If you’re a theme park enthusiast visiting Los Angeles, a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood is a must-see attraction. To help you make the most of your time and budget, I’ve put together complete and comprehensive guide to Universal Studios Hollywood. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this iconic movie park, from insider tips to attraction specifics.
So, let’s dive in and explore the magic of Universal Studios Hollywood!
Table of Contents
What is Universal Studios Hollywood?
Universal Studios Hollywood is a tourist complex located in the city of Los Angeles, in California (United States).
Its main attraction is its theme park, with its most popular area, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It also has attractions from other well-known movies and series such as The Simpsons, Jurassic World, Transformers… and a tour of Universal’s own film studios.
Universal Studios Hollywood is, after the Disneyland Resort, the most famous park destination in California, and one of the most visited in the area. Its Harry Potter, Simpsons and Minions areas are a destination in themselves, and the rest of the areas and attractions complement a complex that is constantly growing and transforming.
In addition, this complex includes an outdoor mall (Universal Citywalk).
When to go?
When deciding the day of your visit, keep in mind above all that it is much better to go during the week than on the weekend . This is because the people of the area are an important part of the public of the park, and this means that on Saturdays and Sundays there are more people (and queues).
Avoid going on holidays for the same reason. Of course, if you want to go to one of the special events (especially Halloween Horror Nights) you will have to go on a day in which they take place, which is usually on a weekend.
What I am going to talk about here is the special seasons that Universal Studios Hollywood organizes throughout the year, since it might help you decide on the dates.
- Lunar New Year: at the beginning of the year the park celebrates the Chinese New Year with special decoration, characters with costumes according to the festivity, and typical food of Asian culture. It is the smallest event of the three that are held, but if you go on those dates, it is a plus for your visit.
- Halloween Horror Nights: Universal Studios Hollywood’s best-known and most popular event, held several nights a week during the months of September and October .
It’s a horror lover’s paradise, with up to 9 meticulously decorated passageways that are based on both horror movies and original concepts. In addition, you can also find outdoor fear zones, special shows and a very special atmosphere throughout the park.
It is a paid event apart from normal park tickets.
- Christmas: during the months of November and December , the park celebrates the Christmas season, with decorations throughout the complex (including the Harry Potter areas), special characters such as the Grinch, special food from the season…
How many days to stay there?
Once you are clear about when you want to travel to Universal, the next question is how many days to stay there . And as usual, it depends.
The most common is to be in the park for only one day . If you go during the week, arrive early, and organize yourself well (or if you pay for the Universal Express to skip the lines), you will be able to see all the main things without much problem.
Of course, if you want to enjoy the park to the full you can go for two days, but I think that with everything there is to see and do in Los Angeles, it is better that you dedicate that second day to another activity.
Universal Studios Hollywood park
Universal’s Hollywood complex has only one theme park , making it much more affordable to visit.
The park has two different areas. One is the “Upper Lot” , which is the entire upper part of the park: it includes the entrance area, The Simpsons, the world of Harry Potter, The Minions, WaterWorld…
The other is the “Lower Lot” , which has three attractions: Jurassic World, The Mummy and Transformers. Both are connected by a series of very long escalators, which take several minutes to travel.
Although there is only one park, it concentrates a lot of attractions, shows and experiences , and it is essential to know a little about it to make the most of your time once there.
So in this section I am going to give you details of its theme, and the essential attractions and shows.
This park is dedicated almost entirely to the world of cinema , as is typical of Universal parks. It opened in 1964 as a tour of the company’s studios, and later it was transformed into the theme park we know today, the first of the Universal factory.
It has areas inspired by movie studios, the worlds of The Simpsons, the Minions, Waterworld, Jurassic World, and the town of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts from the Harry Potter stories.
- Studio Tour: It is the original attraction of the park. You will get on a truck that will take you on a tour of the actual Universal studios. Although it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see any stars, you will pass through sets from several classic movies and a few “mini-attractions”: from Jaws, The Fast and the Furious and King Kong, for example. You can choose the tour in English or Spanish .It lasts between 40 minutes and 1 hour.
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – The first is Harry Potter attraction . The queues run inside Hogwarts Castle, and once you reach the Room of Requirement you will climb onto an enchanted bench… which will take you flying all over Hogwarts along with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Essential.
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: based on the “Gru: Despicable Me” movies, in this simulator you will feel what it is like to become a Minion. Fun for all the family.
- The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash – This “dark ride” is based on the animated film “Pets” and is the latest addition to the park. You will accompany Max, Duke, Gidget and Snowball on an adventure through the streets of New York.
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D – get into a battle between Autobots and Decepticons. This super technological dark ride will surprise you with its realism and frenetic pace.
- Jurassic World – The Ride: “Welcome… to Jurassic World.” In this attraction you will embark on a peaceful boat trip through the rivers of this dinosaur reserve… but something will go wrong and to escape danger you will have to go down a steep drop. This water attraction was recently remodeled and is much more technological than the previous version of Jurassic Park.
- Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride: A fully indoor roller coaster inspired by the Mummy movies. With various accelerations, and special effects, it is one of the most different roller coasters.
- The Simpsons Ride: This simulator incorporates all the humor of the Simpsons in an adventure in the Krustyland park. In it they laugh at many of the attractions and typical elements of the parks.
- SUPER NINTENDO WORLD with a “Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge” , in which we ride a kart and enter the world of racing in this mythical video game.
- WaterWorld: Based on the 1995 film, it is one of the most impressive stunt shows in the world. And it is that the actors of this show are neither more nor less than specialists of Hollywood movies, and both the stage and the special effects are first class. Do not miss it!
- The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle: This is the park’s short but very cool nighttime show. Hogwarts Castle comes to life and lights up in the colors of the four houses: Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor. It lasts about five minutes and is repeated a few times each night. During Halloween and Christmas there are different versions adapted to the time of year.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest attractions of the Universal complex, and the reason why many people visit it, is its area dedicated to the world of Harry Potter.
In this section I am going to give you an idea of everything you can see, do and enjoy in it.
To begin with, I have to tell you that here in Hollywood there is only one Harry Potter area: Hogsmeade ( which is where Hogwarts is).
Unlike Universal Orlando, in Florida, it does not have the Diagon Alley area , nor can you get on the Hogwarts Express (the train that Harry and his friends take to go from London to Hogwarts, and vice versa).
Of course, in the Hogsmeade area, you have a lot to see, do and enjoy. For the first time, wizards have lifted the spell that hides this magical town from Muggle view, allowing anyone who comes near it to visit.
It is a small snowy town, whose main street will take you to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Things you can do and enjoy in this area:
- Enter Hogwarts Castle , visit its corridors, classes and offices, and end up riding the area’s great attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
- Ride the children’s roller coaster, Flight of the Hippogriff , with spectacular views of the area and the Castle.
- Visit the Ollivander’s store , enjoy the little show in which someone from the group will be the protagonist, and buy your own wand.
- Take a picture in front of the Hogwarts Express locomotive , often with the train driver himself.
- Send a letter from the Owl Post , which will reach its addressee with a Hogsmeade postage stamp.
- Spend some entertaining time in one of the two shows that take place on the town stage: the frog choir, in which Hogwarts students give a concert; and the welcome show for the Triwizard Tournament, with special guests from the Beuxbatons and Durmstrang magic schools.
- Have breakfast, lunch or dinner at The Three Broomsticks , the village restaurant and bar with super rich English specialties.
- Drink a Butterbeer (a sweet, non-alcoholic beverage) that comes in three forms: cold, frozen (slushie style), or hot (my favorite).
- Use your interactive wands (which you can buy at Ollivander’s) to cast spells at different points in town, and make objects move inside shop windows, make water fall on a roof…
- As night falls, enjoy the nightly show in the castle, where fantastic projections make it light up with the colors of the four Hogwarts houses. There are special versions during Halloween and Christmas.
Tips to make the most of the day
In this section I am going to give you a series of tips to make the most of your day in the park , as well as a route that I think will help you find as few queues as possible.
By following these tips, you will be able to see all the main features of the park in a single day. I got it, and that on my visit the park was only open from 9 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon.
First of all, go on a weekday, not a holiday . On weekends and holidays, as well as school vacations, the park is packed with visitors from the area. Therefore, if you go during the week, you will find fewer people in the park.
It is probable that the park closes earlier , but it is worth it, you will make the most of the day than if you spend more hours but spend it in queues. Of course, you may not be able to enjoy the night show in the Harry Potter area.
Second: arrive early . Plan to arrive at the park at least half an hour before opening time . Thanks to that, you will be among the first in line to enter. Also, keep in mind that sometimes the park opens about ten minutes before the official time.
Once you enter the park, follow this order when visiting it:
- First stop: SUPER NINTENDO WORLD. Take the escalator down to the Lower Lot and head straight for the attraction in that area: “Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge”.
- Then go back up the escalator and head straight to the Harry Potter area. The first thing you have to do is ride the great attraction in the area: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Enter Hogwarts Castle, visit its corridors, classes and offices, and end up living a great adventure.
- Next stop: the Studio Tour . Keep in mind that it lasts between 40 minutes and 1 hour (so go to the bathroom earlier if necessary).
- Then head back down the escalators to the Lower Lot and do your other three rides . I recommend you start with Jurassic World , which is the newest. If they already have a long queue, you can use the “Single Rider” queues , which are usually much faster than the normal queue. Of course, you will ride separately.
- If it’s time to eat, you can try Jurassic Café in the Lower Lot, go back to the Harry Potter area and do it in The Three Broomsticks , try the Krusty Burger in the Simpsons area…
- The rest of the day, organize it around the shows you want to see (in the park guide you can see the schedules), and between shows do the rest of the attractions ( Mascots , Minions , Simpsons , and secondary attractions).
Where to sleep?
One of the first things that you will reserve for your trip are the hotels . And you will wonder where to sleep? Although Universal Studios Hollywood does not have its own hotels , it is in Los Angeles, which gives you plenty of options. We are going to see various types of travel and my recommendations in each case:
If you are going to focus on Disneyland, with a day at Universal
One option, especially if you will be at the Disneyland Resort for most of the trip and you are only going to visit Universal for one or two days, is to stay at the hotel you have for Disneyland and travel to Universal Studios on the day.
Therefore, even if you only go one day, I recommend that you spend the night before or the night after (or both) in a hotel in Los Angeles . Read on for my recommendations.
If you are going to visit both Disneyland and Universal, as well as Los Angeles
If in addition to Disney and Universal you are going to see more things in Los Angeles, it is best to divide your trip into two: one part in a hotel near Disneyland, and another part in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles. On my first trip I did it like this and it was great.
And in which part of Los Angeles to look for the hotel? That depends on the plans you have, put on a map all the places you are going to visit and look for the hotel in an area that suits you well to reach them.
If you are going to use public transport a lot, I recommend that you look for one that is close to a metro station , preferably the red line, which communicates directly with Universal Studios .
It is great option to stay at Best Western Plus LA Mid-Town , which is halfway between downtown and Hollywood, and a five-minute walk from the Wilshire/Vermont subway station.
If you are looking for a hotel next to the park
If you are looking for a hotel that is super close to the park , to be able to get there on foot, there are two that meet these characteristics (yes, they are not the cheapest):
- Hilton Los Angeles – Universal City: Four-star hotel with a swimming pool, it is a 5-minute walk from the park . On Booking.com it has an average score of 8.6 out of 10.
- Sheraton Universal: also four star and also with a pool, this is about a 10 minute walk from the park. On Booking.com it has an average score of 8.4 out of 10.
Where to book
I recommend that you make your reservation through Booking.com .
It is the leading website for hotel reservations, and the one I always use to reserve accommodation for my trips around the world.
It usually has the best prices , even better than on the hotels’ own website, great customer service , and in most cases you can cancel for free if you change your plans .
In addition, after making several reservations with them, you enter the “Genius” program that gives you discounts of up to 15% and extra benefits.
What tickets to buy?
When planning your visit to Universal, purchasing tickets is a crucial step. There are several types of tickets available, but which one is the best for you? Here’s a rundown of the different options to help you decide.
Basically there are four types of tickets: one-day, two-day, with Express and VIP tickets.
1-day and 2-day tickets
The prices of one and two-day tickets vary depending on the expected crowd on the day of your visit. On days when the park expects fewer visitors, the tickets are cheaper, and on days when the park expects more visitors, the tickets are more expensive.
If you purchase a one-day ticket, you will need to select the specific day you plan to visit the park when buying the ticket. For two-day tickets, you will need to choose the first day of your visit when purchasing the ticket, and the second day can be any of the following 6 days.
One-day tickets with Universal Express
This type of ticket, more expensive than one for a “normal” day, includes the Universal Express service , thanks to which you can access the main attractions of the park more quickly .
Like normal day tickets, their price also varies depending on the day of your visit, and you will have to choose which day to visit when buying them. There are also two types: one that gives you quick access once per attraction and another unlimited, which is more expensive.
This type of ticket is the most exclusive category (and by far the most expensive ) but it will make you feel like star for a day. Includes, in addition to the entrance to the park:
- Personal guide for both the park and the tour of the studios.
- In the park you will have unlimited Express : your guide will take you through the Express entrance, with hardly any queues, to the main attractions and will get you the best seats at the shows.
- Snacks and drinks.
- Buffet meal in a private room .
- Valet parking , if you arrive by car.
Tickets for special events
In addition to the normal tickets to access the parks that I have told you about so far, there are some special events that have a separate ticket.
The most important and well known of these events are the Halloween Horror Nights . In order to access this horror event, you must have a specific ticket, apart from the park ticket, which can be purchased on the Universal Studios Hollywood website .
Where to buy the tickets?
When buying tickets, you can do it here with the lowest price guarantee!
How to get to Universal Studios Hollywood?
How to get there from downtown Los Angeles?
Universal Studios Hollywood is the park with the easiest access by public transportation from the city.
It has its own subway station: Universal City / Studio City , which is served by the B (red) line that runs through downtown Los Angeles and through Hollywood. Once there, you just have to cross a bridge over a highway and take a free bus that leaves you at the gates of the park.
How to get there from the Disneyland Resort?
Universal Studios Hollywood is about 60 kilometers from Disneyland , but it can be reached by public transport, yes, with a couple of transfers.
First you have to get from Disneyland to downtown Los Angeles . One of two, either you take a bus (it will take a couple of hours), or you arrive at the Anaheim station by bus or taxi and take a train to downtown Los Angeles from there (it takes about 40 minutes).
Once in the center, you can use the subway (red line) to get to the Universal City / Studio City stop , where a free bus will take you to the park gate.
Universal Express is Universal Studios Hollywood’s quick access system : thanks to this system, which is paid , you can avoid queuing for most of the park’s attractions.
The Express is already included in the «Universal Express» type tickets . If you have normal tickets, you can pay an extra in the park to have the Express (as long as they are available, since it is a limited service). Of course, it is always more expensive to buy it already in the park and not in advance together with the ticket.
The Express works as follows: if you have one of these passes, instead of entering the attraction through its normal entrance and waiting in line, you will enter through a different entrance with much less waiting .
There is no need to book a time or do anything else, you can use them whenever you want.
The Express is also used for some shows : you will be sure to enter the theater first. Of course, you have to arrive at least 25 minutes before the start of the show.
Is it worth to buy Universal Express?
The main question you may have is whether it is worth buying it or not. And it all depends on what time of year you go, how much time you have to see the park, and how well you can wait in line.
If you go on a weekend, or during the week at a time of year when there are expected to be a lot of people in the park (Christmas, for example), it may be very useful.
How to know? Look on the official website how much it would cost to buy it on your dates and compare it with others. If it is very expensive on your dates, it means that a lot of people are expected. If it is cheap, it means that little is expected and it will not be worth it.
Regarding the time you have : if you only have one day, it is possible that having an Express will help you to see the park more calmly or repeat the attractions.
And finally, about your ability to wait in queues . If you don’t mind waiting 20-30 minutes to ride an attraction, you probably don’t need the Express unless it’s a busy day. If, on the other hand, waiting 5 minutes already overwhelms you, the Express will be good for you whatever your trip is.
Where to eat?
Universal Studios Hollywood has more and more options to eat, both in the park and in the Citywalk, its area of shops and restaurants. Depending on your tastes , and especially your budget , you have different options that will suit you.
Types of restaurants
In general, there are three types of restaurants , both in the park and the Citywalk:
- Kiosks and bars: “take away” fast food stalls, where snacks are usually served. Some of them are delicious and very typical, like the giant donuts from the Simpsons, the ice creams or the Butter Beer. They are the cheapest option but they do not usually give for a complete meal.
- Quick Service: “fast food” restaurants, where you order at a drive-thru or counter, pay, get a tray of food (sometimes brought to your table), and sit in a dining room community. They are the cheapest. It is not necessary (or possible) to reserve a table.
- Table Service: buffet-type restaurants, or in which a waiter or waitress will take your order and bring the food to your table, and you will pay at the end. They are much more expensive, and you have to leave a tip. Este type of restaurants can only be found in the CityWalk, there are not in the theme park itself.
The Three Broomsticks, the restaurant in the Harry Potter area
You can find menus for most restaurants on their website.
These are the ones I recommend:
- Quick service: The Three Broomsticks (English food inspired by the world of Harry Potter), Jurassic Café (burgers and Costa Rican food in the Jurassic World area), the restaurants of the Simpsons Fast Food Boulevard (varied food inspired by the Simpsons: hamburgers like the Krusty Burger, pizzas, fried chicken, vegan options…), Panda Express (a very rich Asian food chain).
- Snacks: Butterbeer (in Hogsmeade, of various types) , giant donut (Lard Lad Donuts, in the Simpsons area).
You can see Universal Studios Hollywood Dining Menu here.
At Universal Studios Hollywood, the park will take souvenir photos of you in three different circumstances:
- In attractions (only in two: Revenge of the Mummy and The Simpsons Ride) .
- With characters.
- Photos from professional photographers scattered around the park , like the typical ones at the entrance or in front of Hogwarts.
The photographers in the park or with characters will give you a ticket after taking your photo. If you want to buy it, go with that ticket to the “Photo Center” , at the park entrance.
You can also watch Universal Studios Florida Attraction Guide here: