The Complete Guide to Visiting the Magic Castle in Hollywood
What is the Magic Castle?
One of my childhood dreams came true during my trip to California last month. I had the opportunity to visit the World Famous, Hollywood Magic Castle. The Magic Castle is a private club to the Academy of Magical Arts – an organization that promotes the Art of Magic.
The castle itself is an old home that was built in 1909. Then, in 1961, Milt Larson purchased the home and transformed it into the instantly recognizable Hollywood Landmark. Inside the building you’ll find countless rooms with treasures from the history of magic, a complete dining room, magical performances and surprises. The fact that all this takes place in an old, fancy-looking mansion makes it even better.
Why Visit the Magic Castle?
It’s a little known fact that before I was adventures with ben, this travel blogger was Magic Ben. Throughout high school and college I made (a very decent) living as a magician – performing at birthdays, Bah Mitzvahs, weddings, corporate events, and in the photo above, city-wide festivals and celebrations. Along with my business partner, we were pretty well-known (if I do say so myself) throughout Southeastern Rhode Island and Massachusetts. But as I graduated from college and moved away, the distractions of life meant I was no longer performing. But the fierce interest in magic continues today (in fact learning a new killer magic trick is one of my goals for celebrating turning 30).
But I digreess.
Whether you are a magician or non-magician, the Magic Castle is just plain awesome. Inside it’s secret halls are countless rooms of performers ready to amaze and entertain you with their skills as a prestidigitator. With a full-service, elegant restaurant and well-stocked bars, it’s easy (and encouraged) to spend the whole night here.
Getting in to the Magic Castle
There’s just one hiccup to the whole “You Must Visit the Magic Castle” thing – you need to be a member, or a guest of a member. Membership levels are varied, but do require some knowledge of the art of conjuring. Which means, for the average individual, it’s not something you could just sign up for easily just to get in for one night. A quick google search turned up a few people on Yelp who were willing to help with guest passes. So who knows – do some research ahead of time and you might get lucky. Rumor also has it from some fellow bloggers that they have non-member events, but I couldn’t find any of those details on the official homepage.
In my case, I don’t really know the full details how I was able to get in. A colleague of mine shared that he knew how to get us in. What he knew, he wouldn’t tell. But it didn’t matter, I was off to the Magic Castle.
There is a cover fee of $20 per person to enter. A charge that is well worth the investment. Drinks and food are additional.
Tip: To make the most of your visit, arrive early and plan on spending at least 4 hours. If you really want to see as much magic as possible, plan on 6 hours.
What to Wear to the Magic Castle
The Magic Castle has a strict dress code. Jackets and ties are required for men. And because this is a magical establishment, bolo ties, ascots and ruffled color are also accepted in place of a necktie! Now I generally don’t like dressing this fancy, but for entry into the Magic Castle, I’ll wear almost anything. Plus, it really is a classy establishment so it adds to the ambiance. If you’re packing for a trip to Cali – bring some fancy attire just in case the magical gods are watching over you and score you tickets to entry.
The Magic Castle is located smack in the middle of Hollywood. Which means where ever you are, allow for adequate time for traffic. And since you’ll want to arrive as soon as the club opens, you’ll be driving through evening rush hour traffic. By adequate time, I mean I left Anaheim 2 hours before our reservation time, even though it’s only a 40-minute trip. Don’t be late. Parking is by valet only, so have some cash handy to pay (and tip) the valet. There is an ATM machine inside just in case.
Entry into the Club
Congratulations on making it to the Magic Castle. After paying your cover charge in the lobby you’ll probably be wondering where to go next since there are no doors anywhere to be seen. All that’s in front of you is a bookshelf. And on said bookshelf is an owl.
Approach the owl and say the magic words and a secret entrance will reveal itself. What are the secret words? Well… a magician never reveals the secret. I’ll let you discover that for yourself. But… what would you say to a door that you want to open?
From this point forward, cameras were not allowed.
Having no idea what to expect, I approached one of the volunteer members and asked to explain how the club worked. He was more than helpful, friendly and eager to point me in the direction of the dining room and theaters. Classy!
Upon entry, we headed directly to dinner, a wise plan in order to maximize your time. The food is served in a Victorian-setting dining room. I had the filet which was delicious. The food is exquisite, but on the pricier side for the casual traveler. Entrees range from $27-$37 – but are worth the money. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience so treat yourself and enjoy the taste of California exclusivity.
Meals came quick and service on spot. There’s an effort to make sure you finish your meal in time for the first show. Diners are provided with tickets while non-diners must wait on stand-by.
Following dinner, three bars were open for drinks. Prices were on par with most establishments of this caliber, ranging from $7-$13 for a glass of beer or wine.
There are three options for magic: close-up, parlour and stage. Be sure to grab a brochure with showtimes as you enter. Another sign inside lists performers, venues and showtimes. Before you head to dinner, take a moment to plan your visit. It’s very tough to see it all without making some sort of game plan. “Winging it” just won’t work. For a small, exclusive club, the place got very busy.
THE CLOSE-UP SHOW
I was unable to see the close-up show. With an intimate venue, every time I arrived the space was closed to capacity. On several attempts I arrived 5-10 minutes prior to show time and was met with a “closed” sign. Lines form early, so if close-up is one of your favorites, arrive 30 minutes prior to showtime (at least).
The good news, there are multiple close-up shows with multiple performers. So if you spend enough time here, you should be able to catch the act du jour.
Parlour Magic is slightly bigger than close-up, but smaller than stage (think – what a magician would perform in your living room). The parlour venue is located in the back of the castle – which itself is a whimsical maze of corridors, stairs and corners. It’s a pleasure to walk through and experience.
THE PALACE OF MYSTERY – THE STAGE SHOW
Diners receive tickets for advance seats for the stage show. Everyone else must wait on standby. If you’re the latter, arrive early for the best chance of seats. While three shows were advertised, the 3rd show was actually optional and offered only if there were enough people interested in attending (a minimum of 30-40 was spieled throughout the night). So if stage is important to you, get in line early for the earlier performances.
The stage show featured three acts, each around 15 minutes in length. You never know who will perform and while each of the acts performed independently of each other, they worked together to blend themselves together seamlessly. It was great fun. I saw: Arden James, Tina Lenert and Rob Zabrecky. All big names in the field of magic, but probably unknown to you non-magic fan readers.
Each performer was excellent.
In addition to the scheduled performances, impromptu magical moments sometimes happen on the scattered tables throughout the place by the magicians who are in attendance. Don’t be shy. Feel free to eavesdrop and catch a trick or two while you wait for the next show to begin.
Irma and Other Fun
When you are in between shows, be sure to explore the Magic Castle’s extensive collection of posters, props and other fun. The must-see attraction is Irma, a mysterious piano that plays your favorite tunes on request. The keys are moving, the music clearly coming from the instrument on display, but no piano player can be seen. It’s quite fun.
In addition to Irma, there are shifting portraits, a secret phone booth, assorted posters and photos from famous magicians and more.
Watch for Celebrities
This is a hip and happening place – and not a magical geeky place as you might think. With Neil Patrick Harris as the President of the Academy of Magical Arts, I was slightly excited at the possibility of seeing him there. But realistically, on a Wednesday night, I’m sure he’d have other places to be. With my expectations managed, I was surprised to see some of the magicians that influenced me as a child, right there at the castle: having dinner, watching the shows, chatting it up and enjoying themselves. I saw:
- Mark Wilson – Known for his television series The Magic Land of Allakazam
- Franz Harary - Made the space shuttle disappear on NBC’s World’s Greatest Magic
- Jonathan Pendragon - Spectacular Grand Illusion and fastest Metamorphosis Trick
I did want to talk to them, but my shyness kept me away. Silly me, I know. I just didn’t know what to say and they probably hear “I loved watching you growing up” all the time. So I didn’t want to be that fan with empty words. But it was on the way out that I got completely astonished.
As I was waiting for the valet to pick up the car, out of the corner of my eye I saw the Neil Patrick Harris standing outside with Max Maven, one of the top mentalists of all time. With just minutes to spare before my car would arrive, I just HAD to say hello to each of them.
I don’t get star struck a lot. I’ve encountered many celebrities through my work and only since meeting Michael Jackson in 2000 was I at a loss for words. I approached the pair who were in the middle of a conversation. I felt so bad standing there awkwardly. I knew I was interrupting and being that fan. But I wanted to say hello. I wanted to let them know how much I enjoyed watching them growing up and how fantastic my evening at the Magic Castle was.
As gracious as ever, they both politely stopped their conversation and turned their attention to this goofy guy standing there. We had a brief, but cordial chat. I wanted a photo, but didn’t want to impose (though my partner Brian was standing there at the ready). I had already interrupted them once, I wanted to leave with some sense of decorum. No photo taken as evidence.
A perfect ending to a perfect night of magic.
This is the kind of place I could visit over and over again (but don’t take my word for it, check out Entertainment ExactLee). With always changing performers, it’s easy to make this a weekly stop. And if I was in the California-area, I would strongly consider joining as a member. While it’s challenging to gain entry, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way – or serendipity will find you and make it happen.
Have you ever been to the Magic Castle? What tips do you have for making the most of your visit or getting in? Share by commenting.
I’ll see you out there…! Poof!