From Superman stopping the Earth’s rotation, to locals fending off a twenty-foot great white shark, Hollywood has given us plenty of moments where we scratch our heads and wonder, "How’d they do that?" Most of the time, that on-screen magic is simply the result of hard-working studio technicians, cameramen, and a well-equipped sound stage. And for movie lovers vacationing in California's entertainment capital, it's possible to take a spin around the studios where the magic happens. Here are five tours that’ll take you backstage on Tinseltown’s most famous sets:
Disneyland Hollywood Studios
Each year, millions of tourists show up at Disneyland for the chance to pose with Mickey and dance with Goofy. Inside Disneyland Park ($92 admission), guests enjoy a pyrotechnic-enhanced tram tour down Mickey Avenue, including stops at a prop warehouse and Catastrophe Canyon (a faux movie set where you can see water and fuel tanks exploding), and the American Film Institute Showcase (a rotating museum exhibition showcasing actual costumes, props, and mementos currently from “The Best in Film: AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies"). Getting to Disneyland Park from around town is easy, if you're willing to splurge: a Disneyland shuttle service picks up and drops off guests from their hotel ($45 adults, $39 children). If you’re on a budget, a number of Los Angeles metro lines operate to and from the park. (Note: For the Disney fanatics, the park also offers week-long, behind-the-scenes excursions starting at $2709.)
What began as a 5-cent, bleacher-seat studio tour has since transformed into one of the largest movie studio attractions in the city. Like Disney, Universal Studios operates as a theme park and star-studded Hollywood warehouse. Take the Backlot Tour, as its known, a 45-50 tram tour that passes through some of Universal’s most famous production sites (think Psycho, Back to the Future, Jaws, Frankenstein; even Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives is here). In typical theme park fashion, various sets are recreated as interactive tour displays, such as a hair-rising Jaws display, and a King Kong 3-D world created by Peter Jackson. Oh, and the tour is narrated by Jimmy Fallon. Day-passes here begin at $84 and include admission to the entire theme park; for day-trippers, there’s a 1-Day, $112 pass that includes shuttle service to and from multiple Los Angeles hotels.
Originally designed to show VIPs like Queen Elizabeth the studio backlot, the Warner Bros’ backlot tour has garnered so much attention that, today, anybody can book it for $54. The two-hour tour covers WB’s 110-acre lot, transporting visitors through Casablanca's streets, past a collection of sexy Batmobiles, and much more. (Think Harry Potter and Central Perk.) And who knows, maybe you'll even spot a celebrity. (We hear that Ellen sightings are not uncommon. ) The tour begins in the Tour Store and Center, where visitors are required to show up (with a valid ID) twenty-minutes before the scheduled departure. The easiest route to the studio is driving via the 101 South to the 134 Freeway East. Follow the signs to Warner Brothers and then to the parking area for VIP tour parking ($7). Without a car, you’ll need to take the rail from LA to Burbank, and then transfer to a bus. Once at the Warner Bros HQ, simply follow signs to the Tour Store.
Sony Pictures Studios
The name Sony Pictures may not immediately conjure images of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney, but Sony Pictures Studios used to be the old MGM Studios. A two-hour walking tour ($38) leads visitors through sound stages, like the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz, the setting of the alien battle from Men in Black, and even the sets of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. But unlike most studio tours that show where production takes place, Sony focuses instead on the production process. So rather than merely stepping onto an empty set, you’ll learn how Munchkin Land was built, and be shown where Garland stood when she recorded “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Tours (ID required) depart every Monday-Friday at 9:30 am, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 2:30 pm. Getting here is only a twenty-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles, though the studio can also be reached via the Metro Silver Line (910) to the Metro Expo Line (806).
Recently depicted in the Oscar-winning film The Artist, the Paramount Studios’ backlot has set the stage for innumerable award-winning films like The Godfather, Forrest Gump, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Not only can you visit the sound stages used in these films, but you can also take a load off on the bench where Tom Hanks sat in Forrest Gump, stroll through the New York City backdrop from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and pass beneath the famed Bronson Gate – the studio's entry arch. You’ll also have the opportunity to step onto the Glee set, and maybe even sneak a peek inside the wardrobe closet. The tour ($53) picks up in front of the Bronson Gate and you’ll be led directly to the Studio Store. Plan on arriving thirty minutes early because it gets crowded. From downtown LA, the studio is a quick ten-minute drive, but you can also use the bus system (Metro Line Silver to the 10/48).