Located in the north-central LA between Burbank and Hollywood, Universal City is an unincorporated area of about 400 acres that’s largely comprised of private property owned by Universal Studios.
It’s full of showbiz related attractions and activity options, including amusement park-style rides, guided tours, live entertainment events, and tons of restaurants.
Especially for those traveling with kids, many visitors spend significant portions of their time in Southern California. It’s near to many of the city’s most prominent attractions, which makes side excursions popular as well.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Universal City, California.
1. Universal Studios Tour
The Universal Studios Tour is Universal City’s premier activity. For those working with limited time, tours are perfect ways to get a fascinating glimpse into the area’s movie and entertainment histories without dedicating a whole day to doing it.
Tours include behind-the-scenes looks at movie sets, production facilities, and the areas where A-list stars hang out during breaks in filming.
Universal Studios Tours generally last about an hour and are guided by celebrities like Jimmy Fallon. They are engaging, entertaining, and educational experiences that typically rank as one of the most unforgettable memories of many visitors’ trips.
2. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is another of Universal City’s most iconic attractions. Though it’s big with lovers of the books and movies, even those who don’t consider themselves fans usually have a blast.
Previous guests have noted they didn’t feel at all like they were on a movie set; instead, that they’d been transported to a magical world far away from one of the West Coast’s largest urban centers.
The facility includes staff in movie garb, tons of rides, regularly scheduled shows and kid’s activities, and plenty of shops, eateries, and outdoor seating areas.
For those trying their best to conserve those hard-earned travel dollars, Universal City’s CityWalk is the perfect place to relax, window shop, and take advantage of free live entertainment.
Though there’s lots to see and do for children, CityWalk is a great option for weary parents who want to experience Universal City without being trapped in a kid-filled madhouse for hours.
A fun and festive area more geared toward adults than the park itself, it features abundant dining options, movie theaters, bars, and plenty of paved paths great for leisurely afternoon strolls.
4. Grinchmas Celebration
For many children, the Grinch is a memorable Christmas cartoon character who achieved eternal notoriety for actually stealing Christmas.
During the holiday season, Universal City hosts a number of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas events that feature live entertainment, impressive decorations, and characters from iconic movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The Grinchmas Celebration includes a massive tree, a lighting ceremony, kids’ activities, and the chance for little ones to have their pictures taken with one of Dr. Suess’ most noteworthy creations and his dog Max.
Be sure to check Universal Studio’s website for exact celebration dates and times before making a special trip.
5. Voodoo Doughnut
Visiting Universal City with kids usually involves long stretches on your feet, running endlessly from attraction to attraction.
Thankfully, the area is full of trendy restaurants and cafes. Though many of them are a bit on the pricy side, there are some real gems that won’t set you back a small fortune if you’re just looking for a quick sugar-laden pick-me-up.
Voodoo Doughnuts Universal City shop features more than four dozen different doughnuts; they range from traditional classics to newfangled concoctions with strange flavor profiles.
Voodoo is located in the heart of Universal City near many of its main attractions.
6. DreamWorks Theatre
Since it opened just a few years ago, the DreamWorks Theatre has become one of Universal City’s most popular and exhilarating attractions.
It’s like an IMAX theater in that it incorporates sounds, 4-D graphics, and motion to give guests an interactive experience that’s much more memorable than just reclining in a static chair watching a movie.
The theater features themes based on iconic characters like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. It includes incredible DreamWorks animation that’s the world-wide gold standard for visual effects.
Seats fill up fast during peak times, so plan ahead and purchase your tickets in advance to avoid a sold-out situation.
7. Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular
Despite the abundance of competition, Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular typically ranks as Universal City’s #1 show.
That’s probably because it’s chock-full of explosions, crashes, speeding jet skis, firefights, and massive waves that often soak those lucky enough to be seated in the so-called ‘Soak Zone’ in the sections closest to the water.
Though the show itself is only about 20 minutes long, it’s full of amazing special effects and harrowing stunts performed by the same trained professionals who work on-set for high-dollar movie productions.
8. Super Silly Fun Land
After an adrenaline-inducing experience like the aforementioned Waterworld, it may be a good idea to follow up with a decidedly more low-key attraction until the jitters subside.
Super Silly Fun Land is a massive outdoor play zone that features wet and dry activity zones designed to engage and entertain young visitors with loads of energy on warm California days.
The dry portion of the park includes climbing, jumping, and sliding areas, as well as a video game arcade.
The water-themed side features lots of activities too. There’s seating close enough to the action to allow parents to keep an eye on their kids without getting drenched.
9. Special Effects Show
Without special effects, even the biggest blockbuster hits would probably seem a bit lackluster.
They’re created using actual stunt actors along with high-tech animation software to create lifelike action scenes that seem to defy the laws of physics.
Universal Studios employs a wide range of professionals to make things come alive. For those with an hour or two to spare, there’s no better way to get a behind-the-scenes look into how it’s all done than as part a spectator at the Special Effects Show.
Previous guests have commented that the show was informative, exhilarating, and a big hit with guests of all ages and interests.
10. Beverly Hills Farmers Market
Though it’s technically not in Universal City, the Beverly Hills Farmers Market is just a few kilometers to the southwest. It’s a perfect escape destination for those who need to distance themselves from the crowds.
The market is open on Sundays, rain or shine. In addition to an impressive collection of seasonal California produce, its vendors sell everything from fresh baked goods and organic juice to arts and crafts and prepared food items like pickles, salsa, and local honey.
There is also live entertainment, kid’s activities, and educational workshops, which are typically held one day per month.
It’s located just a block off Santa Monica Boulevard on Civic Center Drive in Beverly Hills.
11. Greystone Mansion
When it was built in the late 1920s, Greystone Mansion was one of Southern California’s most opulent residences.
The home is just 10 kilometers west of Universal City in Beverly Hills and features nearly 60 rooms.
It’s spread over almost 50,000 square feet and cost about $60 million dollars in today’s money.
Built in the Tudor Revival-style, it was designed by a famous architect, who incorporated both traditional and cutting edge features. Its design has made it popular as a shooting site for famous movies over the years, like There Will be Blood and The Big Lebowski.
The mansion’s grounds are open to the public, but the home itself is reserved for special events and pre-arranged guided tours.
12. Maze Rooms Escape Games
In recent years, escape rooms have increased in popularity for those interested in unique activities they haven’t already done a million times.
At Maze Rooms Escape Games in nearby Tarzana, guests will use their wits and teamwork skills to find clues and solve riddles that will eventually lead to their escape from a locked room.
Maze Rooms have been around since 2014. They feature a number of distinctly themed rooms offering engaging and immersive experiences popular with wedding parties, corporate events, and multi-couple date nights with a twist.
They’re located on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana, about 20 kilometers west of Universal City.
13. Runyon Canyon Park
It doesn’t take long once outside LA’s chaotic sprawl before travelers find themselves amidst thousands of acres of natural beauty, including desert and mountain landscapes.
Runyon Canyon Park is located just east of Universal City, not far from the famous Hollywood Sign. It’s popular with nature lovers, amateur photographers, and exercise junkies interested in getting their workout fix without being trapped inside a crowded gym.
The park features a network of well-marked trails appropriate for visitors of most ages and levels of physical activity. There are often special events like yoga classes and staff-led tours.
14. The Hollywood Sign
Located high atop Mount Lee overlooking LA and Hollywood, the Hollywood Sign is a culturally and historically significant attraction that began its life nearly 100 years ago as a rather mundane advertisement for a new residential development.
The sign’s letters stand more than 40 feet tall and stretch more than 300 feet from end to end, making them noticeable from miles away.
The sign is maintained by a local civic organization. Though it’s not the easiest attraction to get to, fit and outdoorsy types can make the hike to the sign from Branson Canyon or Griffith Park.
The sign is located just three kilometers east of Universal City.
15. TCL Chinese Theater
For nearly a century, the TCL Chinese Theater has been one of Southern California’s premier entertainment venues.
Though the historic theater has changed names a number of times over the years, it’s still commonly referred to as Grauman’s Chinese Theater – named after the man who founded it in 1926.
Located on Hollywood Boulevard about 15 minutes southwest of Universal City, it draws millions of annual visitors and stands among the most sought after venues for new-release movies making their debuts to the public.
The theater is well-known for its impressive Chinese architecture, sumptuous interior, and the hand and foot-prints of celebrities in the forecourt area.