Not-To-Miss Experiences At Universal Studios Hollywood

It’s possible to fit in your bucket list ride experiences and foodie treats in a single day at Universal Studios Hollywood, but to do so, you need to be strategic at the theme park. Read on for tips on the not-to-miss things to do at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Disclosure: I received complimentary passes to Universal Studios Hollywood in order to write about our experiences. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Want to plan the best trip to Universal Studios Hollywood for your family vacation? Here's a list of the most memorable things for my family - including the wettest attraction, our favorite ride, and the best food to split. #UniversalStudiosHollywood #Partner #California #USA #LA #losangeles #familytravel #themepark

The one ride you must go on at Universal

By far, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was a ride of a lifetime. The ride had incredible effects, smooth but fast “flying” and memorable experiences being immersed in the world of Harry Potter was well worth admission.

Kim in front of Hogwarts at Universal Studios Hollywood in California

You’ll want to make this ride your first ride of the day. Find it at the far end of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Top interactive experience

My son’s favorite thing to do (repeatedly, and returning to try some more times) were the spells at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While the interactive parts are free, you can only do them with a special wand purchased at Ollivanders.

That special wand will cost more than the other wands. And, if you want to have the wand of a specific character, it will cost a bit more. For our two kids’ wands, we paid nearly $100.

Casting a spell at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California

Worth it? Yes, in our case. My kids made objects float, doors rattle and fire appear out of chimneys. Those working around Hogsmeade were on hand to coach them in wand waving technique.

It made the experience of Hogsmeade so much more immersive and exciting for my kids.

Hidden gems at Universal Studios Hollywood

You’ll find a lot of hidden gems throughout Universal Studios Hollywood, and a lot of them will be encountered in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Venture into shops to find “The Book of Monsters” (just try to stop your kids from waking it).

Over in the “Simpsons” area, you might hear or even see the nuclear power plant go into meltdown mode or hear the sirens caused by a prison break by a particularly villainous man.

Best character encounters

OK, OK this one can be argued. For me, the best character encounter was at the Raptor Encounter, where we saw an incredibly realistic young raptor interact with guests. She tried to eat the turkey leg one woman was holding.

And just a few steps away, a triceratops lumbered around. We were told how to pet her correctly (back of hand, gently stroking downward). The keepers really made her seem like a lifelike, fragile giant creature.

Kim and the triceratops at Universal Studios Hollywood

Second runner-up was Decepticon, the giant villain from Transformers. He interacted with each guest in line to get pictures with him, poking fun at one family’s affinity for denim, for instance.

He talked to my daughter about her T-shirt that read “Still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.” He asked her to cast a spell, which she was a little too shy to do, so he told her she needed to keep learning. It was all pretty entertaining.

Up-close encounter with a Transformer at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood had A LOT of character encounters with very short lines for most. It was more up to you to get creative with the characters for the photos.

I had the most fun with “Simpsons” characters. My kids and I devised an evil plot with Sideshow Bob and I had a good laugh with Krusty.

Most amazing show at Universal

I’ll try not to use too much hyperbole in describing this, but the Christmas show projected on Hogwarts at The Wizard World of Harry Potter was the best light show I’ve ever seen.

My husband and I spent quite some time trying to imagine how big the projectors had to be to get create the illusion of dancing ghosts, twinkling Christmas tree lights, and fireworks on the castle walls.  

A light show projected onto the castle at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

Truly a spectacular sight, so don’t miss it.

If you ask my daughter, though, the best show was the Animal Actors Show. I mean, the trained dogs were adorable, but can’t compete with wizardry.

We’ll agree to disagree on this one.

Best 3-D experience

This category had some tough competition. Universal Studios Hollywood is known for extravagant special effects and when it comes to rides, several had incredible 3-D experiences.

Most impressive to me was found on the one-hour Studio Tour, especially when the tram stopped at “Skull Island.” It’s hard to grasp what technical skill went into creating this intense experience that surrounded all sides of the tram. 

Food experiences you’ll want to try

Being a family of “Simpsons” fans, we couldn’t resist getting a giant pink donut from Lard Boy Donuts.

Kim and a giant pink frosted donut at Universal Studios Hollywood

It was surprisingly good and a substantial treat even when split among four greedy sugar fiends.

Drinks at Universal Studios Hollywood

If you’re a Harry Potter fan and you’ve never had butterbeer, head straight to The Wizatding World of Harry Potter and order a round.

I’m actually not a big fan of the drink, so I skipped it on our visit. I am, however, a fan of Tiki drinks, so I splurged on a $20 fruity concoction at Isla-Nu Bar. It came in a souvenir cup and was topped with a fresh orchid.

Tiki drink at Universal Studious Hollywood

Wettest experience at Universal

If we’re talking rides, you’ll likely get the wettest riding Jurassic Park: The Ride. No matter where you sit, you can’t escape that fact.

And my son seemed to be a magnet for splashes no matter which ride we were on. World Famous Studio Tour? He got wet. DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda? He got wet.

Still, none of those compare to the wettest experience at the park. That honor goes to Super Silly Fun Land, in the “Despicable Me” themed area. And more specifically, it’s the Wet Zone I’m talking about, which has 80 water play features.

Wet Zone at Super Silly Fun Land at Universal Studios Hollywood on a winter day.

We visited on a cooler January afternoon, so no kids were playing in the water, but I can just imagine how soaked they’d all be on a summer afternoon. There was a huge bucket of water getting dumped out occasionally, as well as several jet streams of water.

Tip: If you’re going with young children, bring a change of clothes!

What's the wettest attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood? What's the best splurge? Here's a list of the most not-to-miss experiences at the California theme park! Use this list to plan your must-do things at Universal Studios Hollywood. #UniversalStudiosHollywood #Partner #California #USA #USATravel #familytravel

Read more about Universal Studios Hollywood

Planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood? Check out my Universal Studios Dining Guide!

Want to try visiting Universal Studios Hollywood AND Disneyland in just two days? There’s a plan for that. Here are my 12 tips for making the most of 48 hours at two of the world’s best theme parks.

My Best Tips For Visiting Disneyland & Universal In 48 Hours

It sounded like a good idea: Surprise the kids with an extended layover in Los Angeles and take them to Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood! Two days and two parks? It can be done….if you plan well. Here are my tips for going to both parks when you’re in LA, and not only surviving it but enjoying it.

I didn’t know what I was doing when I started planning the trip. I didn’t know about CheapOair’s new Things To Do series, for one thing. If I had, I would’ve had a better grasp on things to do in LA, which had tips that would’ve made this trip more affordable.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by CheapOair. I partnered with Universal Studios Hollywood to write a series of posts. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Going to LA with kids and only have two days? In order to visit Disneyland AND Universal Studios Hollywood, you need a good strategy. Here are 10+ tips for going to both parks in two days. #familytravel #disneyland #disney #UniversalStudiosHollywood #California #USA

Getting around LA

Coming from the Midwest, LA is huge and the traffic is overwhelming. It seemed to me that we picked two parks that couldn’t be further from each other. Would it have been easier to choose other things to do over those two days?

Probably. Who knows?

But, that’s water under the bridge. Learn from me – make sure your planning is thorough.

Tip 1: You’ll need a car in LA. There’s no way around it, especially with only two days to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Plan your routes and departure times before your vacation starts because you’re going to have to get up earlier than you thought. The theme parks are only 35 miles apart…but those are 35 California miles.

Where to stay when going to Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood

The age old question. Where do you stay in LA? As I mentioned, the two theme parks are not near each other.

Tip 2: Where you stay may boil down to where you have loyalty points. If you aren’t loyal to a particular chain, here are some things to consider:

  • -Which park will you spend more time? Disneyland had more rides we knew our kids would want to do, so we knew our day would be longer at that park, factoring in waiting in lines.
  • -Are your kids young enough to need a nap during one of the afternoons? We knew ours would be exhausted midday due to an overnight flight, so we wanted the option to leave for a nap.
  • -What is your budget? Sky’s the limit with your budget? Then, choose a hotel that gets you early admission into Disneyland or Universal Studios Hollywood.

We stayed at the Best Western Park Place Inn & Mini Suites, a Good Neighbor hotel across the street from Disneyland. I thoroughly researched options.

Interior Best Western Park Place Inn & Mini Suites near Disneyland

Best Western had many perks:

  • -You can’t get much closer to Disneyland than this hotel. We walked to the park from the hotel and we were able to leave the park midday for a nap.
  • -It’s much less expensive than Disney property hotels, as well as many of the other hotels near the theme park.
  • -The price included parking and complimentary hot breakfast. We were able to park our rental car at the hotel before the afternoon check-in time, too, saving us from having to pay Disneyland’s daily parking rate.
  • -I could buy Disneyland park tickets at the front desk.
  • -There was a pool. Granted, we had no time for swimming and it was a little too cool for outdoor swimming. But still. There was a pool.
  • -It was a comfortable, clean room for the four of us.

The downside? It’s far from Universal Studios Hollywood.

Pre-trip planning

For both parks, I made sure to download each respective app. Each app had different features, though both had a helpful interactive map.

Screenshot of Universal Studios Hollywood app

The Play Disney Parks app, for instance, had games to play for some of the rides while we waited.

Tip 3: Playing said games on the Disneyland app suck the battery life out of your phone.

I spent most of my pre-trip planning on Disneyland plans. I used Touring Plans to help me. It wasn’t as essential as planning a Disney World trip, but it helped a lot. The plan gave me an outline of which rides to go on in the order that would minimize walking and wait times.

I started planning 60 days out and made reservations for meals at the park. That’s the earliest you can do it.

For Universal Studios Hollywood, far less planning went into things. There are fewer rides and (in my opinion) a lot more photo opps, so we were going to wing it.

Plus, we had a not-so-secret weapon: The Universal Express Pass. It is well worth the added expense since you could use it once per ride and show and skip the lines!

Tip 4: If you’re only spending one day at either park, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single-day, discounted ticket online. Multi-day passes at a discount are widely available, as are multi-day passes with a hotel discount.

Disneyland in a day

The popular suggestion is to get to the park before rope drop (the minute they officially open) and that you should visit the park opposite the one that has early morning magic hours. We did neither of that and survived. On a weekend.

We arrived at Disneyland about one hour after the park opened. Luckily, there was no stress with parking since we just had to walk across one street from our hotel.

Disneyland, California at Christmas

Expect a bit of a line for the security check. It went quick. Because we bought our tickets at the hotel, we were able to walk right up to the ticket takers after passing through security.

We bought the Disney MaxPass for each of us so that we can reserve FastPass tickets for each of us on my phone. The bonus? The Disney MaxPass includes digital copies of all photos taken by Disney photographers inside the park!

Tip 5: There is a free way to get FastPass tickets, it is just a lot more running around less of a guarantee you’ll snag them for the times and rides you want. We tried this option for about an hour before getting frustrated.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland family picture

The must-ride new ride at Disneyland, Smugglers Run, does not allow a FastPass (at least, not when we were there). Your best bet is to either make that your first ride of the day, or track the wait time on the app and run to the ride once the wait is below 60 minutes.

Tip: You’re assigned a role for the ride. You want to be one of the pilots, if at all possible.

Dining (quickly) at Disneyland

Disneyland allows you to order at some quick-service restaurants through their app. I tested this out with Bengal Barbecue and in the time it took for me to order a snack and walk to the counter window, my food was ready. We ate our jungle skewers while waiting in line for the Indiana Jones ride.

Tip 6: See which restaurants allow Mobile Food & Beverage Ordering here.

We successfully fit everything we wanted to do in one day at Disneyland, including having a sit-down meal (in Disney parlance, that means Table Service Restaurant).

Inside Blue Bayou Restaurant in Disneyland

We had lunch reservations at Blue Bayou Restaurant. This much-coveted dining experience is located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Like, you literally watch boats float by.

My kids love all-things-pirates, so it was a no-brainer. However, if you are on a budget and/or time crunch, you are better off skipping this restaurant.

Tip 7: Even when you have reservations at Disneyland, expect a bit of a wait. For both our reservations, we had to get into a line to get in. Of course, this line was much faster than the no-reservations line.

We also had reservations for Oga’s Cantina inside the Uber-popular Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It was right around dinner time, so I’d assumed we’d eat there.

The limited menu is more finger foods and appetizers, and pricey ones at that (pricey ones that kids refuse to eat). It’s an extremely unique place to grab a drink, though.

At the bar inside Oga's Cantina inside Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in Disneyland.

Tip 8: My kids were surprisingly grossed out by the blue milk and cookie drink they had there. If you suspect your kid may be the same, save yourself $11 and just order them a water.

Universal Studios Hollywood in a day

It’s always recommended to arrive at Universal Studios Hollywood right when the park opens, but as is our MO, we arrived about an hour after opening. We had our admission tickets printed out already, so we by-passed the purchase line. That’s a great idea to save a few minutes!

Outside Universal Studios Hollywood with kids

Now, we were very fortunate to have the Universal Express Pass, which allowed us to skip the long line for each ride once. Whether or not you have that pass, I recommend going to the most popular area in the theme park first: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

And then go straight to the ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™. This popular line is well worth the wait, but why not minimize the wait and go there first thing? (Our wait was about 5 minutes – the time it took to walk the winding route from the entrance to the ride) The amazing ride takes you on a whirlwind journey through Hogwarts™ and outside the school grounds.

Tip 9: Be sure to slow down when rushing to the front of the line with your Universal Express Pass. There are some incredible things to see while you wait in line for rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™.

You can rent a locker by the ride for free for a couple hours, which is a fantastic perk. After the Forbidden Journey, walk over to the only outdoor rollercoaster in the park, Flight of the Hippogriff™.

Kim standing in front of Hogwarts at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter inside Universal Studios Hollywood in California

Your family is going to want to explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and that included buying interactive wands and testing them throughout the area.

So, if you suspect your Potterhead kids will be the same, delay getting those wands until later in the day when the lines for the rides are their longest. There can be a slight wait to get into Ollivanders™ and then there’s additional time choosing the wand. (A Universal Express Pass does not get you to the front of the line at Ollivanders)

Using interactive wand at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

For the rest of the day, we explored the Upper Lot first before venturing down to the Lower Lot. We rode all of our must-ride rides. We even used the Universal Express Pass to gett straight onto The World-Famous Studio Tour.

Tip 10: Younger kids aren’t nearly as impressed with seeing the movie and TV sets as adults are. If an hour on a tram will test your youngster’s patience, it might be worth waiting for a future visit to go on the tour.

We saved a few things until the end of the day, like the cute Animal Actors Show and DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda. Really, we kept our day relaxed and only loosely planned since we didn’t have to worry about lines. We left the day open to random character encounters and surprises.

Dinosaur encounter at Universal Studios Hollywood in California

The finale for us was returning to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and watching the light show on the castle. It was spectacular and jaw-dropping, and I’m really trying to hold back on using too much hyperbole.

We were there at the end of the holiday festivities, so Hogwarts took on an enchanting Christmas appearance with a Christmas tree and lights.

Hogwarts at during the holiday celebration at Universal Studios Hollywood in California

Returning to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one last time at night gave the kids another chance to use their wands. There is a map that comes with each wand you purchase, so it is easy to find all of the places you can cast a spell.

Dining (quickly) at Universal Studios Hollywood

Like Disneyland, we brought our own water bottles into Universal Studios Hollywood, so we saved on drinks so that we could splurge on treats.

Tip 11: To beat spending too much time in line for food, we ate at off-hours.

So, we had a mid-morning snack — mmm, donut — in Springfield, home of “The Simpsons.” There was no line for a big donut at 10 a.m. Go figure.

Eat a donut at Lard Lad Donuts

Then, we had a late lunch splitting some chicken fingers at Cletus’ Chicken Shack and a Krusty Burger at…where else? Krusty Burger.

While my husband waited in line for the Simpsons-inspired food, the kids and I went looking for characters to take pictures with.

Character meet and greet at Universal Studios Hollywood

As a trade later on, while I waited in line for an early dinner entree at Jurassic Cafe in the Lower Lot, my husband and the kids went to play in the DinoPlay area.

Tip 12: Get all of my money-saving tips for food at Universal Studios Hollywood in this post.

Final thoughts on two LA parks in two days

I have a few takeaways after our exciting and darn exhausting 48 hours at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood.

  1. Resist the urge to plan on staying from open to close at one or both of the theme parks. When planning our days out, I knew that we could try to tough it out and get the most out of our park ticket, but it was not worth the exhaustion.
  2. Stop and smell the theme park flowers. It’s so easy to get caught up in rushing around to get to the shortest line that you easily miss hidden gems and unexpected surprises. Disneyland especially has a lot of nooks with hidden Disney treats.
  3. I’d have watched “The CheapOair Travel Guy,” Beau Rials, to get some ideas on how to save a little money while we were in LA. His Things To Do video series just started, and while I don’t think we could have crammed one more attraction, I would have loved his tips on food. Want to keep up to date on tips like that? Follow CheapOair’s You Tube channel for the next video! I’m told CheapOair will give their social media followers the first chance to participate in an exciting opportunity soon.
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Here are 12 awesome tips for visiting two big LA theme parks in two days: Disneyland & Universal Studios Hollywood. It can be done! #LA #California #Disneyland #UniversalStudiosHollywood #familytravel #triptips #travelhacks

Ultimate Universal Studios Hollywood Food Guide

I plan trips around food and restaurants, even when going to a place like Universal Studios Hollywood in California where rides steal the show. Between roller coasters and character sightings, I wanted to make sure my family had some unique dining experiences. Here’s how we enjoyed the food at Universal Studios Hollywood!

Disclosure: I received complimentary passes to Universal Studios Hollywood in order to write about our experiences. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Don't skip planning your meals at Universal Studios Hollywood! Here's a guide to food & drink at the theme park, including what kids like, what food is great to split, and how much one of those tiki drinks cost. #UniversalStudiosHollywood #California #themepark #foodie

Where is Universal Studios Hollywood?

Universal Studios Hollywood is in Burbank, Calif. It’s a little more than 400 acres and split up between the Upper Lot and Lower Lot. You’ll find most of the eateries are located on the Upper Lot.

I’m including Universal CityWalk™ restaurants in this guide, even though you do not need a park ticket to go to them. CityWalk™ is located just outside the theme park.

Restaurant Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood & CityWalk

I discovered that whatever you are craving, you’ll find it inside and outside Universal Studios Hollywood. My plan was to visit restaurants that you could only visit at Universal, but as you’ll see below, there are a lot more restaurant chains in the area that you could visit if you’re looking for familiar and predictable.

Let’s start first with the restaurants inside the theme park.

Food at Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

This was one of my favorite ares in Universal Studios Hollywood, as I suspect is the case for most visitors. Even if you aren’t a die-hard Potterhead, you can appreciate the detail of the area.

Buildings at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

And if you are a big fan? You’re going to love dining here. The following are the eateries you’ll find in this fantastic little space.

  • • Hog’s Head
  • • Magic Neep™ Cart (this is simply a snack cart)
  • • Three Broomsticks™

Raising young Harry Potter fans, you’d think we’d get some butterbeer™ inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but I knew from past experience, my kids would take a sip and then realize they still don’t like butterbeer.

Butterbeer truck

So we didn’t get any butterbeer™. Maybe when we’re a little older, we’ll try again.

Tip: Word is, the butterbeer™ ice cream is a must-try.

My son fought hard to get us to have lunch at Three Broomsticks™, too. But, on a warm winter day, shepherd’s pie or fish and chips just didn’t appeal to the rest of us. We’ll save that for another visit.

Candy at Honeydukes at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not (but especially if you are), head to Honeydukes to find the best selection of candies and treats.

Of course, there are Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans and chocolate frogs inside the store. But you’ll also find a dizzying assortment of unique treats, as well as more standard fare like saltwater taffy and suckers.

Candy jars at Honeydukes inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Springfield restaurants

Everyone in my family is a big “The Simpsons™” fan, so of course, we spent a lot of time in Springfield™ at Universal Studios Hollywood. Because we only had one day planned for the park, we decided to split food so we could try more things.

Families dining inside Moe's at Springfield™ at Universal Studios Hollywood

Want to dine in the world of the Simpsons characters? Here are all the eateries and bars in the part of the theme park:

  • • Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck
  • • Duff Brewery Beer Garden
  • • Krusty Burger
  • • Lard Lad Donuts
  • • Moe’s Tavern
  • • Suds McDuff’s Hot Dog House

Springfield is located in the Upper Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood.

Ordering lines at Krusty Burger at Universal Studios Hollywood in California

Despicable Me restaurants

The area at Universal Studios Hollywood dedicated to “Despicable Me” is located in the Upper Lot.

  • • Despicable Delights
  • • Gru’s Lab Café

We didn’t spend a lot of time in this part of the park, other than to ride Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. I think, had it been warmer, we would’ve visited the water area at Super Silly Fun Land, and then, we’d probably would’ve bought a snack.

Lower Lot restaurants

You won’t find a lot of dining options in the Lower Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood.

  • • Jurassic Café
  • • Panda Express
  • • Studio Café
  • • Nu-Isla Bar (tropical drinks for the 21+ crowd)

The food at Jurassic Café was the most unique (in my opinion) in the park. Dishes were inspired by Costa Rican cuisine. Caveat: If you’ve been to Costa Rica, you may be a little disappointed. Gallo Pinto is not one of the items on the menu, even if it says “rice and beans” as a side.

Tip: Tropical Twist cone at Studio Café is an instagrammable treat.

Upper Lot restaurants

I think you’re really going to enjoy the setting of some of these restaurants. If there’s one thing Universal Studios Hollywood does well, it’s transporting you to another time and place.

French Street Bistro, for instance, is found on this charming stretch that’s, well, reminiscent of France. Photo opps, by the way, are plentiful (with and without characters).

Lucille Ball look-alike spotted along the French street at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Here are the eateries you’ll find in the Upper Lot, outside of the other themed areas I mentioned earlier:

  • • Cinnabon
  • • Cocina Mexicana
  • • French Street Bistro
  • • Mel’s Diner
  • • Mulligan’s Irish Pub
  • • Palace Theatre Café
  • • Plaza Grill

Universal CityWalk restaurants

Brace yourselves. Universal CityWalk™ is an entertainment, shopping and dining complex. It is full of eye-catching neon signs, smells, and familiar brands. It’s pretty hard to walk through it without feeling hungry.

Nighttime at Universal CityWalk near Universal Studios Hollywood in California

Here are all the restaurants (as of this post going live) that are open on the CityWalk™:

  • • Antojitos (Mexican)
  • • Ben & Jerry’s
  • • Blaze Pizza
  • • Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
  • • Buca di Beppo – Italian
  • • Cinnabon
  • • Dongpo Kitchen – Sichuanese cuisine
  • • Jamba Juice
  • • Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville
  • • Johnny Rockets
  • • Karl Strauss Brewing Co.
  • • KFC Express/Pizza Hutt
  • • LudoBird
  • • Menchies (frozen yogurt)
  • • Mini Monster (tea and boba)
  • • Panda Express
  • • Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs
  • • Poke Bar
  • • Popcornopolis
  • • Samba Brazilian Steakhouse & Lounge
  • • Smashburger
  • • Sparky’s Mini Donuts
  • • Subway
  • • Taco Bell
  • • The Crepe Café
  • • Tony Roma’s
  • • VIVO Italian Kitchen
  • • VooDoo Doughnut
  • • Wasabi at CityWalk – Sushi
  • • Wetzel’s Pretzels

To get to and from our car to Universal Studios Hollywood, we had to walk along the CityWalk. On the way back, we did not manage to avoid the siren call of good food.

So we stopped at Ben and Jerry’s and bought some ice cream. You know how I am with ice cream.

Budgeting for food at Universal Studios Hollywood

Part of the fun of going to a theme park like Universal Studios Hollywood is enjoying the treats you can only find there. But, if you’re on a budget, you can’t really enjoy ALL the treats, right?

A mixed drink at Universal Studios Hollywood is a splurge.

For a family of four, assuming you aren’t bringing in a lot of your own food (more on that in a second), expect to spend about $75 on food (on the low end). Below are averages I’d estimate we spent on different items. We ended up splitting items so that we could try more things.

  • • Snacks – $5 per person per snack
  • • Pop/bottled water – $5 per person or FREE if you bring a water bottle
  • • Alcohol – $14-$20
  • • Kid’s meal – $10
  • • Adult entrée – $15-$25

We ate breakfast before entering the park and dinner after we left the park, so most of our food expenditures were for lunch and snacks.

The biggest purchase? A mixed drink at Isla-Nu Bar. It came with a souvenir tiki glass, at least.

What would be recommended splurges? That depends on what you’re a bigger fan of. We spent a lot of time browsing the food throughout the Simpsons part of the park, though, we also lingered for quite a while at Honeydukes.

Can you bring food into Universal Studios Hollywood?

The short answer is: Yes.

Browse Universal’s FAQs for more details.

However, there are restrictions. The following are allowed to come into the theme park:

  • • Bottled water (maximum 2 liters) 
  • • Small snacks 
  • • Any food required for special dietary needs 
  • • Any food required for medical purposes and medically-indicated nutritional supplements 
  • • Baby food/baby formula 
  • • Soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5″ wide x 6″ high x 6″ deep

How I saved money on food at Universal Studios Hollywood

I didn’t bring snacks into the park with us on our visit (mainly because I wanted to eat there).

Since there was a lot we wanted to try, we decided we’d do a lot of splitting of foods. First place we headed to for a snack? Springfield™. Like I said, we love the “Simpsons” show.

For a snack, the four of us split a pink donut from Lard Lad Donuts. It was really good and plenty for the four of us. It’s definitely too much for one person. At about $8, I thought it was absolutely worth it for this sugary treat.

For lunch, we ordered two chicken finger meals at Cletus’ Chicken Shack. This was a great meal to split since each came with six chicken fingers and a large portion of fries.

A few other items we split, just to try included:

  • • A Krusty Burger served at…where else? Krusty Burger. This was a good burger, and a good portion for one person. I wouldn’t recommend this one for sharing.
  • • A pork entrée at Jurassic Café. The pork was tasty, and the plantains on the side were good, but the rice and beans were a disappointment. My kids wouldn’t touch it. The café is touted as a Costa Rican café, so I was hoping for some gallo pinto as a side. These were definitely not gallo pinto rice and beans. The entree was $15.
Krusty Burger at, where else?, Krusty Burger

The best way to save money at Universal Studios Hollywood is to bring a refillable water bottle with you. Then, use those saved money from beverages to eat all the good food.

What about dietary restrictions and eating at Universal Studios Hollywood?

Turns out, Universal Studios Hollywood is on it. They have a dietary food guide that’s super helpful.

While I’m no longer a strict vegetarian, I remember the stress of trying to find substantial food. There’s a lot of it at this theme park. Here’s some of the food options I found at Universal Studios Hollywood for vegetarians (note that menus can change):

Universal Studios Hollywood Vegetarian/vegan options

Hollywood & Dine

  • • California Cheese Pizza
  • • Cheeseless Pizza (by request only – VEGAN)
  • • Sautéed Vegetables and Rice (by request only – VEGAN)
  • • Roasted Portobello Mushroom Burger served with French fries and coleslaw (VEGAN)

Mel’s Diner

  • • Veggie Burger with Hummus, served with French fries and coleslaw (skip the coleslaw to have a VEGAN meal)

Gru’s Lab Café

  • • Grilled Cheese Sandwich served with French fries and coleslaw


  • • Cinnabon Roll

French Street Bistro, Studio Café and Palace Theatre Café

  • • Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich
  • • Thai Udon Noodle Salad (VEGAN)

Three Broomsticks™

  • • Fresh Fruit Plate (breakfast only; VEGAN)
  • • Sautéed Jumbo Asparagus Platter (request VEGAN)
  • • Continental Breakfast served with croissant and scone
  • • Potato Leek Soup and Salad Plate

Luigi’s Pizza

  • • Penne Pasta with Marinara Sauce
  • • Penne Pasta with Alfredo Sauce (contains dairy)
  • • Cheese Pizza (contains cheese)
  • • Meat Hater’s Pizza (contains cheese)

Krusty Burger

  • • Mother Nature Burger served with French fries and coleslaw

Cletus’ Chicken Shack

  • • Waffle Sandwich with Veggie Burger, served with French fries and coleslaw

Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck

  • • Bumblebee Man’s Mucho Mucho Nachos served plain with cheese and vegetables

Jurassic Café

  • • Cheese Pizza (contains cheese)
  • • Caesar Salad (contains cheese and anchovies)
  • • Veggie Burger with Hummus, served with French fries and coleslaw
  • • Fresh Fruit Cup
Everything you need to know about the food at Universal Studios Hollywood in California | Guide to restaurants and how to budget for a family trip to Universal Studios Hollywood | Helpful guide answers questions about budgeting and what foods are vegetarian and vegan. #California #USA #UniversalStudiosHollywood #foodie #food #guide #familytravel

Read more about Universal Studios Hollywood

Planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood? There are more posts to come, including the not-to-miss experiences I recommend at the park.

10+ Tips For Visiting Disneyland & Universal Studios Hollywood In 48 Hours

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Things To Do At Point Lobos With Kids

There are a lot of things to like about Carmel-by-the-Sea – the food, the quaint architecture, the beach – but the highlight of my family’s trip to the area was Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (it’s more commonly referred to as Point Lobos State Park, and considered the “crown jewel” of the California State Park System). We wanted a place to hike that was beautiful and kid-friendly. And, bonus, it was not far from our hotel. Here are a few of the things we did the morning we went to Point Lobos:

Guide to taking kids to Point Lobos, the crown jewel of the California state park system - Kid-friendly trails, exploring the tide pools and more helpful information to plan a visit #familytravel #hiking #outdoors

Kid-friendly hiking at Point Lobos

Weather on our trip was not the greatest, so we needed to choose a short hike in case we got caught in a rainstorm. We decided to hike Cypress Grove Trail because we’d read it was picturesque and short. Perfect for our needs, right?

Things to do at Point Lobos with kids - Hike the Cypress Grove Trail
Trails are well-marked at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California.

Most of the trail was flat, though there were some steps and boulders to climb. Nothing was too difficult for the kids, who were 7 and 9 when we did this hike.

The trail is .8 miles long and takes you through one of the two naturally growing stands of Monterey cypress trees remaining on Earth. 

If you only have an hour for the park, this is a great trail to take! If you have more time, or have other needs, review this page with suggested routes at Point Lobos.

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Park with kids - Hike the Cypress Grove Trail and enjoy the view
We did a little bouldering at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This is found along the Cypress Grove Trail.

We also hiked a bit of the North Shore Trail on accident after taking a wrong turn. It’s more challenging than Cypress Grove Trail (and longer – it’s 1.4 miles). We turned around before we were too far into it.

Things to do at Point Lobos - See Old Veteran Cypress, a much-photographed old cypress tree
A view of the gnarled Old Veteran Cypress clinging to a cliff at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

While we were on the North Shore Trail, we took the short Old Veteran Trail to get a good view of the Old Veteran Cypress, a well-known tree in the park. We also got views of sea lions, I think. I wish we’d brought binoculars to get a better visual.

Hiking tip: Dogs are not allowed on the trails, nor are bicycles.

Tide pools at Point Lobos

We nearly drove past the tide pools on our way out of the park, but I’m glad we spotted some families walking on the rocks. They caught our attention, and we wanted to go see what they were looking at.

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve - Explore the tide pools #California
My daughter loves animals and water, so she was in absolute heaven at Point Lobos.

It was exhilarating to explore the terrain. There was an element of danger, being near the edge, but it was also a thrill for us.

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve - Explore the tide pools
It’s a little nerve-wracking standing even a few feet from the edge.

We stayed further back than it looks, I promise!

Tip about exploring the tide pools: It’s against the law to collect shells, rocks, wood, plants, or animals at the park.

Educational opportunities at Point Lobos

When we visited on the weekend, we encountered volunteers at the Information Station near the parking lot with a display of animal pelts. The kids were able to compare the difference between an otter pelt and a sea lion.

Things to do at Point Lobos - Learn about the wildlife found at the park
My kids liked touching the animal pelts on display at Point Lobos. My daughter may have been snuggling the otter fur.

The volunteers also answered a few of our questions, like, what was the orange stuff covering the trees (answer: an algae called Trentepohlia aurea).

Things to do at Point Lobos - Learn about the trees in the park
The algae growing on the trees at Point Lobos are harmless.

There’s a Junior Rangers program for kids ages 7 to 12 that runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day Weekend. Get more details here.

The park also provides educational information online, as well as Marine Protected coloring book you can download.

Would you want to visit Point Lobos on a rainy day?

We visited Point Lobos in the winter. If you couldn’t tell from the pictures in this post, it was a dreary day when we went to Point Lobos State Park. All morning, the clouds threatened to spit rain. We ended up cutting our visit short because we knew a full-on shower was imminent.

This is what you get when you have a first-year parkour student in your family.

I wouldn’t recommend the tide pools in the wet weather, and hikes, well, they’re doable if you’re a hearty family. Check out the other things we did in the area when its as rainy, though, and you can find some good alternatives.

I read that the climate at the park remains pretty moderate year-round, with temperatures in the mid-50s to mid-60s. You’re most likely to encounter fog in the summer.

Important information about visiting Point Lobos

To plan your day at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, keep these things in mind:

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Park in California - Explore tide pools
The kids liked exploring the tide pools at Point Lobos.

Point Lobos hours: The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. They will not admit anybody after 6:30 p.m. There is no camping allowed.

Point Lobos costs: You will need to pay a vehicle entry fee to enter the park. It’s $10 for most. If you want a brochure, it’s $2. If you want to dive or snorkel, there are additional fees (reservation or walkup).

You can also also rent a kayak or standup paddle board for $10.

Point Lobos’ location: This California state park is pretty convenient for travelers since it is right off of Highway 1, plus it’s just about 3 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Things to do with kids at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California - Guide to kid-friendly trails and tide pools, plus important information to know if you want to visit #California #Carmel #familytravel #outdoors

Plan your Carmel trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Start with this Carmel Bucket List, and then read through these posts for more ideas:

Taking Kids To Carmel, California

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dining with kids in Carmel

Taking Kids On The 17-Mile Drive

Things To Do On A Rainy Day In Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea

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Things To Do On A Rainy Day In Monterey & Carmel-By-The-Sea

As an outdoorsy family, the itinerary we planned for our Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway involved hikes and maybe a stroll by the ocean. We were so ready for California! And then it rained for the majority of our days there! Luckily, I had planned backup destinations for each day in case there was a downpour. If you’re planning a getaway to Carmel-by-the-Sea, or nearby Monterey, here are some indoor things you can do with kids on rainy days:

List of things to do on a rainy day in Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. If you're planning a trip to the area, keep these indoor activities in mind!

Indoor activities near Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey

Carmel-by-the-Sea itself is a very attractive place for outdoor activities for families. There are beautiful parks, the beach, and strolling around the charming downtown area. When it’s rainy, though, you may want to venture to nearby towns for indoor activities.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium touch tank, located at the large aquarium in California. Visiting the aquarium is a good rainy activity if you're in Monterey.
Touching kelp and other sea creatures in a touch tank at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

While you could explore tidepools and possibly spot otters out in the wild while you’re in northern California, it’s not an enjoyable thing to do in the pouring rain. So, head indoors and find an abundance of aquatic creatures, hands-on exhibits, and play areas at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There’s one play area that explores flight using sea birds, and head to the Splash Zone for play areas for toddlers and older children.

Don’t skip the touch tanks.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

How much time there: Plan on at least 4 to 5 hours, but you could easily spend the whole day.

Cost: $$$$ (a family of four would spend about $160)

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Inside a room at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History in Pacific Grove, California. Visiting the museum is a good rainy activity if you're in Monterey.

The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is a small but kid-friendly natural history museum full of displays of animals and artifacts from the region. Be sure to do the scavenger hunts – they’re a great way to explore all the exhibits, and the kids who complete one get a surprise at the end.

Where: Pacific Grove, Calif.

How much time there: About an hour, depending on if you do the scavenger hunt or not. My youngest did all three scavenger hunts so we were there perhaps longer than most families would be.

Cost: $$  (a family of four would spend about $30)

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Inside the historic Basilica at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission (commonly known as Carmel Mission) in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Visiting the mission may be a good rainy day activity if you're in Monterey.
The Carmel Mission is an important historic site in California that tourists visit, but it’s still an active parish. Keep that in mind when timing your visit. The Basilica may be occupied for a wedding or mass.

Most of the Carmel Mission and the museums connected to it are indoors (though the courtyard is the loveliest place to explore). It’s one of the state’s most important historical sites and it’s well-preserved. It was founded by Saint Junipero Serrai in the 18th century, and is the location of where he’s buried.

As far as kid-approval levels go, this one was the least favorite of all our stops and part of your visit will be spent outdoors as you go from building to building.

Where: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

How much time there: It’ll take you about an hour, or less

Cost: $$ (a family of four would spend about $30)

Additional rainy day activities near in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

I overplan things, so I had a list of additional places we could go should the weather be unbearable. Luckily, we had a few dry hours which we spent outdoors. For the places below, I included where they’re located and if there was an admission. Since I didn’t get to visit each, I can’t estimate how long you might spend there, so that was left out. However, here are the other places on my list for indoor activities:

Visit a family-friendly winery

California is famous for great wine, so how could I resist planning at least one stop to try it? While researching Carmel-by-the-Sea, I checked out winery websites and travel blogs to find places that might welcome well-behaved kids. I had two on my list that were close to Carmel-by-the-Sea: Folktale Winery & Vineyards or Cowgirl Winery. Folktale Winery was in a building that looked like a castle, so I figured that would be a nice setting to step out of the rain for a moment. We didn’t make it to either, unfortunately.

Where: Folktale Winery & Vineyards is in Carmel, Calif., and Cowgirl Winery is in Carmel Valley, Calif.

Cost: FREE to visit but tastings will likely cost you

Monterey Museum of Art

We nearly went to this art museum in Monterey because there was a day of family activities planned on the Saturday of our visit. It sounded fun and admission would’ve been FREE that day! Check the museum’s calendar to see if anything is planned during your visit. Typically, there is an admission fee for adults, but kids are FREE.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

Cost: $ (kids admitted FREE)

Highway 1 Golf, Games & Grub

Mitsubishi Outlander parked on Cannery Row in Monterey, California
You can see a sign for the Mirror Maze across the street from my car. I unwittingly took a picture of Highway 1 Golf, Games & Grub. We didn’t really go to it, I was just getting a picture of me in the Mitsubishi Outlander we drove while in California.

Cannery Row is a touristy spot right next to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and on that street, you’ll find Highway 1 Golf, Games & Grub. I was considering a visit for my family (against my better judgement…because I really don’t enjoy putt putt golf). In addition to mini golf featuring murals of the Pacific Coast, the entertainment center has arcade games, and additional activities called Lazer Challenge and Mirror Maze.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

Cost: $$$ (9 holes will cost a family of four about $36; a combo pass to do it all will cost about $96)

Monterey Youth Museum

The Monterey Youth Museum, or MY Museum, is a children’s museum in Monterey. We love visiting children’s museums, especially since we can get discounted admission, but this one looked like it skewed a little more on the younger side than what would’ve been perfect for the kids. Still, I had it on the list, just in case. If you belong to a museum that’s a part of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), you may be able to get half-price admission here. The Patron level membership for Omaha Children’s Museum qualifies! Find out about reciprocal membership benefits here.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

Cost: $$ (a family of four would spend about $32)

Planning a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey Bay? Keep these places in mind if it's a rainy day! This is a list of indoor activities that are great for all ages. #California #USA #familytravel

Plan your Carmel trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Start with this Carmel Bucket List, and then read through these posts for more ideas:

Taking Kids To Carmel, California

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dining with kids in Carmel

Taking Kids On The 17-Mile Drive

Things To Do At Point Lobos State Park With Kids

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Taking Kids On The 17-Mile Drive

If you’ve been planning a trip to Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea, chances are good you’ve heard about the 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach. While I was planning for our visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea, the questions that I had about 17-Mile Drive loomed:

  1. Should we pay to drive this road when surely every turn in Monterey County must be scenic?
  2. Is this something kids would like?

Well, we did the trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea and we navigated (most of) 17-Mile Drive. So, let’s look into things how that worked out for our family, which included two kids under the age of 10.

Wondering what's the 17-Mile Drive and will kids like it? Read this post to find out about stops on the route that kids may like and if it's really worth playing the admission fee. #California #familytravel

What’s the 17-Mile Drive

The 17-Mile Drive is exactly what it sounds like: A drive that’s 17 miles long. It also happens to be a beautiful drive, and so beautiful, tourists flock to drive it. Each year, more than 1.5 million people drive the route.

There is a $10.25 fee to drive it, and there are various entrances along the route. If you spend at least $35 at any of the Pebble Beach restaurants, they’ll reimburse you.

When to go on the 17-Mile Drive

I was saving this drive for a sunny day on our trip. Rain was in the forecast every day of our trip, though, so I had all but decided not to do the drive. And then I changed my mind. It spit rain through most of the drive and it was cold, being winter and all. Once the rain picked up, we decided to cut the drive short.

Trees at Huckleberry Hill, one of the stops on the 17-Mile Drive in California
The view at Huckleberry Hill, one of the stops on the 17-Mile Drive. This was taken in early February, so thanks to rain, it’s pretty green there. The story behind Huckleberry Hill is that the writers  writers Robert Louis Stevenson and John Steinbeck were said to frequent it.

So, late January/early February isn’t exactly ideal to go, but it was not very crowded, at least.

What is there for kids to see and do?

The good thing is that along with your entry fee, you’re given a guide with a map. They gave us two so our kids could follow along. You can download the app, too.

There are 17 of stops on the route. Some how places for picnics or walking paths.

Huckleberry Hill trail on the 17-Mile Drive in California
Our first stop on our 17-Mile Drive route was Huckleberry Hill. The kids found some interesting mushrooms, but other than that, the trail didn’t lead them too far.

We started from the Highway 1 Gate and drove north first to start at No. 1 on the map. That meant we could drive counter-clockwise and have our car be on the lane closest to the water.

Being the water babies that they are, my kids’ favorite stop was Spanish Bay Beach. They played in the cold waves, looked for rocks and shells, and chased after birds. The sand is soft there (and wet, because, remember, it was spitting rain). The large boulders by the parking lot invited lots of people to stack them. There were surfers to watch, and plenty of waterfowl.

Rainy day at Spanish Bay Beach found along the 17-Mile Drive in California
My daughter loves the water, even in the winter, so she enjoyed our rainy stop along the 17-Mile Drive at Spanish Bay Beach. The beach got its name from the Spanish explorers who stayed at the beach in 1769 while trying to find Monterey Bay. It took them a year to find the right bay.

Incidentally, Spanish Bay is the home to a daily Scottish bagpipe performance. The bagpiper plays rain or shine starting at the first tee at The Links at Spanish Bay in front of STICKS, and finishes 45 minutes later at the Spanish Bay fire pits by the second green. During Daylight Saving Time, this performance starts at around 5:45 p.m; otherwise it starts a half hour before sunset.

While at Seal Rock Creek, you can explore tide pools and take a walk the boardwalk to the interesting looking, and aptly named, Gingerbread House.

By the time we made it to the Lone Cypress (Stop 12), the kids were bored. They didn’t even get out of the car. From all that I’ve read, the Lone Cypress is the most iconic and most photographed place in the area (and only midpoint in our journey). There were definitely more people at this stop than any other.

Lone Cypress, a 250-year-old Monterey Cypress Tree found on the 17-Mile Drive in California
We found the biggest crowd of all the stops at the Lone Cypress. It’s an iconic spot in California, which means a lot of selfies to be taken.

The Lone Cypress is believed to be at least 250 years old. It’s one of the most photographed trees in the world. Would I drive this whole route just to see it? No.

Is it worth paying to drive it?

Well, sure. It’s beautiful. You’ll pass eight golf courses during your drive, including the storied Pebble Beach Golf Links. You might also see some animals. And the Lone Cypress is kinda cool to see. All in all, it’s nice.

But truthfully, don’t go on a rainy day. It doesn’t have to be warm, but the rain is a drag. If you’re wanting to take pictures and walk around, it’s just not going to be enjoyable in the rain.

And if you’re not into paying for something “nice,” then skip it and just drive around the rest of Monterey County. The whole region is gorgeous.

Can you bike it?

Yes. There is a bike lane. I wouldn’t bike it with my kids, as it is narrow, or at least, looks narrow. I’d bike it if it were just me and my husband. If you bike, you don’t have to pay the entry fee. But you have to bike 17 miles. And it can be a little hilly in some areas.

What about dining with kids on the 17-Mile Drive?

There are a few picnic areas in pretty scenic spots, which is what I’d recommend. The hotels have several dining options but I couldn’t ascertain if any were kid-friendly or not. Online menus were no help – none listed kid’s meals, at least.

Here are some family-friendly restaurants that are nearby, located either in Monterey or Carmel-By-The-Sea.

What to expect on the 17-Mile Drive in California | Find out if it's worth the admission fee and what stops kids will like the most. #California #PebbleBeach #familytravel

Plan your Carmel trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Start with this Carmel Bucket List, and then read through these posts for more ideas:

Taking Kids To Carmel, California

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dining with kids in Carmel

Rainy day activities in Carmel

Things To See At Point Lobos State Park With Kids

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.