The term “Los Angeles” may be confusing to out-of-towners. They refer to Los Angeles when in fact they are thinking of tourist spots such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm or even the San Diego Zoo. Southern California encompasses all of these attractions, but they are spaced miles apart.
Orange County is home to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm – two major attractions that should be on a “must list.” Orange County is about 45-50 minutes from Los Angeles. San Diego is about 1 ½ hours away, at least. There is also the San Fernando Valley, home to NBC studios, Warner Brothers Studios and the ever-popular Universal Studios – and this area is about 15 minutes from Los Angeles/Hollywood/Beverly Hills. The actual “Los Angeles” is mostly the downtown area, which is populated with shops, a decent Chinatown, theatres and the Cathedral. Otherwise, there is no particular reason to go to “Los Angeles” itself.
IT IS ADVISABLE TO RENT A CAR IF YOU PLAN TO TOUR SEVERAL AREAS – DRIVING IN LOS ANGELES IS NOT AS BAD AS YOU THINK!
****Please note that any suggestions are being made as of this writing – not responsible for any construction taking place or rides or tours temporarily shut down during a visit – check with the venue for up-to-the-minute advice.
Having said that, the following are some tips for touring or visiting some popular spots:
100 Universal City Plaza, off Lankershim Blvd. in Universal City (San Fernando Valley)
This is a working movie/tv studio and nearly every first-time visitor to the area tours it. You take a tram ride through various movie lots and may or may not (probably not) see actual filming taking place. It’s exciting, though, to recognize buildings you’ve seen dozens of times on tv or movie screens. There are also sound effects shows, animal actor’s shows, an exhibit of props and costumes, and a stunt actor’s show. Many rides are now located at Universal – adults would do well to skip them and concentrate on the tour itself. Adjacent to Universal is Universal CityWalk, a fun complex of shops and restaurants that’s worth looking around. Included in your trip to the studio. You can easily spend an entire day, into the early evening, at these two locations.
Admission is pricey – about $87 for adults and $79 for children – but you can usually find a discount coupon for at least $5 off at their website. Parking is also expensive – General is $16, front gate (closer to entrance) is $22. You can also park down the hill and across the street from Universal, at the Metro station lot and take a free shuttle to the entrance.
WARNER BROTHERS STUDIO
3400 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank (San Fernando Valley)
818-972-8687 or 877-492-8687
Another movie/tv studio that gets a lot less attention is Warner Brothers. It’s a shame, because in some ways it’s really more about the actual movie business than Universal is. No rides – just a great way to take a small golf cart/tram with a few people and tour this movie/tv lot, past sets. You actually might see stars or filming here. Your best bet of visiting sets is on the weekend, when filming will not be going on but you can get more up-close-and-personal to the sets. Guides sometimes even aim towards your particular wants and needs in terms of what areas to tour. Arrive about 20 minutes early to talk to them. The tours usually run about 2-2 ½ hours. There is a great museum here with lots of movie history, including a second floor devoted to Harry Potter.
Admission is $54 for adults. Hours are 8:15 – 4 p.m. every day (check to make sure they are working on Sunday). For $250 you get a deluxe 5-hour tour with a meal at the commissary where you may eat where the stars eat.
Off the 5 Freeway at Harbor Blvd. and Ball Road – Disneyland Drive turnoff – Orange County
This is another “must” on the list of any first-time visitor to the area. It’s a pricey visit but well worthwhile. You can easily spend at least a day here so don’t plan anything else. In fact, devoted fans of the park sometimes stay overnight in the area and visit again the next day – there are advance tickets available that allow you to do that. There is also the California Adventure Park next door – it’s not too impressive but still a big draw and features things you won’t see at Disneyland. It’s more about rides, though. You can purchase tickets that allow you to go back and forth between the two parks (the “Hopper” tickets).
Admission to Disneyland runs $96 for adults and $90 for children under 10. The Hopper is about $150. If you’re going to both parks, you will probably need two days.
Advice – skip going to both of the parks; hit the highlights at Disneyland and be happy. Main Street, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland – these are all areas to visit. Skip some of the rides that are just about thrills, unless that’s what you’re into. Go for the typical Disney-inspired rides such as Pirates of The Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, It’s a Small World.
HOTELS IN ORANGE COUNTY IN CASE YOU STAY THERE OVERNIGHT TO TAKE IN DISNEYLAND AND KNOTT’S – FAIRFIELD INN, MARRIOTT, CAMELOT, ANNABELLA – and there are many more.
KNOTT’S BERRY FARM – also Orange County but don’t try to see it the same day as Disneyland
8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
This is a little more homespun park that began about 50 years ago (at least) as a berry stand and then a chicken restaurant (have a meal at the restaurant if you can – amazing food and reasonable!).
It features a ghost town of old Western buildings and is great fun to walk around. Lots of shops and there are rides, too. These are major, amusement-park rides but the only really charming rides are the Calico Ghost Mine ride (they may be re-naming it) and the Log Ride. Allow all day at Knott’s – it’s relaxing and fun. Tickets run about $40 for adults but visit their website for details.
Some suggestions for hotels in the San Fernando Valley area, which would put you close to Universal, Warner Brothers, and only about 15 minutes from Hollywood/Beverly Hills but a lot less congested:
BEST WESTERN BURBANK MEDIA CENTER
3910 W. Riverside Drive 818-842-1900
Rates depend on time of year. In summer, about $170 per night but check for specials
BEST WESTERN MIKADO – North Hollywood/Studio City
12600 Riverside Drive 818-763-9141
Again, rates vary with time of year. Summer – about $139-149
BEVERLY GARLAND (named after the actress who owned it)
4222 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood 800-238-3759 www.beverlygarland.com
They have variable rates, and packages that include Universal tours or bed and breakfast rates. Best to check the web site
UNIVERSAL HILTON – at Universal City Rates run about $229-259 in summer
12825 Ventura Blvd, Studio City 818-769-4700
Restaurant on premises – also restaurant Twain’s – old-time coffee shop, nearby. This was an old “haunt” for old-time movie stars. Rates about $250-$275 in summer but check website.
2011 No Highland 323-851-1800
Near Grauman’s, Universal, Rates about $170 in summer
Don’t forget to check out our 1 day itinerary in Los Angeles for under $100.