Universal Studios Hollywood Guide

In 1915, Univeral Studios became the first Hollywood motion picture studio to sell tours of their backlot, and give an eager public a glimpse into how movies were made. Though this practice was discontinued 15 years later, it came back with a vengance in 1964, when Universal introduced the now famous Backlot Tram Tour. It was a hit.

Universal Studios entrance sign
Universal Studios Entrance credit: Ahmad Tarek some rights reserved

After a time, special effects and live shows were added until Universal gradually morphed into a full-fledged theme park spreading through the Hollywood Hills. But they never stopped making movies here. Unlike other movie-themed parks, including Universal Studios Orlando, it remains a large working studio where movie and television productions are churned out on a day-to-day basis.

Despite its growth, Universal remains a relatively small park and can get crowded in a hurry. Therefore you should avoid visiting during peak times - that is, the summer months, weekends, or any other time kids are out of school. Winter is generally the best time to visit Universal Studios to avoid crowds, but keep in mind that if it rains, certain attractions will be cancelled. This Universal Studios Hollywood guide is designed to help you get the most bang for your buck:

Tips for Visiting Universal Studios

Attractions

Transformers: The Ride 3-D
This might just be the best 3-D simulation ride in existence right now. Based on the popular movie franchise, this is a mind-blowing adventure that drops you in the middle of a war zone. Even if you didn't care about the movies (I didn't), you have to give this ride a try.
Jurassic Park: The Ride
This flume ride is one of the best. Great effects, animatronic dinosaurs, cool scenery, and a nice drop. You will get wet!
Revenge of the Mummy
Based on the movies, this fast and furious ride features some awesome special effects, and a dark and scary atmosphere. A good ride, but a bit short and in need of some pacing.
Special Effects Stage
Live show that demonstrates a variety of movie special effects techniques and technology. Definitely worth seeing once, but there's not a lot of repeatability here.
Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular
Don't let the title put you off. Way better than the movie and not nearly as long, this is a great live action show with the emphasis on action. Stunts, pyrotechnics, and jet skis abound! The "wet seats" are clearly marked, so avoid them if you want to stay dry.
Backlot Tram Tour
This is kind of a must. The tram tour remains at the heart of the Universal Studios experience. Always changing, your level of enjoyment will often depend on the what's going on in the park at the time... and if you get a good tour guide. But in any case, there's an earthquake, King Kong, Jaws, and a Mummy, so how can you go wrong?
Shrek 4-D
If you liked the movie, it's pretty much a sure bet you'll like this too. If you didn't like the movie... move along - nothing to see here.
The Simpsons Ride
Go for it you like the Simpsons even a little. Avoid it if you're prone to motion sickness. This hilarous ride takes place in the fictitious theme park, Krustyland built by Krusty the Clown, featuring all of your favorite characters voiced by the original actors.

Best Bets

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Studios gate at Halloween
Halloween Horror Nights credit: WestSFValley some rights reserved

If you manage to find yourself in the Los Angeles area in late September or October, then there's an added bonus waiting for you at Universal Studios if you're a horror fan. The park retains its normal operations during the day, but turns into a Halloween extravaganza at night. This separate, ticketed event features haunted houses, "scare zones" populated by "scarectors" (scare actors) in studio-grade halloween make-up, and live shows; many of which feature the studio's famous horror characters.

2012's Halloween featured horror mazes based on themes like the Walking Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silent Hill, and La Llorona.There was even a Hell-themed Alice Cooper maze. You can also experience Jurassic Park... in the Dark, and the Backlot Tram becomes the Terror Tram. If you want to attend this year's event, make sure you buy your tickets early - they sell out fast.

Universal CityWalk Hollywood

Connecting Universal Studios to the Universal Amphitheater, is Universal CityWalk, a three-block pedestrian link featuring dining (with over 20 restaurants and fastfood places), shopping, movie theatres, and other fun things to do. This area offers quite a bit of atmosphere with its decorated streets, neon signs, and live performers. It also boasts a few clubs and is quite the night spot.