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First-Timer’s Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood California

Planning your very first trip to Universal Studios Hollywood in California? We just had our first experience in the park and I’m sharing all the details with you. Need to know where to buy your tickets, what rides are in the park, or tips to avoid long wait times? This is the guide for you.

universal studios hollywood main entrance
Welcome to Universal Studios Hollywood!
  • Tips for Buying Universal Studios Hollywood Tickets
  • What is the Universal Studios Express Pass?
  • Is the Universal Express Pass Worth It?
  • Rides at Universal Studios California
  • Tips for Avoiding Long Lines and Wait Times
  • Helpful Tips for Visiting Universal Studios LA
  • Getting to Universal Studios Hollywood

Thank you to Universal Studios Hollywood for providing tickets for our visit. My thoughts and opinions in this post are based on our experience.

Tips for Buying Universal Studios Hollywood Tickets

My biggest tip for buying your tickets for Universal Studios Hollywood is to buy in advance. You’ll save time and money if you buy online and avoid the ticket booths at the park. If you buy your tickets directly from the USH website, you’ll save money and get early entry into Wizarding World of Harry Potter which is a big perk (through 9/3/19). You can also get this early entry perk if you book a hotel package via the USH website.

When you’re purchasing your tickets online in advance, you’ll need to choose a specific visit date in order to get the best price. You can purchase flex tickets that aren’t for a specific date, but those are more money.

If you’re spending a week in Southern California, you might consider getting a combo ticket from CityPASS or Get Away Today that includes other prime attractions like Disneyland.

If you’re a total movie fanatic, you might want to splurge for the VIP Experience. Those tickets start at $349 – which is approximately $240 more than the standard admission price and $170 more than Universal Express tickets. You can get discounted VIP tickets from Get Away Today for $335.

The VIP Experience gets you a special backlot tour where you walk on the sets, see a sound stage, view some movie memorabilia; plus, you get Universal Express line access to the theme park rides, snacks and lunch, and valet parking.

univeral studios hollywood sign at exit
Great park for families!

What is the Universal Studios Express Pass?

You’ll need to consider whether you want to buy Universal Express tickets. Universal Express is a front of the line pass program that lets you enter the main attractions in a separate line that has little to no wait. It’s similar to the fast pass system at Disney parks.

The passes might also allow you special seating opportunities, like early entry at Kung Fu Panda. And can offer you special meeting opportunities like seeing animals up close after the Animal Actors show.

With the standard Universal Express, you can enter the express line at each attraction once. You can purchase your tickets with Universal Express when you buy, or add it on when you arrive (if they still have availability). Your park tickets will be scanned at each Express Pass entrance line.

In the parks, you can upgrade your pass to a Universal Express Unlimited pass which will let you enter the express line unlimited times. When I asked about upgrading our standard Universal Express to Unlimited in the parks, I was told it would be $40 more per ticket.

Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?

A few thoughts to consider when deciding whether Universal Express is worth purchasing:

  • Are you visiting during peak seasons? School holidays and weekends could mean more crowds and you might find the express lines a big time-saver.
  • Universal Express isn’t just for the thrill rides. Yes, it’s great for skipping the lines at thrill rides like Mummy and Harry Potter, but it also helps you skip the lines at attractions that are great for the whole family like the Hollywood Backlot Tour and Kung Fu Panda.
  • Universal Express tickets are limited and do vary in price based on season and availability. So, if you keep waiting to decide and you’re traveling during peak times you might see the prices increase or the tickets might sell out.
guide and tips for universal studios hollywood
Helpful tips for Universal Studios in California.

Rides at Universal Studios in Los Angeles

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

(must be 48″ (122 cm) tall)

One of the most thrilling rides at Universal Studios, the Forbidden Journey is a ride that uses a robotic arm to fly you through Hogwarts Castle as you watch exciting scenes starring your favorite HP characters take place on HD screens. And the ride queue is filled with fun rooms and decor that any HP fan will enjoy.

This is a ride that is tricky for those with motion sickness, but well worth a dramamine dose. You’ll also need to store any bags or loose items in a locker before riding.

Flight of the Hippogriff

(must be 39″ (99 cm) tall; children 39-48″ (99-122 cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion 14+ years old)

This is considered a roller coaster and one of the only outdoor coasters in Universal Studios Hollywood. However, it’s a fun ride with some fun dips and turns but is extremely short.

I always feel bad for people who wait an hour or more for this one and done ride. As it’s the only other attraction in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expect long wait times.

wizarding world of harry potter butterbeer at universal studios in hollywood california
All Harry Potter fans should stroll around the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

While this isn’t a ride per se, I am adding it here because it is an attraction on its own, especially for Harry Potter fans. You’ll find uniquely themed shopping and dining places in the land so you can grab some butterbeer or even some Every Flavor Jelly Beans.

True fans will also want to visit Ollivanders to buy a wand, or maybe they’ll have a wand choose them. Ollivanders in California is actually larger than the store in Orlando, allowing two groups at a time in the store for the wand choosing ceremony.

The World-Famous Studio Tour

This is the main experience you HAVE to do at Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s the one experience completely unique to the Hollywood theme park. You’ll get an up-close look at how some of the movie magic takes place, behind the scenes. A word of caution that very young kids might get scared at some of the action sequences.

You’ll also experience two thrill ride experiences that are stand-alone attractions at the Orlando park:

– Fast & Furious – Supercharged

– King Kong 360 3-D

TIP: Try to sit in the third tram car, and on one of the sides (not in the middle of a row). You’ll also want to avoid the very front row since you can’t see the screens with Jimmy Fallon and movie snippets well from that angle. If you’re a Jaws fan, sit on the right side of the tram (be the first to get in), but the left side (last to get in the tram) also has great action.

universal studios hollywood backlot tour action
The Studio Backlot Tour is a must-do!

DreamWorks Theatre with Kung Fu Panda

Cute 4D theater show based on the characters of Kung Fu Panda.

Jurassic World (opening Summer 2019)

I’m excited to hear more about this once it opens. I suspect it’ll be an updated version of the River Adventure they have in Orlando, but most likely with some great 3D action like King Kong.

The Walking Dead Attraction

We actually didn’t do this one, it wasn’t up our alley and probably isn’t the most family-friendly option in the park. :) But if you have teens that are into scary movies and haunted houses, they’d probably love this one.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

(must be 40″ (102 cm) tall; children 40-48″ (102-122 cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion 14+ years old)

This is a cute and fun 3D theater experience. You watch a storyline take place and get to feel like you become a minion and get into all sorts of tricky situations.

Transformers: The Ride 3D

(must be 40″ (102 cm) tall; children 40-48″ (102-122 cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion 14+ years old)

Another fun 3D ride – you’ll be whipped around the city as you try to help the Autobots save the Spark from the Decepticons.

The Simpsons Ride

(must be 40″ (102 cm) tall; children 40-48″ (102-122 cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion 14+ years old)

Yet another fun 3D simulator ride that puts you into one of the classic 80s tv shows as you crash around Krustyland.

Revenge of the Mummy

(must be 48″ (122 cm) tall)

This is one of my girls’ favorite rides at Universal Orlando, but be aware that it’s slightly shorter in California. This one is spooky and definitely not for kids who might scare easily.

Silly Swirly Fun Ride

We didn’t ride this one but it’s a lot like Dumbo at Disney. Fly around in a circle in specially themed buggies.

Universal Studios Hollywood Shows:

– Special Effects Show

– WaterWorld

– Universal’s Animal Actors

How to Avoid Lines and Long Wait Times

Arrive Early

You’ll have to clear security screening and the ticket turnstiles before you can even think about racing to your first ride. So, arrive well before the opening time to give yourself the best chance of maximizing your day. Crowds often build after opening, so getting an advance start will help you knock off popular rides while others are still in the security lines.

We arrived 30 minutes before the early entry opening time and made our way down the main street to line up with the crowds ready to go straight for The Forbidden Journey. After that we hopped into the short line for Flight of the Hippogriff and within 20-25 minutes we had both of Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides done, without even using our Universal Express pass which meant we were able to use that fast pass entry later in the day during the peak crowds.

Early Entry

Currently one of the best tips is to buy your tickets online from Universal Studios Hollywood which will let you enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter 30 minutes prior to the park opening times. This is currently listed as only lasting through September 3rd, 2019. If you’re visiting after then check to see if

Again, this means that you should be at the security checkpoint main entrance 30 minutes before that time so you can get through the check-in process and be in the parks when they open the rides. If the park opening time is 9 am and you have early entry, be at the main entrance at 8 am. Which means you should try to be at the parking garage around 745 am.

Universal Express

If you really want to avoid waiting in lines then you should purchase the Universal Express pass. As I explained above this is the best way to maximize your time in the parks and avoid long waits. Remember, if you buy a VIP pass it includes this fast pass entry.

Peak/Non-Peak Times

When you purchase your tickets online you’re able to see how the prices fluctuate based on the season/demand. If you look a the month you plan on visiting and see that your date is one of the more expensive prices, you’ll know that it’s probably considered a peak travel time. On the other hand, if you see that your date is one of the cheapest ticket options you’ll know that Universal isn’t expecting that day to be a peak visitor day. There are also a couple of websites that have calendars with predicted crowd levels.

Tips for Universal Studios in California


Be sure to download the Universal Studios Hollywood app. It’s helpful for seeing what rides you want to go on, what the current wait times are, and what time the shows occur. You can even create a custom itinerary for you day and set up wait time alerts. Plus, it will help you find the nearest restroom.


Universal Studios is very strict about not bringing bags and loose items on some of their more extreme rides – Forbidden Journey and Mummy. For these rides, you’ll need to place your items in a locker before getting in line for the ride. I recommend one person from your group go into the area to get a locker. Be sure to remember what finger you use to reserve the locker. They are provided free for up to 2 hours.

Day bag

You’ll likely want to pack a day bag for your visit to Universal. I recommend bringing one that is slim and can easily fit in those small lockers you’ll have to use for the Forbidden Journey and Mummy rides. My favorite day bags are shoulder sling bags that have a water bottle pocket. Be sure to pack some snacks, sunscreen, and perhaps a battery charging pack, too.

Lower Lot and Upper Lot

One thing to keep in mind when planning your day is that you’ll want to group your Lower Lot and Upper Lot attractions together. The journey between the upper and lower lot involves three large escalators that will take time. There is a great lookout over the backlot after the first escalator from the upper lot, so be sure to grab a photo.

I’ll also mention that on the day we went to the Lower Lot opened an hour after the Upper Lot. If you’re planning your day you’ll want to check the app for the opening times for the rides in the Lower Lot to see if they’re opening after the Upper Lot. This is where the Mummy is and where the Jurassic Park ride will be.

There are employees standing at the entrance to the Lower Lot preventing you from entering early in the morning, but they do allow guest to start down the escalators earlier than the listed ride opening times.

Getting to Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood is located in the north west area of Los Angeles, California. Some of the nearby towns are Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, and Burbank.

We actually stayed overnight in Sherman Oaks and drove into Universal Studios. This also helped since we were flying out of LAX the next day, so we were closer to the airport in Sherman Oaks rather than in Universal City itself.

There are hotels in walking distance that will save you from paying for parking at the park. Just realize that many of the hotels in that region also charge a parking fee.

If you stay further away, be prepared for traffic. Some of the main LA freeways run around Universal so you want to avoid peak traffic times when driving to a from the park. We visited on a Saturday which meant we avoided most of the traffic stress. Do realize that traffic is a reality almost all the time around LA.

If you don’t choose to stay at a hotel in walking distance, you can uber to the park or drive in. The address for the park is 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.

Parking is available at Universal and it was very easy to navigate to the parking garage. There are many different garage areas and they all feed into the City Walk entertainment district that is next to the park.

You can pay different rates to get closer parking, general parking is $25, preferred parking is $35, and front gate parking is $50. We had general parking and it was a bit of a walk-through City Walk, but we arrived early, and it wasn’t a problem. If you plan to only go at night parking is cheaper after 6 pm. Valet parking is also available.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you plan your visit to Universal Studios Hollywood! Please feel free to comment below if you have questions. And, use the buttons below to save this for later or share with a friend who is traveling with you!

Universal Studios Hollywood guide for rides and tips to avoid lines and where to buy your tickets.
Tips for visiting Universal Studios Hollywood

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Sunday 15th of March 2020

Thanks so much for these fantastic tips! We are planning a trip to Universal in late summer - saving this post.