Why the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is more than a tourist trap

I could never have known when I bought my ticket for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour booked, but the day I visited was the last day of shooting for ‘The Ellen Show’. The show, which ended 19 years this week, culminated in an episode starring Jennifer Aniston, Billie Eilish and Pink. I didn’t know it then, but I was actually one wall away from one of the most famous television stars of all time, and singers who have embodied the spirit of their generations.

For me, that’s what makes going to a Hollywood studio so exciting, and what keeps me going back to places like Universal Hollywood over and over again. They are the creative center of the entertainment that I have used all my life, and the tours are not only different every day, but minute by minute. You never know who you’re going to see, and you never know what’s going to happen when you get there.

A goodbye to Ellen on the last recording day of her show.

Julie Tremaine

Warner Bros. has been making movies since 1923, and there’s more film history than I could take in one story, or it could be shot in one studio tour, which is part of what I love about the experience. The tour begins with a short film highlighting the famous Warner Bros. films ‘Batman’, ‘Goodfellas’, ‘The Departed’ and ‘Goonies’. Then you board a tram that can accommodate about 12 people. First, you’ll visit the front lot, where all the production buildings and sound stages are, then continue to the back lot to see outdoor sets such as the lagoon that Pee-Wee Herman flies over in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, and the jungle area with a building that belonged to Merlotte in ‘True Blood’.

You will also see the way of the famous scene in “Jurassic Park” where Dr. Ian Malcolm was attacked by the T-Rex and was driven off on the back of a jeep. You know the scene: the one where he just says, ‘Must. To go. Faster.” while that same dinosaur chases the car.

“It’s a very long way, isn’t it?” my guide asked as she described the scene. “Well, it isn’t. It was this road,” gesturing to the 150 yards of sand we were driving on. Although most of that movie was filmed on Kauai, a hurricane destroyed the sets during production and they had to move to Oahu for some shooting and then back to Los Angeles for the rest.

The way of the "Jurassic Park" scene where Dr.  Malcolm drives away from the T-Rex.

The road from the “Jurassic Park” scene where Dr. Malcolm drives away from the T-Rex.

Julie Tremaine

“Steven Spielberg filmed that little jeep 200 times and assembled it all together,” she said. Imagine how many times and in how many different ways Jeff Goldblum had to deliver those three words while pretending to be terrified of a CGI dinosaur that wasn’t actually there. And they say actors have it easy.

After the jungle you come to the small town of “Midwest”, a place where I die a little bit of happiness with each visit. In the middle of that small town is a grassy, ​​tree-filled town square. To one side of the square is a row of shops which could be anything from a small supermarket to a bookstore to say a restaurant with really good coffee. On the other side a tree lined street with housing that could work in any time period. In the middle of the square: a white gazebo.

If you were to watch “Gilmore Girls” you would instantly recognize the set as Stars Hollow, the small Connecticut town from the show. (I’ve watched that series so many times that I once did an experiment where I ate like the Gilmores for a week and wrote about it. My guts still haven’t forgiven me.)

's Stars Hollow gazebo "Gilmore Girls."

The Stars Hollow Pavilion from “Gilmore Girls.”

Julie Tremaine

There are many different tours you can take, such as the standard tour, a classics tour, a studio tour plus and a huge six-hour deluxe tour. The standard and classics are a one-hour guided tour, then a self-guided serving that takes as little or as much time as you want, but can last from one to three hours.


Although the route of the tour remains largely the same, the information the guide gives you varies widely. During the regular tour, the guide generally focuses on newer projects. The last time I did, earlier this year, my guide talked a lot about “Young Sheldon”, currently in production on the lot, and about projects filmed there in recent years, such as the Netflix show “You” and movies like “Oceans 13.” She also took us to a small alleyway that was the setting for Prince’s “Purple Rain” album cover and the inverted kiss scene between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in “Spider-Man”.

Classic Movie Costumes from "My fair lady."

Classic movie costumes from ‘My Fair Lady’.

Julie Tremaine

During the classic tour, you’ll visit the same areas, but the stories focus on old Hollywood. The same backlot set that was Stars Hollow was also Rosewood from “Pretty Little Liars”, as well as Jefferson County, Virginia, in “The Waltons” and the town square from “The Music Man” where 76 trombones paraded through.

The home of Lorelai and Rory from “Gilmore Girls”, I learned on the classic tour, was also the home of Boss Hog from “Dukes of Hazzard”, as well as the home of James Dean’s character in “East of Eden”.

“Unfortunately, they didn’t always write down what these houses were for,” said my guide during the classic tour. “So often you have to watch the movies to find out. But the point is, they change it. These are so easy to change. You know, nothing is built permanently. Everything is built to be temporary.”

Jack Warner's phone book, with Walt Disney's number on the display.

Jack Warner’s phone book, with Walt Disney’s number on the display.

Julie Tremaine

But the point is, even if it looks different, a lot stays the same. There are still original buildings in the backyard of “Casablanca”. The same small church where Alison Delaurentis’ funeral was held on “Pretty Little Liars,” also hosted Lane and Todd’s wedding in “Gilmore Girls,” and starred in “The Shootist,” John Wayne’s last film role, in which he played a man played with terminal cancer (while fighting his own battle with stomach cancer).

On our way to that back yard, we passed through “the landing pad,” so named because Frank Sinatra’s private helicopter would land there if he commuted from his home in Palm Springs to work the grounds.

The final stop on all Warner Bros. tours is a show building featuring actual Batmobiles and costumes worn by Christopher Reeve as Superman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and more, including many large-scale “Suicide Squad” costumes. The other half of the building puts you in the world of ‘the boy who lived’, where the magic of the ‘Harry Potter’ movie comes to life. You can visit Hogwarts: mix a cauldron of ingredients in Potions Class, harvest screaming mandrakes in Herbology Class, even get sorted by the Sorting Hat – but I know it’s not the real one. It sorted me into Gryffindor when, as I’ll tell you, even if you don’t ask, I’m a Ravenclaw.

The "Harry Potter" part of the tour includes potions and sorting writers (like me) in hogwarts houses.

The “Harry Potter” portion of the tour includes drinks and sorting of writers (like me) in Hogwarts houses.

Julie Tremaine

See a celebrity while in the studio? I’d like to tell you that I ran into Jennifer Aniston that day, and then joined the “Friends” aissance global rewatch party that’s been going on for a few years now. Not me. But I was in a Central Perk set pretending to drink a comically oversized latte, right there on the same kind of couch where Rachel Green plopped down in her wedding dress and launched a decade of sitcom history.

Perhaps such a tour is not for everyone, but it is for me. I like the energy of a movie set. I enjoy being immersed in the environment that has created the formative entertainment of my life, shaped my childhood and interests, and laid some of the foundations for the person I am today. I grew up visiting historic battlefields and national parks, and I know the history that made our country. Every time I visit one of these studios, I learn more about the history of pop culture that made me.

Studio tours start at $69 and reservations are strongly encouraged. Book them here.

The "New York" street on the Warner Bros. lot.  The gray facade was the orphanage in the 1982 version of "annie."

The street “New York” on the plot of Warner Bros. The gray facade was the orphanage in the 1982 version of ‘Annie’.

Julie Tremaine

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