When planning vacations, I try to look for activities that are off the beaten path or at least less touristy or crowded. However, on my most recent trip to Southern California, I opted to take the very touristy Warner Brothers Studio Tour with my siblings. To my surprise, it turned out to be one of the best and most memorable tours I’ve ever been on in the U.S.
Let’s take a look at what made my tour experience one of the best:
About the Warner Brothers Studio Tour
The Warner Brothers studio is located in Burbank, just outside of Los Angeles. The studio lot, which sits in the middle of a suburban community setting, spans 110 acres and has an adjacent parking garage making it very convenient and safe to park right next to the studio. Their most popular tour – the Studio Tour – offers a variety of movie and television experiences, including a guided tour, and self-guided exhibits and interactive experiences. The tour costs around $70 and takes anywhere from 1.5-3 hours to complete depending on how much time you spend in the interactive sections. Longer tours offer lunch as well as extended time with a guide. Tour Tip– Although we were asked to arrive at least 30 minutes before our designated tour time, we learned that tours run every 10 minutes which makes it flexible for those who are running late, or for those who are early, it’s quite possible to start your tour earlier.
9 Things I Loved About the Warner Brothers Studio Tour
1. Customized Tour with Guide – We started our official tour with a tour guide who was very enthusiastic about her job and knowledgable about the movies and TV shows filmed on the WB grounds. She kicked off our time by asking each person what movies/TV shows he/she wanted most to explore on the tour. From there, she provided what seemed like a customized tour for our group, pointing out the special sets or scenes from each of our WB favorites while also giving a complete history of the studio and corresponding lots/buildings.
2. Small Group Setting – Unlike large group tours that tend to be impersonal, hard to follow, and make you feel like you are sheep being corralled, the guided portion of the WB tour was limited to about 15 people who all sat comfortably in an extra long open air tram/golf cart. This made it easy to understand our tour guide, see everything she was pointing out, and hop off/on the cart quickly.
3. Outdoor Building Sets and Facades – Most of the guided tour focused on viewing the backlot, consisting of streets, buildings, facades and other structures fabricated in such a way that they can easily be adapted and redecorated to fit a movie or shows purpose. What we learned was that the redecorating process (along with special effects) is key to the making the audience believe that what you are seeing is real and on point or on brand with what the movie or show is trying to convey. A building can be used for one scene in a show one week and a completely different show or movie scene the next. Due to this, when a scene is complete, nearly everything from that scene is removed to the point that the only thing left is the building shell or facade. We literally walked by streets and structures that had been used many years ago for the Dukes of Hazard and those same structures were redone for more recent shows like Gilmore Girls. The tour also offered the opportunity to walk by or through some of the streets or buildings (which were mostly empty on the inside) used in such popular movies/shows as True Blood, Seinfeld, Pretty Little Liars, Gilmore Girls, All American, Night Court, ER, The Big Bang Theory, Blade Runner and more. We even saw what is said to be the last remaining set pieces for Casablanca – the Cafe Tabitha facade from the Paris cafe scene.
4. Sound Stages – The WB studio houses 37 different sound stages that provide the space and set up to film scenes that include primary sets (sets that are used over and over again in a show)- ie. The non-working elevator from The Big Bang Theory or the Friends coffee shop. On occasion, the tour includes a walk through of sound stages in production, however, due to the writers strike, most sound stages were not in use during the time of our tour. We were lucky enough to walk through one of the stages that housed primary sets from The Big Bang Theory and Bob Hearts Abishola, that had not yet been torn down. Fun Fact – Once a show has reached 10 years of production on the WB lot – such as Friends and The Big Bang Theory – they receive their own placard on the building.
5. Interactive Exhibits – Beyond backlots and sound stages, the tour also offers several highly interactive exhibits that give you a deeper look into what makes the movies and shows you love so unique. The exhibits are self-guided and give you the chance to immerse yourself into a show or movie scene – all of which make for great photo opps. Interactive exhibits included those from DC Comics (photo with Wonder Woman’s golden wings or Aquaman’s Trident), the Barbie movie (we loved stepping inside the full-size Barbie box!), the Big Bang Theory (the guys’ living room), Harry Potter (riding a Quidditch broom, stepping into the Dursley’s houses on Privet Drive, wearing the sorting hat, and pulling out a screaming potted mandrake), and so many more! Staff photographers are on-hand to capture (and sell) individual or group photos but, in most cases, you are welcome to take your own photos at no extra cost. Tour Tip – Give yourself enough time to explore – this is one of the best parts of the tour!
6. Friends Immersive Sets – From the famous orange couch, to the Central Perk coffee shop, WB does an amazing job capturing the essence of one of the most iconic television shows of the 90s/early 2000s. If you’re a Friends fan, be sure to stop by the fully working replica of the Central Perk where you can buy drinks and snacks named after your favorite characters. Then, grab your drink and cookie and enjoy it in the actual coffee shop counter, kitchen or living room where you can relive some of your favorite Friends moments – complete with the colorful Friends umbrellas and Phoebe’s guitar. And the fun doesn’t end there. Once you’re done enjoying the immersive sets and Friends-themed gift shop, you can get back on the tour cart for a quick ride over to the famous Friends fountain and actual couch used in the beginning credits of ever episode. So many Friends, so little time!
7. Movie/TV Memorabilia – As if the interactive exhibits weren’t enough, the tour also includes self-guided areas with historical displays, and costumes and props from some of the most popular movies and shows, including Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, DC movies, and even older movies like My Fair Lady and Casablanca.
8. WB Studio Store – While a gift shop at the end of the tour is a bit cliche, the Studio Store was one of the best movie/themed stores I’ve ever seen. The store had very large sections for Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls, Friends, Big Bang Theory, DC Comics, and, of course, Looney Tunes. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, it’s worth a look if only to take a walk down movie memory lane.
9. Starbucks in the Lobby – We had to leave very early in the morning from San Diego in order to make our 9:40am tour time. This didn’t leave us time for breakfast or even coffee before we left the house. Luckily, the WB studio has a full Starbucks located right in the lobby of the building. Perfect timing and perfect location. And bonus – we were allowed to bring drinks on guided tour!
As you can see, I would not hesitate to recommend this tour to anyone who is a movie lover or TV show aficionado.
Enjoy and happy travels everyone!