Los Angeles, California, is a large, diverse metropolitan city with culture, art, great dining and freeways to spare. But some travelers dream of heading to Los Angeles for a single reason: to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood amusement park. Navigating through Los Angeles to get to Universal Studios takes a little planning. Here are some ideas that would make even Headmaster Dumbledore proud.
The main Los Angeles airport, LAX, is over 26 miles away from Universal Studios. In typical Los Angeles traffic, that journey could take well over an hour. Try flying into sweet little Burbank airport, less than 6 miles from Universal Studios. Because it’s a small, less-frequented airport, it’s a breeze to get from the gate to the car rental stations with kids in tow.
The Garland is a surprise urban oasis hidden behind a wall of foliage blocking a rather unattractive main road in North Hollywood. The hotel is a remodeled Howard Johnson’s that retains some of its original 1960s vibe while reflecting a fresh and modern Southern California vibe. Rooms are spacious, clean and well designed.
Travel Tip — Get a Ride: Parking is expensive at Universal Studios Hollywood. You can take a ride share or even use the free shuttle offered by The Garland and other nearby hotels.
Harry Potter fans will find a lot of love in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This attraction is one of the first you will encounter as you enter the park. The studio magicians recreated the town of Hogsmede from the book and films and it feels like you have stepped onto the set of a film. You can buy a robe, a wand and other magically branded gear. The outdoor roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff is a tightly controlled, fast twister of a ride and is a nice new addition to this area of the park. The major attraction is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The line for this ride snakes through a recreated Hogwarts castle. The wait for the ride is part of the fun, as you appreciate the immense amount of detail so you feel like you are just another student at one of the finest magical institutions in the wizarding world.
Universal Studios first and foremost a working film studio. The Studio Tour is a tram based 45-minute tour that mingles a drive through actual film sets and 3D-HD film based rides that make you feel like you are part of the movie. You drive through sets that have been used for famous films and TV shows like Back to the Future, The Good Place, Jurassic Park and The Truman Show, to name just a few. Universal Studios knows how to turn on the movie magic, and the peek behind the scenes makes for a great day for film fans of all ages.
Universal recreated the Three Broomsticks Pub with soaring arches. The food is decent, vaguely British fare featuring Fish and Chips and Shepherd’s Pie. Harry Potter World also has Hog’s Head Pub for both actual beer and butterbeer — a Harry Potter-themed butterscotch soda.
Universal Studios rides mostly employ film and 3D technology to simulate movement. The Simpsons ride is a virtual reality roller coaster that winks at the silliness from its TV show inspiration. The Despicable Me Minion Mayhem 3D ride gives you a chance to actually become one of Gru’s minions. You can take a walk through The Walking Dead attraction and try to avoid being munched by a zombie.
Tip: If you are going during a busy time like a weekend or school holiday, shell out the extra money for the Universal Express Pass. You get to skip the line at each attraction once. Less time in lines means more time for fun.
After a long day at Universal, who wants to drive around a new neighborhood in search of a good dinner spot? Head back to The Garland and dine instead at the onsite restaurant, The Front Yard, which serves classic California cuisine. Mom and dad can kick back with a cocktail or glass of wine — a welcome indulgent treat for after a long, memorable day in Hollywood.