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The Warner Brothers' "VIP Tour" takes visitors on a 2 1/4-hour jaunt around the world's busiest movie and TV studio. After a brief introductory film about the history of WB, groups of 12 pile into stretch golf carts for an intimate view of the inner workings of a motion picture and television studio: back-lot streets, sound stages, sets, and craft shops. Because nothing is staged there's no telling what or who you might encounter, and no two tours are the same. The tour ends with a visit to the Warner Bros. Museum, which contains original costumes, props, sets, scripts, and correspondence from classic WB films and television shows. Advance tickets are recommended and available online via their website, or by calling tel. 866/777-8932; otherwise, tickets are sold the day of the tour on a first-come, first-served basis, but they recommended arriving at the ticket office early to make sure they don't sell out. Children 7 and under are not admitted, you must bring valid photo ID, and they recommend you show up about 30 minutes before the tour starts.
2 hide detailA walking tour of the studio
Unlike other studio tours, this is a walking tour. You do not get herded around in a tram, but actually walk the grounds of the back lot. This can be tiring since the tour lasts two hours, but if you are interested in seeing the inner workings of this famous movie studio then it is worth it. Some sites you will see: New York Street, which includes the building fronts of the Seinfeld set and the Ally McBeal brownstone as well as the Laverne & Shirley building front. Children under 10 are not permitted. Reservations are required; meet at the pedestrian entrance of the main gate. Parking is available across the street.
3 hide detailHome of the Tonight Show
This is the West Coast nerve center of the National Broadcasting Company. Most famous as the home of The Tonight Show, hosted by Jay Leno, this sprawling studio complex also offers compelling walking tours through soundstages and other facilities. Although reservations are always good, tickets for the tour are pretty easy to come by.
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Believing that filmmaking itself is a bona fide attraction, Universal Studios began offering tours to the public in 1964. The concept worked: Today Universal is more than just one of the largest movie studios in the world -- it's one of the largest theme parks as well. By integrating shows and rides with behind-the-scenes presentations on moviemaking, Universal created a new genre of theme park, stimulating a number of clone and competitor parks.
The main attraction continues to be the Studio Tour, a nearly 1-hour guided tram ride around the company's 420 acres that's "hosted" (via video screen) by Whoopi Goldberg. En route you pass stars' dressing rooms and production offices before visiting famous back-lot sets that include a clean New York City street, the famous town square from the Back to the Future films, and newer sets such as Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, Jurassic Park III, The Grinch, and the airplane crash site from War of the Worlds. Along the way, the tram encounters several staged "disasters," which I won't divulge here lest I ruin the surprise (they're all very tame), and a staged street race "accident" echoing the action in Universal's "Fast and Furious" movie series. Though the wait to board might appear long, don't be discouraged -- each tram carries several hundred people and departures are frequent, so the line moves quickly.
Other attractions are more typical of high-tech theme-park fare, but all have a film or TV-oriented slant. The Simpsons Ride allows guests to join Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as they soar high above the fictional "Krustyland" theme park in a "virtual roller coaster," creating the sensation of thrilling drops and turns and a full 360-degree loop. Revenge of the Mummy is a high-tech indoor roller coaster that whips you backward and forward through a dark Egyptian tomb filled with creepy Warrior Mummies (and ends a bit too soon). Jurassic Park -- The Ride is short in duration as well but long on dinosaur animatronics; riders in jungle boats float through a world of five-story-tall T-rexes and airborne raptors that culminates in a pitch-dark vertical drop with a splash ending. Terminator 2: 3D is a high-tech cyberwar show that combines live action along with triple-screen 3-D technology, explosions, spraying mists, and laser fire (Arnold prevails, of course). Shrek 4D is one of the park's best attractions, a multisensory animated show that combines 3-D effects, a humorous story line, and "surprise" special effects -- the flying dragon chase is wild.
There are also several live shows performing daily. At the Fear Factor Live show -- based upon the NBC hit -- park guests compete against each other in a progression of extreme stunts. Waterworld is a fast-paced outdoor theater presentation (and far better than the film that inspired it) featuring stunts and special effects performed on and around a small man-made lagoon (most performances are sold out, so arrive at the theater at least 15 min. before the showtime listed in the handout park map). In Backdraft, guests move from theater to theater amid realistic ruptured fuel lines, melting metal, and scorching warehouse scenes. On the Animal Actors Stage trained monkeys, pigs, hawks, and other animals perform various entertaining tricks (well, most of the time). Also be sure to check out the Wardrobe Dept., a retail store offering an eclectic array of men's and women's clothing from popular television and movie productions all accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, documenting the television or movie production on which the item was originally worn.
Straight ahead of the park's main entrance on Main Street is the Hollywood Ticket Office, where you can obtain free tickets (subject to availability) for any TV shows that are taping during your visit -- including the Tonight Show with Jay Leno -- as well as tickets and passes to other local museums, sporting events, and entertainment attractions.
Universal Studios is an exciting place for kids and teens, but just as in any theme park, lines can be brutally long; the wait for a 5-minute ride can sometimes last more than an hour. In summer, the stifling Valley heat can dog you all day. To avoid the crowds, try not to visit on weekends, school vacations, and Japanese holidays. If you're willing to pay extra money to skip the hassle of standing in line, the park offers a "Front of Line" pass with -- obviously -- front-of-the-line privileges, as well as VIP passes (essentially private tours). You can also save time standing in line by purchasing and printing your tickets online. Log on to www.universalstudioshollywood.com for more information. Another ticket option is the "All You Can Eat" pass, which allows guests to dine all day at selected in-park restaurants for one price.
For the freeway-phobic or those car-less at Disneyland, Universal offers an Anaheim Shuttle Service available to guests who purchase a full-price admission ticket to Universal Studios online via Print@Home ticketing at www.universalstudioshollywood.com. The shuttle bus departs from various Anaheim-area hotels twice daily. Additionally, the Southern California CityPass offers admission to five SoCal attractions including Universal Studios Hollywood and the Disneyland Resort.
Located just outside the gate of Universal Studios Hollywood is Universal CityWalk (tel. 818/622-4455; www.citywalkhollywood.com). If you have any money left from the amusement park, you can spend it at this 3-block-long pedestrian promenade crammed thick with flashy name-brand stores (Billabong, Fossil, Skechers, Abercrombie & Fitch), nightclubs (Blues at B. B. King's, Howl at the Moon dueling piano bar, Rumba Room Latin dance club), restaurants (Hard Rock Cafe, Daily Grill, Bubba Gumps, Saddle Ranch), a six-story 3-D IMAX theater, the 18-screen CityWalk Cinemas, a 6,200-seat amphitheater, an indoor sky-diving wind tunnel, NASCAR virtual racing, and even a bowling alley (Take that, Disney!). Be sure to stop into the Zen Zone (tel. 818/487-7889) where you can get an inexpensive 20-minute "aqua massage." You lay down fully clothed in what looks like a tanning bed, and strong rotating jets of water massage your backside from neck-to-toe (a blue rubber sheet keeps you dry). Entrance to CityWalk is free; it's open until 9pm on weekdays and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Tip: The sushi at the Wasabi at CityWalk restaurant (tel. 818/622-7224) was surprisingly good and very reasonably priced.
5 hide detail2 hour studio tour
Although it doesn't have quite the same historical cachet as Warner Brothers or Paramount, a lot of movie history was made at this Culver City lot. The 2-hour walking tour includes sets from movies currently in production and an opportunity to drop in on the Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune sets. But the main reason for the tour is the chance to catch a glimpse at the stars who work here (it's one of the busiest studio lots in the world). Tours depart from the Sony Pictures Plaza near the parking lot; be sure to call ahead and make a reservation.
6 hide detailThe setting for hundreds of films
American Cinema plays a starring role in the cultural life of the United States and the world. Since before the advent of "talking pictures," Paramount Ranch has served as a setting for hundreds of cinematic productions.
Lights! Camera! Action!...In 1927, Paramount Pictures purchased 2,400 acres of the old Rancho Las Virgenes for use as a "movie ranch." For 25 years, a veritable who's who of Hollywood practiced their craft at Paramount Ranch including director Cecil B. Demille and actors Bob Hope, Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert. The diverse landscape was the real star of the show. It offered film makers the freedom to create distant locales such as colonial Massachusetts in The Maid of Salem, ancient China in The Adventures of Marco Polo, a South Seas island in Ebb Tide (1937) and numerous western locations including San Francisco in Wells Fargo. The art of illusion was mastered on the landscape.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...The golden era of movie making at Paramount Ranch came to an end when changes to the studio system prompted Paramount Pictures to sell the ranch. Paramount Ranch found renewed life as a film location when William Hertz bought the southeast portion in 1953. An ardent fan of movie westerns, he built a permanent western town utilizing Paramount Pictures' old prop storage sheds. As a result, television companies began producing westerns at the ranch such as The Cisco Kid and Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre. William Hertz sold the property in 1955. The Paramount Racetrack opened a year later, and some considered it one of the most challenging in the U.S. Although it closed a year later, after several fatal accidents, the racetrack was featured in The Devil's Hairpin, filmed in 1957. Most of the track still winds through the grasslands of the park.
Ride Off Into the Sunset...From 1957 to 1980, the ranch changed ownership several times, but filmmaking continued. After purchasing the property in 1980, the National Park Service revitalized the old movie ranch. From 1991 to 1998, Paramount Ranch was used as the setting for the television show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
At Paramount Ranch, the National Park Service maintains a connection between past movie productions and place names. Marco Polo Hill is named for the set built there circa 1936. The Hacienda Trail leads past the sites where Paramount built a Hacienda set in the late 1920s. Witches Wood received its name from the fortune tellers who set up booths each year for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire during the 1970s and 1980s. The Backdrop Trail recognizes the portion of the ranch that could be used for any type of shot because it had no telephone poles or distinctive features. Whether watching filming or exploring the area, experience the drama and grandeur of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Note: Western Town is only a set. Walk carefully on the boardwalks and do not lean or climb on the buildings. Smoking is not allowed on the boardwalks or while traveling on trails. Dogs must be on leash at all times and are allowed on designated trails, access roads and developed areas. For the consideration of others, please clean up after your pet. Trail closures may be in effect during and following significant rainfall to protect park resources. Trails will be re-opened when dry enough to sustain public use. Wasps and bees are plentiful during the summer months. Please cover foods and sweet beverages while picnicking.
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- 1925 Las Virgenes Road
Situated on a big hunk of the most coveted real estate in Southern California and surrounded by the rapidly encroaching megalopolis of the LA area, Malibu Creek State Park Campground is a precious gem. It is beautiful! Once owned by Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and 20th Century-Fox, the park now covers over 7,000 acres. This is a great place to tent camp in fall, winter, and spring.© Roxana Lewis