Go behind the scenes on these studio tours in L.A.
Warner Bros.’ guided tram tour zips through the studio’s sizeable footprint—110 acres on the Valley-side of the Hollywood Hills—with about a dozen other passengers onboard. It’s an encyclopedic tour of all types of filming locations, with a journey through the backlot’s city stand-ins and Gilmore Girls-starring residential square, as well as a stop on both single- and multi-camera sets. Though you’ll spend some time simply navigating the sprawling grid of soundstages, you’ll still find plenty of memorable photo ops: a seat on the couch at Friends’ Central Perk, an opportunity to mount a Harry Potter broomstick and the chance to come face to face with almost every Batmobile imaginable. 3hrs, $65
While Universal Studios’ tram tour is technically an amusement park attraction—which means you’ll have to stomach the hefty price of admission—it manages to combine the look of a living, working studio with entertaining theme park polish. The tour mixes live narration and pre-recorded Jimmy Fallon bits as you cart through backlot sets of New York, a mutt of European villages, the Old West and familiar movie landmarks—most impressively the 747 crash site from War of the Worlds. The majority of live filming is securely tucked away, but Universal compensates with preplanned encounters that mimic special effects: a wet and fiery earthquake simulation, a sudden flash flood and that delightfully rubbery, toothy grin on the face of Bruce—a.k.a. Jaws. 1hr, $109–$124
As you pass through the studio gates on this leisurely walking tour, you’re immediately greeted by Tony Tasset’s arching Rainbow sculpture—a nod to the studio’s past as the home of The Wizard of Oz. The lot’s footprint has been significantly downsized since then, when it was known as the iconic MGM Studios; virtually all of its colorful backlot sets are now gone with the wind. But the magnolia tree-lined sidewalks and clean, white Art Deco facades provide a pleasant ambience that the other industrial-edged studios lack. A leisurely walking pace allows time to peer through the elephant doors of a soundstage and look out for passing celebrities. The tour skews toward modern productions—the bullet-riddled RV from Breaking Bad, a stock car from Talladega Nights and a stop in the studios for Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune—but there are still plenty of small moments where that old moviemaking charm endures. 2hrs, $50
Believe it or not, Paramount is the last major studio to keep its headquarters located in Hollywood—and the only one there to open its doors to the public. Inside the famous wrought iron gate, you’ll be treated to a guided tram tour through soundstages and a sizable New York backlot. An extended tour adds in a trip to the archives and an on-location lunch. Look out for seasonal editions, like a Halloween one that includes a tour of the neighboring Hollywood Forever Cemetery. 2hrs, $58
Some of the biggest and most exciting studios are open to public tours, but you may be scratching your head at some big name omissions. CBS Television City (which will soon be sold to a real estate developer) technically doesn’t offer tours, but there are tons of TV shows that film there everyday for which you can secure tickets. NBC’s famous Burbank studio tour was discontinued in 2012 after most of its productions had migrated to Universal City—notable holdout The Tonight Show fled the lot for New York in 2014. Sunset Gower and Sunset Bronson (the locations of the original Warner Brothers and Columbia studios, respectively) are closed to the public, but you can get a fantastic oral history from the Felix in Hollywood Tour. Similarly, Siren Studios, L.A. Center Studios, the Jim Henson Company Lot and the 20th Century Fox Studios are for serious business only, though all have been known to host the occasional public-facing event. And not to stomp all over your childhood dreams, but unless you know an employee, don’t plan on getting inside the gates at the Walt Disney Studios or Nickelodeon on Sunset (the same goes for their Burbank animation studio).