No trip to California with our kids would be complete without at least a quick stop in tinsel town. Los Angeles is chock full of famous landmarks, museums, tours and even theme parks. At ten, twelve and fourteen our kids are at the perfect age to take in all the lights, camera, action that Hollywood has to offer for families. Our ambitious itinerary was just right for tackling with teens and tweens if you have two days in L.A., so we are sharing it all with you.
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HOLLYWOOD BEHIND THE SCENES RED LINE TOUR
Hollywood is very walkable and there are historic markers all over that give you a little history of the buildings and landmarks but the best way to put it all in context and really get a sense of Hollywood history is to take a walking tour. We started our L.A. adventures off bright and early with a with a “Behind the Scenes” walking tour by Red Line Tours. This hour and half tour by was included with our Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive passes we purchased prior to our trip. I highly recommend using these attraction passes when visiting big cities! We consistently find it helps us make the most of our time and money.
Our red-shirt-clad very knowledgeable tour guide took us up and down Hollywood Boulevard stopping at all the famous sites to offer juicy insights into all the Hollywood hot spots and the stories surrounding them. What made this tour so wonderful and unique is that each guest wears a headset that allows you to hear the microphone’s guide directly in your ears. In the hustle and bustle of Hollywood Boulevard we were able to learn about the landmarks and they became so much more relevant and interesting. I was able to snap photos up to 300 feet away while still listening.
We saw everything from big name icons to smaller sites and filming locations. Here’s an overview of what we saw on our tour:
HOLLYWOOD & HIGHLAND CENTER ACADEMY AWARDS WALK
Our tour set off from the Hard Rock Café located in the Hollywood and Highland Shopping complex. We had no idea before taking this tour that this upscale mall doubles as the red-carpet area for the Academy Awards. Our guide pointed out all the ways the storefronts and venues are built to become red carpet ready. To get the venue ready for the big night crews dress it up with red carpet, build risers and stages, and lots of draping. It was so fun to walk the same pathway that the stars do decked out in glamourous gowns and fabulous tuxedos.
The mall leads right up to the Dolby Theater. Purpose-built for the Oscars, the theater has been home to Hollywood’s glitziest event since 2002. The five-story atrium is visually impressive, if extremely Hollywood. It has one of the largest stages in the country and has hosted the American Idol finals, the Daytime Emmy Awards, a Cirque de Soleil show, and numerous other awards and performances, one of which was happening the day of our tour so we couldn’t get a look inside. However, a tour of the Dolby Theater is also included in the Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Pass if you can come on a day that doesn’t have a big event scheduled.
Next, we stopped in the Central Babylon Court of the Hollywood and Highland complex for a perfectly framed view of the Hollywood Sign. Our guide brought a binder with great historical snapshots and movie stills that helped but everything we were seeing in context and made it that much more interesting. We learned the fascinating history behind this iconic symbol and the special viewing platform was an ideal place to grab a photo.
Right around the corner in the in the heart of Hollywood we stopped to take in the TCL Chinese Theater — formally known as Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Open since 1927, this legendary movie palace with its distinctive Chinese pagoda-style roofline has hosted many movies premiers and is home to the world’s largest IMAX but it is best known for its concrete slabs featuring the handprints, footprints, and signatures of Hollywood’s brightest movie stars both past and present. Our kids got a kick out of seeing their favorite Harry Potter actor’s imprints.
GRAUMAN’S EGYPTIAN THEATER
Built in 1922 around the same time King Tutt’s tomb was discovered Hollywood’s oldest movie palace is also the birthplace of Hollywood’s red-carpet movie premieres. The theater underwent a massive renovation in 1998 and today hosts screenings of classic films and talks by prominent filmmakers and actors. We didn’t get to go inside but enjoyed all the the Egyptian-style paintings, hieroglyphs and four massive columns that mark the entrance.
WALK OF FAME
The sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard are inlaid with the legendary brass and terrazzo stars honoring celebrities from the entertainment industry.
More than 2,600 stars are enshrined but most popular stars are located on the two blocks on each side of Highland Avenue, which happened to be covered by our walking tour. Our guide gave us the history behind the creation of the Walk of Fame as well as incredible stories about individual stars.
DISNEY’S EL CAPITAN THEATER
The lavishly illuminated El Capitan Theater opened in 1926 has be masterfully restored by Disney and is now home to all of the studio’s movie premiers. It is also open to the public as a state-of-the-art picture palace showing exclusively Disney films. Some presentations are even combined with performances using an antique Wurlitzer pipe organ. We appreciated all the intricate and ornate detail that went into creating this special theater. Declared a Historic Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles, it’s easy to imagine the glamour of old Hollywood from this special spot.
After our walking tour was over, we headed to The Hollywood Museum. Housed in the historic 1914 Max Factor Building. This musty museum is crammed in every nook, cranny and case with displays of memorabilia, costumes, props and all manner of Hollywood nostalgia.
There are over 10,000 artifacts showcasing 100 years of show-biz history here but it’s not all about old movies, so don’t worry if your kids haven’t seen too many of the classics. We are not even big horror movie fans, but we loved the extensive section in the basement dedicated to the Horror genre. Admission to this attraction was also included with our Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes.
For lunch we simply headed right next door to Mel’s Drive-In also located within the historic Max Factor Building. The 1950s-style diner, with old-fashioned counters has burgers and milkshakes to match. Besides the extensive selection of quintessential diner foods, you’ll find all kinds of options for everybody. My Nutella crepes and avocado toast were super yummy, and our kids enjoyed the fun paper pop up cars their kids’ meals came in.
MADAME TUSSAUDS HOLLYWOOD
Our kids had such a blast at Madame Tussaud’s in San Francisco that we were delighted to see that admission to their L.A. location was also included in our Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes. The first of the Tussaud’s franchise locations to be built from the ground up, this three-story structure features over 100 super life-like wax figures ranging from Hollywood legends like Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich to contemporary stars like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
Our kids enjoyed hamming it up on the set of some of the most memorable movie blockbusters and being able to touch, interact and take selfies with their favorite A-list stars. There is also a 4D film experience included with admission that’s especially fun for anyone who is a fan of Marvel superheroes.
WARNER BROTHERS STUDIO TOUR
In the afternoon we headed to Burbank for the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour. This in-depth three-hour tour plus museum experience was easily our favorite Hollywood attraction. We loved being able to go behind the scenes and see what it takes to create popular TV shows and films.
The 110-acre lot has 29 soundstages. There’s also a 20-acre backlot that can, and has doubled for everything from a bustling metropolitan city to a remote jungle.
Admission to the Warner Brothers tour is limited to guests 8 and up. While the tour is among the most family friendly studio tours in Hollywood it is particularly well suited to cinematically inclined kids like we have who are old enough to have watched and enjoy the films and shows that the tour features.
The tour does cover a hundred plus acres of an active studio, but it is not strenuous. A fair amount of the tour is spent aboard the open-air tram with plenty of stops to get out and stretch your legs and see sets up close, explore exhibits and take photos. There are only 12 people per tram, which keeps groups on the small size and personable, but the best part is that each tour is a completely unique experience customized to the interests of the people taking the tour. The tour guide asks for input on what your favorite shows and movies are and then gears the sites and information shared accordingly.
We had recently watched Big Bang Theory with our teens and have been working our way through Friends, so they absolutely loved getting to see the closed set of Big Bang Theory as it wraps up its final episodes and sit on the Friends Couch in a recreated Central Perk. As Huge Harry Potter and superhero movie fans as well, we enjoyed the time given within the tour for exploring the museum areas filled with costumes, props and memorabilia from recent movies like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. There is even an opportunity to get “sorted” into a Hogwarts house via the Sorting Hat! (Gryffindor Baby!) and a whole building filled with the different Batmobiles!
We also got to sit on the steps of the Full House steps and explore the sets of Star’s Hollow from Gilmore Girls. We even got to go inside the Ellen Show Studio! Every tour ends at Stage 48 where you can spend as much time as you like in interactive exhibits that tell the story of how a film or TV show goes from script to screen.
The highlights of the Warner Bros. Studios really are endless! It was well worth the short drive up to Burbank. Especially since our admission was fully included in the Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes. All we had to do to book our tour was call ahead of time to make reservations and give them our voucher number.
For dinner we headed to the Original Farmer’s Market. Established during the Great Depression and fronted by its signature white clock tower, the market has been a favorite gathering spot for locals and visitors alike since 1934. There are open-air stalls selling fresh flowers, expertly butchered meats, cheeses, fruits and veggies, baked goods, coffee and all manner of gourmet goodies. There are also more than 100 world-class eateries and eclectic shops and even live entertainment.
The hardest part was deciding exactly where to grab a bite. Everything looked so enticing! Among the best of the numerous cafes is Bob’s Coffee and Donuts (try the beignets), Bennet’s Homemade Ice Cream, Pampa’s, and Fritzi Grill Coop.
Next to the Farmer’s Market is The Grove, an upscale outdoor retail complex with shops, restaurants and cinema. There is a fun green double decker trolley that goes between the Farmer’s Market and the Grove providing free transportation for visitors. It’s also a beautiful place for a stroll with a water fountain and music show reminiscent of the Bellagio hotel in Vegas on a smaller scale.
Our second day in L.A. we headed to Universal Studios Hollywood. We are huge fans of the Orlando version of this theme park and we were eager to check out the West Coast versions of our favorite movie-themed thrill rides as well as all the cool attractions that are unique to the Hollywood location like the behind-the-scenes backlot Studio Tour and the Water World and Special Effects shows.
Universal Studios is a much more compact park that it’ Florida counterpart but being nestled in the Hollywood Hills the views are unbeatable. The parks’ themed areas are entirely immersive from Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, to the Simpson’s in Springfield U.S.A. and Despicable Me’s Super Silly Fun Land it’s as if these franchise favorites came to life.
We suggest arriving as the park opens to make the most of all the rides, shows and experiences involving the active studio lot such as the 45-minute action-packed tram tour.
Since we had the 3-Day Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes our admission to Universal Studios was included in our pass! We used the third day of our pass in San Diego to visit the San Diego Zoo –stay tuned to hear more about that visit coming soon!
GRIFFITH PARK OBSERVATORY
After a fun day at Universal we wanted to close out our time in Los Angeles with something special, so we headed up to Griffith Park to see the sunset over the City of Angels from Griffith Observatory. Situated 1,134 feet above sea level on Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory commands stunning views of the surrounding cityscape from nearly every angle as well as the iconic Hollywood sign.
This Los Angeles landmark also offers a state-of-the-art planetarium, a 190-seat multimedia theater and extensive galleries featuring astronomy and science exhibits that connect and educate visitors on the earth and the universe.
With wonderful displays like the Foucault Pendulum, a Tesla Coil, images from space, meteorites, telescopes and so much more, the observatory could have kept us entertained for hours but we wanted to catch the sunset outside.
One thing to note about the Observatory is to allow yourself plenty of time to park. The combination of wonderful exhibits, beautiful L.A. views with FREE admission and parking make it one of Southern California’s most popular attractions. The further away you park, the steeper the walk you will have to get back up to the Observatory and lookout. Visit the Griffith Observatory website for more information.
DISNEYLAND & CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE
If you have more time in Southern California, we highly recommend visiting Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. This pair of world-famous amusement parks are about an hour outside on Los Angeles in nearby Anaheim.
Disneyland, which opened in 1955 is divided into eight magically themed lands and is full of rides and entertainment for all ages of kids. Roller coasters, water rides, thrill rides, kiddie rides, parades, character experiences, fireworks and themed dining can all be a part of your day at Disneyland.
Disney California Adventure Park, which is in easy walk cross the entrance plaza from Disneyland, has seven Disney and Pixar lands that older kids especially will love. Just like Disneyland, this park brings the magic of Disney to life with rides and entertainment. Top attractions not to be missed at Disney California Adventure are Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’ Around the World, Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout, the Incredicoaster’ and the nighttime water spectacular of World of Color! For more information on these amazing family theme parks check out our guide to Disneyland with Kids –101 Tips You Need to Know Before You Go.
There you have it – our ambitious itinerary for two day in L.A. with older kids. Hopefully it will inspire you to take your teens and tweens to Tinseltown too.
Remember, you can save on combined admission vs. paying at the gate to many of these popular family friendly attractions and more with the Go Card Los Angeles.
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