Universal City is a community in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley. Most of the city, about 415 acres of property, is owned by Universal Studios. The community is a major tourist destination, being home to the University Studios Hollywood theme park.
Universal Studios is the world’s largest and oldest motion picture complex and had its beginnings in the San Fernando Valley back in 1915. That year, entrepreneur Carl Laemmle bought a farmland and built a movie studio. He realized that people were fascinated by motion pictures and the art of making them. He began charging visitors a quarter to tour the grounds. Today, Universal Studios Hollywood receives millions of visitors every year and ranks as the third largest man-made tourist attraction in the country.
The Universal Studios Tour begins at the Studio Center where visitors hop aboard an open air tram and take a 45-minute ride to the back lot of the studio. False-fronted rooms and buildings without ceilings line this area, looking fake in person but real when filmed on screen. You’ll get to see various sets that have appeared in movies and TV shows including the fountains of ancient Rome, the bay where “Jaws” made his menacing attacks, and the storefronts of Western Street.
The highlight of the tram tour is the simulated earthquake. Known as “The Big One”, it measures 8.3 on the Richter Scale. Visitors are “trapped” in the murky streets of New York City, surrounded by train wrecks and greeted by a 15-foot wall of water and a runaway truck. The giant King Kong is an even bigger menace. Passengers get to see the ape growl ferociously and assault the tram. He is so close that his banana breath can be smelled.
At the Studio Center, the feature attraction is the E.T. Adventure. Everyone takes an airborne bike ride to another world. While flying into the sky, you’ll get to see the lights of Los Angeles below. During the ride, fiber-optic stars and cool breezes are seen and felt before E.T. leaves with a farewell and bids you goodbye.
Another thrill ride is Backdraft, which takes you to a fiery furnace where explosions occur and red hot ashes rain down from above. An invisible “air curtain” shields guests, but the blistering heat is felt. Next up is the World of Cinemagic, the part of the tour when guests learn about the visual tricks and special effects employed by television and motion pictures.
The other adventure is the Starway. This plexiglass-enclosed series of escalators moves up the hill to the Entertainment Center where schedules of live shows are posted. The newer amusements in this area include Back to the Future – The Ride. Cold fog engulfs you before blasting you through the space-time continuum.
At the Miami Vice show, you’ll watch live action of good guys chasing the bad guys in speed boats while being shot at by blazing guns. The Adventures of Conan takes place in a cave-like theatre. Sword-and-sorcery drama precedes the entrance of an 18-foot fire-breathing dragon.
One of the favorites in the studio is The Riot Act Wild West show. It is the first show performed as part of the tour. Stuntmen nose-dive in the building roofs one minute and disappear into quicksand the next. In the Star Trek Adventure, audience members are dressed up in costumes and become part of a Star Trek episode, giving lines and acting scenes that are then edited into footage from the original movie.
On the Animal Actors’ Stage, trained birds and animals that have appeared in several TV shows and movies perform for the audience. Next door to the stage is the half-acre playworld where toddlers play among oversized props such as a 15-foot banana or a 12-foot brown boot.
Several cafeterias and full-service restaurants are found throughout the tour area, offering decent food. Universal Studios takes a full day to see and do everything. The theme park is located at 100 Universal City Plaza.
The University CityWalk is a 23-acre entertainment district featuring shops, entertainment venues, and eaters. It opened in 1993 and was recently renovated in 2000 at a cost of $1 billion. The central plaza of the complex is highlighted by a large steel-web canopy and below is a leaping fountain. There is also a gigantic Panasonic monitor above the multiplex showing upcoming movie releases, videos, and promotions from Universal.
Besides the myriad restaurants and shops, there’s also an amphitheatre called the Gibson Amphitheatre. It is a concert venue, the second largest in California seating more than 6,000 people. Major events occur here including the MTV Movie Awards as well as occasional induction ceremonies for the WWE Hall of Fame.
Baker, Christopher, Judy Wade, and Morten Strange. California. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671879065.
“Gibson Amphitheatre.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibson_Amphitheatre>
“Universal CityWalk.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_CityWalk>
“Universal City, California.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_City%2C_California>
 Universal City, California
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