The Sunset Boulevard section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is one of its few themed “lands” that won’t be transformed over the next couple of years. Sunset Boulevard is home to three of the park’s landmark attractions – Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, in addition to two large outdoor amphitheaters for perennial favorite stage show, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST LIVE ON STAGE and the night-time pyrotechnic show, Fantasmic!
Sunset Boulevard branches off Hollywood Boulevard, the “main street” of Disney Studios, at a corner anchored by two great coffee stops — classic Starring Rolls and the new Trolley Car Cafe. Starring Rolls, which shares a kitchen with the signature Brown Derby, is the place to go for sandwiches and gourmet cupcakes. The coffee there is respectable – they grind their own beans. However, across the street, all your favorite Starbucks beverages are being served at the Trolley Car Cafe. The theme here is a Spanish-tile-roofed, California-esque trolley shed. On the Sunset Boulevard side, it looks like the Spanish Mission at Santa Barbara. The folks who write the blurbs on DisneyWorld.com claim that the theme is a trolley station, but this is home to the cars themselves, not the passengers. The red trolley cars, in a transcontinental theming flourish, are the same ones you can ride at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim. A switchboard shows all the Pacific Electric Railway lines and stations (you can flip the switches, but nothing happens!) Pastries are both Disney-baked (brought over from Starring Rolls) and Starbucks La Boulange.
The gloomy Hollywood Tower Hotel looms nearly two hundred feet over Sunset Boulevard, and many guests stop to take a “scream” photo in the middle of the street with the tower in the background. (Photopass photographers are on hand – and don’t hesitate to ask them to take a shot with your own camera.)
An improv acting troupe, the Citizens of Hollywood, can often be found entertaining guests on Sunset Boulevard, as well as on Hollywood Boulevard, intermittently throughout the day. You may find yourself drawn right into the middle of their antics – so if you’re shy, try not to make eye contact with celebrities Dorma Nesmond, Melvin Macheezmo, or caterer to the stars, Ben Appetit!
Sweet Spells has cool, character-inspired caramel apples and all manner of baked, fudged, candied indulgence. Good thing Disney food has no calories, right? Don’t miss the scary witch, with Snow White’s apple, lurking in the window.
- Beverly Sunset is the place to go for Vinylmation and Disney pins. Fantasmic! merchandise can also be found here.
- Legends of Hollywood has Mickey Ears, toys and plush, FROZEN collectibles and other Character figurines and souvenirs.
- Planet Hollywood Super Store features exactly what you’d expect them to have. 🙂
- Reel Vogue was formerly Villains in Vogue, but the change in name reflects a wider and less villainous selection of souvenirs.
- Mouse about Town and Sunset Club Couture both have Disney clothing and souvenirs.
SUNSET RANCH MARKET
The “islands” of this outdoor food court, occupying much of the lower left side of Sunset Boulevard, are housed in cute little California bungalows with counter service out their windows at lunch and dinner time.
Toluca Legs Turkey Company (“Best legs in Tinsel Town”) is home to Disney’s legendary jumbo turkey legs. Available at kiosks in all four parks, these bring out the caveman in meat-eating park goers and have gained an iconic status (Disney sells t-shirts featuring their turkey legs!). Toluca was the original name of North Hollywood.
Cantalina Eddie’s theme is nautical, but the menu isn’t fish. They serve hot Italian sandwiches, pizzas, and Caesar salad. The name is a pun on the coastal “eddy” associated with Santa Catalina Island, the Channel Island closest to the Los Angeles-Long Beach area.
Fairfax Fare (another pun – named for the Fairfax district of Los Angeles which is known for its farmers market), like the neighboring stands, serves a lot of protein: barbecue chicken, ribs, pork sandwiches, and foot-long chili-cheese dogs. Even their Fairfax Salad has meat (bacon).
Rosie’s All-American Cafe is patriotically “hosted” by Rosie the Riveter of WWII poster fame – though on the signage here she’s brandishing a skillet rather than her bicep. Rosie serves burgers, chicken nuggets, and a Fried Green Tomato Sandwich with jalapeño ranch, pepper jack, and arugula on ciabatta bread (which goes along with the Victory with Vegetables WWII theme). Choose a tasty strawberry lemonade slushy or a Beso Del Sol Sangria.
If all this is too much meat for you, an antidote can be found next door at Anaheim Produce. Restore yourself with Granny Smith apple slices (with caramel), carrot and celery sticks (with Ranch), and a frozen lemonade (sometimes served in a cup with the Magic Kingdom’s Orange Bird). If you need a more potent restorative, choose or a Frozen Golden Margarita or a Magic Hat #9 (a mysterious practically pale ale, clandestinely brewed, and said to ask more questions than it answers!).
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – LIVE ON STAGE at THEATER OF THE STARS
This 25-minute stage show condenses the romantic storyline of the 1991 film about a beastly young man who was saved by love, in a series of beautifully staged scenes and musical numbers. The Broadway quality production, which has been running since 1991, has lavish costumes and impressive special effects. The benches in the open-air theater can seat 1,500 people (“move down to the end of your row to make room for more guests”), and large fans are used to keep it comfortable on hot days. Be sure to check the Times Guide for show times on the day of your visit. This “Tale as Old as Time” is occasionally canceled due to stormy weather.
Hint: If you arrive early and have a daughter who would like to receive the rose at the end of the show, ask a cast member about the possibility. A Fastpass+ (FP+) for this show will get you better seats, but another strategy is to watch the show while you wait for Rock-n-Roller FP+s to ripen.
The Tower of Terror and Rock-n-Roller Coaster were once the terminus of Sunset Boulevard. But now a gateway leads to a new courtyard and a brand new special event venue. Sunset Showcase is beginning its life as a sort of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By day, the Sunset Showcase hosts Club Disney – where Mickey and other characters dance with guests to a rousing Radio Disney playlist and kids can enjoy digital painting screens or something from the snack bar. By night, the space becomes Club Villain where the $99 admission (book in advance) gives you dinner and a floor show hosted by the mysterious Dr. Facilier from PRINCESS AND THE FROG along with some of your favorite evil queens (including Maleficent and Cruella De Vil).
THE TWILIGHT ZONE TOWER OF TERROR
No visit to the Studios is complete without a stop at the Hollywood Tower Hotel at the end of Sunset Boulevard. Are those real people way up there in the windows, shrieking in gleeful terror? Yes, yes they are. And you can be one of them. Just join the spooky, fog-enshrouded path through the garden of the hotel where 1930s music (including “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington) plays eerily. Something strange happened here back in 1939. The Hollywood Tower Hotel had been the playground of Tinseltown’s rich and famous, but one night it became instead their “haunt.” As you can see from the cobwebbed lobby, nothing has been touched since that stormy night, long ago. You’ll be greeted in the shadowy library by Rod Serling continuing the backstory on a television screen and welcoming you on a journey into the Twilight Zone (with footage repurposed from the vintage TV show).
The queue winds down through a deserted boiler room, and you’ll be offered seats in a dilapidated “service elevator.” There may not be a button for the Fifth Dimension, but that’s where you’re headed. This elevator goes not only up and down (13 stories), but it has legs, too – don’t be surprised when it trundles right out of the elevator shaft. The spooky hotel guests that were trapped in 1939 will appear to be urging you to join them. Keep your eyes open during the series of unpredictable surges up and drops down so you can see a great view of the park (and be one of the “elevated” shrieking guests that the folks down on the ground are admiring).
Hint: If you don’t want to ride but hate to miss out on all the fun, savor the queue and the preshow in the library. When you get down into the boiler room, just ask for the chicken exit and you’ll be back outside without all the free fall plummeting.
MousekeFind: the Mickey Mouse toy in the arms of the child actress among the glowing hotel spooks.
ROCK ‘N’ ROLLER COASTER
Welcome to “recording studio” G Force Records! Rock-n-roll band Aerosmith is just wrapping up a recording session, and when they see you observing through the glass wall of the split-level sound booth, they’ll invite you to come along to their concert on the other side of town for some backstage passes. Their manager calls for a limo, making it a super-stretch, urging everyone to hurry. The doors on the far side of the room open (so you may as well cross to that side upon entering the room!) to the brick-walled “alley” outside where the queue continues to the “Lock and Roll” parking garage, as the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way” appropriately plays.
It’s exciting to watch the shark-finned limos ahead of you as they roll under the highway entrance ramp sign, then make their tire-screeching merge. Soon it will be your turn, and when Steve Tyler screams, “Are you ready TO ROCK?!!” there will only be one possible answer: put the pedal to the metal! It really is a launch – massive magnets shoot the shiny limos forward at an electrifying 60 miles per hour (they don’t call it “G-Force” for nothing!) into a neon Los Angeles highway, complete with all the legendary landmarks.
Yes, that was one heckuva high-octane takeoff (during which your photo will be taken – so, smile!), and yes there are three inversions (two rollover cobra loops and one corkscrew). But this ride might not be just for thrill junkies. It might also be for people who don’t think they like roller coasters – particularly if they DO think they like rock and roll. The experience of peeling smoothly around palm-tree-lined banked turns, zooming through the middle of a giant donut, and flying through the O in the Hollywood sign to the rafter-shaking music of Aerosmith is both giddying and liberating. You won’t just be feeling the music, you’ll FEEL the music – because this puppy has a state-of-the-art sound system with 125 speakers per vehicle and a sub-woofer under each seat. “Sweet Emotion” or “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” will rock, roll, and reverberate through your nerve endings as though you really are backstage at an Aerosmith concert. (Each of the five limos plays a different Aerosmith song.) Not only does the music made the ride twice as much fun, it makes it half as intimidating. In what seems like a matter of seconds (the ride is 82 seconds long), your limo will be pulling up at the red-carpeted entrance to the arena where the “valet” will help you exit.
You’re not going to need just a backstage pass for Rock-‘N’-Roller – you’re going to need a Fastpass+, too – so plan ahead. If you like to be more spontaneous, don’t forget the single rider line.
Hint: Even if you decide not to ride, you can enjoy the themed queue (don’t miss the circular vestibule lined with guitar-fret columns and double doors encrusted with glass marbles) and of course the preshow with Aerosmith. Just ask for the chicken exit when you reach the loading platform. And don’t forget a photo in front of the forty-foot-tall, cherry red Fender Stratocaster electric guitar out front!
MousekeFind: the upside-down Cadillac hovering over your head as you enter the courtyard of the attraction – it’s riding on “tracks” that have extended from the guitar strings of the giant Stratocaster!
This night-time spectacular is held in the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater with an entrance walkway on the same side of Sunset Boulevard as the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST theater. Fantasmic! is a 30-minute visit to the imagination of Sorcerer Mickey and tells a story of Disney princesses, heroes, and villains which dazzles with pyrotechnics, lasers, fireworks, and walls formed with literally a million gallons of “dancing” water. Among the cast of 50 performers, you’ll see your favorites from Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The best seats are reserved for guests with FP+ or dining packages.
New “Made with Magic” merchandise has been created to light up in synchronization with the show. If you usually bring along glow sticks from the dollar store for Disney night-time fun, this time you may find yourself seriously tempted to upgrade your game with $25 glowing Minnie headbands, Mickey ears, gloves, or wands. You’ll feel like part of the show as all the ears and headbands in the audience light up in a kind of color ballet. The Sorcerer Mickey wand has the power to change the color of other Made with Magic items. And they can be used at Wishes! as well as Fantasmic! and Disneyland night-time shows. Since the Made with Magic items use the same RFID technology as Magic Bands, their functionality is likely to be expanded to parades and possibly even dark rides.
What is your favorite part of Sunset Boulevard?