Kiss a beluga, step onto a famous movie set, or learn about Walt Disney’s secret hideaway by embarking on exclusive, behind-the-scenes tours and experiences at California’s top attractions. Here is just a sampling of the smorgasbord of splurge-worthy, VIP adventures. (Be sure to reserve your spot in advance.)
San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Behind-the-Scenes Safari
Go wild with a 90-minute, Behind-the-Scenes Safari, accessing spaces and stories only a private guide can deliver. Venture through the savannah-like expanses of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park while learning about the magnificent onsite animals (elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, and more)—and their endangered companions in the wild. Highlighting conservation efforts, these private safaris focus on the park’s white rhino population or the African elephant herd as your guide leads you through either the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center or Elephant Valley via deluxe cart. Add to your private experience by glamping during a Roar & Snore Safari, an overnight getaway in the midst of the park. Bunk down beside elephants, giraffes, rhinos, gazelles, and other African creatures as you take up residence in one of 46 comfortable, safari-style tents. Eats, walking tours, campfire programs, camp activities, and an after-hours look at the wildlife neighbors (yes, there’s a fence separating camp and animals) included. (More: San Diego Zoo Safari Park)
Alcatraz Island: Special Evening Tours
Alcatraz, a former federal prison on an island in San Francisco Bay, is eerie during the day—and even more chilling on guided evening tours. Climb aboard the ferry, which circles the island as your guide reveals points from which prisoners attempted daring escapes. Once on solid ground, learn about the prison’s most notorious inmates—Al "Scarface" Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and Robert “Birdman" Stroud. Step inside a cell and walk the grounds accompanied by fascinating audio tour. Be sure to take a moment to pause from the prison gloom and take in the stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge and city skyline as the sun goes down. (More: Alcatraz: Special Evening Tours)
VIP Experience at Universal Studios Hollywood
Feel like a movie star yourself when you book the VIP Experience at Universal Studios Hollywood. First there’s the valet parking—not bad. Then there’s that private entrance leading you to an exclusive lounge, where you relax with snacks and refreshments in your own A-lister’s inner sanctum. Next, you meet your expert guide for the day, who will go out of his or her way to find out what kind of insider tips and movie facts you’d like to know more about as you tour the back lots and sound stages.
Unlike the standard back-lot tour, the VIP Experience allows you to get out of your group’s private trolley and wander around. You’ll be able to get a up-close look at sets, learn about lighting and camera angles, and see where current TV shows and movies are being shot. A favorite stop is the massive prop warehouse, which houses an impressive collection of movie paraphernalia, from vintage bowling bags to full suits of armor. The tour includes a gourmet lunch served in a private dining room, plus front-of-the-line ride privileges, prime seats for shows, and meet-and-greets with featured performers.
Monterey Bay Aquarium: Tours & Adventures
Take the plunge. Go beyond the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 200 exhibits by embarking on private tours and experiences as colorful and fascinating as the facility’s shimmering inhabitants. Step behind the scenes, discover how the aquarium staff cares—and advocates—for the ocean and its creatures (sea otters, for example), plan an onsite family sleepover, don fins and swim in the Great Tide Pool, or plan a romantic, candlelit evening for two. (More: Monterey Bay Aquarium)
Special Tours at Disneyland Resort
Disneyland Resort is undeniably magical—and that’s part of its charm. But understanding how the magic is made can be entertaining too. You can get an insider’s view and learn some fun behind-the-scenes trivia on the resort’s tours in Anaheim of both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. Take the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” guided tour of Disneyland Park to discover stories about the founder’s vision and path to creating the Magic Kingdom, or live the perfect Disney day on a VIP tour (ahem, reserved seats and special access, anyone?) of the resort, complete with your own personal guide to customize your experience. Or perhaps the Star Wars-related adventure would better speak to your inner Jedi—visit a galaxy far, far away on a Star Tours experience.
Special Animal Interactions at SeaWorld
For those hankering to be more than a spectator at animal shows and exhibits, SeaWorld San Diego’s exclusive, up-close, experiences might be just the ticket. Peel on a wetsuit and hop in a tank with beluga whales or seize a splash-worthy opportunity to swim, play—and communicate—with dolphins. Fans of Shamu can go behind the scenes for the Killer Whales Up-Close Tour to gain an insider’s look at these massive, awe-inspiring mammals. (More: Special Animal Interactions at SeaWorld)