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Be a Tourist in Your Own Town: Universal Weekend

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By Kathleen Sterling

Universal Studios

Summer’s coming, the kids will be out of school, so what better time to play tourist in your own town?

Universal Studios Hollywood is literally right in our own backyard, and offers adventures for visitors of all ages.

This year they are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their behind-the-scenes looks at movie-making with a new – and also nostalgic – studio tour.

I grew up in the valley, and remember taking the tour in the 60’s, when the seas parted for the tram like in the movie Moses,  we got stuck in the middle of a Western shoot-out, and we got to view iconic costumes from designer Edith Head.

The tour today still visits the back lot and western scenes, and the  Bates Motel and house from Psycho still thrill. If you pay close attention, Norman Bates is wandering the back lot, as is Doc Martin near Courthouse Square where Back to the Future was filmed.

Bruce jumps out of the water to scare tram guests on a Jaws set, and the rushing water still floods the street to show the power of movie making. In another nod to the original tour, the 1976 Runaway Train makes a return with warning bells and sirens. 

All this is seen from the new iconic red and white “Glamor Trams,” with their ruffled awnings, designed to echo the original trams from 1964. The nostalgic vehicles take you through new and exciting attractions, including the refurbished – and pretty realistic – “Earthquake – the Big One” with its 8.3 magnitude quake. 

The tram   enters the “Raptor Encounter” where a  computer-generated model of Blue, the velociraptor from Jurassic World franchise comes face to face within feet of guests.

In another nod to nostalgia, video screens on the trams show clips of former Studio Tour attractions, and a replica of the  Hollywood Sign graces the studio’s backlot. Universal Studios partnered with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to install the sign to commemorate the spirit of Hollywood’s glamorous past  – all part of this look back in time to the studio’s beginnings.

Over the span of 60 years, Universal Studios Hollywood has cultivated the Studio Tour into a dynamic world- renowned experience visited by over 200 million guests worldwide. 

“The Studio Tour paved the way for the development of Universal Studios Hollywood and celebrating its 60-year milestone pays homage to it indelible impact. The tour is a crown jewel in our theme park portfolio and a beloved attraction for millions of guests,” said Scot Strobl, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Universal Studios Hollywood. “We are thrilled and honored to share our enthusiasm for its historic relevance with guests both new to the experience as well as those who have journeyed with us along the way.”

Once off the tram there’s a full day’s worth of adventures. We wandered the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and ate lunch at Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade Village. I happen to love to browse the themed stores there and relive the magic of the Harry Potter books and movies.

You can spend a whole day just on the rides, from Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff inside the Wizarding World, and a scream-enticing drop at Jurassic World – the Ride, Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride, to Transformers: The Ride-3D and more. 

For the younger set there’s The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash and Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem.

Don’t miss Super Nintendo World with its Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride, and coming in 2026 Universal will debut its first-ever, high-speed outdoor roller coaster Fast & Furious : Hollywood Drift

There’s so much to see and do at Universal Studios itself that you can make a whole weekend out of it by staying at the Hilton Universal Hotel.

The hotel is just a walk across the street, literally, from Universal Studios, and offers a great place to  recharge during your visit, or relax and unwind after a day at the park.

The 24-story hotel overlooks the Hollywood Hills, and all rooms have stunning views of the hills or the valley.

There’s a large pool with plenty of lounge chairs and also private cabanas where you can cool off on a hot day, or let the kids wind down from the excitement of the theme park.

The hotel’s Cafe Sierra offers an “All American” breakfast buffet – with everything from traditional favorites to Mexican and Asian breakfast delights. The all-you-can-eat buffet fueled us up for a day of walking the theme park.

There’s also an expansive Sunday champagne brunch to indulge in on your weekend getaway.

A highlight of our visit was cocktails at day’s end at Five on the Hill, Hilton’s outdoor bar offering curated cocktails and signature dishes. It was a pleasant place to unwind and enjoy a drink and nibbles, decorated while we were there with cascading flowers and live music on the adjacent patio.

Those wanting heartier fare can visit Hilton Universal’s  seafood and prime rib buffet in Cafe Sierra – a huge offering of delicious entrees and desserts to finish up your day.

Adjacent to the park and hotel is of course, Universal CityWalk, which can be a fabulous afternoon or evening in itself.

Traverse CityWalk to check out its many restaurants and shops. Catch a movie at Universal Cinema, or purchase souvenirs, candy and treats from the many hard-to-resist stores.

In all, a visit to “the hill” is the perfect “staycation” for those who live locally, or a great place to put up out-of-town guests who want to experience the thrill of movieland.

Universal is also just minutes away from Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, downtown Los Angeles and other visitor highlights. 

Spend the day, spend the weekend, bring your family and your guests to Universal Studios and Hilton Universal Hotel for an amazing visit and look into the magic of moviemaking in true Hollywood fashion.

For more information on Universal Studios and tickets visit universalstudioshollywood.com.

For more information on the Hilton Universal visit hilton.com.


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