When your bestie of 10+ years sends you a text like this, you know it is time to go on some kind of little trip.
After tons of logistical planning and brainstorming, Christine and I decided to stay local and go on a staycation. We are definitely privileged to live in California, and since she decided to drive back down to SoCal for a week, we had a ton of options for our mini-adventure. We are both pop culture enthusiasts, so we arrived at the conclusion that a trip to the Warner Brothers Studio was in order.
On Wednesday evening, we drove up to Hollywood and nestled into an adorable apartment with stunning views of Downtown LA and the Hollywood Hills. The apartment was in a complex right at the foot of Runyon Canyon, with many hiking trails frequented by A-listers and nature lovers alike. We dropped off our bags, admired some views and pulled up Yelp for sustenance. Instead of heading toward the tourist hive that is Hollywood and Highland, we opted for Electric Owl, a hip restaurant with a fairly pretentious menu and fancy drinks. It was about a 10-minute walk from our apartment, eliminating our concern about parking and driving in the local congestion.
We walked through some residential Hollywood areas full of sprawling vines and quirky buildings. I am so used to the more boisterous parts of the city, so this area was refreshing. We arrived at Electric Owl just as the sun was beginning to set, and we were seated almost immediately, despite not having a reservation. The small, dimly lit restaurant was cozy but trendy, not overly formal but not exactly the place you'd walk into wearing cut-offs and flip flops. We ordered the "Pink Drink" to start and continued the gabbing we had initiated during our hour-long drive to Hollywood.
We ordered soon after (we had already glanced at the menu before arriving). I went with the potato gnocchi with spicy lobster vodka sauce, Dungeness crab, and some other things I do not recall. I'm not one to eat spicy food at all, but this dish was incredibly delicious. Our server also assured me that if the spice level was too high, I could order something else. To my surprise, the spiciness did not take away from the bold flavors in the dish - I'm not sure if I'm evolving or if it really was just perfectly mild. Either way, we'll see if I can maybe try Sriracha some time soon.
For dessert, we got the chocolate mousse with cocoa nibs, cherries, pistachio and frozen creme. It was almost like eating ice cream that wasn't cold. If you aren't into dark, slightly bitter chocolate, I don't recommend this dessert for you.
After dinner, we took some fun pictures with local street art, then headed back to our apartment. For the rest of the evening, we watched Friends to prep for our tour the next day.
We woke up fairly early so I could make breakfast and we could enjoy an easy-paced morning. This is one of the reasons I have begun to stray away from hotels more and more. I love the feeling of being at a home away from home - to me, that is more comfortable than the formality of a hotel room. We enjoyed our coffee, peach pancakes and, yes, more Friends episodes.
One last thing we wanted to do before we left our glorious Hollywood apartment: there was a "sun deck" AKA a patio on the roof complete with a barbeque, tables, lounge chairs and umbrellas. The views were gorgeous especially in the morning. We took some quick photos before heading out to the Warner Brothers Studios.
After a pretty quick drive (less than 20 minutes), we were weaving through the Hollywood Hills and arrived at the Warner Brothers Studios. I was already impressed by the size of the property - multiple studios, sound stages, parking structures, even WB Records and other administrative buildings. Being a SoCal natives who frequents the LA area, I realized I had been heavily influenced by all of my time spent at Universal Studios, a theme park with a similar studio tour, complete with opportunities to get up close and personal to movie sets. Universal also has working movie sets, including a ton of highly recognizable iconography. However, I learned very quickly that Warner Brothers, to me anyway, offers a much more personal, authentic experience.
Firstly, this studio tour is not a part of a theme park. There are no giant trams holding 100+ people. There are also no special effects experiences, no over-the-top shows or shark encounters. What WB offers is a real, behind-the-scenes tour of working sets, props, and archives. I felt that there was a wonderful balance between the museum-like offerings and encountering real sets. The trams are small; they hold around 15 people, making the tour much more intimate and personal. I made Christine sit in the front with me, next to our tour guide.
PRO TIP: USE THE BATHROOM BEFORE YOU LEAVE! THERE AREN'T A TON OF BATHROOM STOPS ON THE TOUR, SO BE SMART.
Here is where I'd like to insert my only two grievances: Our tour guide and the group we ended up with. Practically no one on the tram was excited about anything. They hardly took any photos and did not want to stop at any of the sets to take photos. Christine and I were the only ones, and I think that irritated the other guests. We had so many wonderful opportunities to get out of the tram, take pictures with sets, and even touch everything! It is a true behind-the-scenes experience, but everyone else would not take advantage of the opportunity.
As for our tour guide, he was the least enthusiastic one in the group of tour guides. I'm not sure if he was just having a bad day, but his lack of, well, happiness, partnered with our mundane group really did not add anything positive to our day. In fact, I felt judged for taking photos! I know the group couldn't be helped, but it did surprise me that after such amazing service in every other area, our guide was completely lackluster.
PRO TIP: READ UP ABOUT THE TOUR TO SEE WHAT IS FILMED AT WARNER BROTHERS STUDIOS. OTHERWISE, YOU MAY NOT REALLY BE INTERESTED IN WHAT YOU GET TO SEE ON THE TOUR.
Now that we have that out of the way, I'd like to say that this tour is wonderful. I loved seeing the sets from shows I love like Gilmore Girls, Pretty Little Liars, and more. I learned a lot about how the sets are made, what a practical set is vs. a facade. One of my favorite parts of the tour was definitely the prop warehouse - it's actually a store where they "shop" for props! Each prop has a price tag and can be rented weekly for a price. It was awesome to see the actual props and learn about how that works. It helped me understand why movies can be so expensive.
Another highlight for me was being able to walk through an entire working set inside a sound stage. We were given the opportunity to poke around a set from The Fosters, a show currently on Freeform. I don't watch the show, but I've definitely heard of it and see commercials for it all the time. The show was on a filming hiatus, so the set was in tact but no crew was in sight. Our guide literally took us through the characters' bedrooms, taught us how scenes are shot in two-story homes, and how many illusions are created for the camera. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, but take my word for it - it was really awesome!
PRO TIP: DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR PHOTOS! OUR TOUR GUIDE DID OFFER TO STOP THE TRAM IF ANYONE WANTED PHOTOS WITH A PARTICULAR SET HE HAD POINTED OUT. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITIES!
The last part of the tour is self-guided. You are dropped off at Stage 48, where the famous Friends couch resides. In addition to taking pictures on the Central Perk set, you can learn about green screens, forced perspective, and grab a cup of coffee at their working Central Perk Cafe. After you get your fill of movie magic, there is a gift shop where you can grab a souvenir to commemorate your trip.
Even though the cost of the tour is a bit steep, I don't think a cent was wasted. From getting to turn the Batman symbol projection on, to taking pictures on the Friends couch, to sitting on the steps of the gazebo in Gilmore Girls, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour is really something special. It's not as glamorized as Universal's tour and theme park, but I am likely to do this tour again. There was obviously a lot of thought put into taking care of the guests, and that shows. If you find yourself in need of a local adventure, try out this tour!
For more photos, check out my gallery.
Until next time,