This post originally appeared on Happy to Wander, who was a guest of Universal Studios Hollywood and provided complimentary passes in exchange for a review.
As avid movie lovers and pop culture nerds, stopping by Universal Studios Hollywood is one of our favorite things to do in LA.
We’ve now been several times, each time visiting for only a single day. While most visitors (especially newbies to the park) find the prospect of cramming everything into one visit very daunting, we’re here to let you know it’s not difficult at all, and well worth the effort (and needed caffeine!).
Read on for a guide on how to plan the perfect day at Universal Studios Hollywood, including tips on how to create your own itinerary and game plan.
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First: Can You Do Universal Studios Hollywood in One Day?
You 100% can make the most of Universal Studios Hollywood with only a single day.
In fact, this is how most visitors tend to do it.
Universal Studios Hollywood is a relatively small theme park compared to others, with a limited number of absolute “must do” attractions (in our opinion).
If you plan in advance, and visit smartly, you’ll be able to do everything on your list within a single day.
While this will no doubt be an action-packed day, all the fast-paced running around will be worth it!
Universal Studios Hollywood: the Basics
Where to stay: The park is super centrally located in LA, so you don’t necessarily need to stay at one of the nearby hotels (there’s a Hilton and Sheraton on-site). Staying anywhere in Hollywood will place you close to the park. As long as you have access to the Metro (the park is at the Universal City station) or a car, then you’ll be fine.
When to go: If you are only visiting Universal Studios Hollywood for one day, you’ll want to make the most of it and avoid spending half your day in line! So, ideally, you’ll want to avoid peak times like weekends and holidays (especially when the kids are off school).
What to wear/bring: Opt for comfy clothes and shoes that you wouldn’t mind getting wet! A waterproof daybag is a must, and remember to pack for some layers since it can get chilly at night.
Universal Studios Hollywood in a Day: A Park Overview
The park is huge, but doable in a day if you plan correctly! Here’s a quick overview of the different sections you can look forward to, to help you plan the best way to see Universal Studios Hollywood.
The Upper Lot
Roam around Super Silly Funland (from Despicable Me), enjoy a beer at Moe’s Tavern or try your luck at being zombie bait in the Walking Dead attraction.
The Upper Lot is home to some of the park’s lower impact rides like the Simpsons Ride, the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and the Shrek 4D experience. AKA for scaredy cats like us!
This is also where you’ll find a lot of gift shops, restaurants and shows… plus the park’s recreation of Springfield (from the Simpson’s), and yes, it’s pretty amazing.
The Lower Lot
The Lower Lot is where thrill junkies get their fix.
Famous rides like the Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park and Transformers can be found here.
To arrive at this adrenaline haven, you’ll be relying on a series of suuuuper long escalators called the Starway which can take 5-10 minutes to traverse depending on how busy it is.
For this reason, aim to do all the Lower Lot rides at once, to avoid going back and forth.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The absolute highlight of the park (for us anyway) is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
TIP: 100% arrive early to avoid disappointment.
Here, you can walk through real-life Hogsmeade, with wonderful gift shops like Honeydukes and Ollivanders, grab a bite to eat at the Three Broomsticks, or of course, go for a ride on The Flight of the Hippogriff.
The ultimate star of this section is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, which is honestly the most mindblowing ride I’ve ever been on in my entire life. I smiled like a crazed child and went 3 times.
A must do!
The Shows at Universal Studios Hollywood
You’ll be given a schedule of the day’s shows upon entering the park, so be sure to strategically pick which ones you’ll want to attend.
The Waterworld stunt show is a classic, but the Special Effects Show and Animal Actors show are really fun to watch as well.
The Studio Tour
The studio tour is by far one of the best (and most famous) attractions in the entire park.
Tours last about an hour, and are available in English, Spanish and Mandarin.
During this hour magic ride of happiness, you’ll be taken through the famous Universal Studios backlot on a multi-car tram, where you’ll get to see famous sets, props and lots of cool surprises along the way.
Prioritize this attraction because it’s a must!
If cheesy photo opps are your thing (which, let’s be honest, of course they are), be on the lookout for different characters who will be roaming around the park.
These include the minions, the Simpsons, Scooby Doo, Spongebob, Shrek and many more.
Tips for Enjoying One Day at Universal Studios Hollywood
Wondering the best way to see Universal Studios Hollywood in a day? Here are some golden tips to keep in mind.
1. Buy your tickets in advance (online) and get the fast passes
If you only have one day to spend at Universal Studios Hollywood, the biggest buzzkill ever would be waiting forever in line just to get in.
Avoid this by planning ahead and getting your tickets in advance online! You can browse the different ticket options on the Universal Studios website.
Now, one of the big questions when it comes to Universal Studios Hollywood is: are the fast passes worth it?
And while I acknowledge that they’re rather pricey, they did genuinely save us hours of waiting in line, and I can’t imagine how our day would have gone without them.
We were able to basically walk right into most rides (with no more than a 10 minute wait on any attraction).
If you’re on a time crunch (e.g. working with only a day at the park), then this pass will be an absolute lifesaver.
2. Make a game plan
I’m not going to lie, Universal Studios provides fertile ground for explosive arguments. There’s long line-ups, screaming children and in the summer, searing heat.
Without a game plan laid out for the day, it’s likely that you’ll miss something you wanted to do/see, or spend more time arguing than doing anything else.
We’ll explain how to put together your own game plan below.
3. Pack light
Some rides at Universal Studios Hollywood do not allow bags and force you to place them in lockers.
To avoid wasting time at lockers, then make sure you pack as light as possible and only bring what you need, preferably without a bag.
4. Be ready to compromise
Unless you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood fo a day on your own, then odds are you’ll be with a companion that will have slightly different ideas on how to spend the day.
And with only one day available, you’ll need to make certain decisions about what to skip and what to prioritize.
The answer to making sure you avoid arguments is to compromise! Maybe pick two attractions each that are non-negotiable and plan around them.
4. Lastly: be unashamedly enthusiastic!
With only one day to spend at Universal Studios Hollywood, the worst thing you can bring with you is a “meh” attitude.
You only have one day here, so make the most of it!
Truly, there’s no better place to embrace your inner fanboy/girl than Universal Studios Hollywood, so dive in headfirst with your childish enthusiasm!
How to Make Your Own Universal Studios Hollywood One Day Plan
There are many one day touring plans for Universal Studios Hollywood, but to make the most of your time, you should really make your own customized itinerary based on your own interests.
So, here are some tips.
First, we suggest mapping out your day according to which shows you want to see.
Because these shows occur at set times throughout the day, they’re the least flexible part of your itinerary, so pick the ones you want and go from there.
You’ll receive a schedule of the day’s events when you enter the park.
Next, it’s a good idea to be strategic about which attractions you do first.
If you arrive shortly before the park opens, you’ll have free reign to the lowest wait times you’ll receive during the entire day, so if big time attractions like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are high on your list, be sure to do that first.
It would also be smart to do the park section by section as some bits (especially the Lower Lot) take a while to get to.
Bouncing back and forth between sections will lose you a significant chunk of time.
For inspiration, here is the plan we followed for our one day at Universal Studios Hollywood:
OPENING: Run straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Do Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey right away, and then Flight of the Hippogriff. Come back for the other sightseeing later because you should prioritize busy rides first!
NEXT: Head to the Lower Lot. These rides get busy later in the day so try to do as many as you can in the morning. If you plan to ride all of the the Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park and Transformers, then make sure to do them all in one go because returning to the Lower Lot later is a bit time consuming.
NEXT: If you’re not hungry yet, take some time to do the rides you want to do in the Upper Lot, like the Simpsons Ride, the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. You might get hungry while doing this, but we recommend either eating early or late to avoid peak time crowds. We prefer the latter!
LUNCH: For lunch, we returned to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and ate at the Three Broomsticks. We then walked off our food comas exploring Hogsmeade. You can skip the Ollivander’s show unless you’re a huge Harry Potter fan.
AFTER LUNCH: If you’re feeling too full to hurl yourself on a big ride, then this might be a good time to try the Studio Tour or a show. We went to Waterworld and saved the Studio Tour for later. While the line usually moves quickly, crowds seem to lessen closer to closing time.
THEN: See some more shows! While shows are busy, they require less wait time and planning than rides, so that’s why we like to save them for later.
THEN: Aside from opening, just before closing is the best time to avoid crowds for popular attractions, so take this time to either re-do your faves, or see some more popular attractions like the Walking Dead experience. Again, just before closing is usually a good time to do the Studio Tour.
We hope this guide to enjoying Universal Studios Hollywood in one day was helpful!
Thanks so much for reading. We had an amazing time exploring the park in only one day, and we’re confident you will too. Best of luck with your own one day plan for visiting Universal Studios Hollywood!