As a bona fide Universal Studios Hollywood expert, I’m often asked: OK, I have one day at Universal. What should I do? Whether it’s native Angelenos or folks visiting SoCal, a trip to Universal is an incredible way to get the best of L.A. in one jam-packed day. So, instead of individually sending everyone I know a chaotic Notes App itinerary, I’m making my to-do list an Official Article.
Heads-up: Check the theme park hours as you plan — they vary by season. Sometimes the theme park closes at 6 pm, others at 10 pm, and it’s open even later during Halloween Horror Nights. Obviously, we recommend going on a day where it’s open late, to maximize your time at Universal.
After you snap an obligatory photo at the Universal Globe (and on the red carpet), beeline for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Yes, tears may well as you enter Hogsmeade — it really doesn’t get old for me.
But don’t fill up on Butterbeer just yet. Head all the way back to Hogwarts Castle where you enter to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Wind through the dark-yet-cozy hallways of Hogwarts, then hop on an enchanted bench to soar above the castle grounds and come face-to-face with Dementors, have a run-in with the Whomping Willow, and fly right into the middle of a Quidditch match.
Now that you’ve had a daring adventure with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, head to the Three Broomsticks. The Traditional English Breakfast here is my favorite first meal of the day at Universal. It comes complete with eggs, sausage, baked beans, baked tomato, bacon, ham, potatoes, a butter croissant and black pudding, plus coffee or juice, you’ll feel geared up to meet a Hippogriff on Flight of the Hippogriff. Afterwards, bop around Hogsmeade for a bit. Get a wand at Ollivanders, shop for your Hogwarts house robe at Gladrags Wizardwear, and snag a Chocolate Frog at Honeydukes.
Oh, and duh: don’t forget to get a Butterbeer! I typically go for the standard, cold version of the beverage, but it also comes frozen and hot.
Up next: the world-famous Studio Tour. You can take the direct path from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or you can wind through Springfield, U.S.A to the tour entrance. We’ll be back to experience The Simpsons Ride later. But while you’re here, stop at Lard Lad Donuts and grab one of Homer’s favorites: The Big Pink. These jumbo donuts are topped with classic frosting and sprinkles.
PRO TIP: While approaching the Studio Tour entrance, you’ll see a chalkboard listing all the TV shows currently shooting on the Universal lot. Take a peek and see if any of your faves are on set that day.
Now it’s time for the Studio Tour. To be totally honest, this one-of-a-kind tram excursion is what makes Universal Studios Hollywood so special. I mean, what other theme park lets you tour legit, working sound stages and actual movie sets? Check out the sets of “Psycho,” “War of the Worlds” and “Nope;” take in mind-blowing effects inspired by the “Fast & Furious” franchise and “King Kong;” and so much more on this tour. You’ll really feel like you’re living in a piece of Hollywood history.
PRO TIP: PSST — sit on the right side of the tram in a middle car. You’ll get the best view of the infamous great white shark from “Jaws” when he makes an appearance.
All right, it’s Lower Lottime. Cruise down the escalators near Springfield, U.S.A. (and stop to get your next holiday card photo with the sweeping city views on the way) and you’ll find a whole new area of the park awaiting you. First up: Lunch. Head to the Jurassic Café for Costa Rican-inspired fare. Personally, I’m a fan of the Mojo Pork, and the Beef Empanadas really hit the spot, too. Or, if you’re looking for an on-the-go meal, grab a Turkey Leg.
But we’re just getting started with the dino fun. Hop in line for Jurassic World – The Ride. This might be my favorite ride in the park (but don’t tell the others.) You’ll wind down a lush, tropical river and into Predator Cove, where you’ll come face-to-face with Indominus rex, Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus, Velociraptor and so many more dinos, before plunging down the massive drop at the ride’s finale.
PRO TIP: Download the official Universal Studios Hollywood app to check out up-to-date wait times for each ride. And, if you’re OK not riding with your group, I highly recommend hitting the Single Rider Line for a shorter wait time.
After all that excitement, you’ve gotta keep your nerves in check. That’s where Isla Nu-Bar comes in handy. If you’re the type who’s inclined toward a midday alcoholic bevy, this is a necessary stop. The island-theme bar serves up rum drinks, many in tiki-inspired mugs, that will have you feeling like you’re floating in the tropics.
Next up, head over to the Raptor Encounter to meet Blue the Velociraptor. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a baby Raptor, too.
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: SUPER NINTENDO WORLD. The newest addition to Universal Studios Hollywood is an absolute must. Once you enter through Peach’s Castle, you’ll immediately feel like you’re inside the world of Super Mario with Koopa Troopas, spinning shells, Goombas, and Piranha Plants all around. Plus, your favorite characters — Princess Peach, Toad, Luigi, and Mario himself — are available for photo ops. (You’ll want to take a lot of photos here. Make your followers jealous.)
First things first: purchase a Power-Up Band to make your experience even more interactive. Inside the land, you can buy them at the 1-UP Factory or at the kiosk next to the Piranha Plant Nap Mishapkey challenge. Link this gadget up to your Universal app. With it, you can punch ? Blocks for digital coins, have a showdown with Bowser Jr., and so much more. Next, hop in line for Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. I think we can all agree that stepping into the world of Mario Kart is a dream come true. Throw on a pair of special goggles, tap your Power-Up Band to the steering wheel (if you bought one), and let the games begin! This attraction is especially fun because there are several different outcomes you can experience – it’s a totally different ride each time. So go ahead and get in line again once it’s over, we won’t judge.
I know you just ate lunch, but I’m never too full for the Toadstool Cafe. Here, Chef Toad whips up delicious Mushroom Kingdom-inspired eats, like Super Mushroom Soup, Piranha Plant Caprese, the Mario and Luigi Burgers, ? Block Tiramisu, and a Princess Peach Cupcake. If you’re really up for it, try the Bowser’s Fireball Challenge: a 1 lb spicy meatball, topped with mozzarella and mushroom sauce.
Oh, and definitely check out the SUPER NINTENDO WORLD merch at the 1-UP Factory before you go. From Yoshi plushes to big red Mario hats to Mario Kart T-shirts, this land’s swag is seriously on point.
PRO TIP: Since SUPER NINTENDO WORLD is new, it’s also quite popular. You might have to make a Virtual Line reservation to get in — do so on the official Universal Studios Hollywood app first thing.
WHEW, that was a blast. Now head back up to the Upper Lot and over to Super Silly Fun Land. If you’re anything like me, you have grown to be utterly endeared to the Minions. This park zone is Minion central. First, pop in line for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a ride that takes you through Minion training headed by none other than Gru himself. From there, take a spin through Super Silly Stuff — you’ll be truly impressed by the sheer magnitude of Minion merch available for purchase. Don’t forget to strike a pose with a real-life Minion on the way out!
And don’t miss Minion Cafe for a dessert inspired by everybody’s favorite banana-colored mischief makers. Mid-afternoon dessert? Sure. You’re at Universal, meaning you’re on vacation (even if you’re an L.A. local), meaning multiple desserts multiple times a day.
Depending on the timing, you should be able to squeeze in a viewing of WaterWorld. This is totally unlike anything else at Universal Studios Hollywood, and honestly, anywhere else. This truly ridiculous, live spectacle spans across land, sea and air, and includes jet ski stunts, gigantic fireballs, explosions, and more mind-blowing special effects. This is where the magic of the movies collides with real life in the most jaw-dropping way possible. It’s no wonder it’s Universal’s top rated show.
PRO TIP: Check out the WaterWorld schedule on the official Universal Studios Hollywood app, and try to get there 15 minutes before showtime to secure the best seats. Oh, and the first few rows (painted green) are the “splash zone” — whether that’s a warning or an incentive is up to you.
I promised you’d make it back to Springfield, U.S.A., the home of The Simpsons. Now’s the time! The best thing about eating in Springfield is that there’s something for whatever you’re in the mood for. Want a burger? Krusty Burger has you covered. Craving Mexican food? Try Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, just adjacent to the Duff Brewery Beer Garden. There’s also Suds McDuff’s Hot Dogs,Luigi’s Pizza,or Cletus’ Chicken Shack.If you’re looking to cool off, head to Moe’s Tavern for a classic Duff Beer, or a delightful, non-alcoholic Flaming Moe. Everything is tasty, so grab your meal of choice.
Today might be winding down, but it’s not over yet! In my perfect day, you end up right where you started: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Tuck into a booth for a quick beverage at Hog’s Head before you wander back up to the castle for the ultimate grand finale: The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. (Or, depending on the season, the show might be Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle.) Catch the school lit up in the dazzling colors of the four Hogwarts houses, set to epic music that’ll give you all the feels.
But wait — WAIT, I say! The day ain’t over yet. Because the second you step out of Universal, you find yourself at CityWalk, which is teeming with the best things to eat, drink and do in L.A. If you’re totally exhausted from the jam-packed day at the park, might I introduce you to the cushy, reclining chairs at Universal Cinema? Catch the latest blockbuster at this 18-theater venue, which even includes IMAX.
And that’s my perfect day at Universal Studios Hollywood. Obviously, everyone’s perfect day looks a bit different — what does yours look like? Let us know in the comments.