Make L.A. a family affair

A three-generation visit to Hollywood and Universal Studios was one to remember

Driving into a tunnel leading to “Skull Island,” our trolley slowed almost to a stop.

A crushed trolley car outside Skull Island spotted on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios. Photo Universal Studio Tour

Considering we had just driven past a deserted trolley that looked to have been almost completely crushed, this unscheduled delay to our tour was slightly disconcerting.

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Things got even scarier when a herd of horse-sized, lightning-quick dinosaurs turned their attention towards us before awaking a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex hidden amongst the jungle undergrowth.

With an earthshaking roar, the gargantuan T-Rex began an attack on the trolley and I could hear other passengers seated behind us begin to scream. But suddenly, with a flip of its ponderous tail, the T-Rex turned away from us, halting what was sure to have been a full-on assault.

A trolley car entering Skull Island on a Studio Tour of Universal Studios. Photo Universal Studio Tour

That’s when King Kong showed up and an epic battle of brute force ensued. As the two beasts battled to the death, they hit the trolley rocking us from side to side and, at times, landed on the roof.

That’s when the screams from our fellow passengers really picked up. I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say I was never sure if King Kong was actually trying to save us or just wanted us for himself.

The Bates Motel from the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho against the backdrop of a set from The Grinch seen during the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo Sandra Thomas

The King Kong 3-D experience was one of the highlights of the famous Studio Tour at Universal Studios, which I recently enjoyed as part of a three-generation trip to California with my son Ted and grandson Carter — for Carter’s 10th birthday. The studio tour was a not only a highlight of our day at Universal, but of our entire trip — at least for me.

The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section of Universal Studios in Hollywood. Photo Sandra Thomas

But, it was the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter that had Carter most enthralled. To be truthful, considering Universal Studios is the place that makes movie magic happen, it makes sense that they’re masters at what they do, so we were pretty much enthralled with everything.

I was also a big fan of the virtual reality roller coasters. For the record, I hate roller coasters so I was happy to experience the thrill of rides such as Transformers 3-D and the Simpsons Ride in Krustyland without the risk and went on a couple of them more than once. Universal Studios also has real roller coasters, but I left those up to Ted and Carter.

The entrance to Predator Cove on Jurassic World: The Ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Photo Sandra Thomas

One new ride we all enjoyed together, and rode a couple of times, was Jurassic World: The Ride. This water ride began in a raft meandering past Predator Cove, but a security breach meant the T-Rex had escaped and all kinds of panic ensued.

Jurassic World: The Ride at Universal Studios: Photo Universal Studios

Near the end of the ride, just as we thought we had escaped unscathed, a second T-Rex appeared right in front of us. With its massive head — and jaws wide open — it initially looked like we were doomed, but seconds before we floated into its jaws, our raft plunged down an 85-foot waterfall and, of course, that’s when they took our photo.

Note: This ride is not for the little ones. We saw some pretty traumatized toddlers screaming hysterically and shaking at the end of the ride.

The night before we headed to the park, we took the free trolley from The Garland, the mid-century modern hotel we used as base camp for our two days in Hollywood, to Universal CityWalk, which is basically attached to Universal Studios. Besides Vegas, it’s unlikely you’ll find more neon in one spot and we went full-on tourist, staring up at the lights with our mouths hanging open.

King Kong in neon at Universal CityWalk. Photo Sandra Thomas

We spent hours at Universal CityWalk, which is where you’ll want to buy any Universal Studios souvenirs on your list because it saves you from carrying bags around when you hit the park. It was in the Harry Potter shop that we bought Carter an interactive wand he used the next day wandering the streets of Hogwarts within Universal Studios.

The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section of Universal Studios in Hollywood. Photo Sandra Thomas

When we’d see a gold medallion embedded into the cobblestone, Carter was able to use his wand to cast magic spells and bring inanimate objects to life. CityWalk also has more than 30 places to eat and a 19-screen theatre with state-of-the-art IMAX.

Universal CityWalk is a neon lover's dream. Photo Sandra Thomas

I really had no idea what to expect from Universal Studios, beyond the videos I watched before we left, and had been concerned about keeping up with a 10-year-old.

Universal Studios in Hollywood is the ideal location for a multi-generational family vacation. Photo Sandra Thomas

Luckily, with the way Universal Studios is laid out, while we did a lot of walking, nothing seemed too far away and we were able to move back and forth across the park without my feet giving out.

The author's son Ted and grandson Carter at Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo Sandra Thomas

I had planned this trip with hopes of spending quality time with my son and grandson, who I don’t see nearly enough because they don’t live in Vancouver, and it couldn’t have worked out better. The hardest part was saying goodbye to them after we got home.

Where to stay

The exterior of The Garland hotel in Hollywood. Photo The Garland

We can’t say enough about The Garland, which even the 10-year-old in our group dubbed “cool,” especially when he saw that the bedroom TV had the YouTube channel — and he enjoyed the milk and cookies delivered to our room after we checked in.

The pool at The Garland in Hollywood. Photo The Garland

We had arrived after spending three action-packed days at a very busy resort so I could feel the calm the moment we arrived at The Garland and grabbed seats by the pool.

This vintage oasis is an orange, brick and wood-grained throwback to the 1970s, when it was first built by legendary Hollywood actress Beverly Garland and her husband Fillmore Crank.

The lobby of The Garland hotel in Hollywood. Photo The Garland

The pair wanted to create a hideaway for family, celebrity friends and guests and, with Las Vegas hotel impresario John Kell Houssels Jr., they built one of the most stunning hotels in North Hollywood.

In 2000, the Beverly Garland hotel was handed down to their son James, whose unpretentious style influenced the expansion of the property into a retro-chic Hollywood resort.

Our family suite at The Garland. Photo The Garland

The Garland team has also thoughtfully curated events to make even the most discerning guests happy, including Rosé all Day for $20 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., courtyard games, wine tastings, fitness classes, California craft beer tastings, drive-in movies at the pool and more.

Bunk beds in a family suite at The Garland. Photo The Garland

We stayed in a family suite, which included a separate bedroom with bunk beds and a king-size bed in the living area made up of vintage-inspired pieces. We also took full advantage of the free “Let the Good Times Roll” trolley provided by The Garland, which runs every 15 minutes, to travel back and forth to Universal Studios and CityWalk. We enjoyed our time at the Garland so much I have honestly been recommending it to friends since we got home.

With Christmas and the holidays just weeks away, there’s lots going on in L.A. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Hear holly jolly music echo at the Music Center, home to the Ahmanson Theatre, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Walt Disney Concert Hall. Visitors can attend the entire season without seeing the same event twice.
  • Spend the day ice skating at the annual Bai Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square with “Let It Go Tuesdays” celebrating the film, FROZEN.
  • The Los Angeles Kings will also host their annual holiday skating attraction, LA Kings Holiday Ice at three locations. In addition to the flagship location at L.A. LIVE, Holiday Ice outdoor rinks are hosted at Westfield Topanga, the Village in Woodland Hills and Westfield Valencia Town Center.
  • See the dazzling holiday light decorations at the Enchanted: Forest of Light for an interactive nighttime experience that features a one-mile walk through the Descanso Gardens. For more light displays see this guide.
  • DineL.A. is pleased to announce the return of dineL.A. Restaurant Week for the 2020 winter season, taking place from Jan. 17 to 31. The 15-day dining event, which occurs twice a year, will feature more than 400 restaurants across L.A. showcasing the city’s diverse and exciting culinary scene. DineL.A offers value-driven menus for lunch and dinner, along with more than 20 elaborate tasting menus from L.A.’s best restaurants.



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