Hollywood is a star attraction Fun for all: Family-friendly activities include the Warner Bros. VIP Tour, a TV-show taping session and a visit to Universal Studios.

Taking the Kids

January 07, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Let's get one thing straight. The holly plant does not grow here in Hollywood, Calif. And that huge HOLLYWOOD sign -- the letters are the size of a five-story building -- wasn't designed to tout the film industry. It was hauled up the mountain by mules in 1923 to advertise a new subdivision called Hollywoodland.

In the half century since, of course, the small subdivision that started with just one house in a fig orchard has become the center of the nation's film and television industry. The 50-foot high sign -- replaced in 1979 -- has become Los Angeles' most famous landmark.

Eye-catching in a different way is the Venice boardwalk. Since 1972, this stretch of beach has boasted craft, clothing and food vendors, street performers, Muscle Beach bodybuilders, local characters, political activists and international visitors. Kids and parents will love the 8-mile-long oceanfront bike and skate path. Equipment rentals are available all along the beach.

Welcome to Tinseltown, where everyone's nurturing a dream. It's also the first place most kids will want to see when they visit Los Angeles. (Call the Los Angeles Convention Hollywood Visitors Information Center at [213] 689-8822 or stop in to the office at 6541 Hollywood Blvd. Ask for the handout of "20 Free and Fun Things You Can Do Only in Los Angeles".)

To get in the mood for Hollywood, talk to the waiter at breakfast or dinner. Chances are he's an aspiring actor, singer or screenwriter waiting for a big break.

Walk off breakfast on the Hollywood Walk of Fame along Hollywood Boulevard, stopping to see the brass stars with those famous names. Take some snapshots next to your favorites. (Find Mickey Mouse at 6925 Hollywood Blvd. or visit John Lennon's star at 1750 Vine St.)

Don't skip the biggest autograph book anywhere. That's Mann's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the kids can compare their handprints and footprints to those made by stars in cement. How do your gang's footprints stack up against Donald Duck's or the crew of the Starship Enterprise?

Serious film buffs in the family (as long as they're at least 10) -- will want to take Warner Bros. VIP Tour to peek behind the scenes of a working studio. (Call [818] 954-1744 and find out how to see everything from sets being built to wardrobes being readied.)

For those hankering for close-up view of a TV show in the making, there are opportunities to get free tickets. Just remember that most studios have age requirements for children. To see what's available when you're visiting, call Audiences Unlimited at (818) 506-0043; CBS-TV at (213) 852-2624; and NBC-TV at (818) 840-3537.

Of course, all kids are welcome at Universal Studios, billed as the world's busiest TV and movie studio. Head straight for the Hollywood Backlot Tour. Where else can you escape a great white shark, survive an earthquake or barely make it over a collapsing bridge -- all in less than an hour?

If that weren't excitement enough, take the Back to the Future Ride, where you are engulfed in a cold fog, blasted to the future and then backward through time, almost into the jaws of huge dinosaurs. Consider that it takes more than 20 computers, 50 miles of wire and two 7-story-high Omnimax screens to make this ride work. It's worth waiting for.

Come summer, you can try the most expensive ride ever built -- the $100 million plus Jurassic Park the Ride.

Plan to spend most of the day at Universal Studios. While the theme-park attractions may be similar to those at Universal Studios Orlando, only here can the kids get up close to so much bona fide film and television production. Touring the back lots, they can be in New York one minute and Europe the next; they may even glimpse a movie star.

Older kids might be able to see a show being taped right on the lot. If they are old enough to know when to be quiet, ask at the information booths about tapings.

In the early days of the movie industry, it didn't matter how much noise onlookers made because movies had no sound. Universal charged tourists a quarter and gave them lunch while they watched movies being made. Today it's a lot more expensive to visit here ($33 for adults, $25 for kids ages 3-11, with kids under 3 free. Grandparents also get a break. Senior tickets for those 60 and older are $27. Call [818] 508-9600). But I think it's a place that gives you your money's worth.

A word of caution, though, for those visiting with young children: Most of the attractions are geared for the school-aged set. Check out what you'll be seeing before waiting in line with a preschooler. One good bet for the younger crowd is Fievel's Playland where the gang can visit a mouse-sized world. How about sliding down a giant banana peel or exploring a chunk of Swiss cheese that's really a maze of tunnels?

All of the animal lovers in the family, no matter how young, will enjoy Beethoven's Animal Actors Stage. They'll see some 60 of Hollywood's superstar animals -- including Beethoven the dog -- do their stuff.

When it's time for dinner, head up the hill outside Universal Studios to Universal CityWalk, the two-block pedestrian mall that has become one of the city's hottest attractions for locals as well as tourists. (For CityWalk information, call [818] 622-4455.)

The facades of the many restaurants and stores reflect Southern California architecture -- with an attitude. One store has a surfboard on the roof. Another has a spaceship crashing in front. There's a fake rain forest and a phony beach, plenty of neon signs plus an 18-screen movie theater. Over the holidays and on weekends through the end of January, CityWalk features Los Angeles' only outdoor ice rink. (For hours and rental information, call [818] 622-3216.)

No one will be able to resist the walk-through interactive fountain, especially in the summer. It has 250 jets spraying water in all directions. There's no way to stay dry.

Happy stargazing.

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