Sometimes, the most important aspect of a movie is where it was filmed.
Movies cement characters, plot lines and places in our minds, weaving a tapestry of tales that shapes perception, evokes emotion and inspires. Just as characters are held near and dear, the setting of a film or TV series is equally important, and groups can tour the filming locations of some of cinema’s most iconic scenes in cities coast to coast.
In San Francisco, travelers can see the home of Mrs. Doubtfire; while in New Orleans, they can be treated to a dose of film history from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Atlanta is the home of the popular zombie apocalypse series “The Walking Dead,” and in New York City, favorite locations from shows like “Seinfeld” and “Ghostbusters” add a unique twist to a visit to the Big Apple. The Hawaiian island of Oahu was the epic backdrop of “Jurassic Park.” The film tour is just one activity for groups in the Kualoa Private Nature Reserve.
The tour companies featured here offer a selection of amenities groups can enjoy while on the tour. In New York, one private group tour includes filming and editing your own movie. In Atlanta, group tours are led by film industry insiders, and in San Francisco, the tour bus is like a movie theater on wheels.
New Orleans Movie Tours
The Crescent City’s historic charm makes it the perfect backdrop for some of our favorite films: It’s been the setting of more than 200 movies and TV shows including “The Pelican Brief,” the “True Detective” series and “12 Years a Slave.” Small groups will enjoy the intimate 10-person van with screens in the headrests and custom two-hour tours offered by New Orleans Movie Tours. Since groups are small, the interests of the participants determine the stops, and different scenes are highlighted each day.
“Movie fans love to know more about their favorite films and the actors who starred in them,” said Jonathan Ray, New Orleans Movie and TV Tour founder. “To see a location where your favorite movie was shot or a famous actor strolled is a huge thrill for movie fans.”
Ray does each of the tours himself, drawing on his knowledge from having worked in the film industry and having lived in New Orleans for more than a decade. The tour includes a stop at a working movie set, too. “People have more appreciation for how much work goes into making a film,” said Ray. “They get a behind-the-scenes look.”
The tour circles through the French Quarter to see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s former house, through the St. Louis Cemetery to see the grave of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and through the Central Business, Warehouse and Garden districts. Films on the tour include “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “JFK,” “Twilight,” “Double Jeopardy” and “Easy Rider.”
Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000-acre private nature preserve that has been in the Morgan family for eight generations and will celebrate its 170th anniversary in 2020. It has also served as the backdrop for dozens of Hollywood productions. Guests can discover the area’s cinematic history on the ranch’s Movie Site and Ranch Tour.
“I’d say that it’s mainly because Kualoa is such a stunningly beautiful and sacred place, and that has attracted the major Hollywood studios over the years,” said Frank Among, director of sales and marketing at the ranch. “We have an ongoing commitment and effort to promote responsible and sustainable tourism and support the local community, and also educate our visitors. It’s an important part of the tour and part of its appeal.”
More than 170 movies, TV shows and commercials have been filmed at Kualoa. Beginning in the 1950s with “Paradise Hawaiian Style,” starring Elvis Presley, the preserve has been host to blockbusters like three films in the “Jurassic Park” franchise, as well as “Kong: Skull Island,” “Jumanji,” “Lost” and “50 First Dates.” Among the items seen on the tour are the fallen tree from “Jurassic Park,” Godzilla’s footprints, the battlegrounds from “Windtalkers” and the house from “Mighty Joe Young.”
The tours, which use a vintage school bus as transportation, can be combined with horseback riding, ATV tours and other sightseeing explorations.
San Francisco Movie Tours
San Francisco Movie Tours was born from owner Bryan Rice’s passion for scouting out scenes from his favorite films. Local guides offer an insider’s perspective on the City by the Bay from a 23-passenger luxury theater bus with surround sound and large video screens for showing movie and TV clips at stops along the tour. The tour winds through San Francisco’s key neighborhoods: Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Nob Hill, Union Square, Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies, City Hall, the Financial District, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Fort Point, the Golden Gate Bridge and Pacific Heights.
“Our tours include all the sights you’d see on a city tour of San Francisco but with the element of seeing the scenes from some of people’s favorite movies,” said Rice. “So where people may not remember seeing a monument in a square, once they connect it to a scene in a film, its more memorable.”
The tour guides are actors and comedians, so an important part of the tour is the entertainment factor. San Francisco Movie Tours can even arrange for an actor in character to re-enact scenes from a movie during the tour, such as Kim Novak’s character in “Vertigo” exiting the apartment building from the film. While there is a list of standard tours, groups of up to 150 people have been accommodated on custom tours.
On Location Tours
There’s no place in the world like New York City, so naturally, it’s the backdrop for myriad films and TV shows. On Location Tours offers 10 different tour options, among them one that focuses on the hit mafia drama “The Sopranos,” a TCM Classic Film Tour and a Holiday Lights and Movie Sights Tour. Some tours spotlight specific locations, like Central Park or the East Village, offering groups the chance to see different parts of the city in a new light. The popular “Sex and the City” tour lets visitors walk in the footsteps of Carrie and friends, visiting more than 40 destinations. On Location also does private group tours.
“No matter where someone’s from, whether it’s across the river or across the globe, their first impression of New York City is from movies and television,” said Alan Locher, the tour company’s senior director of public relations, marketing and sales. “It’s a unique way to see the city through the places where your favorite characters eat, live, shop or walk around.”
The roughly three-hour guided bus tour showcases over 60 sites from the screen, including those from “Girls,” “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” with opportunities to hop off the bus for an up-close view and photo ops. The most popular tour is the When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour, which makes stops at the apartment from “Friends,” the diner from “Seinfeld” and Zabar’s cafe from “When Harry Met Sally” and ends at McGee’s Pub on 55th Street, the inspiration for McLaren’s Pub in the show “How I Met Your Mother.”
Atlanta Movie Tours
Atlanta Movie Tours got its start when the owner would bring her visiting guests around town to see different movie sets. It dawned on her that she could give the tours as a business. Since the 1970s, Atlanta has been a hot destination for film crews; the state offers generous tax credits, and Atlanta has a low cost of living compared with other big cities.
“One thing that makes Atlanta Movie Tours special is that our guides are all involved in some way with the film industry, whether they’re actors, extras or production assistants,” said chief movie buff Carrie Burns. “They have great firsthand experience and lots of stories and anecdotes that make the tours special.”
Luxury buses transport groups to the locations of some of their favorite films and TV series; included are sets of active filming, where it’s not uncommon to have a celeb sighting. Among their three-hour tours are the Upside Down tour, which explores the set of “Stranger Things”; the “Gone With the Wind Tour,” which is led by an interpreter playing the role of author Margaret Mitchell; several different zombie tours centered around “The Walking Dead”; celebrity-hosted tours led by film actors; the Best of Atlanta Tour; and the company’s most popular, the Hero Tour, which features several movies from the Marvel Universe.
“Tours live beyond the life of the show,” said Burns. “Even after the filming is over, there is a nonstop fan base that grows up around popular shows and movies. We extend the life of the show for fans.”