When you think about Southern California, or just California in general, is it along the lines of: crowded, Hollywood, acting, Democrats, and tacos? While California is generally all these things, it is also much more. I have a love/hate relationship with this state, as it is technically my home state, and my family has long lived here, ever since my grandparents on both sides migrated here. I will not get into my dislikes of this state, as this is not the time nor the place, but rather just focus on positives.
I’ve been waiting to write a California blog for a few years now, hoping to acquire enough material to make it worth the effort. I wanted to keep going, but 2020 put a pretty large damper on that. Nonetheless, I feel like I have enough material to make a decent blog post! I am moving to Arizona within the next 6 months, so it’s now or never!
Some of the topics I will cover:
The San Diego Zoo, the Tournament of Roses Parade: Post-Parade Float Showcase, the Los Angeles AlienCon, and Pumpkin Nights at the Pomona Fairplex.
San Diego Zoo
First and foremost, like practically everything in southern California, just getting into the zoo is an ordeal. If you live where I do (Inland Empire), you drive 2 – 2.5 hours south to get there. Then, you battle the long line of cars to get into the parking lot. Then finally, you engage in the Great Parking Lot Wars to find a spot. Getting into the parking lot and finding a spot generally takes the most time, as walking in is a breeze. The lines were not long like at Disney or Universal, at least during both times I went.
Located at 2920 Zoo Dr., San Diego, CA 92101, the hours are currently unavailable since the zoo is temporarily shut down due to Covid-19. As with mostly everything these days, it’s best to just keep checking the official website for updates.
San Diego Zoo is colossal and can be a tad bit overwhelming when you first enter, but if you get a map and follow it, you’ll be okay. One thing about this zoo, it is not flat. You walk up and down large hills numerous times. There is an elevator to take from the bottom section to the top but wait times can be long.
Since this is a large and well-funded zoo, they have exhibits of animals from all over the world, including pandas, reptiles, tigers, elephants, zebras, lions, monkeys, fish, sharks, birds, alligators, penguins, hippos, and polar bears… the list goes on and on.
You may choose from numerous food spots; however, I am unsure if there are any actual “restaurants”. Most of the food places we saw are the concession-stand kind, where you stand in line, order, and receive a hot dog or nachos.
The only times we ever encountered an actual line anywhere in this zoo were the bathrooms near the entrance (only the ladies, of course), the panda exhibit (because it’s new), and for the Skyfari, which is an aerial tram presented by Alaska Airlines that sends you soaring over the zoo, so you can look from above. We did not do the panda exhibit or the Skyfari because of the lines. They were ridiculously long, especially for the aerial tram. If you’re dying to do the Skyfari regardless, its new hours are: 11am to close, Thursday through Sunday.
One more thing about this zoo – you can buy beer and mixed drinks and walk around, because we all know that drinking and endangered animals is always a good mix. The drinks are pretty pricey, but you do get a cool souvenir cup!
AlienCon is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a nerd-out for lovers of all things extraterrestrial and “out there”. Any fan of the TV show on the History Channel called Ancient Aliens will absolutely love this convention.
I went with my stepfather, a fellow lover of aliens, in June 2019. They’ve held AlienCons all over, most notably in L.A., Phoenix, Dallas, Baltimore, Santa Clara, and Orlando (UFOCon). Unfortunately, like everything last year, AlienCon was canceled. I’ve seen rumblings online that it will be held this year (2021) in Pasadena, California, but who knows if that will actually happen.
I’m not sure about the AlienCons in other cities, but the one in L.A. is not that big. By “not that big” I don’t mean dinky, just not the size of say, ComicCon. It was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center and the only annoying part of the whole day was the slight quarter mile walk we had to make from the parking garage to the entrance. That’s it. Everything else was a breeze, from checking in to finding the booths of people selling all kinds of cool alien stuff.
The vendors come from far and wide to sell their goods here. You can find anything from cute little alien knickknacks, to books, clothing, paintings, crystals and mystical incense. And if buying things isn’t your style, and you would rather listen to the numerous guest speakers, fret not, as there are plenty.
Remember the guy with the crazy hair from Ancient Aliens that has become the “I’m not saying it’s aliens but its aliens… but it was aliens” meme? His name is George Tsoukalos and he is a staple at AlienCon. Sadly, we did not get to see him speak; however we did get to meet his wife, who was working their booth that day. I purchased a signed replica of the famous Mayan King Pakal and his “spacecraft”, something very well-known from Ancient Aliens fame.
Even though George wasn’t there (he came the next day, boo), we met the narrator from Ancient Aliens. As we were leaving, we also walked by Erich von Daniken, a famous Ancient Aliens face and well-known author of all things extraterrestrial.
Lastly, there are quite a few booths of people selling their homemade art, everything from cool miniature statutes made from metal to fan art of The Office. I’m a huge The Office nerd, so finding a handmade movie poster for Threat Level Midnight (all my fellow Office fans will get it) was a major win for me. I’ll include the business card I got from the artist, so if you love what you see, give him some love!
A fun, (hopefully) annual event, the Pomona Pumpkin Nights is a great family-friendly time. Located at the Pomona Fairplex, at 1101 W McKinley Ave, Pomona, CA 91768, it usually runs from October 10th to November 3rd, daily (except on Halloween), from 5pm to 10pm. An interactive Halloween-themed event, it’s complete with music, food, and colorful and creative displays. Overall, there were countless multi-sensory Halloween displays and eight “Pumpkin Lands”, all unique in design.
As mentioned, there are eight “Pumpkin Lands”, including Pumpkin Pirate Cove, Maravilla Lane, Pumpkin Reef, Spider Alley, and the Great Pumpkin Hall. These eight “lands” are differently themed, from pirates, to complex and massive pumpkin spiders, bugs, and plants, to bubbles backed by bright, colorful UV lights, to sugar skulls and Harry Potter themed fun.
There is also an large food-court style area, called Pumpkin Central, where you can get anything from tacos to sugary sweets. They have picnic-style tables located throughout. The food and drinks are priced pretty accurately as far as “fair food” is concerned.
We went in October 2019, around 6pm on a Wednesday, and it was only beginning to fill up. It was not that crowded while we were there, however, is was 100% because we came in the middle of the week. Go anywhere in southern California on a weekend and it will be a completely different experience. Not everyone can go during the week, but it’s something I will always strongly suggest you do, if possible.
Overall, Pumpkin Nights is a super fun outing, especially for children (although us adults loved it just as much as my daughter!). I’m not sure if the city of Pomona is still putting it on due to Covid, but if they are, definitely give it a visit!
Located at E Sierra Madre Blvd & E Washington Blvd Pasadena, CA 91107, the Tournament of the Roses Parade Showcase is exactly that, a showcase. For those unaware of what this means, in the most basic terms, the floats just sit there as you walk around going “ooo, ahhh” at how intricate and detailed they are. It’s a way for the float makers to show off their creations for more than just a fleeting moment during a quick parade.
Admission is $20 for adults, and under age 5 is free. Hours very, so please check the website before going, but last entry is typically around 4pm. It is extremely popular and crowded. It’s best to get there as early as possible, not only to beat the crowds around the floats, but to find a decent parking spot. There are no parking lots specifically designated for the showcase; therefore, people must park in the surrounding neighborhoods, where parking is very scarce, both in availability and legality. We ended up parking quite a bit away and walking. It’s not a ridiculously long walk, although small children and the elderly may beg to differ. There is free parking a distance away at Pasadena City College, where a shuttle to the site operates. The shuttle is also free, but the wait at PCC can be VERY long.
At the showcase, a few vendors sell Rose Parade clothing and garb, and a handful of food vendors operate food trucks. There are ATM’s inside, as most of these places accept cash only.
The walk around the floats is rather extensive, totaling around 2.5 miles and taking around 2 hours to complete. Its best to wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing, as the terrain the floats sit on is not all flat and at the base of a mountain, so some sit higher up.
I’ve been to this event only one time, so I can only speak from my experience, and that is that it was PACKED. There were way too many people there, and they kept multiplying by the half hour. By the time we made our way to the end of the final line of floats, and turned back, it was almost impossible to walk without having to dodge the oblivious gawker or picture taker. I add this for those who suffer from anxiety or PTSD, particularly with crowds, as I suffer from severe anxiety when being in too-large, too-tight crowds for too long. I just want everyone to be totally prepared for what they encounter.
**Having said that, I have nooo clue how the pandemic will change this. There is no telling if the showcase is forever changed, where they only allow a certain number of people in at one time, or if everything will snap back to “normal” again. I’m not even sure they will do the showcase in 2021, as they obviously skipped it in 2020. Time will tell.**
The website for the showcase explains everything in detail and I suggest checking it before going!
Overall, this blog only scratches the surface of the state of California. This state is so ridiculously large and diverse, that there are literally endless things to do. It’s the only state in the nation (that I can think of) that has all four ecosystems: mountains, desert, beach, and forest. You can go to the beach at 9am and be at the top of a mountain by 2pm (as long as nobody gets in a car accident on the freeway – then you may not get there for hours). You can visit endless cities, from Los Angeles, to San Francisco, to San Diego, and all the way to South Lake Tahoe. There are museums, art exhibits, amusement parks, and zoos. There is food from every region, ethnicity, and culture. This state has more than its fair share of problems, many of which I don’t anticipate being fixed any time soon (like the insane taxes and astronomical, continuously rising cost of living), but it also has much to offer. In the words of the great, late Biggie Smalls, “Cali, a great place to visit”.