Universal Studios Hollywood with kids and tweens

It’s been years since we’ve ventured any further north than Anaheim in search of theme parks during our annual vacation to Southern California, so in late July, we braved the commute up I-5 from Orange County to Los Angeles to revisit Universal Studios Hollywood.


Knowing Universal is a great pick for older kids, tweens, and teens, I opted to spend the day there with Nate (12) and Calvin (10) using Go Los Angeles tickets from Smart Destinations. A 3-day card gives you a day at Universal Studios, which you can upgrade to a Front of the Line pass should you desire.

What to do: Universal Studios Hollywood is different than other area theme parks in that its focus is more heavily on shows and tours than on ride-type attractions. Because visitors need a basic grasp on the movie-making industry and at least a small background on popular films in order to appreciate these shows and tours, older kids and teens enjoy the park more than young children and toddlers. Our kids (ages 10-12) loved the Studio Tour, which they deemed worth the 45 minute wait (during the peak of summer) despite not being familiar with all the TV series and films featured. The King-Kong 3D attraction in the middle of the hour-long tour added action, as did the special effects on several lots and sound stages. Adults will get a kick out of driving through working sets (we saw the sets of Parenthood and Desperate Housewives on our tour).


Another highlight was the WaterWorld stunt show, shown hourly throughout the day. No need to have seen the Kevin Costner film beforehand; the show demonstrates various stunts within an acted script that’s easy to follow, and tons of fun to watch. After learning how stunt doubles do their job, head to the back of the Upper Lot to the Special Effects show, to learn about CGI, green screens, and other digital effects. Again, these attractions are best for kids old enough to understand the basics of how a movie is made (or at least old enough to have the attention span to learn).

Nate loved both Revenge of the Mummy the Ride and Jurassic Park the Ride, though Calvin opted out of the former, wary of things ‘jumping’ out at him (and they do!). Both kids liked The The Simpsons the Ride, though all three would have been too scary for them just a few years ago!

Tip: The park is comprised of Upper and Lower Lots. The entrance is located on the Upper, which means it fills up fastest, but the Lower opens half an hour after the Upper on most days, forcing visitors to stay put. If you plan to take the Studio Tour, do this first (located toward the back of the Upper Lot), because it only gets busier later in the day. Once you’re done with the hour tour, the Lower Lot will be open, but still relatively uncrowded, due to Jurassic Park being a water ride. Later in the day, the wait will be long, but any time before lunch, it typically remains under 15 minutes.

If you do bring young children: There are sections just for them, though they are not abundant. Young kids will like the Nickolodeon water play area and the Curious George playground and ‘jungle’ (foam ball play area). None of these attractions require waiting in line, but do get crowded. Keep in mind that the few ride-type attractions in the park do have height requirement. If you have fearful or sensitive young kids (or kids of any age), beware the scary content in all Universal shows and attractions (including the Studio Tour): all play up the studio’s various monster and horror creations, such as King Kong, Jurassic dinosaurs, mummies, Frankenstein, and the like. Even Chucky and Norman Bates mother from Psycho make more appearances in the park than my kids would like.

Tip: To beat summer crowds, get to Universal (or any theme park) early. Arriving before ‘rope drop’ ensures staying ahead of the masses; we rode The Mummy and Jurassic Park two times each without a line between 9:30-10 am.


Admission: Admission varies based on height instead of age. Current prices can be found on the official site.

Hours Current park hours.

Dining: Multiple casual dining and counter service restaurants are located within the park, but to escape long waits and crowded table seating areas, we recommend leaving the park and dining in City Walk (directly adjacent). Just be sure to get your hands stamped, and remember to keep your ticket stubs to get back into the park.

Parking: General parking is $15 per car ($20 for preferred parking). We parked in the Jurassic garage at the end of City Walk, which was quite uncrowded).

Directions: From I-5, take Highway 101 Hollywood. Exit on Universal Studios Blvd.