The theme park was exhilarating and the tour was amazing. Now we’ve got one more Universal City adventure to enjoy.
Perched high atop a hill overlooking awe-inspiring expanses of the San Fernando Valley, Universal City has two hotel properties–the Hilton Universal City and the Sheraton Universal Hotel. I chose the Sheraton, by default, as it was the location of my 30-year high school reunion the weekend I visited. But while my choice of accommodations was simply a matter of convenience, the experience far exceeded my expectations.
The Sheraton Universal
If first impressions are worth a dime, the hotel lobby and registration areas of this Los Angeles landmark, known as the “Hotel of the Stars” hit the jackpot. From the elegant black-and-white decor exuding the timeless air of the 1920s-1940s movie-making era, to the upscale ambiance of a contemporary ultra-lounge, the setting was instantly captivating.
Think rich chocolate, midnight and ivory fabrics and leather furnishings accented with sea foam green, lemon and taupe hues; sexy, white sheer-curtained sitting areas; a light blue backlit bar; and sprawling floor-to-ceiling windows offering picturesque views of the valley. “In the Mix” is an appropriate name for this warm, intimate and relaxing area offering a full complement of libations, including delightful signature cocktails, specialty martinis and light noshes from late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning.
The 450-plus newly renovated guest rooms in this historical icon of the Universal City skyline are equally as charming. Amenities encompass fluffy Sheraton Sweet Sleeperbeds; chic, comfortable fabric reading chairs and ottomans; coffee-colored designer furniture pieces; 32-inch LCD televisions; and iHome iPod docking station clock radios set against a backdrop of cream-colored walls, slate grey patterned carpeting and entertainment-themed artwork. The bathrooms are sumptuous as well, with deluxe amenities and signature bath products.
On the lower level, you’ll find the California’s, offering contemporary cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that looks out onto the Baja Beach Club Poolside Lounge. Flanked by towering palms, a seasonal cabana bar and plenty of inviting lounge chairs and tables, this al fresco environment offers a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding area.
Ensconced off of an outdoor breezeway is a sizeable fitness center with state-of-the-art exercise equipment, a flat-screen TV, mats, workout balls and other fitness accoutrement.
Although visitors enter Universal CityWalk and traverse through part of it to access the theme park, this is its own awe-inspiring attraction that deserves its due time and attention! I went back on the third day of my mini-vacation via the complimentary hotel shuttle to take it all in.
Now let me just remind you of what I said in the first part of this series: After living here–albeit 20 years ago–for two decades, I was used to the hype, glamor and “over-the-top-ness” that L.A. provides. However, my exuberance for CityWalk caught me off guard, slowly and steadily alluring all of my senses to dive in and sample it all.
And sample I did! My first stop, of course, was to eat–the foodie in me always comes first!–and I chose the Karl Strauss Brewing Company, which has a fantastic, sprawling tiled patio overlooking the cacophony of people and excitement below. Although known for their excellent craft beers–there are half a dozen locations dotted across California–they serve a wealth of delicious apps, salads and soups, sandwiches and main courses that aptly bring out the scintillating brew flavors.
Other dining options here include Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood, Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom, Jillian’s, Tony Roma’s, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Wasabi at CityWalk, Camacho’s Cantina, Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., the Crepe Cafe, Samba Brazilian Steakhouse and Lounge, Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers and Wolfgang Puck Bistro, in addition to numerous others.
Shopaholics will find loads of options from health, beauty and specialty products to toys and Hollywood memorabilia, games, novelties, accessories, footwear and apparel, candy, ice cream and more. And since California is a sports mecca, there are local nods here with the Dodgers Clubhouse Store and the Raider Image (yes, although the silver and black moved a few hours “up the road” many years ago, the Raider Nation still reigns here).
Attractions for the entire family include Jillian’s Hi Life Lanes with rock ‘n’ roll and virtual bowling and arcade and video games, and iFly Hollywood, a very cool skydiving adventure inside a vertical wind tunnel. From wee 3- to 4-year olds to experienced skydivers and everyone in between, all will enjoy this safe, wall-to-wall airflow “ride.” And for more movie magic, there’s the 19-screen Cinema Stadium AMC movie theater with a seven-story IMAX theater.
If you desire a grown-up evening out, nightlife here encompasses the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club, Infusion Lounge, Saddle Ranch Chop House and, of course, the Hard Rock Cafe, among others, plus a bevy of special concerts and other entertainment events.
The end of a beautiful weekend
Wholly satisfied in every way, I bypassed the shuttle and leisurely ambled back–a hellacious but doable trek on the way up that’s steep but easy on the way down–to the Sheraton, grateful for the entire experience and, surprisingly, day dreaming about what I would enjoy here the next time.
And you know, I would go back. L.A. is, after all, the place where dreams–at least Hollywood’s version of them–can come true.
- iFly Hollywood: (818) 985-4359, www.iFLYHollywood.com
- Jillian’s Hi Life Lanes: (818) 985-8234, universalcity.jilliansbilliards.com
- Karl Strauss Brewing Company: (818) 753-2739, www.karlstrauss.com/PAGES/Eats/CityWalk.html
- LA INC. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.discoverLosAngeles.com
- Sheraton Universal: (866) 716-8134, (818) 980-1212 www.sheratonuniversal.com
- Universal CityWalk: www.citywalkhollywood.com
- Universal Studios Hollywood: 1-800-Universal, www.universalstudioshollywood.com
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website.