Back in the early days of movie-making, MGM Studios made its home in Culver City, producing legendary films like The Wizard of Oz, National Velvet and Singin' in the Rain. They produced as many as 52 films a year on two lots near Jefferson Avenue and Overland.
Over the years, the studio had many owners, but the most recent act of the old film giant's Culver City studio began in 1989 when Sony bought Columbia Pictures and formed Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Sony poured hundreds of millions into renovating the buildings and facilities, eventually naming their venture Sony Pictures Studios. Today, the studio mostly records television shows, but you can still visit the lot for a dose of movie history.
Sony Studios has a fascinating history and you may enjoy the real working studio atmosphere better than the theme park-style studio tour at Universal. However, their tour goes to fewer parts of the studio than Warner Bros or Paramount, and it involves a lot of walking.
Tips for Enjoying the Sony Pictures Studios Tour
Have the right expectations so that you won't be disappointed. You probably won't see a big-name movie star. In fact, you'll be lucky to see a minor one. And you definitely won't get to watch a movie being made. What you will see is the inside of a working film studio, your experience based on the day's activities.
If you're a big fan of the Wizard of Oz, don't expect to see much. While the film was done on no less than six stages, none of them contains a shred of the old sets and even if you get inside, it will look more or less like a large warehouse.
- To improve the chances of having a great tour, avoid the summer and end-of-year holidays when many shows are not working.
- If you're visiting several Hollywood attractions on the same day, you can save money on the Sony Tour if you buy a GoCard online in advance. You can also use the card to tour Warner Bros. Studios.
- You'll walk 1.5 to 2 miles on your tour, much of it outdoors. You'll also climb a few steps to get into the game show sets.
- Dress for the weather and be aware that a cloudy morning in Culver City often becomes a very hot, sunny day a few hours later.
- If you have small children under the age of 12, this is not the tour for them and children aged 12- 17 must be accompanied by an adult.
- Sony checks ID for anyone who's old enough to have one, so everyone should bring theirs.
- Sony says on their website that no cell phones, video or sound recording is allowed during the tour - and they mean it. But don't leave your camera at home because of it. You can take pictures in the lobby and at selected spots if allowed by your tour guide.
- They ask you to arrive at least thirty minutes before your tour time, which will give you just enough time to look around the mini-museum in the lobby before your tour starts.
Sony Pictures Studio Tour Options
Sony gives several tours daily, Monday through Friday only (check current hours). They also give twilight tours on summer Thursdays. However, the studio doesn't work on weekends and they don't give tours, either. Reservations are required. You can buy your tickets online.
If you're willing to pay the price, you can try their VIP Lunch Tour, a three-hour tour that avoids the walking. Instead, you travel by golf cart, eat a meal at the Commissary and get into the Sony museum
Tour offerings change frequently. Check the Sony Studio Tour website for current information.
What Happens on the Sony Pictures Studio Tour
The tour leaves from the Sony Pictures Productions office building. While you're waiting, someone will take your photo in front of a green screen to create a souvenir photo you'll pick up at the end. The tour starts with a 15-minute film montage about the studio history.
Highlights of the tour:
- The studio's Oscars collection is on display in the headquarters lobby.
- Depending on production schedules, you may visit the sets for Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. One of these is almost always open, and sometimes both are.
- You'll also visit a few sound stages. Which ones depend on what's going on and what your tour guide can get you into.
- Near the end of the tour, you'll get a chance to visit the gift shop. If you're in the market for mugs, t-shirts, hats and the like, you'll find some here that you can't get anywhere else.
About the Game Shows
The long-running game shows "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" are both produced at Sony Studios. When they're making new episodes, they shoot six of them per day, three in the morning and three in the afternoon. When they are shooting, the studio tour can't get inside their set. However, the two shows work on alternating schedules, so one set is usually open on every tour.
If you have your heart set on visiting a specific show's set, take a tour on a day when they're not working. Do your homework to find out when that is. Check the Jeopardy website and the Wheel of Fortune website for their schedule by beginning the process of getting tickets to be in their studio audience.
If you want to see how the game show is done from end to end, choose a day when they are working and use these tips to get tickets to be in their studio audience. It's also possible to make a day of it at Sony, being in the audience for half a day and touring the studio, too.
10202 West Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA
Sony Pictures Studio Tour website
In the past, guests met at the headquarters at Sony Pictures Plaza, but now you should enter the Overland gate on Overland Ave between Culver and Washington Blvd instead. Valet parking is free.
Sony Studios is in Culver City, southeast of the intersection of Washington and Culver. Visit the Sony website to see a map and get directions.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary tour for the purpose of reviewing the Sony Studio Tour. While it has not influenced this review, Tripsavvy.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.