Universal Studios Hollywood: Rides, Entertainment, Discounts

Universal Studios Hollywood is a fantastic addition to your Southern California vacation especially with the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the new Super Nintendo World, and the other new additions to the theme park. Universal Studios Hollywood has grown to be a full-day theme park with these great lands.

Universal Studios Hollywood has many unique experiences in addition to Harry Potter like a Jurassic World ride, a studio tour to see real movie sets, and more! Keep reading for everything you need to know about a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood.

Universal Studios Hollywood Guide

Universal Studios Hollywood is the perfect complement to your Disneyland visit as it brings to life the filmmaking aspect of Southern California–which has been dubbed the movie-making capital of the world!

Guests are given the opportunity to enter the worlds of their favorite films as they experience themed attractions, spectacular live entertainment, and tours showcasing actual movie sets. A stop at Universal Studios Hollywood can make a great addition to your Disneyland or Southern California vacation, and we’ve made a Universal Studios Hollywood guide on just how to make it happen!

Universal Studios Hollywood TicketsUniversal Studios Hollywood Hogwarts

We all want to save money and be more efficient with our time, and one of my biggest Universal Studios tips for saving money and experiencing more is to purchase your tickets in advance.

Purchasing your tickets before you arrive eliminates the time you would’ve spent in line at the ticket booth and gets you into the park quicker. Another benefit to advanced ticket orders is the opportunity to save money. We partner with Universal Studio’s top travel partner to offer discounts on tickets exclusively for our readers.

For the best prices on Universal Studios Hollywood tickets and info on how to avoid scammy tickets, visit our guide to discount Universal Studios Hollywood tickets.

Universal Studios Hollywood also offers a unique VIP Experience that is completely worth the cost! Not only with you get to cut lines for all of the fantastic rides throughout Universal Studios Hollywood, but you’ll get exclusive VIP perks only available with this experience.

You’ll be greeted in a private lounge upon arrival with a light breakfast, receive complimentary valet parking, a tour of the studio backlot with your own tour guide both on foot and on a private tram, and enjoy a fantastic lunch prepared by the Universal Studios Hollywood executive chefs. All of this starts at $369 per person!

Book here for our exclusive discount >

If you are still worried about missing out on some of the opportunities the park has to offer but don’t want to try the VIP Experience, you may wish to consider Universal’s version of Disneyland’s Genie+, the Universal Express Pass.

Universal Hollywood Express Pass

Formally referred to as the Front of the Line Pass, the Universal Studios Hollywood Express Pass gives guests the privilege of skipping lines and receiving priority seating to seated shows. Like Disneyland’s Genie Plus offering, the pass comes at an additional price, but unlike Genie+, Express Pass gives you any-time access to attractions.

I recommend the Universal Studios Hollywood Universal Express pass to anyone that is visiting on a weekend, during Summer, or during the busy Spring Break season. On a regular weekday visit, this pass is likely, not necessary. However, you can purchase a Universal Express pass the day of if the park proves to be more crowded than you expected and is unbearable. There are two different kinds of Express Pass: Universal Express and Universal Express Unlimited.

Universal Express

Universal Express includes one-time access per day to each ride, attraction, seated show, and one reservation-free entry into Super Nintendo World when reservations are required.

Universal Express Pass for Universal Hollywood is an additional purchase with your 1-day ticket.

Universal Express Unlimited

Universal Express Unlimited includes unlimited per-day express access to each ride, attraction, seated show, and unlimited reservation-free entry into Super Nintendo World when reservations are required.

You can view our full guide to the Universal Express Pass to see the breakdown on cost, whether it’s worth it, and how to use it.

What To Do at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood has been continuously expanding and offering new attractions and experiences to the theme park. The two most popular lands here are Super Nintendo World and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

Here are some of the most popular things to do at Universal Studios Hollywood:

  • Super Nintendo World: Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood is the first Super Nintendo World to debut in the United States. Guests are transported into the Nintendo World of Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach inside the Mushroom Kingdom, and they even get to participate in a Mario Kart race!
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter allows guests to step directly into the world of Harry Potter created by JK Rowling. Find the perfect wand at Ollivanders, make your way through the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, take a ride on Flight of the Hippogriff, and then sip a Butterbeer to wind down. The main attraction in the Wizarding World is the massive Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction which features incredible sets and technology that will have you feeling like you are flying on a broom with Harry Potter and his friends. From the most avid fan to the average house elf, there is something here for everyone.
  • WaterWorld: For a studio famous for making movies driven by special effects, the shows and performances at Universal Hollywood Studios have to be big. The WaterWorld show is a must to see including fight scenes, explosions, and a crashing plane.
  • The World Famous Studio Tour: Universal Studios Hollywood first started out as a Tram Tour of the working Universal Studios backlot. Today, this tour is still running strong but has evolved quite a bit. Throughout the tour, you will still see working sets and go behind the scenes, but you will also experience new 4D attractions from King Kong and The Fast and the Furious.
  • VIP Experience: In addition to the world-famous Studio Tour, Universal Studios Hollywood also offers a VIP Experience that gives guests the opportunity to see areas of the studio not open to the general public. For a surprisingly affordable price for what is included, the tour also enables you to skip the line and see shows from the best seats reserved just for you!

Universal Studios Hollywood Attractions

Universal Studios Hollywood is split into two sections: the Lower Lot and Upper Lot. The reason for this is that Universal Studios is literally built alongside a hill. There is a massive set of escalators that guests can use to go down to the Lower Lot and back up. There is also an elevator too. The attractions are split between these two sections. The Lower Lot is much smaller and the rest of the main park is in the Upper Lot including the main entrance.

Lower Lot Attractions

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge

This attraction is part of the new Super Nintendo Land and is the most recent ride to open at Universal Studios Hollywood. This innovative ride propels guests into a “multi-dimensional experience that recreates iconic environments from the Mario Kart games and where no two races are alike.” Since each race can be different, you can enjoy this ride multiple times and have different experiences.

You will board actual Mario Karts and using special goggles for 3D effects you will battle Team Bowser alongside Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. You’ll steer through underwater courses and courses in the clouds, collecting coins and throwing shells to win the Golden Cup. This is a must-see attraction and one you cannot skip!

Transformers: The Ride-3D

This is a 3D dark ride attraction that takes guests into the world of the Transformers movies. This ride features screens that are 60 feet tall projecting 3D images of Transformers in the midst of a battle. The ride vehicle itself never moves that quickly and most of the action is simulated by special effects and the large screens.

Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride

Revenge of the Mummy is a dark, thrilling roller coaster focused on films from the popular Mummy franchise. The ride queue features a walk through the tomb of Imhotep (the mummy from the films!) ending in a fast-paced roller coaster through the tomb as you try to escape the ancient curse of the mummy. This is one of the best roller coasters at Universal Studios Hollywood and an attraction you cannot miss.

Jurassic World- The Ride

Jurassic World is the newest retheme of the Jurassic Park ride to include characters from the new Jurassic World films. The ride features the film’s stars such as Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and BD Wong, who reprise their roles as Owen Grady, Claire Dearing, and Dr. Henry Wu. They have added new dinosaurs from the Jurassic World movies including the Indominus rex and the aquatic Mosasaurus. Aside from these additions, this classic ride remains the same as it starts with a boat ride through a world of animatronic dinosaurs before ending in a large drop.

Upper Lot AttractionsSecret Life of Pets

The World Famous Studio Tour

Also known as the Backlot Tour, the Studio Tour is Universal Hollywood’s signature attraction which is only available at this park. This tour travels through a working film studio so depending on what is happening you will see actual movie and television show sets. The Studio Tour lasts about 60 minutes and also includes examples of the amazing special effects Hollywood can create like an airplane crash, flash flood, and an earthquake. Some famous franchises are also featured like Fast and the Furious and King Kong. This attraction is a must-see and one you cannot skip!

Flight of the Hippogriff

This attraction,  directly across from Hogwarts, is a short roller coaster that takes you past Hogwarts and Hagrid’s pumpkin patch. Guests will see an animatronic Buckbeak the hippogriff and Hagrid’s hut in the queue. This is a short ride and a great starter coaster for small children. If you prefer more thrilling rides, this is one you can skip unless you’re a big Harry Potter fan. The ride is great but it’s extremely short.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

This is the main stop attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. This ride is located inside Hogwarts Castle and the queue will take you past notable Harry Potter moments like Dumbledore’s office, a classroom featuring projections of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the Fat Lady, the vials holding the house points, the Herbology garden, and more! This attraction features a combination of screen technology and classic dark-ride animatronics.

The ride uses a robotic arm to transport guests on a bench that becomes magicked to fly by Hermione herself. The harness goes above your head, strapping you in, and leaving your feet dangling as you fly around Hogwarts and the Forbidden Forest. The ride does not go upside down although you do get shaken around quite a bit backwards and forwards. It’s a fantastic ride- not to be missed! This ride may be a trigger for those who are sensitive to motion sickness. However, the ride switches between screens and animatronics so it’s not an entirely screen-focused ride.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

This is a 3D simulator ride featuring the Minions and Gru from the Despicable Me franchise. Guests will go through two preshows with characters from the film. Guests will enter Gru’s home and go through steps to be recruited as one of his minions. This is a very tame 3D ride and the seats are one big platform that moves together along with the screen. This is a very popular ride that kids love.

Secret Life of Pets- The Ride

This dark ride is based on the Secret Life of Pets films featuring animatronics of some of the favorite characters from the franchise. This attraction uses facial recognition software to transform guests into puppies as they search for their new homes. This is one of the newest attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood and is a must-see for all guests.

The Simpsons Ride

The Simpsons ride is located in the Simpsons area of Univeral which is a great themed area around this iconic animated tv show. This attraction is a virtual roller coaster ride where guests enter a small ride vehicle that is then enclosed. This is a small space and only sits eight people. The screen itself is a 85-foot IMAX Dome and the ride is also equipped to squirt guests with water, wind, and other special effects to make the experience seem real.

This might be the #1 ride for guests with motion sickness to avoid. Otherwise, this is a fun and silly ride that takes you right into the world of The Simpsons.

Silly Swirly

Silly Swirly is a spinning ride similar to the famous Dumbo attraction at Disneyland. This attraction is located in Super Silly Fun Land which is an interactive play area for kids all themed around the Despicable Me franchise. This ride and area is focused on kids and is a great place for smaller kids to have fun. If you do not have small kids in your group, this is an area you could skip.

DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda

This is a 4D attraction where guests sit in front of a 180-degree screen featuring an interactive experience with Kung Fu Panda. The seat vibrations and water mist happen in time with the onscreen show. In this show, the character Po has to deliver a liquid of “ultimate power” to the emporer, and on the way he dodges rapids, broken bridges, and the villain Kang Wolf. This is a short show lasting about ten minutes. While the show is entertaining, especially for young kids, this attraction is a skip if you need to prioritize your time.

Shows and Entertainment at Universal Studios Hollywood 2023Waterworld

One of my favorite parts of any visit to Universal Studios Hollywood is the fantastic stage shows throughout the theme park.

If you are interested in watching the different shows, it is important to view the park’s schedule and plan accordingly. Most entertainment occurs only at certain times, though rides run continuously.

If you are set on seeing a performance, the rest of your day should be planned around that experience. Universal Studios Hollywood publishes their entertainment schedule on both their app and website. These shows usually start in the later part of the morning, so you should have time to fit in some attractions before even the earliest performances start.

Some of the highlighted shows and experiences at Universal Studios Hollywood are:

  • WaterWorld: WaterWorld is a live-action show featuring jumping jet skiers, firefights, massive explosions, and a giant plane crash. The show itself is based on the events that take place in the classic WaterWorld movie but you do not need to be familiar with the movie to enjoy the show. The special effects of this experience include fireballs shooting nearly 50 feet into the year and performing move-worthy stunts. This stunning spectacular of stunts, pyrotechnics, and an incredible plane crash is a must-see. 
  • Harry Potter Ollivanders Wand Shop: Anyone that knows their Hogwarts House can also tell you that the wand chooses the wizard. That is exactly what happens at Ollivanders Wand Shop. View, or participate in, this interactive demonstration. Resin wands can be purchased as souvenirs, as well as interactive wands that can be used in various locations around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to unlock even more magic. This show runs continuously and requires that you wait in line outside of the wand shop.
  • Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle: the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle is a nighttime show that features music and a projection show on Hogwarts Castle featuring the four houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. There is also a second show which plays intermittently throughout the year, especially during Halloween, called the Dark Arts at Hogwarts which features Dementors, Death Eaters, and other creatures associated with Dark Magic. And during the holidays, the show changes a holiday-themed show with Christmas music and projections featuring scenes associated with the holidays in the Harry Potter universe like the Yule Ball.
  • Raptor Encounter: The Raptor Encounter near the Jurassic World ride has been updated to include Blue, the popular raptor from Jurassic World, as he engages with guests in addition to two more new dinosaurs including a baby raptor and a life-size triceratops. This is a great character meet and greet with an edge.

Universal Studios Hollywood Touring PlanUniversal Express Pass Simpsons land

While you can experience the attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood in any order and still have a fantastic time, I would recommend following the below plan in order to experience more during your visit.

Upon arrival, I would suggest that you use this Universal Studios Hollywood touring plan to save a lot of time. This itinerary does not include Express Pass or early access to Super Nintendo World.

  • Arrive at the parks 30 minutes before opening.
  • Line up to Rope Drop Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge for Rope Drop. Super Nintendo Land is located in the Lower Lot of the park so this will be a bit of a fast-paced walk to get there!
  • After riding Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, go straight to Toadstool Cafe and scan the QR code located at the entrance of the restaurant to book your reservation.
  • Enjoy Super Nintendo Land and if dining at Toadstool Cafe is a priority for you then hang out in the land until your dining time. If not and you are not called back to the cafe right away, proceed to the next step.
  • After you’re done in Super Nintendo Land, enjoy the rest of the rides in Universal’s Lower Lot.
  • Ride Revenge of the Mummy- The Ride.
    • This ride offers Single Rider- use it to cut your way time to less than half the posted time.
  • Ride Jurassic World- The Ride. 
  • Ride TRANSFORMERS: The Ride- 3D.
    • This ride offers Single Rider- use it to cut your way time to less than half the posted time.
  • Ride The Simpsons Ride which is located right near the entrance/exit to the Lower Lot.
  • Ride the Studio Tour next as this ride is a priority for a true Universal Studios Hollywood experience. This ride is located not far from The Simpsons Ride.
  • Head to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter next which is located right near the Studio Tour.
  • Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey which is one of the best rides in the park. Do not skip this one!
    • This ride offers Single Rider- use it to cut your way time to less than half the posted time.
  • You can choose to ride Flight of the Hippogriff which is a must for Harry Potter fans to see a cool animatronic Buckbeak and Hagrid’s Hut. Otherwise, you can skip this one to save time.
  • At this point, the main rides you have left are all the ones at the park that focus on the Dreamworks franchise. Before heading over to do those, you should prioritize getting a spot for the WaterWorld show which is one of the most amazing experiences at Universal!
  • Ride The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and Kung Fu Panda Adventure.
  • If you have small kids, you will enjoy taking them to Super Silly Fun Land which is an interactive kid’s focused area based on the Despicable Me franchise and includes the Minion-themed Silly Swirly Ride.

Head back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at dusk to enjoy the nighttime projections on Hogwarts Castle. This show changes themes throughout the year from a show based on traditional Harry Potter elements to a Dark Arts one that’s a bit more spooky. During the holiday season, the show will be holiday focused.

This is just a basic framework that will allow you to experience more during your day. For further detailed touring strategies including how to use Express Pass, see more of our strategies in our guide.

Universal Studios Hollywood 2023 Single Rider TipsOn ride

Using the Universal Studios Hollywood Single Rider line will improve your experience and allow you to get on attractions faster. You will be split up from your party, but you’ll get to experience many more rides..

The attractions that offer Single Rider at Universal Studios Hollywood are:

  1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  2. Revenge of the Mummy — The Ride
  3. Transformers: The Ride 3D

How Much Time to Spend at Universal Studios HollywoodJurassic Park

While we always recommend more than a single day in a Disneyland vacation, Universal Studios Hollywood doesn’t require the same time commitment to fit in everything the theme park has to offer.

For a vast majority of visitors, one day in Universal Studios Hollywood should be sufficient if you use your time well. Adding a day at Universal is a great addition to any Disneyland or Southern Californian vacation.

Some die-hard Harry Potter fans may want to spend more time just to explore all of the fantastic details in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Some “Potterheads” elect to spend an entire day in Hogsmeade, then another whole day visiting the rest of the park. It’s still usually safe to say that even the biggest of Harry Potter fans should be able to fit in both Hogsmeade and the rest of the park in a single day.

Universal Studios Hollywood Crowd Calendar 2023

While there are some, not many guests travel to Southern California for the sole reason of visiting Universal Studios Hollywood. Many, like you most likely, are adding it onto the rest of their existing trip. The benefit to this is that if you know the right time to visit Disneyland, it’s safe to say that you also know a great time to visit Universal (you can see our when to visit Disneyland crowd guide here.)

Another thing you can use to track anticipated crowds is to look at Universal Studios Hollywood’s calendar for pricing for Express Pass. The higher the crowd levels, the more expensive Express Pass will be. This gives a good indicator of what crowd levels Universal is anticipating and they will have the most up-to-date data.

Where to Stay at Universal Studios Hollywood

There are a number of options regarding your hotels near Universal Studios Hollywood.

Usually, I would suggest that if you are coming to visit the park as part of your Disneyland vacation you keep your hotel in Anaheim rather than transferring somewhere to stay up by Universal Studios Hollywood. You can see all of my favorite Disneyland hotels on our best hotels near Disneyland guide here.

In my opinion, the best hotel near Universal Studios Hollywood is The Garland. This old Hollywood hotel has been beautifully renovated with fantastic rooms, a nice pool, and a fabulous restaurant. During our recent stay, we ate dinner in the restaurant two nights in a row. The hotel also has a shuttle directly to Universal Studios Hollywood. You can see more information and info on discounts here.

Driving to Universal Studios Hollywood

If you’re staying near Disneyland (mainly in Orange County), you’ll most likely want to rent a car and drive to Universal Studios Hollywood or take an Uber. 

You can see information on discount car rental, Uber, and transportation services here.

There is also a specific shuttle from the Anaheim Area up to Universal Studios Hollywood that runs daily. You can see more information on this shuttle and purchase discount tickets here.

Speaking of time, it will take some time to get to Universal Studios Hollywood when driving from the Disneyland Resort. Driving from Orange County to Universal Studios Hollywood should take between 45 minutes and 2 hours depending on the time of day and traffic. This is a key tip in our guide to Universal Studios Hollywood–well really any guide to theme parks–be generous with the amount of time you allocate to travel so that you can still arrive before the park opening.

One of my top Universal Studios Hollywood tips is to arrive at the park early! Arriving before the park opens ready to pounce immediately when they open the gates can result in some of the shortest attraction wait times of the entire day!

Where to Eat at Universal Studios HollywoodHoneydukes™ - Universal Studios Hollywood

In recent years Universal Studios Hollywood has expanded their food offerings to go beyond the more traditional theme park food fare. We’re going to highlight the main food stops you need to have on your radar on your next visit to Universal Studios Hollywood.

Inside the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you will find a wide variety of food and drink that any Potter fan would die for. Dive into the incredible Honeydukes Sweet Shop for a wide variety of Harry Potter inspired sweets including the every-flavor jelly beans with weird flavors ranging from boogers to blueberry. You will also find the Three Broomsticks with a wide variety of old English dishes like Bangers and Mash. This is also my favorite place to sit down for a break inside the Wizarding World.

I couldn’t talk about food in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without mentioning the incredible Butterbeer! This drink made famous by the book series has an incredible caramel frothy taste that you can try in a frozen, regular, or warm variety. If you do decide to purchase this drink, go inside the Three Broomsticks to the Hog’s Head bar where there is a much shorter line for the drink than there is at the stand in the middle of the land.

UniversalStudiosHollywood.com Filtered Results | Universal Studios ...

Moving on, the Simpson’s Springfield area has a wide variety of foods from the popular animated TV show. This area has a wide variety of foods in the eateries each taken from the television show. These locations include Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlour, Luigi’s Pizza, and Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck. For any fan of the show, this is a can’t miss area!

If you are looking for some simpler options I would recommend either the Starbucks that is located right as you are entering the theme park or the commissary-type Studio Cafe restaurant in the lower lot which has lots of good sandwich options and some very good desserts. There is also a Ben and Jerry’s location for anyone who wants an easy ice cream choice at Universal Studios Hollywood.

There are also tons of great dining options at the Universal CityWalk which is located right outside of the front gate of the theme park. My must-see in Universal CityWalk is the Food Channel-famous Voodoo Donuts which opened its first location in Portland, Oregon. I highly recommend checking out this shop to see their crazy decor even if you are not in the mood for one of their tantalizing sweets.

Universal Studios Hollywood Seasonal Events

In recent years Universal Studios Hollywood has been expanding their offerings around the various holidays throughout the year.

Image result for stranger things universal maze

The trademark event of the year is the Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights. These events run from the middle of September through the first week of November. This is an event geared towards adults looking for terrifying mazes and performances inspired by the most frightening of films and television shows. This is a separately-ticketed event and is probably the only event of the year you’ll need to plan your itinerary around if you choose to visit.

universal studios hollywood christmas harry potter show guide

Look at this awesome shot of the projection show during Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Studios Hollywood has two main events to celebrate the holiday season: Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Grinchmas inspired by the classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.

Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter runs from the end of November through the beginning of January. Hogsmeade is transformed into a holiday wonderland with festive decorations, themed food and treats, and a nighttime projection show on Hogwarts Castle. If you love the nighttime shows at any of the Disney parks, you’ll surely enjoy this! You can also find themed holiday entertainment that Harry Potter fans will love.

The Grinch and Max in front of the Christmas tree

Grinchmas takes place on select dates in December based on the movie inspired by the classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss. Help decorate the Whoville Christmas Tree before the unique 60-foot giant is lit up before your very eyes. Then join the Grinch himself for a photo and meet and greet. There is also a very cute show with some of the Whos from Whoville featuring holiday dancers.

You can read all about celebrating the holidays at Universal Studios Hollywood in our extensive guide including photo tour, strategies, and more.

Plan Your Southern California Vacation Now!

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Check out our other top guides to planning your Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood trips! You’ll find tips and tricks on how to save money and experience more.

  1. Save Money on Disneyland Tickets
  2. Universal Studios Hollywood Discount Cheap Tickets
  3. Best Hotels Near Disneyland
  4. Save Money on Discount Disney World Tickets
  5. How to Get to Disneyland Airports
  6. How to Guide to Disneyland Stroller Rentals

Thank you for joining us to learn more about how to incorporate Universal Studios Hollywood into your Disneyland vacation.

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About Gavin Doyle

Gavin Doyle is a best-selling author and founder of Mickey Visit. He is an expert on helping families save money and experience more at Disney, Universal, and beyond. He has been featured in Forbes, ABC7, Travel+Leisure, the OC Register, Orange County Register, LA Times, Yahoo! News, and more.

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