Family Visit to the Real La La Land

Looking for ways to entertain our celebrity-obsessed teenage daughters, we thought a connection to the Oscar-winning film La La Land would be the perfect fit. We planned a movie studio tour in Los Angeles for a fun adventure we knew they would appreciate. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour exceeded our expectations and won us big points in the cool parents department.

Just like in La La Land, Los Angeles and Hollywood are synonymous with the entertainment industry, and my girls think a star is lurking around every corner ready to pose for photos with them. The next best thing to stalking celebrities, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour was the perfect solution. And unlike some other studio tours, this is actually a working movie and TV production lot, complete with sound stages, active sets and all the hustle and bustle you might expect behind the scenes — just like Mia’s scenes in the film!

And from now until March 6, 2017, the studio is featuring a reconstructed set from La La Land‘s Café Sur Le Lot, the coffee shop where Mia worked before she was discovered. Guests are invited to walk though and feel what it was like for Mia’s character to work on a studio lot while trying to break in to the business.

Fun at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Hollywood

So. Well. Organized.
We decided to get an early start with a 10 am go-time. The 30-minute drive over the Hollywood hills from the The Beverly Hilton hotel was very easy, and the tour parking lot is just across the street from the starting point ($10 per car).

The tour was refreshingly well-organized, beginning in the visitors center where we were greeted with “boarding passes” listing our group. While we waited for our group to be called, we sat on couches in a comfortable lounge five feet away from a conveniently located and very welcome sight: a full-blown Starbucks. Caffeinated up and ready to roll, we were ushered into a small screening room to watch a brief film on the history of Warner Bros. I had no idea this studio has been responsible for so many amazing films and television shows since its start in 1923.

From there, our guide Kat called our group members together, and we boarded a tram waiting for us just outside. We lucked out and there were only seven other people in our group, which made the tour even more intimate.

Studio Backlots
First we toured the backlots, where the studio has built enormous sets that mimic real streets: vintage New York City, Main Street USA, downtown Chicago complete with raised train tracks, even residential neighborhoods. We marveled at some of the building facades, which looked deceptively real from the front but are actually only about 10 feet wide.

As we drove down narrow streets between soundstages, we recognized several scenes from La La Land, including one where Mia and Sebastian walk hand-in-hand as they dreamed of what their future careers could be.

From there, our tour continued as Kat explained how sets like this can be changed dramatically to match the needs of a film crew, morphing from modern New York City for a Friends episode into 1930s James Cagney gangster style for a period film. Light posts are changed to gaslamps, and stores are changed from present-day shops and restaurants into old-time throwbacks. Banks become police stations, and movie theater facades become opera houses. Some of these buildings we could almost recognize from our film memories. Almost.

Pee Wee
There were a couple of spots on the tour, though, that a movie buff could really point out as easily recognizable. Say, for example, you were big fan of Pee Wee Herman and had seen every film and TV episode he has made in his career about eleven dozen times. (I may or may not be describing the author of this very article.)

Well, then you might recognize the lagoon he traversed with his bike by swinging on a jungle vine in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Or you may perhaps recall the famous Pet Shop Rescue from that same film, where Pee Wee sees a pet shop on fire and single-handedly rescues all the pets, even the snakes. Or, how about the scene when he wreaks havoc on a movie set and escapes onto a main street within the studio lot. Yeah, all that!

Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood - Set from Pee Wee's Big Adventure
Featured in the film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, this storefront was used in the now famous pet store scene.

Of course, my girls were more interested in discovering all the recognizable locations used in filming Pretty Little Liars, one of their current favorite TV shows. Clearly, there is something from everyone on this tour.

DC Universe: The Exhibit
For the comic book superfans in our group, a stop on the tour of great interest was the DC Universe Exhibit, where we disembarked the tram to walk inside the sound stage for full immersion. Some fan favorites like Batman and Superman are featured, along with official movie artifacts, including Clark Kent’s glasses, Lex Luthor’s kryptonite, many of the costumes worn by the actors in the Superman and Batman movies, and more.

Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood - Super heroes
Super Hero Heaven on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Hollywood.

Our girls were particularly drawn to the characters from Suicide Squad, and their favorite crazy woman, Harley Quinn. All the others are there too, complete with their weapons and other paraphernalia, including Deadshot, Joker, Enchantress, and Captain Boomerang. We geeked out for as long as we could, until Kat moved us back into the tram for more soundstage sightseeing.

The Ellen Show Soundstage
Universally, our family was highly impressed at getting to visit the Ellen show’s set. On break during our visit, the crew from Ellen had just finished getting the sets ready for the holidays, and we got to see them before the public did! We sat in the studio audience chairs and pretended we were there for one of her legendary giveaway episodes. I sneaked a quick seat in some bigwig directors’ chair, emblazoned with the Ellen logo — maybe it was actually Ellen’s? It was really cool to see the behind-the-scenes views and backstage surprises. One thing I will say, it all seems much larger on TV than it actually is in real life.

Fun fact: As you can imagine, it’s pretty hard to get tickets to be in the studio audience for a taping of Ellen. Although you can luck out and grab a random seat early on the morning of a taping, it’s more likely you will wait months – or years in some cases – for your moment of audience fame. Still worth it though!

It’s A Wrap!
After the tour, the tram dropped us at Stage 48: Script to Screen, which is an interactive self-guided exploration into how films are made. There are so many cool, education-as-fun displays in this building, we could have stayed for hours and hours.

Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood - Batmobile
Some of the Batmobiles on display were so impressive, and we’re told they are really driveable.

We learned how actors are cast in roles; how costumes are designed and made to specifications; how outlandish creatures are composed, rendered and brought to life; and how green screens work to project real people into imagined lands. They even let us hold a real Oscar statue and pose for photos, and our girls pretended they were Emma Stone accepting her award. How prophetic! It was the greatest way to end a delightful tour experience.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour does a fabulous job, and our family was super-impressed. We’re already planning what to see when we go back the next time. (Yes, there will be a next time!)

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This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Jon B. Are you interested in traveling to Los Angeles? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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