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Old 1 Oct 23, 06:05 PM  
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Travelling From Coast To Coast August 2023: Day 3 - Universal Studios Hollywood and Sugar Taco

Day 3: Wednesday 9th August 2023

Universal Studios Hollywood Day! The girls were super excited to be heading to our first theme park of the trip so no struggles to get up and out this morning. Well they are teenagers so didn’t exactly leap out of bed but it was a lot smoother and easier to get out of the door than it had been the previous day when we were going to be hiking in Griffith Park (surprisingly.)

Universal Studios was due to open at 8 am and we were planning to get there as close to opening time as we could. However I was pretty relaxed about it (for me) as we had breakfast plans beforehand. Also, I stupidly didn’t think it would be that busy at Universal. This was foolish of me for three reasons: 1. Schools in California and most of the US weren’t yet back. 2. Super Nintendo World and 3. The extended opening hours of 8 am until 10 pm (longer hours than we would experience at Universal Orlando Resort a few weeks later) should have been a clue…honestly I’ve only been planning theme park holidays for 11 years.

So the plan was to leave at 6.30 am and we actually managed that. I think I got up at 5 am which is pretty standard for me on holiday and is certainly not too difficult for the first week or two when the jetlag is giving me a helping hand and I’m excited about our plans. Usually by the last few days it’s a bit tougher as I become more and more knackered.

Mat took this photo out in the pool area before 6 am. Why can’t I wake up to this sky complete with palm trees every day:

As we were doing so well for time, and since we were passing, I asked Mat to stop off at the two La La Land sights that were a two minute drive from our AirBnb. We’d driven past them multiple times by this point but I wanted to be able to stop to take a couple of photos and tick the locations off the list. We were leaving the AirBnb and moving to a different part of the city the following day, so we needed to do it sooner rather than later.

Retro Dairy Mart permanently closed in the summer of 2020 as the owner’s lease was up and they decided to focus on their other business in the area. From looking back at their instagram, I don’t think the pandemic helped. The site was established in 1962 as a branch of Alta Dena Dairy market and was a mini grocery store with a drive-up window which was a popular thing in Los Angeles in the 50s and 60s. The most recent owner opened Retro Dairy Mart in about 2014 and that is the incarnation that appeared in La La Land. It’s such a cute little location and I love the idea of locals pulling up to buy their milk and eggs and stuff. It really doesn’t look much different to how it did in the movie, but having been shuttered for three years, it definitely could use some love. I really hope it doesn’t get bulldozed as it’s pretty iconic. It was also used in Say Anything.

Across the street is the location used as the setting for Tapas & Samba in La La Land. The building was originally the Magnolia Theater and then Barbra Streisand bought it and turned it into a recording studio called Evergreen Studios. It’s still a working recording studio now and the list of artists that have recorded there is pretty impressive: Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Slash, Justin Timberlake, Dr Dre and Stephen Sondheim among others.

Seren was panicking a bit that we were going to get into trouble for parking up here to take photos as there were ‘No Trespassing’ signs but we told her it was fine and that the sign related to actually breaking into the buildings, not taking a few photos in the parking lot. A couple of minutes after we arrived, we were back in the car and on our way to breakfast.

We were heading to Coffee and Plants in Studio City which is a vegan coffee shop co-owned by Leona Lewis. It looked gorgeous from what I’d seen online and had great reviews so we were keen to visit for breakfast. This was the best day to do it with us only being local to here until the following day. They have two locations; this one is about a 10 minute drive from Universal Studios in Studio City and the other is in Pasadena. The opening hours had recently been extended from opening at 7 am to opening at 6 am, so although I knew the odds of us making it to Coffee and Plants before 7 were slim, it was good to know they were busy enough to open nice and early.

As we drove into Studio City we were all really impressed. Ventura Boulevard was definitely the kind of place we could have killed some time mooching in the cute little stores there. As per Toluca Lake, I could definitely have lived in this part of the city.

The girls were gutted it was too early for the cool vintage shops to be open whereas Mat and I were very happy about it as we probably would have lost at least an hour there. We found street parking, and unlike yesterday we pretty much aced it (the fact that it was just before 7 am and there was no one around obviously helped.) If I recall correctly, parking was free before 8 am. We had parked a few minutes walk from Coffee and Plants as that was as close as we could get.

We walked up to the door and saw through the window that the chairs were still stacked on top of the tables and the lights were off. Mat tried the door and it was locked. It was a couple of minutes before 7 so our first thought was that perhaps they had gone back to opening at 7. Yet the sign in the window clearly said they opened at 6. And there wasn’t anybody here at all. Sometime between 8 and 9 am they posted on their instagram story that they would be opening today at 9 am due to ‘maintenance’. Which was helpful to anyone going there early today.

We needed a plan B, having driven out of our way for this and with time ticking until Universal Studios would open in an hour. Starbucks was that plan B and there was one just up the road. We moved the car to the large free parking lot around the back of the store that was shared with other businesses. The signs said that parking was for the businesses only (including Starbucks) but we saw a couple of people parking here to walk their dogs so I don’t think it’s particularly strongly enforced.

There were a good few people in Starbucks but luckily no wait at the counter. Vegan options at Starbucks in the USA are not as good as here and we’ve learnt over the years that it’s pretty much a bagel with their pre-packaged avocado spread or…nothing. Mat asked if they had any of the avocado spread and they said they had one left. I don’t really eat bread and didn’t particularly fancy the bagel but the avocado spread is pretty good (it’s got chilli flakes or something in it to give it a bit of a kick). Also, one of the reasons we’d come out for breakfast before going to Universal is because the vegan options at the park, especially for breakfast, were dismal. Our plan was to come out of the park again in the early afternoon for lunch which was an awfully long way off at this point so having the bagel sounded like a necessity if I didn’t want to be hungry all morning. Mat said I could have the avocado spread and he’d just have a plain bagel which was very chivalrous of him. In the end I spread the avocado thin on my bagel so he could have some too. And since I couldn’t eat all of the bagel (it was too early for me and also, bread), he got to finish mine anyway.

Freya didn’t have anything to eat here as she’d had some cereal before we came out. Seren just had a huge iced vanilla latte after checking the allergy guide with them. This set her up for her regular Starbucks hits for the next three weeks as she was then confident that her beloved coffee didn’t contain any nuts or dairy going forward. Mat and I both got our usual coffees (black americano for me, double espresso for him.)

Once we were all done we popped Universal Studios Hollywood into google maps and set off. As I said, it was only about a 10 minute drive.

We were heading into Jurassic Parking (lol) at 7.52 am.

We parked up in level 2L and headed down into CityWalk.

Being here was weird. It’s familiar but so different which was both exciting and a bit unsettling as we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. I had been to Universal Studios Hollywood twice before in the 90s, and the only memories I really had were the huge escalators between the Upper and Lower Lots (because how could you forget them really), the backlot tour (because I loved it) and Jurassic Park River Adventure (because they had it here before it was in Orlando. Can’t believe I used to ride that but I guess my phobia of drops and log flumes has developed over time.)

CityWalk in Hollywood is smaller than Orlando but as we walked through, the girls and I were excited to see it had a Hot Topic and the girls were very excited to see it had a Sephora. So we knew we needed to make time to visit those later. For now, we followed everyone else towards the revolving Universal globe that they moved here from Orlando.

The red carpet was a nice touch.

Once inside the park we just blindly wandered forward and ended up at the top of the escalators down to the Lower Lot. We decided to head down to the Lower Lot.

I didn’t really have an idea of what was were and we definitely didn’t have a plan for what we wanted to ride. Any naive hope that the girls would rope drop Bowser’s Challenge went out the window when we saw the posted wait was already um….160 minutes. At 8.10 am, ten minutes after park opening. I hadn’t really looked into the Super Nintendo World early entry situation but remembered something about it being an additional charge and since none of us were particularly bothered, it wasn’t something we were going to pursue. As I said earlier, I think I hadn’t expected the crowds that Super Nintendo World had brought to the park since opening and that’s on me, but visiting Universal was only a very small part of the holiday and I hadn’t really done any planning for it. That definitely bit us on the bum as my impression was that this park was quite chill and didn’t require a whole lot of preparation to be able to get everything done. But that perception was unfortunately outdated based on the popularity of the place this summer since SNW’s opening.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here. We headed down the four escalators to the Lower Lot, admiring the beautiful view, and immediately came to Jurassic World. The posted wait was 10 minutes so the girls went off to do that while we sat on a wall and took in the sights for a moment.

The girls were back really quickly as the ride had been a walk-on. They said it was excellent and miles better than Jurassic River Adventure in Orlando. I had watched a POV a few months before so I knew the refurbishment had made it a lot more technically impressive and I wish I could have ridden it but that was never going to happen because of the drop.

Revenge Of The Mummy was just across the way from Jurassic World - The Ride so we decided to ride that next. The posted wait was five minutes. We popped all our stuff in a locker even though they don’t seem to have the same strict restrictions on no loose items for most rides here as they do in Orlando.

I was actually a bit nervous about riding this ride. I used to absolutely love it in Orlando and then in 2021 I found it a bit too full-on; like they’d sped it up or something (which I know they hadn’t of course). Also that year it gave me a headache each time I rode it. Last year it had been closed for refurbishment our entire trip so I hadn’t got a chance to make peace with it again. So I was a little apprehensive going into the ride today. Because we basically walked on, I didn’t really get a chance to prepare myself for it either.

The ride started and immediately I realised it was quite a bit different to Orlando’s The Mummy. The dark rollercoaster part begins with a big drop which totally threw me off and was too much for me. In Orlando I am used to the fast climb straight into the drop and I can prepare myself for it. I’ve said it before but I have an irrational phobia of big drops which means I can’t ride a lot of rides I would otherwise love to ride (looking at you VelociCoaster). What I’ve learnt over time is that I can psyche myself up by breathing and telling myself it’s going to be ok (to a point….that wouldn’t work at VelociCoaster for example as the drop is way higher than my limit which is Everest at 80 feet.) So I then panicked the rest of the way through the ride. To me it felt like the whole ride was longer and scarier than Orlando’s but that’s probably just because of how it started for me.

At the end of the ride we came to an abrupt stop just before we would go either right or left to the unloading platform. It’s kind of the end of the track, a little holding area, and it’s enclosed on the sides and with a screen above that was blank today. Suffice to say, it’s different to Orlando. We could see that they were only operating one side of the loading platform, I guess because the ride was quiet. We could see the car unloading in the dock and behind that was another car waiting to unload. We were therefore sat there in this little space for longer than expected. We could hear the vehicle behind us whooshing through the last part of the ride. People in our vehicle were turning around to look behind as there was sort of a collective thought of ‘Uhh…we kind of need to move as there’s a car coming in fast behind us.’ A couple of people said ‘Hello?’ ‘We need to move.’ Freya was panicking a little bit beside me, saying ‘They’re going to crash into us.’ Rationally I knew that wasn’t going to happen and I reassured her of that but there was about ten seconds there where I was not at all loving life being sat there. The ride had freaked me out so I was definitely feeling a bit anxious.

All of a sudden we moved forward and were soon unloading. Back outside, we retrieved our stuff and I took a few deep breaths to calm down and cracked on with the day.

Freya was hungry and wanted a Big Pink donut so we headed up the escalators to the Upper Lot where the Simpsons Land was located, stopping to take a few photos of the beautiful view of The Valley.

This was our first encounter with one of the California Government's ‘Don’t eat anything that’s bad for you’ warning stickers but we saw quite a lot of them during our time in LA, although I can’t recall whether we only saw them in theme park restaurants or other restaurants too. It definitely feels like the California state government has a slightly different ethos to Florida (without getting all political) where it seems to be much more ‘Ah, do what you want!’ and more just….Florida.

Big Pink acquired, Freya took it to a nearby table and cut it up.

I think she ate a quarter and then tried to hand it off to Mat for him to carry but he was having none of it. So it was up to her to hold onto it for our next stop which was the thing I was most definitely most excited for here, the Studio Tour.

It was about 9.15 am at this point and the Studio Tour was a walk-on. We had an excellent guide but unfortunately I didn’t make a note of her name which is no surprise since I didn’t make a note of anything.

I absolutely loved the tour because I love movie sets and backlots. Universal’s backlot is probably more iconic that Warner Bros’ next door. We were so excited to see Courthouse Square from the best Christmas movie of all time, Gremlins, and also seen in Back To The Future. I only managed to get this photo of the actual courthouse and none of the whole square.


I definitely felt like the backlot sets were more impressive here than at Warner Bros. The backlot area is much bigger for a start and I don’t know, I just think the buildings looked better somehow. It did feel like we moved around the backlot areas really quickly and I didn’t like the cheesy Jimmy Fallon video clips they kept showing on the screens above us on the trams. So that was a negative compared to the more thorough explore we’d had with Jake the previous day at Warner Bros.

For example, when we got into the Western Street / Six Points Texas area, our guide listed very quickly some movies that were shot here. I was really looking forward to seeing the buildings used in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, especially the one with the porch where Leonardo DiCaprio sits and chats to the child actress. I was hoping our guide would point out the building specifically, but instead we got to watch a stupid video of Jimmy Fallon playing two cowboys who fight each other while our tram was parked here.

Was it this one?

Or this one?

Or a completely different one?

We enjoyed the flash flood, which was something I remembered from the tour in the 90s. It’s been part of the tour since 1968 apparently which I find a bit mindblowing. I also remember the Parting of the Red Sea effect which actually only closed in 2016.


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Old 1 Oct 23, 06:07 PM  
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We really enjoyed the Jaws scene.

Well Freya was a bit scared but as Jaws was definitely one of my favourite rides at Universal Orlando, it was nice to be able to kinda relive it.

We did not enjoy The Fast And The Furious at all of course. We’ve only done it once in Orlando and came out saying ‘Never again’ so it was a bit rubbish that we had to go through the scene again here. Even worse was that one of the screens wasn’t working and was just black, so you could see the legs of the characters and hear their voices but couldn’t see their heads or bodies. That was quite amusing to be fair.

I also had forgotten that there is a portion of Kong: Skull Island on the tour now (called Kong 360 3D here) and as I quite enjoy Skull Island there were no complaints from me.

Overall, I loved the Studio Tour and it was definitely my favourite thing at Universal Studios Hollywood. I would have loved to tour the backlot in more depth and slower and I’m quite tempted by the VIP tour if we come back (big if as we really didn’t think the park was worth the money but we’ll get onto that.) On the VIP tour, guests get to get off the tram in certain places and I think it lasts about double the length of the regular tram tour. However, it’s super expensive so maybe one for a few year’s time when Mat and I have ditched the girls when it comes to holidays. And also there is a meal included that I know as vegans we wouldn’t get any value out of. From watching Adam The Woo’s videos, the quality of the tour seems to really vary which is a bit of a concern given the cost, so there’s that too.

We were off the tram just after 10 am as it’s a 45 minute tour.

Next up was Secret Life of Pets which I believe was posted at about a 25 minute wait. The queue for the ride is super cute, and I think we waited about as long as was posted. These pictures were all taken in the queue which is highly themed.

There were quite a few people using Express here or it could have been they were returning with the Virtual Queue that they sometimes offer here. Either way it was one of those merge situations where it feels like you wait too long in the regular line as they prioritise the Express / VQ returners.

The ride was cute but a little disappointing. It didn’t really draw us in or seem very cohesive in the way that we found for example the Monsters Inc ride at DCA did so much better. It didn’t help that the ride stopped for a while in the middle which was pretty tedious. This is us stopped on the ride.

By this point in the morning, about 11 am, the waits had all crept up and pretty much all the rides were 30 minutes plus. And obviously ‘all the rides’ here is a generous term as there are 11 including the tram tour, plus one kids’ ride. We couldn’t really be bothered to queue 30 - 45 minutes for Forbidden Journey, Minion Mayhem, Flight of the Hippogriff, The Simpsons Ride or Transformers for example when we knew we could do them with Express in Orlando in a couple of weeks and not have to wait in a long line for them. And to be fair in most of those cases, we’re not even bothered enough about them to do them even with Express.

I was craving a Diet Coke but every kiosk we passed had signs up to say they were out of fountain drinks. I can’t stand Diet Coke (or any soft drink) from plastic bottles as it really affects the taste in my opinion, and the only alternative was to buy a refillable Freestyle cup from a quick service. We did wonder if not having regular fountain drinks available at the kiosks (we passed at least four that weren’t serving them) was more of a sales tactic to sell the Freestyle cups than a fault. We sat at a table in this circular area that had cars from Fast X in the middle (meh) and Mat popped into the Palace Market & Deli that we were sitting next to in a last ditch effort to find a fountain Diet Coke. No luck there either so he bit the bullet and got the Freestyle cup. Which was $18 plus tax. I’m pretty sure he got Cherry Diet Coke as that’s the Freestyle drink of choice for all three of us that drink fizzy drinks (so not Seren.) I think he also got her a bottle of apple juice. We made sure when we came back into the park later in the day to refill the mug three more times in order to break even on our purchase.

While we were sitting there, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Bride of Frankenstein walked past where we were sitting. From the safety of watching YouTube videos at home, the girls had both said they wanted to meet these characters and Dracula. So when they passed where we were sitting, completely in character and talking to guests they encountered on their travels, I suggested the girls should go and meet them. They said they were too scared and would do it later.

With all the wait times pretty high, we decided to leave the park to take our lunch break earlier than originally planned. It was probably about 11.20 am by this point. The girls, especially Freya, would rather have stayed to do more rides, but equally were put off by the high wait times. I was a bit concerned (as it turns out, correctly) that the wait times wouldn’t be any better when we returned a few hours later, but right now it definitely seemed the best idea to leave. As I said previously, there were very few vegan dishes available in the park and with more local restaurants than days available I was keen for us to visit one today.

As we were heading to the exit, we passed Frankenstein’s Monster and the Bride of Frankenstein, who spotted Seren’s Bride of Frankenstein t-shirt and stopped right in front of her. She kind of stared at it in a daze and got up close to Seren who said. ‘It’s you!’ Both of them were looking at the t-shirt and looking at Seren and not really saying anything, like they were in a trance and surprised by the t-shirt. When Seren went to leave, the Bride of Frankenstein said ‘Bye friend!’ Which was super cute.

It only took about ten minutes to get to our destination, Sugar Taco in Sherman Oaks. Sugar Taco is a vegan Mexican style, women-owned business and they have two restaurants in LA. The other one is on Melrose Avenue in Fairfax but this one out in The Valley was in an ideal location for us today. Parking was either metered street parking or google reviews had mentioned a couple of spaces around the back of the building. Mat wanted to try that (of course, he still wasn’t feeling the street parking after yesterday’s debacle in Beachwood Canyon) so we headed around the back and easily located the bright orange building that was Sugar Taco.

The sort-of road that ran between the backs of the buildings on Ventura Boulevard and the apartment buildings behind them gave me action movie vibes. I could almost imagine a movie car chase happening down here with dust from the street flying up and pedestrians jumping out of the way. I didn’t take a decent photo of it to be able to demonstrate so here’s the google maps view.

We pulled up in one of the five or so spaces directly behind Sugar Taco. The girls, as always, were not convinced that we were allowed to park here and were clearly voicing that opinion. Mat decided to wander round to the restaurant and check with the staff. A few minutes later he came back and said the staff member had confirmed we were in the right place, so we headed inside.

Our beautiful red car:

It was pretty quiet in the restaurant as they had only opened at 12 pm and it was now about 20 minutes after that. It certainly got busier while we were there and definitely seems to be a popular place. The friendly lady behind the counter explained that they were a fully vegan restaurant (yay for us, boo for Freya who prefers when there are non-vegan options too). The staff member said that we could either order via QR code menu or at the counter, and that it was quite a straightforward set-up whereby there are a choice of dishes (tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and bowls) and you then add a plant-based protein and sides / sauces etc if you wish. Perfect. Plus it was super cute in there:

We took a seat and while we managed to get the menu to load up with the QR code, the online ordering wasn’t working properly. I knew I was having nachos because they’re my favourite food in the entire world and as I said in my Highs and Lows, I basically had vegan nachos every time they were available while we were in Los Angeles. Unfortunately I was still in my making-bad-menu-decisions era at this point. I went for the Not Yo’ Nachos which is the personal sized portion. So far so good. The nachos came with a plant-based protein of choice which for me was carnitas, otherwise known in this vegan restaurant as jackfruit. On the menu it says ‘we suggest adding guac and pairing it with half-quesadilla’. So like the good girl people pleaser I am, I added the Just F Me Up guacamole (so the spicy one rather than the regular) which I would have done anyway, and chose the kids’ pollo (not real chicken obviously) quesadilla as my suggested half quesadilla, even though I didn’t think I’d really need a quesadilla.

I also went for the current special cocktail which I’d seen on their instagram, the Empty The Tanks which is a sparkly blue citrus tequila spritzer. $2 from each sale goes to Peta to help their fight against Seaworld (no offence Seaworld fans but we’re in the opposing camp and have been since Blackfish.) Unfortunately the cocktail wasn’t great; it was too sweet and not very strong which as you’ll know if you’ve been following along are two of my three cocktail pet hates along with too much ice.

Freya, after having a quick ‘Why do we have to come to all vegan places?’ moan, decided to just get the seasoned fries. Mat chose the carne asada quesadilla with a side of rice. Seren eventually chose the quesadillas with just veggies and no plant-based protein plus a side of beans. Annoyingly I don’t have any photos of Mat or Seren’s food at all.

The fries were absolutely stunning and Freya polished them off while I tried to sneak a few because they were just so good.

Mat and Seren enjoyed their quesadillas, in fact Seren says this was her favourite meal in LA. She preferred the side of rice to the side of beans so Mat agreed to swap with her. My nachos were pretty good but definitely not my favourite. The jackfruit was quite saucy and it felt a bit like meat and gravy (not that the jackfruit tasted like meat, but more like that’s what they were going for consistency-wise) which I didn’t love. I prefer a drier nacho with salsa, guacamole, vegan cheese, jalapenos etc rather than the tortillas being drowned in sauce and therefore a bit soggy. I absolutely did not need the quesadilla and it was meh anyway so after a couple of bites I handed it over to Mat. I do think me not being madly in love with my food here was because I didn’t choose the best options for me. I would definitely recommend it and will go back and make different choices next time we’re in Los Angeles.

Seren wanted to get the one dessert they had here after checking it was nut-free (desserts are usually more problematic than savoury food in restaurants). It was a vegan churro donut and she very much enjoyed it. She also bought a cactus shaped pen from a display on the counter as she is in fact 7 years old. The donut is in the paper bag.

The check was $68.89 so definitely one of our cheaper meals. However we did only buy one drink in total as everyone else had tap water, and it doesn’t include Seren’s donut as she got that herself after. It did feel good to leave the restaurant having spent less than $90 including the tip as that was definitely a rarity.

Next door was a Post Office and Seren was trying to post a birthday card to her boyfriend back home so we popped in to grab a stamp. Fun fact; it took just over two weeks for the card to arrive in the UK…honestly it’s only five and a half thousand miles.

We headed back to the car and I popped our next destination into google maps: Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery which is a Jewish cemetery . As I think I mentioned in yesterday’s report, we had planned to visit two final resting places here yesterday but didn’t have time so we needed to fit it into today. The first grave we were visiting was really important to me as it was the final resting place of one of the founding members of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hillel Slovak. It was about a ten minute drive to Mount Sinai. We pulled up at the gate and told the attendant we were visiting a grave and were waved through. I had done some research and watched a YouTube video about Hillel’s grave location so having noted all the information on my phone, I thought we’d be good to go. When we got through the gates we realised that we weren’t quite as confident about the exact location as originally thought, so we went back to the entrance and into the reception of the mortuary to pick up a map.

We had in fact been in the right area, so we parked up and headed onto the grass in the Maimonides section to find Hillel’s stone. As I said, I’d watched a video so the area looked pretty familiar but as all the stones are flat to the ground, it was necessary to get close to each one to be able to see the names. They were all numbered. Hillel’s is 4613, but they didn’t run exactly chronologically so that didn’t really help either. We all walked around looking for about ten minutes with no luck. I made sure to tell the girls that in the YouTube video I’d watched, there had been a coyote just hanging out on the grass here. This was true, and I just felt like adding some mild peril to our treasure hunt. We reviewed the description from the tombstone tourist website again which said that from the employee parking lot on the opposite side of the road, we should ‘walk up the slight hill approximately four rows and just behind and to the left of the large tree is the final resting place of Hillel Slovak.’ Just behind and to the left of the large tree seemed a bit ambiguous as there were quite a few large trees, but something about rereading the instructions again and following what it said led me straight to the exact location.

The others came to join me and seeing my tears, Freya said ‘I knew you’d cry’ and the others all chimed in in agreement. I actually wasn’t sure I would cry. Hillel died of a heroin overdose in 1988 at only 26 years old. Although that was three years before I became a fan, it’s the fact that despite me not knowing who he was until after he died, the band wouldn’t have existed without him as a founding member and driving force. The band has been a part of my life since I was turning 13 and feel like a part of me as they’ve soundtracked my life for over 30 years through growing up, getting married, having children etc. In my life it’s 1. My husband and children, 2. My cats and 3. RHCP before anything else, just to give context to why it was so important for me to come here and to the other band locations I had factored into our plans. And while the other members of my family are only really casual fans, I am grateful that they have always supported my obsession and been a part of it (such as travelling to other countries to watch them live with me) / humoured me when necessary.

I spent a moment taking in being here and took some photos and then we walked back to the car.

Now, we were about to run into a little planning mishap that would cost us quite a bit of time. The other final resting place we wanted to visit here was Naya Rivera’s (from Glee.) I had found out she was also buried here while researching Hillel’s grave and since hers was the first celebrity death that really affected Seren, it felt important to come and pay our respects to her too. In the car, we had a look at the map we’d got at reception to try and find whereabouts we needed to drive to for Naya’s grave. We couldn’t find Courts of Remembrance, where her wall crypt is, on the map so we were a bit confused. We took a drive all the way around Mount Sinai, which is a very lovely cemetery, but were stumped because we just couldn’t match up where we were to where her grave is.

We parked up again and Mat started doing some googling. After a minute or two he announced that she wasn’t actually buried here; she was buried at the other cemetery next door. I hadn’t realised there were two different cemeteries right next door to one another. So we were at the Jewish cemetery, Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery, and next door is Forest Lawn Memorial Park. It all made more sense now especially as Naya Rivera wasn’t Jewish. Also in a YouTube video I’d watched about her grave, the content creator bought flowers from the reception gift shop to place at her crypt, and they don’t sell flowers at Mount Sinai. In my defence, I’d seen another video mention that Hillel was buried in the same cemetery as Brittany Murphy which added to the confusion as she is actually buried at Forest Lawn. And often Mount Sinai is referred to online as ‘Mount Sinai Memorial Park, Forest Lawn’ as it is on Forest Lawn Drive. So Mount Sinai: Hillel Slovak, Mama Cass. Forest Lawn: Naya Rivera, Brittany Murphy, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Paul Walker, Nipsey Hussle. To add a little more confusion, there is another Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale which has a memorial for Walt Disney (although we all know he wasn’t buried there and is cryogenically frozen, right? /s) I know all of this is niche and probably not of interest to anyone else, but you never know…I may stop someone from making the same mistake we did.

We headed out of Mount Sinai and entered Forest Lawn next door. We parked up by the mortuary and immediately noticed that there were a lot more people and cars here than there had been next door.

The girls went inside to get a map and buy some flowers to take to Naya’s grave.

The assistant inside had given them instructions on how to get to Naya’s crypt and she also drew the route on the map.

We got back in the car and headed for the Courts of Remembrance. It was really difficult to navigate this cemetery. I’ve always referred to Mat as a homing pigeon as he is excellent at directions and can usually find wherever we’re going really easily, often on instinct.

(Blurred photo, it wasn’t bad weather)

But Forest Lawn had us stumped. I think we drove down every road here (and it’s a really big cemetery) before we eventually found the right area 20 minutes later. We parked up at the Courts of Remembrance and looked around for Naya’s crypt. I kind of immediately spotted it and we walked over. I cried again. Freya added the flowers to one of the vases that was already set up beside her inscription. Outside the Courts they have the vases and tools to attach them but I expect Naya’s is a crypt that usually has vases in place already because of regular visitors. I certainly haven’t come across a photo or video where her crypt is void of any flowers at all.

My camera lens had a fingerprint or something on it at this point so the photo of Freya placing the flowers is blurry.

Continued below...

Edited at 09:16 AM.
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Old 1 Oct 23, 06:09 PM  
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Once we’d paid our respects here we decided to make one last visit, this time to Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

From Forest Lawn, we got back in the car and headed back to Studio City. It was already about 3.30 pm so we’d been out of Universal Studios for nearly four hours. Since the park was open until 10 pm we knew we had plenty of time to get back. I also think that I’ve become less of a theme park rides person and prefer exploring cities now so I personally wasn’t particularly bothered about rushing back. And I think the others were put off by the long wait times. Before we would go back to check out what was happening at the park, we wanted to go back to Coffee and Plants after this morning’s failed attempt.

We parked up in the car park behind Starbucks that we’d used this morning (don’t tell anyone) and walked up the street to Coffee and Plants.

It was super cute in there. Unfortunately we were all still really full from our lunch so we didn’t want any of the breakfast items / sandwiches / baked goods they had and just got drinks. Seren got a vanilla iced latte (of course), Mat got a double espresso (ditto), I got a black Americano (as usual) and Freya had a hot chocolate with oat milk which, when I just asked her about it, prompted the following response, ‘It was so leng omg.’ So I think she liked it.

I had a mini Karen moment as the barista made our drinks in paper cups even though we told them we were sitting in. Maybe they just wanted us to be out of there super quickly. Everyone else sitting in had their drinks in proper cups and mugs so I asked them (nicely of course) to transfer mine to a proper cup which they did. The others weren’t bothered with their disposable cup but I swear my Americano tasted even better out of a ceramic cup (with saucer no less.)

Coffee and Plants impressed us all and we will definitely go back and actually have breakfast there next time we’re in Los Angeles. For some reason, I didn’t take any photos of the cute interior so here’s a couple from their instagram. Hard recommend.

We managed to get the girls to refrain from running into the vintage shops on the way back to the car, even though there were items in the window they were pretty much drooling over.

15 minutes or so later we were parked up in Jurassic Parking again.

We took an escalator down to CityWalk and the girls and I wandered into Hot Topic while Mat found a comfy wall to sit on outside.

Anyone who’s frequented a Hot Topic will know that their sales staff are quite enthusiastic and we were each approached a couple of times by a member of staff. One staff member offered to check if I had any discounts still available on my account which unfortunately I didn’t as they had expired a couple of months after our last Hot Topic visit the previous August. She then told me they were doing a spinner promotion on the app where customers spin a wheel and at the very least they get a discount. I tried downloading the app but it wouldn’t work with me being from the UK. The staff member told me that if there were problems with downloading the app they would honour a 10% discount at the till. Which pretty much meant I had to buy something.

By this point Freya had ditched Hot Topic for Sephora which was further proof she has left her former Emo self behind. Seren and I had both decided to buy t-shirts and I was good to go but she was faffing about a bit on which design / size to get. She also wanted to buy a t-shirt for her boyfriend and was going backwards and forwards on text with him on designs and sizes. I am not a shopping fan to say the least so I was losing the will to live and told her I was going to checkout. I bought myself a white Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt that I’d seen a few times out in the wild and was happy to get my hands on. Even better with the 10% off. Seren wasn’t far behind me and also got the 10% discount on her The Beatles ‘Twist and Shout’ t-shirt and the anime shirt she got for her boyfriend.

When we got outside, Mat said it had rained a little while we were in the store which was a bit surprising. Seren went in to get Freya from Sephora who was just purchasing a couple of make-up items.

It was 5.40 pm before we were back inside the park. Wait times were still grim. Everything was 30 minutes plus with the big hitters all over 45 minutes. Ugh. The addition of Super Nintendo World is a bit like Hagrid’s at Islands of Adventure. It’s brought a lot more people into the park but the popularity of that one attraction has resulted in really long wait times for it. This has impacted the other wait times in the park which here is a bit of an issue because of a lack of attractions overall. I also expect that with the wait time for Bowser’s Challenge being 80 minutes minimum for the entire day outside of the upcharge early entry period, there are people like us who won’t wait that long for it. They, unlike us, may have come especially for it but instead they’re in all the other lines. I kind of wish we’d come to California in 2022 before SNW opened so we could have experienced the park how it was before as my understanding is it was possible to get everything done easily within a one day ticket. I’m not sure why I thought it would get quieter as it got into the evening today as it didn’t. I expect there are locals with annual passes who come after work on weekdays so even if some vacationers were finishing up, there were still people entering the park.

One of the things we wanted to do today was the dinosaur encounters. I’d seen Mammoth Club videos where Molly had ‘met’ a Triceratops and baby raptors in the Jurassic World area. We headed down to the Lower Lot to see if any dinosaurs were out. We couldn’t see anything so we asked a Team Member who said the next encounter would be at 6.30 pm. We had about half an hour. As I said, the wait times were all grim. Transformers was down and would remain down for the rest of the night which didn’t help the wait times. We decided to go into Super Nintendo World just for a look around since the Bowser’s Challenge wait time was still high at 90 minutes.

I was actually more impressed with the land than I expected to be. As I said before, I’m not interested in Nintendo or Mario or any video games at all but I think it looks a lot better in real life than it does on videos. I thought it would be a bit overpowering and in your face, but the only overwhelming thing really was the number of people in the land. I love that we had this weird fake-looking sky situation when we went in there for the first time too:

We spent a couple of minutes taking it in and Seren used the restroom.

Then we headed back outside and back to Jurassic World where we sat on a wall to wait for the dinosaur encounter.

Mat and I were feeling pretty disappointed by Universal Studios Hollywood by this point. The tickets had cost £110 each and so far we’d ridden three rides and the girls had ridden four. Yes, we took a very long break for the entire afternoon. We had also chosen not to get in long lines for attractions that we’d already ridden in Orlando and could ride there with free Unlimited Express in a couple of weeks. But we felt that the opening of Super Nintendo World had made the park a victim of its own success in a way. It would have been just about possible I’m sure to ride all of the attractions in the park if you arrived at rope drop and left at park close, but with all the waits over 30 minutes and closer to an hour or more for many attractions, you would have spent multiple hours in line. That just didn’t sound very appealing to us. The alternative would have been dropping over $100 each extra on Express which wasn’t happening. I know a lot of the problem here was bad timing with it still being summer break and a very popular land having only opened a couple of months before, but as I’ve already said, Super Nintendo Land opening with only one ride and crazy high wait times for said ride has pushed up the wait times overall and made a day at the parks worse value for money. I remember reading some recent google reviews before the holiday from dissatisfied guests all basically saying what I’ve said here; that wait times are really high and it’s a challenge to get things done but I think I was hopeful that it would have quietened down by the time we visited. Unfortunately for us, no such luck.

The wall we were sitting on was near where the dinosaur encounter would be. There were a few Team Members standing nearby who were ready to facilitate the encounter when it started. Multiple times while we were sitting there, they had to tell brats to get down from climbing the rocks behind us. And also multiple times while we were sitting there, guests would approach them and say ‘Where is the Jurassic World ride?’ And they would reply slightly snarkily but still polite enough to get away with it, ‘See that arch behind you that says Jurassic World? Go through it and the ride is right there.’ I honestly wouldn’t have the patience. By this point we had been made aware from speaking to the Team Members that what we were waiting for was the Raptor Encounter with Blue. This was disappointing for us because the girls have always been too scared to meet Blue in Orlando and we were keen to see the triceratops and the baby raptor because they’re less scary and also new to us. The Team Members told us the triceratops and baby raptor wouldn’t be out tonight. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, all the wait times were still high and the Raptor Encounter seemed like the most appealing option on paper. Seren decided she would do it but Freya didn’t want to and was moaning about being hungry.

When 6.30 came around and they opened the line, Seren hesitated again which meant when she did decide to do the encounter, she was quite far back in the queue. We decided that I would take Freya up to the Upper Lot for food. We’d seen on the app that Luigi’s Pizza had slices of pizza which was ideal for her as a whole pizza would have been too much food. I mobile ordered that and a cheesy garlic bread for her and we went up to get it. By the time we’d collected it and found a seat at wherever this place is, the others had come up to join us.

Seren doesn’t look at all scared during her raptor encounter.

I had hinted to Mat that a cocktail may be in order before Freya and I had headed up the escalators, gesturing to Isla Nu Bar in Jurassic World.

When he came up he brought this with him:

Which was the Tropical Margarita (coconut rum, tequila, agave and lime juice.) I’m not really one for frozen blended drinks but it was tasty enough although not particularly strong. Pretty sure he went for this because it was ‘only’ $16 whereas most of the cocktails here had to be purchased in a souvenir cup which ranged in price from $19 - $40.

After her pizza, Freya was desperate to finally get on a ride. It was now a bit after 7 pm and wait times were, shocking to no one, still high. Jurassic World was posted at 50 minutes but that is what they fancied riding the most so we sent them off to the Lower Lot and decided to have a wander around Hogsmeade. It’s very similar in layout and scale to Orlando’s but instead of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure ™, there is just a bricked-up archway. Boo. And there is no bridge to the left of the castle to take excellent castle photos.

What there was tonight was a beautiful sunset.

I was very disappointed to learn when I got home that the attraction they are building behind these construction walls is apparently a Fast and the Furious rollercoaster. Mat and I were a little peckish so we mobile-ordered a portion of fries each from Mel’s Diner.

They were crinkle cut fries (yay) but weren’t great (boo). They were $4.99 each.

What I haven’t mentioned so far is that it was actually a little chilly by this point in the day. I was wearing a shirt over my vest top which was keeping me warm enough but we all had our legs out. The others were all wearing t-shirts or vest tops. I think the temperature fell to something like mid teens once the sun went down and I think we were just unlucky today as we didn’t find it cold any other evening while we were in Los Angeles. Typical that today would be the day we were out until late with no hoodies or anything.

Meanwhile on the Lower Lot, the girls waited 25 minutes for Jurassic World which was a bit different to the posted wait of 50 minutes. They were seated in the front and got soaked which wasn’t ideal with it being a bit chilly.

Seren was now complaining of being hungry as she was the only one who hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch at this point. She wanted the vegan shepherd’s pie from Three Broomsticks so we said we’d go and order it and they should meet us there (the complaining was via text once they’d got off the ride.)

It was now chilly enough that going inside sounded like a great idea so we went to Three Broomsticks and got in line. We ordered the shepherd’s pie after checking with the cashier that it was nut-free. By the time we sat down, the girls had arrived. They also appreciated the relative warmth of the restaurant, being cold and wet.

Seren absolutely loved the shepherd’s pie. I think Universal are using the term loosely here since it was topped with sliced potatoes rather than mash. But this kind of food is right up her alley so she was in heaven.

We felt it was a big rip off since the portion was tiny (hard to tell from the blurry photo) and it just came with a bit of a sad salad. Look how much bigger the salad is than the actual dish. I think the salad dressing packet, which was regular sized and not some mutant giant sized one, shows how small the portion was. And it was $16.99 plus tax.

We were still a little hopeful that maybe the Bowser’s Challenge wait would go down towards the end of the night so we decided to repeat ride The Mummy and then assess, as it was now 8.40 pm ish so less than an hour and a half before the park closed at 10 pm. Back down the escalators.

I opted out of riding The Mummy again based on this morning’s experience and Mat chose to stay off with me. So the girls went off to ride that again. The wait time was still 45 minutes even this late in the day and the line spilled into the outdoor portion of the queue. As I said before, Transformers was still down which wasn’t helping things.

We decided to go back into Super Nintendo World while we waited for them to finish up at The Mummy as it was nearby. It was quieter in there by this point, although the wait time for Bowser’s Challenge was still 80 minutes. There weren’t many people doing the games and the restaurant was shut by this point. We actually decided to hover inside the tunnel into the land as it was warmer there.

At 9 pm Bowser’s Challenge closed for the day which we were surprised by but it at least confirmed that we (well the girls, we weren’t bothered) wouldn’t be riding it today. We thought it was a bit cheeky to close the newest ride an hour before the park closed. It had of course been open a couple of hours before the rest of the park, but only for those guests who had forked out extra on top of their park tickets to ride it.

The girls waited about 30 / 35 minutes in the end for The Mummy and they enjoyed it more this time. They both thought Jurassic World was the best ride in the park with The Mummy in second place, although Seren also loved the Studio Tour. So in total, they rode six rides including two repeats and Mat and I rode three rides lol. Yes a lot of that was down to choice and a big break in the middle of the day, but we really felt the wait times were too high to justify in several cases, especially with Transformers down for the majority of the time we were in the park exacerbating the problem.

We took the escalators up to the Upper Lot one last time and headed to the exit. As we passed a couple of Team Members standing having a chat, one of them randomly turned to us and said enthusiastically, ‘Do you guys remember how to skip?!’ Mat immediately started skipping which made us all laugh (it also made the girls cringe with embarrassment.)

We were back in the Jurassic Parking structure at 9.40 pm.

Unfortunately there was a lot of traffic coming out of Universal at this point so it took quite a while. There are traffic lights at the bottom of the entrance road and it was quite backed up there as people tried to get out. Once back onto Ventura Boulevard we spotted a young guy driving a flash car just weaving in and out of traffic while looking at his phone the entire time. Nice.

It only took ten minutes or so to get back to the AirBnb once we were free of the traffic exiting the park. We parked up outside the house and I had a sinking feeling when I remembered that we had to do all the packing as we would be leaving in the morning. The girls were tired so while they got ready for bed, I did a sweep of all their stuff in drawers and hanging in their wardrobe so they could get into bed. I dumped it in our room along with their cases so I could stuff it all in once they were in bed without disturbing them. They were soon fast asleep.

I think it was probably around 12 / 12.30 am by the time Mat and I had done all we could do with the packing and finally crashed into bed.
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Old 8 Oct 23, 01:25 AM  
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I'm sorry to hear that Universal in California wasn't the biggest hit, but glad you shared your experience. We are planning a trip in June 2024 and we are pretty big fans of Universal Orlando, so I thought we might visit the park in California. Although I like the sound of the studio tour, I think we'll skip Universal this time as it doesn't sound like I would be happy with the value for money.

Enjoying reading along.
Bucket List 2024: New York, California, and Hawaii
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Old 16 Jan 24, 01:21 PM  
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Originally Posted by sunshines View Post
I'm sorry to hear that Universal in California wasn't the biggest hit, but glad you shared your experience. We are planning a trip in June 2024 and we are pretty big fans of Universal Orlando, so I thought we might visit the park in California. Although I like the sound of the studio tour, I think we'll skip Universal this time as it doesn't sound like I would be happy with the value for money.

Enjoying reading along.
I think Universal Hollywood definitely has its positives but it’s very expensive and not as good value as Orlando in my opinion, especially when compared with the 14 day tickets we can get here for both USF and IOA which give you access to so many more rides. And a lot of them in Hollywood are the same as Florida. The studio tour was excellent though and very unique.

I think if we’d gone before Nintendo World opened we’d have had a better experience as the biggest problem was the long lines. We did kind of half a*** it though with taking a big chunk of the day out of the park. This year may be quieter with Nintendo not being so new?

Thanks for reading and commenting .
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Old 20 Jan 24, 04:35 PM  
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Great report. Loving the cocktails 🍸
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