Visiting the sets of some of my favourite movies and shows
When I’m not off travelling, I watch quite a lot of TV and am a regular at my local cinema and one of the things I love about visiting the USA is that I never seem to be far from places I recognise from my favourite movies and shows.
Here’s some of my favourite sites that I’ve visited and where I found them!
The Friends apartment block
Although Friends was actually filmed on sound stage at Warner Brothers’ Studios in LA, between scenes, shots of New York fill the screen including one of a building supposed to be the apartment block where Rachel and Monica’s apartment is. This footage is actually of a building in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan, on the corner of Bedford Street and Grove Street, just a short walk from Christopher Street subway station. I must admit to taking a few wrong turnings the first couple of times I visited but once you’re there, the building is instantly recognisable and Greenwich Village is a great area to wander around before or after your visit!
New York City in general is a great place for finding TV and movie locations. They’re absolutely everywhere, in fact, it’s like one giant movie site, and there’s plenty of websites with lists of them all. Some of my other favourites there include the Empire Hotel in the Upper West side – the one owned by Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl – with its neon red rooftop sign, rooftop bar and Gossip Girl and Sex and the City themed cocktails; the Central Park boating lake, Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain, recognisable from seemingly hundreds of movies including Sex and the City, Enchanted and Elf; and Katz’s Deli in the Lower East side from When Harry Met Sally.
The Vampire Diaries’ town
Having just binge-watched all 8 seasons of The Vampire Diaries, I just had to insist on taking a slight detour while travelling through Georgia en route to Atlanta a couple of years ago. The town of Covington, Georgia doubled (and still doubles in spin-off, Legacies) as Mystic Falls in the hit show and has embraced it’s connections to all-thing Vampire to bring in the tourists. Although it was possible to take a guided Vampire Diaries locations tour, it didn’t run on the day we were passing through and our schedule didn’t allow for us to return another day but it was still fun wandering around and seeing the instantly recognisable town square and the Mystic Grill restaurant. We called into the information centre to pick up a free walking tour map which pointed out some of the locations from the show including Elena’s house as well as locations from other shows and movies filmed in the area. The state of Georgia is well known as a filming location for many popular TV shows and movies and it’s possible do self-guided visits – or pick up guided tours from Atlanta – to see locations from other popular shows filmed in the area such as The Walking Dead.
Layfayette Cemetery #1
A cemetery might seem like an odd filming location suggestion but this New Orleans’ cemetery in the city’s Garden District is one of the most filmed. In fact, anytime you see a New Orleans’ set show with a cemetery scene in, it’s more than likely it was shot here. As a fan of The Vampire Diaries, the cemetery was instantly recognisable to me from scenes featuring Klaus and his siblings and from their spin off show The Originals but since visiting, I have spotted it in many other TV shows and movies.
When I saw someone post a photo on social media of their Trek America tour stopping at the High School Musical high school building for the group to get photos, I had to look up where it was and was delighted to find out it was in Salt Lake City, a city we just happened to be visiting on a roadtrip that summer. While I was looking up the address for the school, I stumbled across a notice that the school was actually open for self-guided tours outside of school hours. As we’d be passing through during the summer holidays, this meant we could visit at pretty much any time during the day although if you are visiting while school is in session, it’s still possible to go and look around late afternoon once school is out for the day.
When we got there we were quite suprised that we could just walk into the school, no questions asked – we expected that we would have to maybe check in at the office and say why we were visiting but instead the doors were unlocked, we walked uin and pinned to the wall were leaflets outlining a self-guided walking tour of the school.
Having watched the films many times, it was quite surreal seeing the dining area where a lot of the big musical numbers took place – and yes, I did hop up on a table and have a dance when no one was looking, it just had to be done! The leaflet was a very comprehensive guide pointing out every classroom used in the movie and although a lot of these were locked, we did get to see the characters’ lockers, including Sharpay’s which was still bright pink, the gymnasium and the auditorium! Definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan and in the area!!!
Los Pollos Hermanos
Travelling through New Mexico on a Trek America tour, I’d never seen an episode of Breaking Bad so when we stopped at a fast food restaurant called ‘Twisters’ near Albequerque, it’s significance was completely lost on me. It was, of course, the restaurant that doubles as Los Pollos Hermanos in the hit TV show and having now binge-watched the series, I know exactly why the other members of my tour group were so excited by the stop. The restaurant had the Los Pollos Hermanos logo on one of it’s walls and a poster up proudly declaring that Breaking Bad was shot there and pointing out the table Walt sat at in the show. There’s plenty of other Breaking Bad filming locations you can visit in the Albuquerque area with many websites listing exactly where these are for a self-guided tour as well as organised tour being offered.
Just before my second visit to ‘music city’, I’d started to watch the TV show, Nashville, starring Connie Britton. I was visiting Nashville as part of a Trek America group tour and as a few of us on the tour watched the show, we asked if we could stop at the Bluebird Cafe, one of the live music venues often visited by the characters in the show which is also a real life live country music venue. We visited in daylight hours en route to the city and to be honest, it was a little disappointing, just a small building amongst other buildings in a seemingly run down area and it even had a note tacked on the window telling tourists no peeking in! Still, we took a quick photo outside and continued on to the city where we could see other venues used in the show including and the Ryman Auditorium and the Wild Horse Saloon. It is possible to get tickets to see live bands play at the Bluebird Cafe but you have to book way in advance as it’s such a popular, and a relatively small, venue. The more famous Grand Ole Opry which also featured in the show is a bit out of the city centre but well worth a visit and tour and at the time I went, had an exhibition of costumes and props from the show and it’s also possible to take a guided tour of locations from the city to see the houses etc used in the show!
If you’re a fan of the old Western movies, you’d struggle to find a better place to visit than Monument Valley with its iconic landscape that’s appeared in hundreds of shows and films. (Even if you’re not a Western fan, I thoroughly recommend a visit to this amazing place!) Head to popular lookout, John Ford Point, named after the director of many of the westerns filmed there for views of some of the most recognisable scenery in the Navajo Tribal Park. Another popular film scene shot at Monument Valley was the end of Forrest Gump’s run across America on a road in the town of Mexican Hat, Utah with Monument Valley as a backdrop! The park was covered in snow when I visited making it look a little differen t to how it looks on film but just as spectacular!
The Forrest Gump bench
If you’re looking for other Forrest Gump locations, then try Savannah where you’ll find Chippewa Square, the small park where Forrest sat on the bench to tell his story from in the film. The bench itself isn’t actually there – it was never part of the square and was just put in for the purpose of the film – but you can find a replica of it in the Savannah History Museum. For the real thing you’ll have to head to Paramount Studios in LA where you can sit and pose on it for a photo!
Utah’s Little Hollywood
Another one for fans of old cowboy films is the town of Kanab, Utah, sometimes dubbed ‘Utah’s Little Hollywood’ and where over 100 movies and TV shows have been filmed. I only discovered this town when we made a brief stop there en route to Bryce Canyon National Park on a guided day tour from Las Vegas. Visit the free Little Hollywood Museum to see a Western town reconstructed from buildings once used in movie sets there as well as plenty of props and photos from its movie-making heyday.
The Mrs Doubtfire House
San Francisco is another large city where you’ll find buildings and areas familiar to you from a large number of shows and movies – the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island etc have all been featured in plenty of movies – but we were looking for a specific location – the Mrs Doubtfire house. We used public transport to head to Steiner Street in the Pacific Heights area and quickly found the Victorian-style mansion. While on a sightseeing bus tour of San Francisco, we also had the house from the original TV show Charmed pointed out to us. Having never watched the show, I didn’t pay much attention but might be worth a visit if you are a fan!
After re-watching Groundhog Day a few weeks before embarking on a US roadtrip that would bypass Pittsburgh en route to Philadelphia, I just had to look up the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to see if it was a real place. It was and we managed to slightly detour to fit in a stop and visit Punxsutawney Phil, the weather predicting groundhog, himself and the amusingly named Gobblers Knob, site of the annual Groundhog Day ceremony! While Punxsutawney is a fun place to visit, the film wasn’t actually shot there. It was actually filmed in the town of Woodstock, Illinois, a place which I’ve yet to visit, but I’ve been told that there is a bronze footprint-shaped marker there showing the place where Bill Murray repeatedly stepped in – or over – a puddle throughout the film.
As a huge fan of late ’90s cult US daytime soap opera, Sunset Beach, I was extremely excited about the prospect of visiting the Orange County town it was set in while staying for a few days at the neighbouring Huntington Beach. Despite there being a beach town named Sunset Beach just down the road, the show was actually filmed at Seal Beach. I looked up the addresses of the houses used as exteriors for the some of my favourite characters as well as the locations of bars and cafes from the show and, of course, took a stroll along the iconic pier!
The Shining Hotel
While on a Columbia River Gorge day tour out of Portland, we called in at Timberline Lodge to see Mount Hood. This lodge is famously the one used for exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel in 1980 horror film The Shining. As we arrived, out tour guide told us that, playing on it’s connection to the film, the hotel keeps an axe at reception which visitors can request to hold and pose for photos with. Well there was no way we were leaving there without asking for that opportunity! The axe was handed straight over to us as soon as we asked. It had the famous quote from the film “Here’s Johnny” emblazoned on it and we were allowed to stand around the lodge with it taking photos.
Another city used as a backdrop for a lot of TV shows and movies. I was excited to have the houseboat where Tom Hanks’ character lives in Sleepless In Seattle pointed out while on a DUCK Tour in the city but the best place for movie fans to head to in this city is the Museum of Popular Culture. Not a movie set, but instead you will find plenty of movie memorabilia, hundreds of props and costumes from classic movies! Great fun to explore!!
LA Studio Tours
Of course, the best place to visit if you’re looking for movie sets if the movie capital of the World, Hollywood. Head up to Griffith Observatory to relive the famous dance scene from LA LA Land or to Century City to find Die Hard‘s Nakatomi Tower, actually the Fox Plaza building. You can walk in Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman footsteps on Rodeo Drive or while in Beverly Hills, see the police from the Beverly Hills Cop films – actually Beverly Hills City Hall!
As a fan of 90s/00s British pop group S Club 7, I was excited to find locations used in their LA 7 and Hollywood 7 TV shows down in Santa Monica and Venice Beach including the apartment block the band supposedly stayed at in the latter.
But the film studio tours are without a doubt, the best places to go if you want to stand on a TV or movie set. Choose from a trip to Universal Studios or take the Warner Brothers Studios, Paramount Studios or Sony Studios tours. You can read about my experiences taking all of these tours here!
Have you visited any filming locations in the USA? Let me know!
Read about filming locations I’ve visited while travelling elsewhere in the World here.