Hello! As this is a Part 2, I won’t spend much time on an introduction. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, here is the link: Southern California, Part 1: Concrete and Beautiful Sunsets.
Part 1 covers: Disneyland, Universal Studios, Venice Beach, the San Diego Zoo, the Tournament of Roses Parade: Post-Parade Float Showcase, and Mount Baldy.
Part 2 covers: Etiwanda Falls Trail, Los Angeles AlienCon, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Mount San Jacinto Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Etiwanda Falls Trail
Found within the North Etiwanda Preserve, near the cities of Fontana, Upland, and Rancho Cucamonga, the Preserve is a great place for hiking and not at all hard to find. The hardest thing about getting to the trailhead of the Etiwanda Falls Trail is the parking. It’s atrocious. Parking is free, and the lot is at a dead end leading up to the trailhead. It is nothing more than a relatively small, dirt patch on either side of the road. There are no outlined parking spaces, so if someone decides to be rude and take up what could have been two spots, there is not much that can be done. Please don’t be that person.
It is particularly important that one parks within the clearly marked parking lot, otherwise the sheriff WILL tow your car. There are spots where cars clearly park outside of the parking lot, but it’s a risky game of Russian Roulette. Proceed at your own risk (and bank account).
The hike to the falls is relatively easy, “out and back” (not in a loop), around 3.5 miles one way. Pretty much from the get-go it’s a bit rocky and uphill. It’s easier in some parts and harder in others. There are spots where it is straight uphill and really rocky, so best to pace yourself based on fitness level. However, if you can keep pushing through to the top, it eventually levels out and you get some spectacular views. From there, the walk to the falls is easy, and once you make it to the falls, you can climb around them and explore.
You can keep going further or you can spend time piddling around the falls, which is what we chose to do. While it can be somewhat of a trek, luckily there are plenty of places to stop and rest at the top of the falls, where you can catch your breath and take in the beauty of nature.
Be advised, while this is Southern California, it is still technically the wilderness and there are predators, particularly coyotes, mountain lions, and even the exceedingly rare bear. While I don’t personally believe you have to worry about the human predator, especially if you go during the day when it is heavily trafficked, I would still carry a knife and pepper spray. Regardless of where you hike, I always suggest bringing at least one of these things (as well as let loved ones or a friend know exactly where you are going, with who, and the timeframe you’ll be gone – especially if you hike alone).
Los Angeles AlienCon
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” 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!
Given that California is the most populated state in the nation (and likely has been for quite some time), it’s rather surprising that only ONE president of 46 was born and raised in California, and it wasn’t Ronald Reagan. Nope, that honor goes to Richard Nixon. However, Reagan hailed from California when he ran for president, and he was the state’s governor, therefore California was chosen as the home of his presidential library (he was born and raised in Illinois).
Located in Ventura County, in picturesque Simi Valley, it sits at 40 Presidential Dr, Simi Valley, CA 93065. The “library” is typically open daily from 10am to 5pm. I put library in quotes because I was under the impression that it was an actual library… like with books. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work as an ode to a U.S. President, but hey, I was open to finding out. Also, I say the hours are “typically 10am to 5pm” because right now, the library is completely closed due to Covid-19. I have no idea when it will open again. The only thing one can do is keep checking the official website for an update.
However, when it does open, I strongly encourage all to go!
As mentioned above, a presidential library is in fact, not an actual library with books. It’s more of a catalog of a President’s life, with countless personal artifacts and effects, from clothing, to school-year memorabilia, to videos of the President on a loop. There was even a complete replica of the Oval Office during Reagan’s tenure, as well as a complete replica of Air Force One… as in there is literally a completely intact Boeing 747 airplane hanging inside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, on loan from the United States Air Force.
Entering the plane was the only time we had to wait in a line, as they allow a small number of guests at a time to filter through to prevent overcrowding. It’s quite the experience. The plane is all but a house in the air, but; I was a bit taken aback by how… mundane, it was. I thought it would be more opulent, overdone, and kind of ridiculous (a bit like the White House). I wasn’t expecting it to be so airplane-like. However, this was a presidential airplane from the 1980’s, so there’s no telling what Air Force One looks like now, after Obama and Trump.
There is also a full helicopter sitting beneath the plane, a replica of the kind Reagan would have used to jet around D.C. and the greater area. There was a line for the helicopter as well, but it was much shorter in comparison.
The Library has hosted a variety of exhibits throughout the years, and the one when we visited was on ancient Egypt. Formally called “Egypt’s Lost Cities”, it was a very interesting exhibit and a big reason my brother and I wanted to visit the Library at this time. It had so many artifacts from ancient Egypt. According to the Reagan Library government website, the exhibit has “more than 200 of these authentic artifacts, including three colossal 16-foot sculptures of a pharaoh, a queen, and a god will be on view”.
The exhibits are a big draw to the Library, and some past exhibits include the World of DaVinci, Pompeii, Genghis Khan, Titanic, Inside the White House, and Magna Carta: Essence of Democracy.
There is also a piece of the real Berlin Wall, as history buffs will recall Ronald Reagans famous speech in West Berlin on June 12, 1987. “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall” is a saying that has been seared into not only American but world history. It’s cool to see, and I think it’s awesome that there’s small piece of infamous history accessible to us time and geographically challenged Americans (we’re too young for much history (sans the the Original 13 Colonies) and rather far from “old world” areas like Europe and Asia).
There is a small cafeteria that serves the typical cafeteria-type food one would typically find in a place like this. Called Reagan’s Country Café Kiosk, it serves sandwiches, hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, salads, and more. There are numerous tables to sit at inside, with a few outside. There are other benches and ledges outside to sit at as well, while taking in the picturesque views of Simi Valley. The hours of operation are 9:30am to 4:30pm, daily.
If cafeteria-style food isn’t your thing, you can visit The Ronald Reagan Pub, which according to the Library’s official website, “is an actual pub from Reagan’s ancestral home, Ballyporeen, Ireland that he visited during a diplomatic trip in the early 80s. It was dismantled and shipped to the USA in 2004 to be featured as a part of the Museum’s collection.” Here you can find Irish nachos, fish and chips, chicken strips, soft pretzel with cheese, and more. The hours of operation are 11am to 4:30pm, daily.
Also, there is a real, fully intact F-117 Blackhawk sitting outside of the Library and its pretty freakin’ awesome. Very rarely does the Average Joe get to be so close to such cutting edge piece of military and government technology. In my almost 31 years of life, I have never once before (or after) seen such an aircraft in person. I can only imagine what these aircrafts will look like in 5 or so years.
Senior (62+): $13
Youth (11-17): $9
Child (3-10): $6
Children 2& Under: Free
Active Military (with valid I.D.): Free
Retired Military (with valid I.D.): $3 discount**
**Must purchase tickets at the front desk. Discount is for the military member only.
Mount San Jacinto
If you’ve ever driven to Palm Springs, either coming from the Inland Empire or the Los Angeles region to the west, or from Blythe and Arizona to the east, you cannot miss the magnificent, looming mountains that contain the peak of Mount San Jacinto. These mountains are the first range of mountains you see when driving in from the barren Sonoran Desert (the desert you spend a majority of time driving in from Phoenix) into the Colorado Desert (where Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley sit).
The entrance to Mount San Jacinto starts near the beginning of Palm Springs, where you turn right onto a long, straight road that slowly rises in elevation as it begins to twist and turn. Eventually you find yourself approaching a medium-sized parking lot, which we came to find out was the overflow parking lot. It is a bit from the entrance to the base of the lift called the Valley Station (you take a shuttle lift to the top of the mountain), however there is a tram that routinely shuttles visitors to and from the parking lot. It’s free and they run quite frequently. There is a parking lot much closer to the entrance, but it is usually full, and mostly for employees and handicapped.
The thing about the little shuttle spaceship (officially called the Palm Springs Ariel Tramway) that takes you from the bottom to the top is that you must go during your allotted time. You can purchase tickets beforehand or at the base, but you are only allowed to go on the spaceship during your allotted time. I am sure you can go on a later one, but if you miss it, they leave without you.
The spaceship takes about 10 minutes to slowly slither its way up the cable and to the top. It rotates, offering all a 360-degree view of the barren desert straight ahead and the mountains that frame it from the side. If you are deathly afraid of heights, my sympathies, because this will not be fun for you. Luckily the spaceship doesn’t rock and roll too much, except for 2 large bumps that we were warned about in advance.
Once you make it to the top and are shooed off like a herd of cats, you make your way into the large building that is the epicenter of the Mount San Jacinto State Recreation Area. Here are the restrooms, souvenir shop, food, a viewing room with two short educational videos, as well as front and back outside areas where one can get a remarkable view. The address is One Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA. 92262 and the hours of operation are Monday – Thursday, with the first tram up at 8am, the last tram up at 4:20pm, and the last tram down at 6pm, with trams departing at least every 30 minutes. So, if you don’t plan on camping at the top of Mount San Jacinto, I’d strongly suggest not missing that last 6pm tram.
We went for a family outing, most notably so my then 3-year-old could see and touch snow for only the second time in her life (the first time was Mount Baldy. We were hoping this time would be better – it wasn’t). What we were hoping was going to be a wondrous time for my little tot turned out to not be such. It was not the fault of Mount San Jacinto or our experience getting there, but with my daughter herself and her opinion of snow. She was NOT a fan. As with our experience at Baldy a week prior, the snow had hardened into that weird, hard, slick but crunchy snow. It was no fun to walk in, build a snowman, or make a snowball.
One thing I wish I knew – the ramp down to the snow is very long, and very steep coming back up. It’s not the worst, however if you’re like me, and have a young child, it can be the worst. My small toddler was so tired from the hectic day outing and no nap that I had to carry her back up the ramp. It was brutal. Just something to keep in the back of your mind if you have small children.
Speaking of my poor daughter, who has spent most of her life in balmy, sunny Southern California, as I’ve mentioned she was NOT prepared for the cold, wet snow. We thought she would love it and have a joyous time, but she hated it. We played around in it for a while, attempting in vain to bring out some joy in my grumpy toddler, before calling it a day. There are numerous hiking trails all throughout this area, but sadly we did none because of the snow and small child we had with us.
You can also camp if you so choose.
**Covid Alert: the tram is currently closed due to Covid19. Per the official website, “The tram is temporarily closed. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please check back for updates”.**
Children: $16.95 (ages 3-10)
Seniors: $24.95 (65+)
Summer Pass (available May 1): $80 for Adults
& Seniors, $40 for Children
Aquarium of the Pacific
As far as aquariums go, Aquarium of the Pacific is adequate. It’s not bad by any means, but it also won’t make you go “WOW”. It is on the smaller side, at least compared to other aquariums I’ve visited, like Ripley’s Aquarium of Mrytle Beach. Having said that, it is a great family day-outing and a big hit with children.
One WOW thing about this aquarium is the gigantic, fake blue whale hanging in the main room, right at the entrance. It’s cool because it’s a life-size replica and it’s crazy to visually see how large they really are. Most people never encounter a real blue whale in their lives (I certainly have not), and you only hear about how large they are, or see pictures. I think it’s pretty cool that they have a life-size replica for people to “Ooo” at.
Located in Long Beach at Rainbow Harbor, the address is 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802. The aquarium is typically open from 9am to 6pm Monday through Thursday, from 9am to 8pm on Friday, and 9am to 9pm on Saturday and Sunday. However – it is currently closed due to Covid-19.
*** Per the aquarium’s website: “Current health orders close the Aquarium for at least three weeks starting Dec. 6. Please visit our Virtual Offerings page where you can keep in touch with our animals and find fun and learning for all.”***
I will link their website at the end, so just keep checking for when they reopen. I assume they will when Governor Newsom lifts the lockdown, but please don’t quote me.
A small food café called Café Scuba sells sandwiches, salads, burgers, chicken strips, hotdogs, fries, and pizzas. The hours (when it’s open) are 10:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday, and 10:30am to 5:30pm Saturday and Sunday. There is a large seating area with booths and tables. We did not eat here, as it can be a bit pricey (most food at these places is).
There are many exhibits at the aquarium, including many interactive ones, particularly for the kinder. Exhibits include Shark Lagoon, June Keyes Penguin Habitat, Lorikeet Forest, Our Water Future, and “Learning”. Some exhibits have their own specific hours, like the Lorikeet Forest and Moon Jelly Touch Lab, so check the website beforehand for the most up-to-date times (particularly because of Covid).
Speaking of the Moon Jelly Touch Lab, it is so cool! Both my child and I loved it. It’s a giant tub full of Moon jellyfish which you’re allowed to gently touch on their tops with two fingers. According to the aquarium’s website, “The toxins in this jelly’s stinging cells are not strong enough to penetrate human skin, making them safe to touch”. You can also feed them if you want. It costs $3 for one cup of brine shrimp, $5 for 2 cups. You can purchase the food right at the Moon jelly exhibit; however, they only offer it on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am to 3:30pm (or until sold out).
If touching Jellyfish isn’t your or your child’s cup of tea, but you would still like to get your hands wet, they have another interactive exhibit where you can touch sea urchins and starfish. Just beware – the water is pretty cold!
Children (3-11): $19
Seniors (62+): $19
Overall, posts 1 and 2 only scratch 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”.
If you’ve just loved this blog, please check out my other California blogs and enjoy!