Secret LA: How To Visit Hollywood's Famous Magic Castle
You've either seen the imposing Victorian mansion on Franklin Avenue or you've heard about it—Hollywood's Magic Castle, perhaps LA's best insider secret and one of the many places you might want to take your kid in Hollywood. But discovering the Castle is just the beginning. It's invitation-only—so how do you get in?
It's important to remember that the Magic Castle isn't like Disneyland or some other entertainment venue. At its heart, it is a private clubhouse for some of the best magicians in the world, and the Castle regularly books themed weeks for performers from as far away as Korea, Spain, and beyond. Performing there is an honor among magicians, but just being allowed in is an honor for anyone else. Visitors are treated to non-stop magic shows in three or more theaters and a meal in the Castle's excellent restaurant. Evenings are only for the over-21 crowd, but weekend brunch is family-friendly and appropriate for kids who love magic and can respect a place that requires their "better selves" behavior.
Unfortunately, high demand and the odd bout of inappropriate behavior by guests have made it a little harder to get in than it used to be. Still, it doesn't take a magic trick to get a pass—just a little ingenuity. Here's a helpful hint, too: being nice goes a long, long way.
1) Stay at the Magic Castle Hotel.
If you're coming from out of town and don't know a member, this might be the easiest way to secure a guest pass. The Magic Castle Hotel isn't luxurious despite the hefty price tag, but it gets high marks for cleanliness and a helpful staff (it has 4 and a half stars on Tripadvisor.com), and your stay comes with a pass to the Castle. Staying at the hotel also has a few perks of its own: free snacks are available 24/7 (a big plus for kids), and guests are walking distance to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and other attractions without being on busy (and noisy) Hollywood Blvd.. There's also a pool, and the staff will do laundry for free.
2) Ask a magician member, but do it very nicely
Google "how do I get into the Magic Castle" and you will be assured that going to the Castle website, finding out who is performing, and sending that magician an email will do the trick. Unfortunately, the number of people doing the exact same thing has caused the Magic Castle to revise its "now performing" listings (it now only shows who is performing in the current week), as magicians have been inundated with requests. Simply sending a friendly email just isn't the sure-fire way to get a response it once was. If you are familiar with a magician's work and can make it clear you aren't just sending an email to anyone to check the Castle off your bucket list, your chances are better.
3) Take a magic class.
If you're truly fired up about getting into the Magic Castle, a short-term pass comes along with tuition for a class (ages 21 and up). However, the pass restricts entry to specific days and only works while you're enrolled. Guests are also limited, and most classes last six to eight weeks.
4) Visit a local magic shop.
This is more of a gamble, but many employees of magic shops in Los Angeles are members and can give you a pass. However, they aren't likely to hand passes out to anyone who stops in, and you will probably need to show your interest in magic is sincere and not superficial.
A room at the Magic Castle Hotel
5) Ask your friends.
If you've been in LA for any length of time, you probably know someone who knows a member of the Magic Castle. Ask your hairdresser, mail carrier, tax accountant, and Lyft driver, and you might be surprised. Also, don't forget to check out social media contacts.
And if you do get in, here are some tips to make it a great experience:
Make a reservation to eat.
The Castle books up fast on weekends, so make a reservation as soon as you can (the site recommends calling 6 to 8 weeks before your preferred date). You need a credit card to make the reservation, so if you change your mind, remember to cancel to avoid getting charged a fee for not showing up.
Prepare to pay.
This is not a Denny's "kids eat free" kind of place -- even getting through the door for Saturday or Sunday brunch with the whole family adds up. There is a $25 door fee for adults, and kids 6-10 are $20 (kids 5 and under are free, but truthfully, they will be confused by the magic or completely bored, so don't bother). Valet parking (there is no self-parking option) is $15. As part of getting a guest pass, every guest is required to dine, and brunch for adults is $39.95 and the cost for kids is $19.95. For a family of four, that's well over $200. Luckily, the brunch has lots of kid-friendly options like waffles, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, and fries (and Mom and Dad can chow down on prime rib, crab legs, shrimp, made-to-order omlettes, salads and more).
Follow the dress code or suffer the consequences.
If you decide to leave the kids at home and go to the Castle in the evening, be aware that the dress code is formal. No jeans and no athletic shoes, and jackets for men are required. If you forget, you'll be wearing loaners (yes, they have loaner shoes) for the entire evening. And if you wear jeans? There are no loaner pants, so you'll be sent packing. Luckily, if you take the kids to brunch on the weekend the dress code is more relaxed—think business casual—but there are still rules in effect (those LA staples of sandals and denim will get you turned away, pronto). Make sure you check the website for guidance.
Don't take pictures.
There is a strict no-photos policy (though there is a step-and-repeat just outside the front door, so your Instagram followers will know you arrived). While it is tempting in our selfie culture to snap a picture and post it on social media, you should know that some members actively look for these pictures and aren't shy about shaming you when they find them. If a manager catches you taking a picture, you will be reprimanded—and that isn't a great look in front of your kids, anyway. Consider this a great learning opportunity to show your kids that you respect the rules, especially when you're a guest.
The Magic Castle dates back to 1909, and its 26,000 square feet are stuffed with memorabilia, so if you don't get into a show, take a look around. The bonus? Sometimes magicians will pop up in unexpected places to put on impropmptu magic shows, so it pays to be curious.
Again, this is a private club, not a theme park where the customer is always right. If you get into the Magic Castle, you are expected to read the rules (all of the important ones are on the website, promise), so don't get grumpy about the considerable expense or not being able to wear your flip flops while you sneak pictures. Short of heading to Vegas, the Magic Castle is a one-of-a-kind magical experience—and one that's only in LA. Be polite, don't cut in line or hold spaces (that's a no-no, especially for some of the smaller venues), and have a good time. At the end of your visit, you might even say it was downright magical.
Photos courtesy of Magic Castle Inc.