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 two decent blog posts (I’m splitting them up to be easier on the reader), albeit some of the sections will be a bit sparse and condensed, again for the reader’s sake. I am moving to Arizona within the next 6 months, so it’s now or never!
Some of the topics I will cover:
Part 1: Disneyland, Universal Studios (mainly Harry Potter World and The Walking Dead ride), Venice Beach, San Diego Zoo, the mountain village/area of Mount Baldy, and Tournament of Roses Parade: Post-Parade Float Showcase.
Part 2: Etiwanda Falls Trail, Los Angeles AlienCon, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Long Beach Aquarium, and finally, Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs.
Ahh, Disneyland. The “Happiest Place on Earth”. The mecca of tourism and outrageous prices. I love Disneyland; it’s fun for both children and adults. But it is a massive undertaking. From the moment you enter the parking garage, it is a process. Once you park in the parking garage (usually at the top, depending on what time you arrive), you have to go down numerous escalators, funnel into a large crowd waiting for the tram, and then finally enter a tram, which drives you to the entrance. At the entrance, you wait in a long line to buy tickets, and then wait in another long line to enter the park (especially if you come during the beginning of the year, when everyone is rebuying their annual passes). Get used to that, because long lines are everywhere at that place.
Located at 1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802, when you first enter Disneyland, the information booths and bathrooms are almost immediately accessible (note: this post is strictly about DisneyLAND. I don’t know anything about Disneyworld, so I don’t know its layout. Nor will it be about California Adventure, although I’ll give it an honorable mention at the end). You are then immediately plopped onto Main Street, with pricey shops and some restaurants. This area is usually also very crowded, as every visitor must funnel in or out of this street to enter or leave the park. This is where lockers are located as well.
After wading your way through crowded Main Street, you will see the impressive Cinderella’s Castle front and center, and this is where the park jets off in numerous directions to different areas.
Go left, and you’ll enter Adventure Land, then New Orleans Square (where the famous Haunted Mansion is) to the left and Frontierland to the right, then Critter Country, and finally into the newest attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Go right, and it’ll take you to Tomorrowland.
Go straight, right through Cinderella’s Castle, and you will find yourself in the children’s area of Fantasyland with Mickey’s Toontown behind it.
By far my favorite area of Disneyland is New Orleans Square. They hit the nail on the head with the replication of the French Quarter in NOLA, and my two favorite rides are located here: The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, a lot of others also like these rides, so the lines are always ridiculously long. It is much wiser to get the fast pass and come back during your allotted time.
I am not a Star Wars fan; in fact, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of any Star Wars film and I couldn’t tell you which film in the saga the clips came from. Nonetheless, I really like Galaxy’s Edge. It. Is. Impressive. Disney really took its time in making this area of the park, complete with MASSIVE replicas of various Star Wars objects and ships (sorry, I have no clue what they are actually called. Is it ships?). There are Star Wars-themed restaurants and “bars”, with the most famous being Oga’s Cantina. This is an exceedingly popular and crowded spot, since you can get some pretty cool, far-out Star Wars themed drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and one even makes your lips tingle). It’s so sought after that you have to stand in line to enter and can only spend a total of 45 minutes per party. If you want to eat here, you must make a reservation.
One of my favorite rides in Galaxy’s Edge was by far Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. As billed by Disney, “Fly the Millennium Falcon on a thrilling interactive smuggling mission”, it’s a “virtual reality” and interactive ride. A group of 6 (you will be paired with strangers if your party is less than 6) “controls” the Millennium Falcon ship from the Star Wars movies. Two people are pilots, two are engineers, and two are gunners. I don’t know how much you’re really in control of the ride, but it’s fun to pretend nonetheless. We did this ride twice because it’s so fun.
Some of the other more well-known Disney rides include Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Matterhorn Bobsleds, “it’s a small world” (it never gets less creepy), Indiana Jones Adventure, Jungle Cruise, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There are obviously a lot more, but these are typically the most popular ones, and therefore with the longest lines. Some of these rides do not allow for fast pass or to schedule ahead, like the Matterhorn, but most do. The lines to all these rides are typically never short. Some of these rides are more relaxing than others, particularly the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, and “it’s a small world” (the dolls are not part of the relaxation). These rides are very smooth, calm, and don’t jerk you around like the rollercoasters of Space Mountain (the WORST), Indiana Jones, Big Thunder, or the Matterhorn. A majority (if not all) of the children’s rides are very smooth and easy.
Overall, if you plan on going to Disneyland, and especially if you plan to bring the family, please heed my advice: get there early, get a locker, get a fast pass, bring a lot of money, and wear good shoes/comfy clothing.
California Adventure: We did not spend much time here, since really the only two things we wanted to do was the Cars ride and the Ferris wheel. I love the Cars ride, as it brings out my inner child and it’s fun to “race” the other car. The Ferris wheel is nice, but it’s your run-of-the- mill Ferris wheel, nothing fancy. What’s crappy is you can’t get a car to yourself, since Disney is all about maximizing the number of guests pushed through at any given time. We attempted to get a car to ourselves, particularly because we had JUST seen a lady get off one covered in vomit. We were not concerned with getting Vomit Car, but we didn’t want a random vomiting person in the car with us, and people are prone to vomiting on things like Ferris wheels. Alas, we did not get our way, and were shoved in a car with 2 strangers who, thankfully, did not puke on us.
California Adventure is cool in the sense that it has more of a boardwalk, pier/carnival feel than Disneyland (think: Seaside Heights from the Jersey Shore).
Adults (ages 10 and up)
1 day: depending on what tier you choose: $124 – $154
2 day: one park per day: $235; Park Hopper: $290
3 day: one park per day: $310; Park Hopper: $365
4 day: one park per day: $340; Park Hopper: $395
5 day: one park per day: $360; Park Hopper: $415
1 day: depending on what tier you choose: $117 – $146
2 day: one park per day: $220; Park Hopper: $275
3 day: one park per day: $290; Park Hopper: $345
4 day: one park per day: $320; Park Hopper: $375
5 day: one park per day: $340; Park Hopper: $395
**Sorry seniors, I don’t know if there is a senior discount, as it is not specified on the website’s ticket price page. I would ask at the ticket booth or call ahead of time.**
It’s been nearly 4 years since I’ve been to Universal Studios, so I don’t have many pictures. Most are from Harry Potter World, The Walking Dead ride, and the back-lot tram ride. Located at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608, Universal is much different from Disneyland; not from a lack of rides or crowds, but just… different. Getting to the entrance is a feat, but you do not have to ride a tram.
The most impressive parts of Universal are Harry Potter World and their infamous back-lot tram tour. Harry Potter World gives Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge a run for its money. The same way Disney took time and care to replicate Star Wars, Universal took time and care to bring the Potter Universe into existence. Officially called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, it really does transport you into the very Diagon Alley so many of use read about as kids, complete with Butterbeer (not real beer) and Hogwarts Castle!
Harry Potter World is massive, with various Harry Potter-themed shops and food. There are a few Harry Potter-themed rides in this part of the park; however, we did none as it was incredibly crowded, hot, and lines were exceptionally long. This was by far the most crowded part of the park, at all times.
If you are a Walking Dead fan, you MUST go to the Walking Dead ride. It takes a while to make it into the ride (as does everything at these places), but it’s worth it. From start to finish the whole experience is Walking Dead-themed, complete with fake “zombies” everywhere. Anyone who is a fan of the show will appreciate this ride.
Lastly, there’s the back-lot tram, officially known as the Universal Studio Tour. This is a must-do for any trip to Universal, but especially if it’s your first time. It’s about an hour long, and they take you through the back lots of Universal Studios, past numerous famous movie sets.
For example: the plane crash from War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise, a tunnel with King Kong, the set of Whoville from How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the Bates Motel as well as the house from the movie Psycho, the man-made lake where Jaws was filmed, as well as THE Jaws himself, and finally various outdoor movie sets, like a whole area designed to look like a small Mexican village complete with a flash flood or an impressive town square that is used in many rom-coms.
The whole time you’re on the tram, a Universal employee narrates, explaining everything and where it came from. It’s a very informative experience which movie buffs will absolutely love. If you’re not a movie buff, you’ll still enjoy the experience, if for nothing more than getting off your feet and out of the sun for an hour.
And you never know, you may even see a celeb or two, as they film at Universal all the time (we saw Mario Lopez filming some talk show near the front entrance).
CA Resident – 1 day: $99 – $129
CA Resident, Univ. Express: $169 – $279
1-Day General Admission: $109 – $129
Universal Express: $179 – $279
2-Day General Admission: $149 – $169
VIP Experience: starting at $349
Venice Beach Boardwalk
A city made famous by Arrrrrrnold back in the Golden Era of California (the 70’s and 80’s), Venice Beach is now but a shell of its former self (at least the boardwalk is; I will refer to the boardwalk in this section as “Venice”). Overrun by panhandlers, drugs, and trash, it’s a cool place to bring your out-of-state friend or family member, but it’s not a place that locals flock to on a regular basis. In the 3.5 years I’ve been back in California, I’ve only been back once to Venice, to take my Illinois-born-and-raised friend, so she could see for herself.
Located at 1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291. The hours are allegedly 8am to 6pm Monday through Friday, and from 12pm to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, but I’ve never seen it enforced, or abided by, by literally anyone, literally ever.
There are numerous parking lots right by Venice; however, the closer you want to park, the less likely there will be a spot and the pricier parking will be. There is a large lot about .5 or less of a mile away, kind of sandwiched in between Venice and Santa Monica Pier, and that’s where I usually park when I make the unfortunate trip.
As a dumb teenager, I thought Venice was amazing. I was enthralled with the “hippie lifestyle” that runs rampant there. As an adult, I am not so enthralled. From the moment you step foot where the shops and street art vendors begin, be prepared to be bombarded by the homeless asking for money. It is just a fact, which I think is important for people to know before they go. Whether you want to give money is up to you. I am just making you aware of the reality.
What makes Venice worth visiting is the artists who line the boardwalk, selling homemade crafts and paintings. I got a very cool rendition of Van Gogh’s Starry Night painted on a plank of wood. It has hung above my front door since I bought it 3.5 years ago. I think buying homemade art is much more fulfilling than buying the generic, mass-produced crap that Wal-Mart, Target, or Hobby Lobby puts out (no hate, I’ve bought art from these places too, just nothing beats homemade).
There are numerous restaurants, retail shops, tattoo parlors, weed dispensaries, and homes along Venice Beach Boardwalk. Multi-million-dollar houses, apartments, and condos line it, where people pay extraordinary amounts of money to have their front “yards” inundated with tourists and homeless 24 hours a day. But hey, at least the beach is 30 feet away, right?
Lastly, probably the most famous landmark of all at Venice Beach is Muscle Beach, once frequented by the Terminator (and California governor) himself. You can still work out here too, for the price of $10 a day, $50 per week, or $200 per year. It is all outdoors.
San Diego Zoo
I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo twice, once with my mother, daughter, and friend, and another time on a date. I will be focusing exclusively on my trip with my family.
Like everything in 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 (get it?), 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!
Adults (12 & up)
1 Day Pass: $60
2 Day Pass: $100
1 Day Pass: $50
2 Day Pass: $90
There are numerous mountain ranges in California; in fact, there are 352 intertwining mountain ranges rolling across the state. We live surrounded by mountains in the Transverse Mountain Range, but more specifically known as the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. There are many mountain towns in this mountain range, but I will only be touching on one: Mount Baldy.
Mount Baldy is the closest mountain town/village and peak to my (soon to be former) home in California. Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, it’s a very small village, with a population of approx. 374 people. From both Los Angeles and the OC, it is about an hour’s drive. From San Diego it’s a little over 2 hours. From roughly anywhere in the Inland Empire, it’s only approximately 30 minutes. Overall, it’s a very accessible mountain village and escape for many southern Californians, making it a hot spot for local tourists, particularly during the winter months. Southern Californians do not see snow very often, so when it does snow in the mountains, they descend.
I’ve been up to Mount Baldy more times than I can count, not so much to go to the village as there is not much to do there, but to hike, take a scenic drive, or take my daughter to see snow. It is not the worst mountain drive I’ve ever done (Sierra Nevadas, Big Bear, and Gatlinburg are all worse), since it is not too curvy.
There is a ski resort at the very tiptop called The Mount Baldy Ski Lifts, and the address is 8401 Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759. It’s open daily from 9am to 5pm (weather permitting).
We did not go all the way to the ski resort, as we found some snow further down. It wasn’t the greatest snow, as it was not fresh and had started to harden due to icy temps. Parking is free, so long as you can find a safe parking spot. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of the area (and the fact that it’s completely free), there are usually a lot of people, particularly large families. You may have to park a bit further up and walk down.
Here people slide down hills on tubes and sleds. Just be mindful that it is awfully hard to walk in icy snow and hard to move quickly out the way of a torpedoing child on a tube. There is not much to do up here other than play in the snow, so once my child had enough of that, it was time to head back.
If playing in the snow isn’t your thing, coming up this way is more than worth it for the views. Living in Southern California, which is typically just an endless sea of concrete and people, it’s surreal being somewhere in this state that is so isolated and empty, yet so peaceful and beautiful. I love the ecosystem of the mountains so much, and this drive delivers. To get these views, you must go past the village of Baldy and keep driving up, up, and up. Luckily, unlike the drive to the Sequoias, there are plenty safe turnouts to stop and snap pics at.
Mt. Baldy 1 Day Lift Ticket: $41.99
Mt. Baldy 1 Day Lift Ticket + Rental: $68.99
Mt. Baldy Tubing Package: $34.99
Tournament of Roses Parade:
Post-Parade Float Showcase
Located at E Sierra Madre Blvd & E Washington Blvd Pasadena, CA 91107, the Tournament of 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!
Thank you for reading! Please stay tuned for Part 2 .