For a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood movie-making, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is one of the best options around Los Angeles. This tour offers a 2-3 hour experience inside a working Hollywood studio, with the chance to explore outdoor sets and soundstages used to create La La Land, Gilmore Girls, The Big Bang Theory, and numerous other productions. In this review, we’ll take a look at whether the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is worth the time and money, how it compares to other Hollywood studio tours, and more.
We’ve now referenced both Hollywood and Los Angeles in this post, but technically, the studio tour is in Burbank, California. This is where most “Hollywood” studios are now located, and it’s “only” 2 miles from Griffith Park, north of Los Angeles. That only is in air quotes because this difference in location can be meaningful if you’re traveling from south of L.A. and are visiting during rush hour traffic. It takes us an upwards of 2 hours to get from where we live in Orange County to Burbank.
Once you pass the challenge of the Los Angeles traffic gods, you walk over to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour building, and check-in for the tour. This is all well-organized, with tours departing in continuous waves with about 15 minutes between them. The upside to this is that–if you’re late for your tickets–it’s no big deal. This happened to us, and we just ended up in a different wave than we would’ve been had we arrived on time…
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour begins in the Plaza Lobby, which serves as a holding area for the waves of tours. In this holding area, there are some interesting displays and a timeline of productions, as well as a Starbucks.
Once your group is called, you watch a short video chronicling Warner Bros. Studios history. This is basically a puff piece for Warner Bros, but it does its job in getting you hyped for the tour.
From there, you meet your tour guide, who takes you out to the large, golf cart-like trams. These hold ~16 people, so the tram is a pretty intimate experience.
The tour guide immediately takes the tram to the Warner Bros. Studio backlot, where you visit a series of residential streets adaptable to stand-in for a variety of different locations, from France to New York City.
I found this aspect of the Universal Studios Hollywood tour to be really interesting (click here to read my full Universal Studios Hollywood Guide), so it was nice to be able to see much more of this, and also get out and walk around the backdrops used for filming past and current productions.
This segment of the tour was pretty heavy on Gilmore Girls, as we explored multiple exteriors and interiors used during this show.
I’m more of a Golden Girls person than a Gilmore Girls one (I’ve never seen the latter, but am currently contemplating a tattoo of Estelle) but this was nonetheless interesting.
Even though I’ve never seen Gilmore Girls, there were comparisons to other productions that used the same spaces and a wealth of info about the locations.
In addition to Gilmore Girls, we also visited exteriors where Casablanca, ER, La La Land, and other movies and television shows were filmed. Don’t go in expecting any of these on your tour.
At the start of the tour, your guide asks which shows you’re interested in–we had 4 people in our group that expressed interest in Gilmore Girls, so that’s what we got.
If you want something that skews more towards your tastes, consult Warner Bros. “Backlots & Soundstages” page to see what’s currently filming when you film, and be vocal when your guide asks what interests you.
(Don’t be surprised if the La La Land coffee house is totally gone by the time you do the tour–from what I understand, it was a temporary addition for Oscars promo.)
Following the backlot segment of the tour, we stopped at the Warner Bros. Archives, which has the bottom floor dedicated to DC Super Heroes in “DC Universe: The Exhibit.” This skews entirely towards the new DC movies, all of which I thought sucked.
The upper level is dedicated to Harry Potter and the Fantastic Beasts. None of this particularly interested me; I found it to be a series of glorified photo ops. Your mileage may vary if you’re a Harry Potter or DC films fan.
Shortly after that, you visit the Picture Car Vault, which has been transformed into the Batcave, and houses a variety of Batmobiles from over the years. This included Batman films over the years, including the good ones, but just the current ‘Batfleck’ incarnation.
I enjoyed this segment more–it was neat to see actual picture cars used in production–but it still felt a lot like a glorified photo op.
These two aspect of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour were, in my opinion, the weakest elements. This all felt like an exhibit rather than anything you’d see at an actual studio.
I get the desire to offer some variety on the tours to mix things up, but if the purpose of the tour is to experience a behind-the-scenes look of a working Hollywood studio (as Warner Bros’ site indicates), this doesn’t further that goal. You could see these things at a museum in Iowa–none of this requires a visit to a Hollywood studio.
Next, we went inside of a soundstage, and saw an actual working set, both the exterior and interior. This was the highlight of the tour, and offered an experience that was unique and informative. It was interesting seeing what the cameras would–and would not–see, and how changes in the soundstage environment can cause dramatic shifts in what the camera picks up. (Sorry, no photos–they were not allowed inside the soundstage.)
Which soundstage you visit depends largely upon what is not filming or prepping for production while you visit. You’re not going to an active soundstage, but it’s in nearly show-ready condition. From what our guide said, 2 Broke Girls, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and The Big Bang Theory are among the other options.
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour concludes with a visit to the Prop Department, Central Perk set (and working coffee shop, separately), interactive Stage 48, and Studio Store. All of this is located in the same building, and you go through at your own pace.
Here, you can hold an Oscar, sit in the Central Perk set from Friends, or do a green-screen experience riding a broom from Harry Potter (or another film). Warning: the final videos from the green screen experience are expensive, but getting dressed up and doing it is free–we just filmed ours with iPhones and elected not to buy the finished video.
The soundstage visit and walking in and around the backlot alone made the Warner Bros. Studio Tour worth it to us. These accounted for around half of the tour time (ours clocked in around 2.5 hours, but they can last anywhere between 2 and 3 hours depending upon stops and how much time you spend in final, self-guided section.
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour offers a lot more improvisation than the Universal Studios Hollywood tour; while the latter can vary from day to day, it’s a largely scripted experience that aims at cycling through as many guests per day as possible. By contrast the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is a more intimate tram experience that also includes walking segments. Aside from the introduction, there are no video hosts, and it feels much more personal.
At both of these tours, we’ve found the tour guides to be incredibly polished, exuberant, and knowledgeable. Warner and Universal are clearly hiring guides that can put on a guide show, and that’s a definite upside to both.
By contrast, one of the downsides of our Sony tour was that our guide didn’t have a ton of polish–even though he was quite knowledgeable.
On the other hand, with so much effort made on the tour being polished and efficient, you do get the sense that Warner Bros. is selling a packaged experience as much as an authentic studio tour. At several points, you criss-cross or overlap with other tour groups, and the backlot was awash with tours during our visit.
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour was still a lot of fun with a wealth of behind the scenes experiences, so this is not too heavy of criticism.
The biggest drawback of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is the cost, which is currently $65 per person. In addition, parking in the nearby lot is $12/vehicle. (You could probably find free street parking within a couple of blocks, but we were running late thanks to traffic, so we just paid.) It’s recommended that you purchase tickets in advance and arrive 15-20 minutes before your tour starts.
We used the Go Los Angeles Card (read our review of the Go LA Card here), and based upon what we saw when checking in, at least half of other guests doing the tour used this card. If you’re thinking about doing both the Sony Studio Tour and Warner Bros. Studio Tour, it’s cheaper to buy the card and do them in the same day. This is easily do-able, and anything else you manage to accomplish in that day is gravy.
If we had to pay full price, I might feel a bit differently about the experience. If you don’t opt for the Go LA Card but are a local, there are regularly SoCal resident specials available during the off-season that make the tour cost under $50/person. Still expensive, but better.
We’ve now done 3 of the 4 studio tours offered in and around Hollywood, California. At this point, I’d say the Warner Bros. Studio Tour offers the best compromise of a well-produced tour and an intimate experience that offers a behind the scenes look at Hollywood production. Each of the 3 tours we’ve done thus far differ fairly significantly from one another to the point that you could do all of them if you were interested in Hollywood. Which is best for you depends largely on personal preference. (Once we’ve done the Paramount Studio Tour, I’ll write an article weighing the pros and cons of all 4.)
With that said, I would highly recommend the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. This is particularly true if you did the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood and found yourself wanting something more in-depth/behind-the-scenes, and less of a theme park experience. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour scores high marks for being well-organized, efficient, and offering enough glimpses into Hollywood production to make it worth your time and money. It doesn’t have quite the ‘insider’ vibe as the Sony tour, but it makes up for this in terms of polish and solid substance. Even though it’s a bit pricey (especially with parking piled on top of high admission costs), it’s a good option for things to do in and around Los Angeles.
If you’re planning a California vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to do. For Los Angeles-centric trips, we’ve found the most useful guidebook to be The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas, which is written by locals (and we use it even as locals!). If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you done the Warner Bros. Studio Tour? If so, what did you think of experience? Did you think the balance of behind-the-scenes looks at production with ‘scripted’ entertainment was appropriate? Have you done other studio tours? Would you do the Warner Bros. Studio Tour again, or do you think it was a ‘one and done’? Was it worth your time and money? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!