ticket is for General Parking, the parking area furthest from the main entrance, divided into 2 distinct areas: E.T. and Curious George. The second area usually fills up first, since it is slightly closer to the park; the cost of parking in this area (at the time when this article was written) is $25 and the time it takes to get to the park on foot is between 15 and 20 minutes.
The second type of parking is Preferred Parking, which costs $35. This is also divided into 2 separate areas (Jurassic Park and Woody Woodpecker) and it takes about 8-10 minutes to walk to the park. Finally, there is the Front Gate Parking (Frankenstein), which is only 5 minutes walk away, but it costs $ 50. In my opinion, at least if there are no particular needs, it’s not worth spending so much money, since there are other parking lots and because the walk to get to the park from the most distant areas crosses the Universal CityWalk, a pleasant introduction to prepare you for what awaits you.
There are also private garages or public paid parking lots that are not managed by Universal Studios that are often a bit more uncomfortable, but they are also more affordable. Here below, I will name 3 of them that seem to be the most strategic even if I have never parked there (personally, I have always used the general parking at the park).
PS: For each parking lot, I also included the price and the distance to reach Universal Studios on foot, but I suggest you check at the respective links to check for the updated prices and hours of operation.
- Universal City Red Line Station (3913 Lankershim Boulevard): This is an open-air parking lot near the subway station and to get to Universal Studios, you can take a free shuttle that passes every 10-15 minutes and takes about 5 minutes to reach Universal Studios (for more details about the shuttle, read the next paragraph). You can also walk to the park in 10 minutes (not through CityWalk) but it is not the best choice, since the route is uphill and there is the option to take a shuttle bus. The cost of parking (open 24 hours a day) is very affordable ($3-4) and is probably the cheapest choice. However, the capacity of this parking lot is not exceptional (167 spaces), so you better arrive very early. The only concern is the sign inside the parking lot that says “No Universal Studios parking allowed at any time“. I honestly don’t see how the parking lot managers can understand whether you are going to the park or not, however, if you don’t feel comfortable, you can try one of these 2 below.
- The Centrum Building (3575 Cahuenga Boulevard): A 24-hour garage that charges $1.25 every 20 minutes with a maximum daily rate of $10. It takes about 15-20 minutes to walk to CityWalk (+ 5 minutes to get to the entrance of Universal Studios). When you exit the parking lot you will find yourself on Cahuenga Boulevard W. Head east and then turn left onto Universal Studios Boulevard (you will notice the big Universal City sign). The road continues on the Universal Studios Boulevard overpass, which, unfortunately, is all uphill.
- Panasonic Building Parking (3330 Cahuenga Boulevard W): This is a little closer to the park (it requires 5 minutes less of driving along Cahuenga Boulevard heading west and then you must turn right again on the overpass) and charges $1.10 every 30 minutes with a maximum daily rate of $12. The hours of operation are a bit shorter (Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm) and payments are only accepted in cash.
If you are traveling in an RV, Universal Studios has a special outdoor area that is accessible at the same rates as the standard parking lot. A surcharge is applied in the case of vehicles with trailers or commercial vehicles. Parking at night is not permitted.
How to Get to Universal Studios Hollywood by Metro
As we explained in our article on how to get around Los Angeles, driving is the most convenient way to get to Universal Studios and it’s quite difficult to use public transportation because of the travel time involved and convenience. If you have no choice or if you still prefer to go to Universal Studios by subway, the subway station to reach is Universal City / Studio City. This stop is located on the red line and is connected to the park by a free shuttle bus that runs 7 days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 2 hours after the closing of the Studios. The shuttle runs every 10-15 minutes and the journey is about 5 minutes.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a car, you should consider booking a tour that includes the ticket and transportation to and from the hotel, so you don’t have to worry about taking the subway or other public transportation. If your hotel is not included in the list of eligible hotels, you can still get transportation to Universal Studios from the TCL Chinese Theatre, one of Hollywood’s main attractions. For more information, you can have a look at this link.
Best Time to Visit Universal Studios
The park can be visited in a day, but it is still good to arrive early before the park opens and with the ticket already purchased online in order to avoid lines and optimize time (for this reason, it may be a good idea to buy the fast pass so that you don’t have to wait in line). You should also keep in mind that this is one of the most popular attractions in all of Los Angeles. Therefore, it is likely to get crowded, especially in the summer months until the first half of August and during weekends and special holidays. If you find yourself visiting the park on a day that is particularly full of tourists, the ticket to skip the lines for rides becomes an important upgrade.
It is not always easy to accurately predict the flow of tourists, however, thanks to historical data, you can see the trends and figure out more or less what are the favorable moments for visiting the park. For those whose vacation plans allow for some flexibility, here are those that statistically are considered the best times to visit Universal Studios in Hollywood:
- Weekdays in January (except New Year’s Eve and Martin Luther King Day)
- Weekdays in February (apart from President’s Day)
- The first days of March
- Weekdays in the second half of April
- Weekdays in May
- The second half of August
- The months of September, October, and November until Thanksgiving
- The first half of December
Things to Do at Universal Studios Hollywood
The park offers movie lovers the opportunity to relive the great movies that have hit the box office. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which, as in the case of Universal Orlando, is the most sensational new addition to the theme park. In this section dedicated to Hollywood’s most famous wizard, you’ll find a reconstruction of Hogsmeade – complete with Ollivander’s magic wand shop – and other key locations from the movie, as well as some rides, attractions, and shows inspired by the adventures in the series by Rowlings. To find out more information, you can read more about this section of Universal Studios in our in-depth article about Harry Potter in California.
But in addition to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there is much more. At Universal Studios in Los Angeles, the protagonists are also the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, the wild races of Fast & Furious, the gigantic King Kong, the friendly panda of Kung Fu Panda, the zombies of The Walking Dead, the tiny Minions, the characters of The Simpsons, the robots of Transformers, the apocalyptic scenarios of Waterworld, and much more…
The park basically offers 3 types of attractions: shows, rides, and film set tours. Let’s take a closer look:
Universal Studios Tour
The film set tour, in my opinion, is the real reason to visit this incredible theme park. The studio tour allows you to visit the most famous movie sets that have left an indelible mark on the history of cinema, for example, the square with the clock tower of Hill Valley of Back to the Future, the town of Tortuga of Pirates of the Caribbean, the destroyed city with a life-size airplane smashed in two of the War of the Worlds, the neighborhood of Desperate Housewives, the legendary Bates Motel of Psycho, and much more…
But that’s not all. You won’t just walk through the movie sets, you’ll be immersed in real movie scenes, complete with amazing special effects. From accidents and fires inside the subway to sudden changes in weather (good weather, rain, and floods), to car explosions, to finding yourself in the jungle caught in the crossfire of the fight between King Kong and the dinosaurs (and being attacked by one of them) or taking part in a high-speed chase on the set of Fast & Furious. In short, to call this experience fun is an understatement, believe me.
There is a set tour schedule found on the flyer that you can pick up at the entrance. The tour lasts an hour or so: keep in mind that the line is usually quite long. The same goes for the tour of Warner Bros. Studios. I invite you to read the article about Warner Bros. Studios (click on the link in the previous sentence) to find out the differences between the two Studio Tours. Paramount Studios and Sony Studios are 2 other attractions that movie lovers should consider. For a complete overview of all of the movie sets, read our guide to Hollywood Studios.
- WaterWorld, where you’ll see a re-release of the film with professional stuntmen on a perfectly rebuilt set.
- Special Effects Show, a show where you will discover many secrets of cinematic special effects.
- Universal’s Animal Actors, a show where animals become leading actors.
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter shows, where you can try casting spells, go to Ollivander’s to find out how magic wands choose their wizards, listen to the Hogwarts choir sing accompanied by magic frogs, and watch the parade for the famous Triwizard Tournament. As if that were not enough, during certain times of the year, you can also enjoy the stunning evening light and music show at Hogwarts Castle.
- Kung Fu Panda, a light show with visual and sensory effects that replaced the show about Shrek.
- Raptor Encounter, for those who have always wanted to see a velociraptor up close!
Many of these shows are worth seeing, however, I personally recommend WaterWorld. This show really surprised me, with special effects and daring stuntmen (when I went for the first time, one of them was none other than the stunt double of the movie Spiderman).
Here instead are the shows that, unfortunately, are no longer performed:
- The Blues Brothers, a concert of 2 performers who played the legendary brothers of the blues (with the original car, see photo above)
- Terminator, which allowed you to relive a new episode of the saga along with John and Sarah Connor. The episode was done very well and the plot is particularly intriguing, especially for fans.
- House of Horrors, where viewers saw Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and various other spooky characters.
- Shrek 4D, visitors could experience the world of the friendly ogre from the Dreamworks movie with the help of 4D technology, which was the integration of 3D with funny “physical effects” (for example, if you saw a series of spiders falling at your feet you would also feel a tingling sensation on your legs).
The rides are roller coasters going at a dizzying speed and including some 4D effects. They have different themes, such as the Simpsons (The Simpsons Ride), the Mummy (Revenge of the Mummy The Ride), Transformers (Transformers The Ride-3D), Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park The Ride) and Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride on a magic broom to discover Hogwarts, and Flight of the Hippogriff, a thrilling ride).
In addition to these rides, there are also those dedicated to The Walking Dead, a thrilling ride through apocalyptic and zombie scenarios, and to Despicable Me, an interactive experience to be lived inside the Minion’s laboratory.
How Much are Tickets to Universal Studios? How to Get Them?
As I mentioned above, one day’s admission to Universal Studios will cost you $100, which includes access to all rides, shows, and attractions. However, you can find some special offers online and other interesting solutions like the ones below:
- VIP Experience: An expert guide will take you to the hidden corners of the park
- Tickets with transportation included
- Entrance with priority access
Promotion: A particularly convenient offer that allows you to purchase the 3, 4, 5, or 7-day Go Los Angeles Card including a weekday ticket to Universal Studios. The promotion is enticing, but remember that the ticket cannot be used on weekends and the ticket is not included in the 1 or 2-day card. More details about the offer can be found directly on this page.
If you are planning to purchase the day ticket, besides looking on the official website, I recommend that you also search on Viator or GetYourGuide (below you can find the links), where you can buy tickets without paying the surcharges that are included in the official price. As I said earlier, I remind you that you can also buy the fast pass, which guarantees you priority access to each attraction and a reserved seat in all shows. Click on the links below for both types of tickets:
Standard tickets and fast pass
Another option is the VIP ticket: With this ticket, not only can you skip lines and have reserved seats, but also enjoy an exclusive visit to the historical sets that are not open to the public. You can also explore the warehouses with props, enjoy an excellent dinner, and many other extra features. If you want to know more, click on the link below:
In addition, you can buy tickets that include pick-up, transportation, and return to your hotel. This is particularly convenient if you stay overnight somewhere that is not directly close to Universal Studios or want to avoid driving in traffic in Los Angeles.
If you plan to visit other theme parks besides Universal Studios (such as Disneyland Los Angeles or SeaWorld in San Diego), it is good to know that there are cumulative tickets and offers that allow you to save money by combining them into a single purchase. For example:
SeaWorld and Universal Studios package: the package is unfortunately no longer available.
Where to Eat
Inside Universal Studios, there are many restaurants. Of course, this is not the place where you can expect to experience fine dining. Rather, if you come with the right attitude, you will see how the culinary experience can somehow complement the cinema and entertainment. Have you always wanted to drink butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks or eat in a rustic tavern in Hogsmeade? Are you curious to try a Krusty Burger, sip a Duff at Moe’s (complete with Barney Gumble’s souvenir photo), or taste the giant donuts Homer Simpson loves? Well, in that case, eating here might be worth it…
Keep in mind that just outside Universal Studios, at Universal CityWalk, there is a wide selection of restaurants of well-known restaurant chains (I’ll talk about it later).
Where to Stay Near Universal Studios California
The best area where you should book an overnight stay is obviously Los Angeles. If you are looking for some tips on how to choose the best neighborhood in Los Angeles to search for accommodations in the city, take a look at our article on where to stay in Los Angeles. To find out more about the hotels near Universal Studios, you can click on the button below:
If you have some time left and you haven’t visited it before, you can take a walk in CityWalk, the commercial area on the doorstep of Universal Studios, which opens at 11:00 am and closes at 11:00 pm. Here those with an insatiable appetite for activities will not only find restaurants and shops, but also other entertainment opportunities, such as live music venues, and movie theaters. When it comes to shopping, you’ll find the classic designer labels that are also in many other malls, so perhaps this is not the best place to go looking for deals, but taking a stroll through these lavish shops is somehow part of the experience…
As for the dining options available, they are similar to those found in Universal Studios. The big restaurant chains here include Smashburger, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hard Rock Cafe (Van Halen fans will be excited to see his giant guitar at the entrance), Johnny Rockets, etc