Written By Josh Taylor / Photography by Josh Taylor & Pam Zamora
Imagine opening a door and walking into the neon glow of an ‘80s mall. What if you did that just minutes after being part of a weird experiment at the Hawkins lab? If that sounds like a good time then The Stranger Things Experience is for you and it has made its way to Los Angeles. This fully immersive experience is part escape room, part live theater, and a touch of a party at your local mall. Prior to this experience, I had previously done a drive-thru Stranger Things event during the height of the pandemic. While it was nice to get out of the house, being restricted to my car made me feel distinctly separate from the immersive part of the immersive theater. This though, The Stranger Things Experience, is a far superior time out with family or friends, and we got an exclusive first look.
Upon entry, we were greeted by scientists from the Hawkins lab who wrangled us into an area and gave us a color that signified the group we’d be traveling through the experience with. From here you are moved from room to room as a story plays out. As a guest, you become part of Hawkins and you get to step into the role of a hero and fight alongside Eleven, Mike, Will, Lucas, Dustin, Erica, and Max. This could have been really lame, considering the use of tv screens to bring the cast into the fold, and in a way it is cheesy, but Stranger Things is the type of show that allows for a bit of cheese. The live cast does a great job of blurring the lines between the real sets you get to wander around in and the storylines that are assisted by the show actors on screen. The live actors are all fantastic too. The scientists from Hawkins lab were intimidating. The interactivity of the show is fun, with everyone getting the chance to play a role. You can really get into it and have a good time. I won’t spoil much else of the live theater portion of the experience because I think it’s great to not know going in, but the last room and it’s set are well done. The visual and practical effects add to the immersion and I did feel like I helped save Hawkins by the end.
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Once you exit the live theater, you step out into the mall. It’s technically not the Starcourt Mall since this experience takes place after the Battle of Starcourt Mall takes place, but you’ll find some familiar names like Scoops Ahoy! There’s also Surfer Boy Pizza if you are in more of a savory mood. Then there’s The Upside bar which serves some fantastic drinks in souvenir cups. (I’d recommend the Demogorgon which has a maple whiskey flavor and comes with a tiny waffle garnish.) There’s also an arcade that’s free to play, no quarters required. Several photo ops also line the walls along with classic gift shop fair. You’ll find your Hellfire Club and Hawkins High shirts if you are looking to get into that 80s fashion.
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I said that the theater experience was over, but that's kind of a lie. Even at the mall, there are still several actors wandering around. Some of them from Scoops Ahoy! Some are just shopping. One actress, in particular, that I talked with just picked up some new roller skates because her boyfriend, who was across the room, had “ralphed” all over her old ones after a party last week. (Her phrasing, not mine.) Another actor I talked with was signing people up for the boy's basketball team.
The Stranger Things Experience is really two experiences in one. The immersive show is well acted with great effects and is something I’d absolutely do again, hoping to get a different color so I could have a different role in the show. The other experience at the mall, though, is my personal favorite part of the experience. I could freely wander, improv with whomever, and play a few games of Joust at the arcade.
If you are remotely considering this experience, or you know someone who’s a big Stranger Things fan, then I think you’ll enjoy this. If you tried the Drive-Thru Experience prior, just know that this Experience excels at creating the Stranger Things feeling so much more than being in your car did. The one downfall is that you won’t be hanging out with Steve Harrington or Eddie Munson. Sorry.
The Stranger Things Experience is in Los Angeles until February 2023.
Visit strangerthings-experience.com/los-angeles for tickets.