In a town where every 1st grader can spot bad CG, a trip to the Magic Castle promises to wow even the most special effects-savvy among us. The chateau-esque mansion that turns heads no matter how many times you’ve driven past it on Franklin Ave. is for grown ups only, except for a magical Sunday brunch where junior magicians dazzle and delight and young Houdinis are welcome. Get ready for some good old-fashioned fun, right in the heart of Hollywood.
It’s important to note that this is a Clubhouse, and like any private club, you need an “in” to get in. This means, to attend the brunch you need to be recommended by a current member, or stay at the Magic Castle Hotel. It’s LA: everyone knows someone. Try posting on your local Mom’s group, mention that you’re looking for guest passes at school drop off and asking the parent of the kid you meet at the playground. You’ll be surprised at how many people are members (or have a college roommate whose cousin is!) and members are always happy to arrange guest passes: they want an audience as much as you want to see the show! It’s not exclusive like the SoHo House or restrictive like bringing guests to Disneyland. We’ve honeslty never known anyone who did not find a way to get in.
It Was A Dark and Stormy Night
Ok, it’s a bright and sunny Sunday. But a Gothic darkness descends as you pull up to the gorgeous clubhouse that sits atop a hill, overlooking the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Once you valet your car, you’ll step up to a great photo-op for the family in front of the house (red carpet included). Make sure you snap a pic now, since photography is strictly prohibited anywhere inside the castle. But don’t worry, there’s an in-house Photographer on hand to take pics for you (a photo package purchase comes with a free pass to come back).
If These (Magic) Walls Could Talk
Nothing is ordinary here, even doors are too dull for the castle. Secret password? Check. Dusty bookcase creaking open to reveal the secret entrance? Check. And so the adventure begins. Once inside, your kids will go nuts for all the fancy “old-timey” details, from fringed curtains to candelabra.
Be sure to pay a visit to “Invisible Irma”, a piano playing ghost. A Caspar level of scary (so not at all), what you’ll see is a piano play all by itself. The really amazing thing? Irma takes requests, from all eras of music. Simply speak to the chair sitting in front of the piano, make a request and you can be enjoying anything from Disney’s Let It Go to the Beatles Here Comes the Sun. Irma even knows modern music (we tested her out on some Lady Gaga, and she totally earned our Applause). Your kids will have a blast making multiple requests; don’t worry, Irma never gets tired.
Magical Eats, Too
After you’ve listened to your heart’s content, make your way upstairs for brunch. You’ll be greeted by the friendly staff, who will seat you in one of the comfortable chairs in the dining room. The cut-glass windows let in just enough light to make it homey, and you’ll easily settle in once you’re offered a mimosa (bottomless, of course).
Even the pickiest little eaters will be in heaven (we literally heard one kid exclaim that the brunch was “a piece of Paradise!”). With a kid-friendly selection of chicken tenders, grilled cheese, waffles and French fries, your tinies will happily nosh. The grown-ups can choose from prime rib, shrimp, crab legs, a made-to-order omelette bar, salads, fresh bagels, pastries, and more. If you’ve left room for dessert, there’s a variety of adorable miniature sweets with tiny spoons, and a mouth-watering ice cream station, with whipped cream, Oreo cookie crumbles, maraschino cherries and mini M&M’s. Once you’ve had your fill, head on down for the stage show, mimosa in hand. (Yup! Cocktails are allowed!)
Now, It’s Magic Time
There are three chances to be dazzled during your afternoon visit. While dining upstairs, you’ll be given tickets to the Main Show (tickets are included with brunch), which happens in the Palace of Mystery. Be sure to review the show time schedule in advance, and make a plan. It can get crowded, and the other two shows (in the Close Up Gallery and the Parlor of Prestidigitation) are first come, first served. Allow at least 15 minutes before each show to line up and take your seats.
The Close Up Gallery
At this smaller stage, shows take place every 45 minutes during the afternoon, but allow time to get settled before the performance starts. While you wait in line, you may be entertained by one of the in-house magicians, who will perform up-close magic right before your eyes (did that card really just jump to the top of the deck?). They may even teach your kiddo a trick or two.
Once you’re welcomed into the theater, the host makes sure to cater to kids first, ushering all the littles to the front few rows (in fact, the kids get front row at every show). Your mini magician may even be chosen as one of two Kid Assistants, who sit on stage for the entire performance and help with the magic act. The magicians in the Close Up Gallery are often part of the Junior Magician Program (the Magic Castle’s program for young magicians ages 13-20). But don’t let their youth fool you, their magic is wildly impressive
The Parlor Of Prestidigitation
Can’t pronounce it? Don’t worry, your jaw will be on the floor, so you won’t be able to speak anyway! This theater features one of the Magic Castle’s mind-boggling family entertainers, who perform magic appropriate for the children in the audience. The show is full of jokes, so you and your kids will be laughing throughout. All the material is appropriate for tiny ears, and it feels at times like stand-up mixed with magic.
The Palace Of Mystery
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the main event, and the only show of the afternoon that requires tickets (included with brunch). Complete with music, lights, and a sparkly gold curtain, you’ll definitely be treated to the full shebang. The kids are engaged from the very beginning, with the magician talking directly to the first few rows (full of kids), and making them feel special. Kid volunteers are chosen from the audience, and have a blast getting to head up to the high stage and help with the tricks. The magic is varied, and comes flying at you fast and funny.
Divided into two acts, the first is light and witty, while the second act harkens back to older times (think top hat and tails, and a tribute to Singing in the Rain). You’ll enjoy the nostalgic nod to bygone eras, and your kids will be entranced by the sleight of hand magic, all done to music (no words, just enchanting tricks).
Hogwarts in LA?
By the end, your tyke may be eager to be a magician when they grow up. If you happen to have a tween or teen, LA’s version of Hogwarts does exist: a program designed to train young magicians (ages 13-20), the Junior Magicians learn their craft in workshops and enjoy lectures from some of the finest names in magic. No sorting hat required.
The Gift of Magic
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop before you leave. With stuffed bunnies, kid’s capes (magic wand included), magician tee-shirts and storybooks on magic, you’ll find lots of fun souvenirs. Teach yourself the tricks of the trade with one of the magic DVD’s ($20), or splurge on a spooky home decoration and get the “changing portrait” ($150), guaranteed to surprise guests.
If you love the Clubhouse and want more frequent access, you can even buy a membership. With several options to choose from, you’re sure to enjoy all the members-only perks, and the ability to dine in Victorian elegance at a discounted rate. Plus, you’ll get access to magic classes for adults, so you can wow your kiddos at home with your new-found wizardry.
The brunch takes place Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Reservations are required. Adults are $39.95 for the buffet and a $20 door fee, and kids 6-10 are $19.95 for the buffet and a $15 door fee. (You must book the brunch, but it’s kid heaven food and they’ll love it!) Kids 5 and under are free, and are welcome, but honestly, most of the magic and jokes will go over their heads, so it’s best for 5 & up.
7001 Franklin Ave.
Enjoy your magical brunch. Come back and let us know which tricks mesmerized you the most!
—Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan