Universal Studios Trip and Midweek Concert in Hollywood
Never have I ever...gone to a concert on a weekend. Seriously!
The best concerts always seem to fall on a random weekday, never conveniently on the weekend. I guess musicians value their Saturdays too. Instead of fighting it, we embraced the opportunity to see Durand Jones and the Indications on a Tuesday last fall, which meant a spontaneous five hour drive down the California coast to Los Angeles. Road trip!
Now, I am not an enthusiastic road-tripper. I'd rather sit in an airport lobby than in a car. If the scenery is beautiful, then great. But if the drive is boring, you better at least have good snacks.
To make the loooong trip worthwhile, we packed our two-day LA itinerary from top to bottom:
- A full day at Universal Studios Hollywood and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Yellow curry and glass noodles from Palms Thai Restaurant
- Concert at Hollywood Palladium on Sunset Boulevard
- Cajun chicken and Nutella waffles from & Waffles
- Boba tea (of course) from Tiger Sugar
- And savory grilled meats from Quarters Korean BBQ in Koreatown
First stop, Universal Studios!
I didn't grow up watching The Simpsons, but even I know about Homer's iconic pink sprinkle donut from Lard Lad Donuts. We couldn't pass it up!
The Universal Studios twist: it's GIGANTIC!
In case you're wondering, the icing tasted like vanilla. Yummy.
The Lard Lad Donut Shop is one of many fine eateries within Springfield, where the Simpsons live. We walked through the larger-than-life cartoon cities of Simpsons Plaza and Krustyland on our way to the studio tour buses that drove us around the Universal backlot buildings.
If you get a chance, the backlot tour is a lot of fun and full of jump scare surprises, like the robotic shark from Jaws and a dark tunnel where King Kong fights a T-Rex in 3D.
I expected a low-key tour where we see a few buildings from popular movies and TV shows, so imagine my surprise when the tour guide shouted things like, "Oh no, the road is flooding, hang on!" and "Watch out, those velociraptors are headed our way!"
The full 60 minute tour was as much a theme park ride as any other attraction, taking us behind the scenes of both active and retired film sets, like The Good Place and War of the Worlds, and gave us peeks at historic movie memorabilia, including a long row of recognizable vehicles from The Flintstones, Back to the Future, and Magnum, P.I.
Everything around the park paid tribute to the Universal Studios legacy in film, like the high-relief sculptures on this box office tower and the vintage-looking mural below.
Intricate building façades around the park took us around the world, from the New York streets where apartment-dwellers yelled at each other from their balconies, to the colorful cobblestones of Mexico for a dia de los muertos fiesta.
And, of course, because we visited in autumn, we saw plenty of Halloween decorations and well-dressed vampires walking around, taking spooky photos with park-goers.
Here's a tip that I didn't understand until visiting Universal Studios in person: head straight to the lower lot as soon as you get there.
The park's main level is built on a hilltop. In fact, if you pay attention while entering the campus, you'll remember driving up a steep hill to access the parking lot. Most of the rides and restaurants are on this top level, like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the WaterWorld live-action show (pictured above), and the CityWalk shopping center.
To access the lower lot, where you'll find the Jurassic World water ride, the Transformers 3D ride, and the Revenge of the Mummy ride, be prepared to spend 15 MINUTES riding escalators down an actual mountain. Even longer if you take the stairs.
Not to be dramatic (but why not, it's a movie studio?), it's a little shocking how long it takes to get from top to bottom and back, so plan your trip accordingly.
Once we finally reached the lower lot, we cooled off on the very scary, very wet Jurassic World ride, met a real-live velociraptor, and sipped on pina coladas in novelty tiki glasses from the Isla Nu-Bar. Honestly, one of the best (and least boozy) pina coladas I've ever had. Fruity sugar, straight to the bloodstream.
If you look closely, you may recognize some of these fantasy destinations from DreamWorks movies, like the land of Far Far Away where Shrek's royal in-laws live, the Valley of Peace from Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar, where the lemurs like to move it, move it.
Another vignette paying homage to the movie industry. They sure love to toot their own horns around here. Par for the course in la-la land.
Ok ya'll, onward to the concert!
Durand Jones and the Indications put on a fantastic show at the Hollywood Palladium, playing through dozens of their contemporary R&B and soul music line up, late into the night.
We couldn't believe after counting up all the normal band members and guest musicians, there were almost 20 people on the stage! Every extra horn and violin and keyboardist made the mix more robust and vibrant.
Before leaving town, we had lunch at Quarters Korean BBQ in the heart of Koreatown. Have you ever eaten at an authentic Korean BBQ restaurant, surrounded by bowls of banchan (side dishes and condiments), watching raw meat cook over an open flame, inches away from your face? It's a real treat.
Our go-to meats are marinated pork belly and beef bulgogi. The servers supply the tongs for turning the food, and big scissors for cutting it into bite-sized pieces.
We finally said goodbye to Hollywood after stopping for boba lattes from Sugar Tiger. Farewell LA, thanks for the nonstop fun in our little midweek getaway!
Want to keep the magic going? Join us over at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for an enchanted walk through Hogsmeade, Harry's favorite weekend hotspot: