Tag - california

Free Things to do In Los Angeles

Venice Beach- Cr SMT

Venice Beach- Cr SMT

Los Angeles is quite a pricey destination to visit, but there are plenty of things to do and visit in the city without you going broke.

Here are some of the free things you could do when you visit the city next time, especially if you are on a budget.

  • Hike an Urban Trail: Hike the Silver lake. At any given time, the walking path of Silver lake is filled with joggers, walkers,
    strollers. Join the crowd and enjoy the walk. Get some exercise done while enjoying the lake area.
  • Visit Venice Beach, Muscle Beach and Santa Monica Pier: Summer months are often crowded and sometimes overwhelmed by tourists and locals.Weekends are the worst but its always fun to be there. Enjoy the street performers on Venice board walk and the sculptured bodies at Muscle beach. Stop for a cup of coffee at Santa Monica pier.
  • Watch TV Live: Watch your favorite TV shows being made. Tickets are always free. Get your tickets before getting there.
  • Free Admission to L.A’s Museums: One day a week or month, all of L.A’s museums and art galleries are open to the public, and some never charge anything for admissions.
  • Visit The Holocaust Museum: This museum is a must see for for anyone curious about this particular period of history. The exhibits take visitors through the Holocaust evoking emotions.
  • Visit The Getty Museum and Getty Center: These two attractions are absolutely free if you come by bus, Otherwise there is  a $15 parking free per vehicle. Street parking is rare and hard to find. The Getty museum possess one of the finest art collections in the world. Even if you are not an artist, its worth the visit just to see the building which is spectacular. Downtown L.A can be seen a little distance away from the museum. The Getty center on the other hand located on Pacific Costal Highway overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was the home of Paul Getty. The center is filled with European art.
  • Visit The Botanical Gardens: Located on the UCLA’s campus, Visitors can enjoy these three beautiful gardens for free. Check out the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden and the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical gardens.
  • Hollywood Bowl Rehearsals: Open to the general public on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and completely free. A very few people know about the rehearsals. Come with your cup of coffee and enjoy the performances.
  • Visit the Hollywood Forever Cemetery: Not far from downtown Hollywood, you will spend some downtime with your most post celebrities such as Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and Karen Carpenter.
  • Discover Los Angeles’s Wilderness Areas: The city harbors a huge wealth of  Natural wilderness areas such as Lake Balboa, Angels National forest, Topanga State park, Griffith Park, Angels Gate rec Center, Will Rogers State Park, Runyon canyon  which attract a variety of hikers and bikers. Join them and discover what L.A has to offer.
  • Visit Grauman’s Chinese Theater:  A fun place not to miss, Located on Hollywood Blvd next to The Kodak Theater, where you can measure your hands and feet against the hand prints and foot prints of Hollywood legends. A great place to shoot some pictures.
  • Take a Ride on Mulholland Road: This might be the ultimate driving experience to handle the twist and turns of the road. While cruising watch the homes with million- dollar views. The drive is exciting and just be careful of the sudden twist and turns. This is not
    recommend to everyone.
  • Enjoy a Day at The Los Angeles Farmers Market: Opened in July 1934 at the corner of Third and fairfax, became a famous L.A’s landmark and one of it’s biggest tourist destinations. The market is open everyday from 9 am to 9 pm weekdays and on week ends.

What’s New in Sacramento, California

    Tower bridge, Credit-irwachapter27.org

Tower bridge, Credit-irwachapter27.org

Sacramento Is Fun and Affordable

Sacramento ranks among the “Top 10 Fun and Affordable Cities in the US” according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Many areas outside major cities offer both affordable homes and a variety of restaurants and bars, according to a new report from Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate. The company evaluated 6,106 ZIP codes in which the median home price is within 20% of the state’s median home price. It then selected the 25 areas with the greatest number of bars and restaurants. The list of fun, affordable Top 10 cities includes Honolulu, Scottsdale, Anchorage and Wilmington, N.C.

Norman Rockwell Exhibit Comes to Sacramento

The Crocker Art Museum is proud to present a collection by one of America’s most iconic artists, Norman Rockwell, from November 10, 2012 to February 3, 2013. “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell” offers a rare look at nostalgic and historic works from the Norman Rockwell Museum collection that explores the artist, his images, and their impact and influence on American culture.  The exhibit will feature more than
50 paintings and 323 original “Saturday Evening Post” covers. It is the first major Rockwell exhibit in California in 10 years.

Volaris Begins Service at Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Volaris, Mexico’s second-largest airline will start twice-weekly nonstop service to Guadalajara, Mexico from SMF beginning November 15, 2012. Only nine other US markets offer Volaris service. Regularly-scheduled outbound service is scheduled for Wednesdays and Fridays; inbound service is scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Volaris will be operating either the Airbus A319 or the Airbus A300 aircraft with a capacity of 141 or 174 passengers, respectively.

 

Sacramento Launched Regional Wine Guide Website

The Sacramento region is home to more than 200 wineries and tasting rooms and is quickly gaining a reputation as a popular wine-tasting destination. To help leverage that momentum, the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau (SCVB) has revised the comprehensive, visitor-friendly, regional wine-focused guide that will encourage and enable greater exploration of all the region has to offer. Sacramento’s wine guide provides maps and information highlighting the following counties: Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Northern Sierra, Placer, Sacramento/Yolo, and San Joaquin. The complementing website launched in April 2012.

Old Sacramento Underground Tours

Hidden beneath the city for nearly 150 years, Old Sacramento’s underground has long been the capital’s best-kept secret.  Today, you can join thousands of residents and visitors in uncovering the facts behind the legends that lie below our buildings and sidewalks.  Explore excavated foundations and enclosed pathways while your tour guide recounts the tales of the devastation, perseverance, and determination that led to California’s only successful street-raising project. The regularly scheduled tours will continue through November 2012 and will resume in March 2013.

Sacramento Walking Tours Offer Glimpse of California History, Art and Architecture

These unique tours through downtown Sacramento introduce visitors to the people, places and events that shaped California history. From John Sutter to Cesar Chavez, these tours cover more than 150 years of state and local history. Topics range from art and architecture to cultural, religious and urban history. All tours are guided and last approximately one to two hours.

Sacramento365.com Announces “Make it a Night” Feature span>

Sacramento365.com, the year-round source for Sacramento events, announced the launch of “Make It a Night (MIAN),” a feature now available on every event listing on the site. MIAN lets users view nearby restaurants, hotels and bars to help them round out their theater or festival experience with an overnight stay, meal or drinks before or after attending an event. Users simply search on Sacramento365.com for an event they’d like to attend and click on the “Make It a Night” button or tab.

Sacramento International Airport (SMF) Opened $1 Billion Expansion in October 2011

The airy, four-level project includes integrated customs facilities, a two-level roadway to separate arriving and departing traffic and energy efficient and environmentally conscious design that is anticipated to receive LEED certification. The new Central Terminal B is designed to meet future air travel demand by replacing the outdated 216,000 square foot/13 gate Terminal B, with the new 669,000 square foot/19 gate Central Terminal B. The project also includes an $8 million public art program, most notably the 56-foot “Red Rabbit”.  SMF recently won a national design award for its concession program for medium-sized airports and has been ranked as the 5th most tech-friendly commercial airport in the country by PC World magazine. “Terminal B is packed with outlets and USB ports, elevating the smallish airport into our top five.”  SMF was among the first in the U.S. to offer free Wi-Fi.

Sacramento by Train

The 2012 Sacramento RiverTrain season is in full swing, having featured Great Train Robbery Lunches and Murder Mystery Dinners. A variety of daytime and evening trips are scheduled weekly for the remainder of the year. The California State Railroad Museum 29th annual weekend excursion trains will continue through September 2012 and will resume in April 2013.  There will be themed train rides around Halloween and the Polar Express in November and December.

Sacramento Children’s Museum Celebrates First Anniversary

The Museum, opened in August 2011 and features various exhibit areas to encourage children’s imaginations and prompt them to tinker, laugh and wonder. Special shows, programs, and speakers complement the exhibits. Although the Museum appeals to visitors of all ages, it is designed primarily for children to age eight and their families.

Courtesy of Lucy Steffens, Sacramento tourism bureau

Laguna Beach – the Artists’ Heaven in California

    Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

by Grace Bailey,

Laguna Beach is situated in the state of California, USA. It is a seaside resort, part of the famous Orange County region. It is one of the first resorts, founded in the area of the county.

The art community has very old traditions in this part of the state. Like the history says, it is founded back in the beginning of the 20th century, when several artists have considered the place very inspiring and came to live and work in the region. The community of the artists, found back then is still exiting and is functioning in the present days as well. Many famous people followed then and found their new home in the place. The sunny weather and the nice climate all the year round are also responsible for the popularity of the place.

Numerous interesting areas are bordering the region of the Laguna Beach. Some of them are the Crystal Cove State Park at the northwest, Dana Point and the Laguna Woods.

The cultural life of the area is very interesting. There are many events to be seen while spending a vacation in Laguna Beach. The summer months are reserved for the annual Pageant of Masters. It is an art festival, which is organized in the region. The purpose of the festival is to recreate famous masterpieces of the contemporary and classic art. They are made by the present artists and the one which looks closest to the original is the winner. The parts of the recreated work are values by the costumes used, the light, the make-up, the hairdressing and all other smaller and bigger details, which are characterizing the piece of art. Other art festival, that are famous in the area are the Art-a-Fair, the Sawdust Art Festival and the Festival of Arts.
There are some events, dedicated to the music in the region. The most popular of them are organized by the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society. It is held during the winter each year. The Chamber has long traditions in the organizing of music events. Like the activity of the organization is non-profitable, so are the concerts, held in the area.

The most visited museum is the Laguna Art Museum. One of its most popular exhibitions is the Emergent Media Phenomenon. It has been shown to the visitors of the museum since 2009. Today the newest exhibition is the one, which is dedicated to the artist Roger Edward Kuntz.

The cultural life of the place can be completed by the activity of the Laguna Playhouse. It is one of the theatres located in the area. The institution is celebrating its ninetieth anniversary and is still giving to its visitors the pleasure to enjoy one of the best plays, presented. Another option for the free time of the visitors is to follow one of the history tours, organized in the area.

The tourists who like the nature can enjoy the wildlife and observe some of the most unique processes in the region. Whale and dolphin watching are the activities, which are the most impressive for the visitors of the place.

There are many outdoor sport facilities available in the place. Many tennis courts are opened for public use, so are the golf courses and the swimming pools.

The only winery with a wine tasting room is situated in the Laguna Beach. The products made in the winery are high quality and its tasting will be great experience. At the wine shops in the winery, the visitors will not only be able to buy some of their favorite products, but also take part in the corporate events held in there.

Revisiting Nixon and His Old House in Yorba Linda, California

    Richard Nixon Museum - Courtesy of The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Richard Nixon Museum – Courtesy of The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Watergate in the 70’s leads to a steady flow of international visitors to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Orange County

The Life and Times of Nixon Reviewed

Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, has been the subject of scandal for years and has now entered history as a monumental, but disgraced, figure. He was the first U.S. president to resign and that was done to avoid impeachment.

Mid-2011, there is a similar scandal, not the tape-recording of conversations and breakins, as in what is dubbed “Watergate” but “hacking” by reporters into emails and voice mails, seemingly condoned by news services on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was in 1971 that things started to go wrong for Nixon. In the summer of 1972, “Deep Throat”, a pseudonym given to W. Mark Felt (he died aged 95 in 2008) who was with the F.B.I., leaked reports about the scandalous goings-on in Washington to journalist Bob Wordward, who was with the Washington Post. All the President’s Men, the book that came out in 1974 by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, told about the scandalous goings-on including the breakins.

Peaceful Old Home of Richard Nixon Now Museum

Visitors from all over the world, especially those from China, have been beating a path to Yorba Linda, California. Why? They have been coming since the opening, on July 20th, 1990, of both the privately-funded library and the tiny wooden house where this controversial president was born on January 9th, 1913.

The library’s archives house the most complete record available for students and scholars of Richard Nixon’s life and career. The collection includes an audio-visual archive, photographs and papers from Nixon’s vice presidential, senatorial, congressional and out-of-office years as well as his private diaries, his book manuscripts, a complete collection of key presidential documents and papers donated by other members of the Nixon administration.

Nine Acres with Modest Wooden House

Situated on nine acres of rolling hillside, the 52,000 square foot, Spanish-style library is surrounded by a re-creation of the citrus grove that originally stood around the Nixon home. Visitors can explore the First Lady’s Garden with her favourite flowers and roses and view the beautiful reflecting pool that now shares the site with the modest wooden house built by Frank Nixon in 1912. It stands exactly where Richard Milhous Nixon was born and raised before the family moved to nearby Whittier in 1922.

Displays Include One About Watergate

Besides a look at the president’s final campaign, a display called “Freedom Comes in Small Pieces” focusing on the Vietnam War POWS, and one dealing with “Watergate,” named after the hotel and apartment complex of the same name, are on view. The book by Bob Woodward called All the President’s Men is also included.

Other areas of interest: an authentic re-creation of the well-known Lincoln Sitting Room at the White House; a vintage “Woody” station wagon like the one Nixon used in his”fighting, rocking, socking” campaign in 1950; an actual moon rock; the telephone used by the president to extend good wishes to the Apollo 11 astronauts; priceless gifts of state including coins discovered with the Dead Sea scrolls, rare Chinese tapestries, gold and ivory pieces from Africa, a sixth century B.C. bronze statue of the goddess Isis and an Israeli oil lamp dating from 100 B.C.

First Televised Debates

Visitors will also have the chance to view the first televised presidential debates, debates that changed the shape of North American media and politics. There is extensive footage from each of the four debates showing how the candidates addressed the issues, and each other. Those interested in the Watergate scandal can listen to excerpts of the White House tapes and view a montage of Nixon’s last day in the White House including his emotional helicopter farewell.

The address is 18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard, Yorba Linda, Orange Country. It is just off Highway 90, a few miles from the 91 freeway. More information is available at www.nixonfoundation.org.

World’s Oldest Operating McDonald’s is it Worth Visiting?

    World's oldest Operating McDonald- Downey-CA

World’s oldest Operating McDonald- Downey-CA

Recently while driving in Downey California my husband and I saw a huge golden arch with a large cartoon character “speedy”on it and the words McDonalds at the bottom of the arch.  Upon examination we realized this was the world oldest operating McDonalds, we just had to stop and have lunch. As we walked up to the front of the restaurant you were instantly transformed into a different era, well sort of. The building stands exactly as it did when it was built in the 1950’s, two golden arches with a plain white tile building in between. The first menu you come upon is the original menu, just nine items in all and under it is a few of the original cash registers. The large glass front gives way to the modern appliance in the back but the charm is there all the same. It is walk up only with no seating, there is a small amount of seats in the museum area right next door. Although this era of McDonald’s is long before I was born you could still feel the general ambiance of a time gone by.

After we ordered we went to eat in the museum eating area, to be honest of the whole experience this was one that could be missed. It is dirty, hot, small area that you have to share with at least two dozen birds. Good thing the birds were a little fat, probably from living on McDonalds left overs and were willing to just sit by at other tables watching us eat and waiting for any bites remaining. There was music from the 50’s playing in the background and a strange little “gift shop” in the middle of the eating area that contained a few strange items for sale, nothing I would have taken the time to buy. The food was standard for McDonalds, not good or bad just McDonalds. I remember being a small girl and craving a McDonald’s hamburger and fries for dinner and when my mom got it for me it meant I had done something she was proud of and I was getting the food as a reward, it was a treat. I guess it has kind of stayed that way, something you get as a treat, not because its good but because you want to reward yourself. Although I must admit if I want to reward myself with food I tend to go for a higher class of food. As we sat with our young son we saw a few people come to eat, mostly though people just stopped to take pictures and run through the few artifacts.

The museum is what you would expect, you enter through two large wooden doors, the original doors from the first hamburger University. As you continue your journey you find lots of memorabilia from a time gone by, such as the original mixers, uniforms and registers from the original store. As you continue on there is a memorial gallery of Ray Kroc and the story on how this store remained untouched. Then is my favorite part, tokens of years in McDonalds, things I could relate to. There were old trays, a set of cups of the original characters like hambergerler, they even had the old coffee cups my parents got each year that allowed them all the free coffee they wanted when they brought it in. There were old happy meals toys, original hamburger wrappers and cups and even the old tac pins we all tried to own from the years when McDonalds celebrated things like the Olympic games. The best part was the pictures of all the old styles of McDonalds and the arches. As a kid those are the things you remember, for me it was a bright red building with yellow and white tables made of fiberglass. We would get so excited to sit at those hard tables and enjoy the food before us. I am sad to say that it said none of the structures from my childhood exist anymore.

Would I recommend taking the time to stop and see this McDonalds?, absolutely if you are in the area (ok who really needs to go to Downey California?) Its a fun trip down memory lane, a nice place to stop by. I wish I had followed the steps of others and just come by for the pictures, its a tough place to eat at even for the die hard McDonald fans. But in a world that is changing so fast its always nice to stop somewhere that time has sort of stood still and you can go back to some of the happy memories of your own past.

Cruising Out of Southern California Ports

Disney Cruise Ships

Disney Cruise Ships

Cruising makes for a great vacation, and what makes it even better is finding a great port city to sail in and out of that offers fun things to do before and after the cruise. Southern California offers three ports to choose from for cruises to Hawaii, the Panama Canal and Mexico. Cruise lines are also coming up with new ideas to draw vacationers to the West Coast such as Coastal California tours that focus on the ports of California with some even including wine tasting tours. For example, in the fall of 2012, Disney Cruise Line (800-951-3532) will be doing new California Coastal cruises featuring Pixar characters. To hear more about these ports, listen to our radio show by [clicking here]. Cruising out of Southern California ports gives you many options. Here are highlights for each of the three ports.

Long Beach:

The Port of Long Beach is a port for Carnival Cruise Lines and the area has made an amazing transformation over the past 10 years. (800-452-7829) Shopping and entertainment areas such as The Pike at Long Beach and Shoreline Village offer lots of great dining, shopping and activities, and are easy to get to from the cruise terminal.

Port of Los Angeles:

This port located in San Pedro (310-SEA-PORT) is incredibly busy in terms of container shipping, but also is an important embarkation point for cruises. The Port of L.A. is undergoing numerous long-term changes to its waterfront, with two new attractions, the U.S.S. Iowa ( 877-4-IOWA-61) and a craft market called “Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles” (310-732-1270) giving cruisers two new things to check out before embarking or after getting back from a trip.

San Diego:

The beautiful city of San Diego is full of great things to do, and its hard to think of a city where the port () is so near to so much to do. It’s easy to spend a day going to the Gaslamp Quarter for shopping, dining or a Padres game, or visit the many other attractions near the port, and still make it on your boat before San Diego port embarking, or make your flight home after a trip.

Southern California offers three different port cities that all have their own distinct character, and each one has attractions that make it a great place to start or end a cruise.

Renting a House in Newport Beach, California, Makes a Perfect Family Vacation

Newport General

Newport General

One thing that makes Newport Beach, California unique as a beach destination is that families, including extended families, or groups of friends, can rent a house together right on the beach.

While some beach cities have hotels or stores along the beachfront, or just parking lots, Newport has homes running all along the beachfront, and also on the bay front on the other side of the peninsula. Many of them are available for rent, and many families make a tradition of renting a beach house together for a week or more every summer. Craig Batley, owner of Burr-White Realty, (2901 Newport Blvd., 855-675-4630) notes Newport has a long history of having vacation homes and says, “We’ve been renting vacation homes to families for decades.” To hear our interview with Craig, and get more info about Newport Beach, click here.

Here are some things to keep in mind when renting.

Rental areas of Balboa Peninsula: Different sections of the city are noted for drawing different types of rental crowds. The area above the Newport Pier, also known as “West Newport” is known for being more lively and is close to a number of bars and clubs. Singles or younger people who want to be where the “action” is, will like this area. The area between the Newport and Balboa piers, below the Balboa Pier, and on the Bay Side, are quieter areas, and generally a better rental option for families with children.

Newport Beach Side vs. Balboa Bay Side: Being in a beachfront home with a porch that sits right up against the boardwalk can be fun for people watching as joggers, bikers, walkers and everyone else parades by. They’re a great place for hanging out and you just have to take a few steps to be on the sand. However, these are also the most expensive rentals. As you move off the beach, prices drop, and the best deals can sometimes be found over on the bay side of the peninsula. It’s more laid-back and quieter, and since the Balboa Peninsula is only a few blocks wide, you’re never more than a five-minute walk from the beach.

Great rental deals: Weekly rentals on the Balboa Peninsula generally start at just below $2,000 and go up from there. When you hear a price, remember a couple of things if you’re comparing numbers against the cost of staying in a hotel. First, divide the price by six or seven, since that’s the number of nights you’ll have it. Second, keep in mind that if you’ve got a large or extended family, you’d have to rent at least two or three or more hotel rooms. Third, remember that you’ll have a full kitchen and can therefore save money by eating out less. Whatever you’re looking for, Batley points out, “There’s a price point for everybody. All families can really afford here.”

Families traveling together: The whole feel of a family vacation in a beach house is very different from being in a hotel. For large or extended families, you would need to rent multiple hotel rooms, so there’s really not a big gathering place where people can hang out together. There’s also not a large kitchen where you can do family meals together. “It’s a family experience you can’t replicate in a hotel,” Batley says.

Newport Beach offers a wide variety of rental options near the beach, it’s just a matter of finding the best fit for you and your family.

You can also listen to Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin on the weekly  Travel Brigade Radio Show at TravelBrigade.com. 

 

 

A guide to Six Flags water parks

Six flags- Cr-socal.catholic.org

Six flags- Cr-socal.catholic.org

Six Flags is the largest amusement park company in the world. It owns and operates 21 properties in North America, including theme parks, water parks, thrill parks and family entertainment centers. Most of the water parks(eleven in all) are located inside Six Flags theme parks so, you get two parks for the price of one. Each water park is different, but they all have some common features, such as a variety of slides, wave pools, lazy rivers, and shopping areas. If you live near one, you may want to buy a Season Pass, which will save you money and help you stay cool all summer long.

Here are the Six Flags water parks:

Hurricane Harbor, Los Angeles, California

Hurricane Harbor is located not in, but next to Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park and requires separate admission fee. You will need more than one day to visit both. The park offers 23 different water slides, a wave pool, river rafting, a large play area for younger children and a 1,300-foot-long lazy river. Most of the rides are mild to moderate and can be enjoyed by all family members (some rides have a 48” height restriction). The park is famous for its thrill water ride, the Tornado, which is seven stories high.

White Water, Atlanta, Georgia

Six Flags White Water offers over 30 rides on 40 acres, including thrill rides, moderate family rides and child-friendly options. The best thrill ride is the Cliffhanger, a 9-story tall water slide, one of the tallest free-fall slides in the world. For the little kids there are: Captain’s Kids Cove, an interactive play area, Tree House Island, four stories of chutes, slides and bridges and, opening in May 2010, The Wiggles Water World, The Wiggles-themed area.

Hurricane Harbor, Chicago, Illinois

This Hurricane Harbor is located inside the Six Flags Great America theme park. This Caribbean-themed water park measures over 100,000 square feet and offers lots of moderate to extreme water rides, Hurricane Bay, a 500,000-gallon wave pool, and Skull Island play area for children. The park’s admission includes both, the theme park and the water park.

America/Hurricane Harbor, Baltimore/Washington DC, Maryland

America water park is located next to Six Flags America theme park and you can visit both for one admission fee. The park offers a variety of mild to moderate body slides, tube drop slides, kid’s size twister, Bamboo Chutes and a couple of thrill rides. The newest water slide, Tony Hawk’s Half Pipe, opened in 2008, is shaped like a skateboarding half pipe and is four stories high. It is quite intense and is not recommended for young children.

New England/Hurricane Harbor, Springfield, Massachusetts

New England is a family-friendly water park located within Six Flags New England theme park. It has two 500,000-gallon wave pools, several slides, river rafting, an interactive play area for children and an extreme water coaster, Typhoon. In 2010, the park is adding another play area (16,000 square feet) for the youngest kids, Mr. Six’s Splash Island. It will include 30,000 gallon wave pool and an interactive lazy river. One admission fee includes both parks.

St. Louis/Hurricane Harbor, Saint Louis, Missouri

St. Louis water park is a 12-acre tropical paradise. It is located within Six Flags St. Louis theme park and it is free with admission to the theme park. It offers many slides, including Wahoo Racer, a six-lane water racer with triple drop layout, five-person raft ride, 560,000-gallon wave pool and a play area for children, Hook’s Lagoon.

Hurricane Harbor, Jackson, New Jersey

The water park was built next to Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Wild Safari. Each park requires separate admission fees. It features the most impressive one-million-gallon wave pool, a half-mile long lazy river with rapids, waterfalls and geysers, three extreme body slides, Cannonball, Wahini and Jurahnimo Falls. In 2010, the Tornado will make the newest addition to the park.

Splash Water Kingdom, Lake George, New York

Splash Water Kingdom is located within Six Flags Great Escape theme park. It offers many slides, including Black Cobra, two completely dark enclosed tube slides, 500,000-gallon wave pool, interactive play areas and some fun water rides, such as the Tornado or Mega Wedgie, a 100-foot tunnel slide. One admission includes both parks.

Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Water Park, Lake Gorge, New York

This is the first indoor water park in New York State and the first one owned and operated by Six Flags. It was opened in 2006 and it made a great addition to the existing Six Flags Great Escape theme park. The 38,000-square-foot indoor water park is opened year-round. However, it serves only lodge guests. The main attractions are: a FlowRider surfing simulators, lazy river, raft ride, and Boogie Bear Surf.

Fiesta Texas/White Water Bay, San Antonio, Texas

White Water Bay water park was built right next to Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park. The admission includes both attractions. The water park has a 500,000-gallon wave pool, multi-passenger rafting, lots of tubes, slides and rides. Children can play at Splashwater Springs, a play area filled with rides and other activities. There is also a family interactive play area, Texas Tree House. For thrill seekers there are three rides, the Tornado, Whirlpool and the Big Bender.

Hurricane Harbor, Arlington, Texas

It is one of the largest Six Flags water parks. It offers lots of attractions for everyone, including a massive one-million-gallon wave pool, Surf Rider surfing simulator, play areas for children and many moderate and high-thrill slides and rides. Hurricane harbor is located just across the street from Six Flags Over Texas, but tickets have to be purchased separately to each park.

Six Flags water parks have some of the best water parks in the country. They offer a variety of activities, from mild that can be enjoyed even by the youngest family members to high-thrill rides providing some unforgettable experiences and lots of fun.

Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego Waterfront Hotel

Manchester Hyatt over the San Diego Bay  Credit: Manchester Hyatt

Manchester Hyatt over the San Diego Bay Credit: Manchester Hyatt

The beautiful bay of San Diego is one of California’s popular travel destinations and the Manchester Grand Hyatt is a beautiful waterfront hotel overlooking that bay.

Any trip to Southern California is not complete without a visit to picturesque San Diego. This stunning city, best known for its exceptional climate, is California’s second largest city. The Manchester Grand Hyatt, with its waterfront location and close proximity to local attractions such as Seaport Village and the San Diego Convention Center, makes for an excellent place to stay when visiting the city or taking a cruise out of the port of San Diego.

Manchester Grant Hyatt

The Manchester Grand has two towers that give it an impressive look along the skyline. The location of the hotel puts it a close distance to popular attractions like SeaWorld, the Gaslamp Quarter, U.S.S. Midway Museum or the port of San Diego.

The 1,625 rooms located in the two towers are classic in décor and many have a view of the bay. All have windows that open so guests can enjoys the fresh San Diego weather. Activities on site include a marina, tennis courts, gym, bike rentals and the Kin Spa. The pool deck is a large area that connects the two towers together and offers a great view of the sky line. The pool area includes hot tubs, cabanas and several fire pits that are lit up at night.

Family Friendly Activities and Camp Hyatt

Pool areas are always popular with kids of all ages and guests can enjoy warming up in the evening by making classic s’mores over the fire pits. The Hyatt also offers a seasonal backyard area where one can participate in lawn bowling, giant checkers and family friendly poolside cinema Saturday nights.

Camp Hyatt is also a unique feature where children can participate in half or full day sessions that include activities on and off site. There is also an evening session that includes dinner, so parents can plan an evening alone.

Sally’ Seafood on the Waterfront and Top of the Hyatt

The Hyatt has a several choices for dining and drinks such as Ann Marie’s Coffee Shop, Redfield’s Deli and the pool bar to Sally’s Seafood on the Waterfront. Sally’s offers fresh seafood including signature appetizers such as blue crab cake, and chicken spring rolls. The restaurant also offers local fish and chips and the popular lobster pot pie. It is also a great happy hour location with Mini Burger Mondays and Taco Tuesdays followed by Wasabi Wednesdays, which showcases the restaurant’s specialty sushi. One will enjoy Sally’s while dining on the boardwalk and basking in the sunny San Diego weather.

Those who want a great view of the bay should try the Top of the Hyatt, located 40 floors up. Enjoy a drink while looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows in the tallest waterfront hotel on the West Coast.

Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego

One Market Place  San Diego, California 92101

(619) 232 1234

Staying in a hotel that offers waterfront views is nice, but staying in a waterfront hotel like the Manchester Grand Hyatt that offers great views, service, activities, dining and a programs for families is even better.

Preserving and Protecting Marine Wildfire at Elkhorn Slough

Sea Otters, Credit:carinbondar.com

Sea Otters, Credit:carinbondar.com

At Elkhorn Slough, marine wildlife is preserved and protected, as well as prolific. Visitors find sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and marine birds.

Some Marine wildlife species which were endangered are returning to the US West Coast. The Elkhorn Slough (pronounced slew) is a veritable paradise for seeing marine wildlife. Kayaks and canoes are available around Moss Landing, California, as are walking trails and an information center. While still amazing, they don’t compare to being out there with Captain Yohn Gideon and his naturalist, Rachel, on a 27 foot pontoon boat on the Elkhorn Slough Safari.

Passengers on the Safari count wildlife which Capt. Gideon reports to the wildlife officials. Children are given pictures of one kind of wildlife to hold up and to point out where they see it. Older children played a black out game to name different kinds of wildlife in a Bingo-type game.

What’s a Slough?

A slough is a muddy bottomed body of water which contains a mixture of salt and fresh water. The percentage of salt versus fresh changes depending on the amount of fresh runoff from the land surrounding it. When less rain falls, the slough is more like a salt marsh. When more rain swells the rivers that drain into the slough, it becomes an estuary of primarily fresh water. A slough is a natural gathering place for marine wildlife, particularly some that have been on the endangered species list.

Sea Lions

tours

tours

Sea Lions guard the slough harbor entrance. As the pontoon boat charts a course out of the harbor, sea lions bark incessantly. Some are in the water; others are on the dock. On this cruise, 32 sea lions were counted.

Sea Otters

Not far into the slough, sea otters are spotted in the slough. At first the otters are individuals floating on their backs with head, paws, and flippers out of the water. Some mom otters had their cubs lying on their chests. But around the bend, the passengers are treated to a rare and amazing sight: a raft (the name for a group of sea otters floating together) of 52 sea otters. Captain Gideon tells the group that it is the biggest raft he has ever seen and composes about 3% of the sea otter population.

Harbor Seals

The farther the boat putts into the slough, harbor seals come into view. At first one is in the water, then a few on the bank until both sides of the slough are covered with sleeping harbor seals. Apparently nocturnal, these seals were not interested in the least in the watchers from the boat who were pointing, taking pictures, and using binoculars to see these animals which were nearly hunted into extinction. One hundred thirty-two were counted on this tour.

Pelicans in Elkhorn Slough

Pelican Dive - Ken Tatum

Pelican Dive – Ken Tatum

Brown and white pelicans abound in Elkhorn Slough. The brown pelicans put on quite an air show for the passengers on the Safari while fishing for lunch. They started about 20-40 feet, hovering and watching for fish. When one is spied, the pelican dives from that height straight into the slough. Then they immediately bob to the surface with the fish in its beak. The sight was breathtaking as well as fun to watch. Fish ingested, the pelican would then take off to find more prey.

Egrets, Heron, and Cormorants

Other birdlife at the slough include many cormorants in their eucalyptus tree rookery, straight and spoon-billed ibis, snowy egrets (3), and a blue heron. The cormorants, whose feathers are not
waterproof like the pelicans, must run across the water flapping their wings wildly in order to dry them before taking flight. Like the pelicans, they were fishing for lunch which means diving (from the surface).

The Elkhorn Slough is a preserve that all ages can enjoy. More important is that the Elkhorn Slough is protecting marine wildlife while providing education and conservation of habitat for all to enjoy.

Visiting John Steinbeck in Monterey, Ca

Visiting Monterey, CA, is cause to read John Steinbeck’s work and visit his settings. The John Steinbeck Center celebrates Steinbeck’s work and life. The lettuce and artichoke fields, Cannery Row, the fogs on the Monterey Peninsula in Pacific Grove, the John Steinbeck Center in Salinas, the Pacific Ocean, cherries and garlic, and literature meldtogether in Steinbeck’s California.

Lighthouse Ave. in Pacific Grove - D.A

Lighthouse Ave. in Pacific Grove

Visiting Monterey is a good opportunity to read Steinbeck in the setting in which it was experienced and imagined. The people and places that lived through Steinbeck’s experiences and imagination come to life in the Monterey/Salinas area of California. The Short Novels of John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2009) contains six of Steinbeck’s short novels.

The first story in the anthology is Tortilla Flat (1935), the story of Hispanic paisanos. One of the fellows inherits a piece of property which changes all of their lives for a time. The property owner ends up supporting his other fellows, giving shelter, and accepting their tribute in the form of wine and food.

Cannery Row (1945) is the second story chronologically in the anthology concerning Monterey. Downtown Monterey along Cannery Row maintains the Steinbeck flavor from the past. The story is dedicated to Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts. A statue of Ed Ricketts is placed across the street from the preserved “Doc’s Western Biologicals.” Lee Chong’s grocery now carries souvenirs and other trinkets for tourists. The Abbeville storehouse on the vacant lot is also preserved with historical placards abounding. The cannery time period began in 1902; tins of sardines were preserved until the fishing gave out in 1945.

Doc's (Ed Rickett's) Western Biologicals - D.A

Doc’s (Ed Rickett’s) Western Biologicals

Of Mice and Men (1937) is the quintessential Steinbeck novel. The lettuce fields stretch for miles today too. It’s not difficult to imagine Lennie, George, and the migrant workers of yesteryear as one drives the I-1 toward Salinas. Near 100% of US artichokes are grown in California and about 80% of those are grown in Monterey County, and artichokes are its official vegetable. Castroville is the worldwide capital for artichokes. Seventy-two percent of US iceberg lettuce and eighty-one percent of US leaf lettuce is grown in California. A later novel, Grapes of Wrath, created enormous controversy concerning the conditions of migrant workers.

Steinbeck SquarePacific Grove is a pretty little Victorian town preserved through time. Lighthouse Avenue leads to Pacific Grove, the site of Holman’s Department Store in Cannery Row. Steinbeck’s sister is buried in the cemetery on the point. The town holds memories of Steinbeck and the cottages he used to own. The Monterey fog preserves the mystery of a previous time when fishing and agriculture were the economics of the Monterey Peninsula and the surrounding area that Steinbeck preserved in his short novels.

Montery, CA, Credit D.A

Montery, CA

Finally, a visit to Steinbeck’s California should include a trip into Salinas to the John Steinbeck Center. Even if the visitor has not read Steinbeck’s works, the Center has intriguing exhibits using text, films of his work, and mementos from the area, the family, and history. Familiarity with the stories makes the exhibit even more poignant.IMG_0852

Monterey is a beautiful place to visit, to go back in time, and to explore literary connections to a place that Steinbeck knew well. A visitor should take novels by Steinbeck, a road map and rental car, and a jacket as well as layers, even in summer.

Read more: A Stroll Along Cannery Row

Days Out in LA: Malibu

The world-famous, beach town of Malibu is an ideal place for a day out in LA, offering sun, surf, sand, shopping, and so much more.

Malibu is famous worldwide as a celebrity enclave, but it has so much more to offer. Located on California’s stunning Pacific coast, about 20 miles north of Los Angeles, it feels like its a million miles away from the city’s sprawl. The only reminder that you are still in the general vicinity of LA is the often unavoidable traffic that can sometimes clog the highway to Malibu. But this is, after all, Los Angeles, right?

What Makes Malibu Unique

As far as beach towns go, Malibu – which is, in fact, a city – has a unique vibe, laid-back but quite sophisticated. Apart from the many celebs that make their homes in the area, you will find hard-core surfer dudes mingling with the European owners of high-end boutiques, and hippies and boho types who have lived here forever mingling with the thousands of college students attending Pepperdine University. Needless to say, Malibu is an eclectic place with plenty of character, and it makes for a fun day out experience.

“Downtown” Malibu

Despite its somewhat limited size, there is plenty to do and see in Malibu. The experience begins with the drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway, known locally as PCH. Upon entering the Malibu city limits you will see a sign proclaiming that you now have “27 miles of scenic beauty” before you. Perched between the Pacific coast and the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu does have some truly incredible scenery. The drive into Malibu is always enchanting, offering glimpses of sandy beaches, dramatic ocean views, stunning beach-front mansions, and the wild beauty of the Santa Monica National Recreation Area.

“Downtown” Malibu is a fairly compact area where many of the city’s attractions are located. It’s made up of the Mediterranean-looking and highly convenient Malibu Colony Plaza – known locally as The Colony – on the ocean-side of PCH, and the ever-popular Cross-Creek shopping area on the mountain-side, consisting of the perennial favorite Malibu Country Mart and the recently developed Malibu Lumber Yard Mall.

Here you can pretty much shop till you drop at one of the many trendy boutiques popular with the stars, catch a film at the newly renovated Malibu cinema, enjoy some of the best gourmet and comfort cuisine available on the California coast, and just lounge around in the sunny SoCal weather star-watching.

Malibu’s Adamson House

Nearby the Malibu Colony, in the midst of the Malibu Lagoon State Beach Park, you can find the Adamson House, a National Historic Landmark. According to Jane Hulse’s article “Taj Mahal of Tile” (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 18, 1997) the Adamson House is known as the “Taj Mahal of tile” due to its extensive use of decorative ceramic tiles made locally. With its own rich heritage, the house has been put to good use as a sort of museum displaying Malibu’s surprisingly interesting history.

The Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach

Malibu's Well-Loved Pier Credit: wyteone

Malibu’s Well-Loved Pier Credit: wyteone

The Malibu Pier is a Southern California landmark central to the region’s surf culture. It is located next to the iconic Surfrider Beach, frequented by surfers from around the world and renowned for its excellent breaks. In fact, Surfrider Beach is so loved that it is being declared as “the first World Surfing Reserve” this fall (“Malibu to be Declared a World Surfing Reserve”, Surfline, July 22, 2010).

The Pier itself was renovated a few years back and has seen a sort of renaissance since, with a return of the “festive seaside atmosphere of good food and good fun” that used to prevail in its heydey, states the department of California State Parks.

The Getty Villa in Malibu

The Getty Villa is an arm of LA’s world-famous Getty Center, which displays the museum’s impressive collection of ancient Greek, Roman and Etrurian cultural artifacts. The Villa’s architecture and gardens are reminiscent of ancient Rome and, together with the displays, provide a truly educational and inspiring visit.

Malibu’s Point Dume

The Point Dume State Preserve is a favorite amongst locals and visitors alike. Located on a wind-swept bluff overlooking the ocean and an isolated beach, Point Dume offers some amazing views that, on a clear day, can encompass all of Santa Monica Bay and beyond. The area is also popular as an ideal spot for whale-watching, since California Gray Whales tend to frequent the cove below during migration season.

The affluent, beach-side city of Malibu is world-renowned for being the home to many a Hollywood celeb, but this town isn’t all about fame. Malibu has a rich heritage and plenty of attractions, including breathtaking scenery, warm beaches, stunning sunsets, excellent food, trendy shopping and a friendly community that’s always ready to welcome visitors.

Palm Springs, California – San Andreas Fault Tour

 San-andreas-fault, cr-viewfromthepier.com

San-andreas-fault, cr-viewfromthepier.com

If you are looking for a unique way to spend some time in Palm Springs, and like the outdoors, then the San Andreas Hummer tour might just be up your alley.  If you are staying at one of the local hotels in Palm Springs, such as the Zoso, the Elite Hummer Tours will even offer the courtesy of picking you up and dropping you off at the lobby of your hotel.

This tour provides an intimate look at the desert and naturescapes of the local desert.  While the tour takes a solid four hours, it is comfortable in an air-conditioned new Hummer.  They also provide drinks and snacks, such M&M’s, peanuts, at each stop.  The tour takes you into washes and riverbeds, and includes some short hiking locations.  However, the small hikes were well worth it, as one of the hikes ends at the top of a hill overlooking the Salton Sea.  The view is truly spectacular.

Other points of interest include a stop in which the tour guide has visitors “taste” different types of local, edible plants, which weren’t too bad.  The true peak of the tour is arriving and driving through the San Andreas area. Stopping to inspect the sheared off rocks of the fault line was truly impressive. These rocks are easily 20 feet tall and look like someone just came along and literally shaved off the rock.  This stop is an excellent location for a photo op standing in front of the fractured granite.

Part of the tour includes driving through and around some agricultural areas closer to Coachella.  The tour guides are knowledgeable and informative explaining some of the local vegetation, including those not native and brought in by others.  In addition, they also give background about the area including the meaning of names and history of the towns, and some of the scenic formations and mountains.

While the walking and hiking was minimal, most of the tour consists of riding in the Hummer; it is well worth the price for four hours.  Wearing comfortable shoes, such as tennis shoes, is very much recommended to avoid slipping while walking in the sandy soils.  Be sure to bring a camera, as there are several points of interest. One of the benefits of this type of tour is that they will drop you at the front door of your hotel after the tour, which is convenient.

After the tour, a hot shower in one of the local hotels feels great. Although you don’t get really dirty, it is nice to clean up and change into something a little nicer for a night on the town.

Since the Palm Springs and desert areas offer many dining options, there is no shortage of choices.  For someone staying at the Zoso, for example, they offer a nice and elegant restaurant off the main lobby area.  The hotel has been completely renovated and has a modern feel to it. They also have a quiet and contemporary bar area that is fairly popular.  It provides a pleasant way to wind down after the day.   Even if you are not a guest at the hotel, the restaurant and bar area can still be enjoyed by all patrons visiting due to its convenient location in the downtown district.

Nightlife in Sacramento – California

Sacramento Night life, cr-examiner.com

Sacramento Night life, cr-examiner.com

The revitalization of downtown and midtown Sacramento has generated a surge of nightclubs, comedy clubs, live music venues and many more entertainment venues throughout the region.  So, put your party clothes on and get ready to discover Sacramento’s nightlife.

Dancing

The dance club scene in Sacramento is truly as diverse as its population. District 30 has a one-of-a-kind sound and lighting system to welcome global leaders of house / dance music and targets sophisticated guests, age 30 and above. Other dress-to-impress, DJ dance venues include The Park Ultra Lounge (for 20-somethings), M!X Downtown (age 30 and above) and Social. More DJ music flows from the intimate MoMo Lounge, atop the art deco Harlow’s which features live music and dancing of various genres.

Consistently considered two of the best DJ dance clubs in the capital are FACES and Badlands. Both welcome GLBTQ guests, but multiple dance floors, bars, and outdoor patios are popular with everyone who simply wants to have fun. Salsa dancing sizzles up Azukar Lounge, Harlow’s, and Country Club Lanes on weekends. Swing dance fanatics enjoy Friday nights’ Midtown Stomp.

Wine Bars

Wine connoisseurs gravitate to 58 Degrees & Holding Co., The Grand Wine Bar and L Wine Lounge –all in midtown. Head to Lounge ON20 for an extensive sparkling wine selection as well as its equally chilled downtempo DJ music.

Live Music & Bars

Every week the Sacramento News & Review publishes a free listing of local live music showings at trendy dive bars, cozy pubs, blues clubs, coffee shops and more. Pick-up a copy of this resource for up-to-date information on venues such as The Shady Lady (jazz), Old Ironsides (local rock bands), the British-inspired Fox & Goose Public House (singer/songwriters), the Torch Club (blues), Tapa the World (flamenco guitar) and Kasbah (Moroccan belly dance), The Distillery (punk) and Capitol Garage (reggae).

Dive Bar, adjacent to District 30 and Pizza Rock, features mermaids and mermen who swim above the bar in a 40-foot long, saltwater tank. A larger-than-life-sized iPod allows individuals to bring their own music and play it overhead. Two grand pianos also can accommodate dueling talent. Built by first-generation Irish immigrants to reflect friendly Irish hospitality, deVere’s Irish Pub with its beautiful woodwork as well as family’s paintings and antiques affords Sacramentans a slice of Dublin culture.

Visitors and residents alike enjoy hanging out with old and new friends in Sacramento’s local bars. Midtown boasts several spots with tons of character, seemingly on every street. You’ll find stiff drinks and the college scene at Pine Cove, Club 2 Me, and Zebra Club.  For trendier bars and billiards, check out the people and pool tables at Bar R15 and Blue Cue.

Other

Looking for an alternative to the nightclubs and bars?  Sacramento offers options galore, from comedy shows at Sacramento Comedy Spot, Laughs Unlimited or Punch Line Sacramento. Put your detective skills to the test in a thrilling “who-done-it?” at Suspects Murder Mystery Dinner aboard The Delta King riverboat. Musical theatre enthusiasts flock to The Cosmopolitan Cabaret and California Musical Theatre for standard and progressive productions.

Late night eats include Hot Italian (where artisan pizza celebrates Italy’s art, music, design), Pizza Rock (artisan pizza meets classic rock), bicycle-themed Spin Burger Bar (custom-built, gourmet burgers), and tattoo-culture inspired INK (diner fare meets Calif. bistro). Willie’s and Hot Rods (burgers, shakes, fries) serve food long after midnight as well.

The Esquire IMAX Theatre boasts a six-story tall by 80-foot wide screen and a state of the art sound system. Even film reels for these amazing movies are an impressive five feet tall! Catch an art, independent or foreign film at the historic Tower and Crest theatres – or the newest box office hit at one of many cinemas throughout the city. Country Club Lanes offers 24 hours of billiards and bowling fun.

Finally, if you’re feeling lucky, both Thunder Valley and Red Hawk casinos are less than an hour’s drive away. Both offer their own transportation to and from their respective resorts.

Courtesy of Sacramento tourist bureau

San Diego Zoo -California

World-famous zoo is must-see for SD visitors

The San Diego Zoo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California and a must-see for most visitors to the San Diego area.

The  Zoo is near downtown San Diego, just minutes from the hotels along the scenic waterfront or from the other major cluster of hotels in Mission Valley. It’s part of Balboa Park, a magnificent recreational area that began as the Panama-California Exhibition back in 1915 and today includes several major museums. As popular as Balboa Park is locally, the big draw for out-of-towners is the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

If you haven’t been to the San Diego Zoo before, the first thing to realize is that you probably are not going to see everything you wanted to see in one day. You’ll see plenty but, with 800 species and 4,000 animals, there will always be something that you will wish you could have seen. The zoo, frankly, is a little overwhelming with its 100 acres of animal exhibits woven into a tapestry of forests and vegetation that seem to represent just about anything you’d see on earth.

  That’s why planning is key. We had set aside five hours for our recent zoo visit, but that just wasn’t enough. In hindsight, we realized it would have been better to carefully plan our route throughout the park rather than kind of jumping around. There are ways you can make your visit more efficient. One of those is to take the 40-minute bus tour of the park before you do anything else. It takes visitors in open-air double-decker buses to about 75%  of the zoo and offers commentary from a tour guide to help you learn more about the various animals and their habitats. To some extent, the tour will help you get your bearings and give you some idea of which areas of the park you want to be sure and revisit. Another way to see more of the park in a shorter time is to take advantage of the park’s transportation system. The zoo has express buses that will stop in several locations around the park, in effect shuttling you between distant areas of the park. Also useful is the Skyfari Aerial Tram that takes you on a gentle sky ride over the zoo giving you great views of the exhibits and animals below.

If you don’t use either of these forms of transportation, be prepared for a workout – the park is built in canyons and ravines and on plateaus that will give you some great exercise over a five or six-hour visit. Finally, in planning your day at the zoo, prioritize your must-see’s. Realize that the zoo’s famous panda exhibit is the equivalent of the most popular ride at Disneyland, so you are going to encounter lines unless you get there early. The one disappointment of our day is that we had gradually worked our way down to the pandas only to encounter a line that must have been a quarter mile long. With a previous commitment to keep later in the day, we just didn’t have time to wait. Also, like most Southern California theme parks, the food at the San Diego Zoo is not cheap. Expect to pay about $11 for a cheeseburger and a drink, or $3.75 for a box of popcorn. Want a coke? It’s $3.75 but the good news is you can take the plastic container with you and have it refilled anywhere in the park for a buck. Of course food is not the main reason you’ll go to the San Diego Zoo. Here are a few of the most popular exhibits and attractions:

Giant Panda Research Station — the San Diego Zoo is one of only four facilities in the United States to house the giant pandas, which are a critically endangered species. In fact, this is the largest population of pandas in the U.S., four animals altogether. The newest panda, Su Lin, was born August 2, 2005 and is now on exhibit.

Joan B. Croc’s Monkey Trains and Forest Tales — this is another new exhibit, unveiled in 2005. It’s billed as “the largest and most elaborate animal habitat in the zoo’s 90-year history” and takes guests on an excursion into Asian and African forests where they find such wildlife as mandrills (a type of monkey), the elusive clouded leopard, the rare pygmy hippopotamus and various venomous snakes.

Absolutely Apes –this exhibit features two critically endangered ape species: orangutans and siamangs. Numerous trees, play structures and sway poles are included in the 8,000-square-foot habitat.

Gorilla Tropics — this exhibit simulates a lush African rainforest and has a natural landscape of cascading waterfalls, grassy slopes and climbing areas. The star attractions are the Western lowland gorillas, one of the most fascinating creatures in the zoo.

Polar Bear Plunge — this is a 2.2-acre summer tundra habitat that features polar bears, Siberian reindeer, Pallas cats, yellow-throated martens and diving ducks. It’s fun to watch the polar bears swim in the 130,000 gallon, 12-foot-deep chilled pool. Rare animals — throughout the park, you’ll see a variety of animals that are quite rare, many in fact that you may never have heard of. Among the favorites are the northern koalas from Australia, the Buerger’s tree kangaroos from New Guinea, the Indian gharials, the African gazelles, the Visayan warty pigs and much more. It’s hard to imagine a better way to combine education and fun than a visit to this world-class zoo. The only thing that would make it better is if it was free – and, for kids, it will be in October.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: The San Diego Zoo is located near downtown San Diego and is easily reached by car or public transportation from downtown hotels.

WHAT: The San Diego Zoo exhibits 4,000 rare and endangered animals and is operated by the Zoological Society of San Diego, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of endangered species and their habitats.

WHEN: Year-round with San Diego�s perfect climate. Best time to save money is in October, when kids are admitted free.

WHY: A great family outing that combines education and a fun experience for all ages.

HOW: For more information, contact the zoo at 619-231-1515 or visit www.sandiegozoo.org. General admission for adults is $22, or $32 for Best Value admission that includes the Guided Bus Tour, free Express Bus rides and free Skyfari Aerial Tram rides. Kids 3-11 are $14.50 and $19.75. Ages 2 and younger are free. Photos: Plaza entrance to the zoo; both African and Asian elephants are exhibited; Children’s zoo is hands-on; costumed characters sure to please kids Visit Locallife for big San Diego Savings and visit us.

Studio tours – California

Getting an up-close view of true movie magic

New Fast & Furious car chase at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park

While movie-making is done “on location” more than ever before, the Los Angeles area still is home to a steady stream of movie and television productions – so many that it’s notunusual to come across filming on any given trip to L.A. And out-of-towners never seem to get tired of visiting movie studios and famous movie-making locations.   Today most of the studios are closed to the public except when audiences are needed for live shows or when the call goes out for extras to populate various movie scenes. But there are several that do allow tours, including some where the chances are good you’ll see a real movie star.

The granddaddy of movie studio tours has to be Universal Studios Hollywood, which now includes its movie studio tour as just one small part of a Disneyland-like theme park with elaborate rides and attractions all having something to do with the movies. Built along a hillside in Universal City, the theme park has grown over the years incorporating new attractions that match up with some of the hottest movies produced at Universal. We first visited Universal more than 30 years ago so, on our recent visit to the park, the overall experience seemed much more of a complete entertainment package than when the tour was just a movie studio tour with few additional attractions. We had been back to the park in the 90’s but, even since then, this theme park has seemed to grow dramatically, adding new attractions on a regular basis to encourage visitors to return.

Jurassic Park ride plunges riders down an 85-foot waterfall

Visitors to the park are now greeted with a choice of
parking, lower priced parking that requires a little walking and premium parking that is closer to the park. We chose the former because we need the exercise – but, alas, the park has installed an elaborate 21st Century system of escalators to whisk visitors all over the hilly terrain both from the parking lot, and from the theme park down to the actual movie lot.
  One of the highlights of our Universal visit was a discovery we made: the Front of the Line Pass. It is a bit pricey – at $99.95 it’s about double what you’ll pay if you buy a regular pass online – but it totally changes the experience. Instead of waiting in long, hot lines all day (typical of most Southern California theme parks) we were quickly zipping between the best attractions, never standing in line more than five minutes.

We felt we saw everything we wanted to see in one day, but were not nearly as exhausted as we might have been standing in lines that each appeared to be 45 minutes to an hour long.   For middle-age guests who have given up on theme parks because of the lines, the Front of the Line Pass will put you right back in the game.   Most rides at Universal are relatively tame – not quite the kiddie-land variety, but something less than the roller coasters at Six Flags.

The hydraulic rides like Back to the Future continue to be popular, as well as moderate thrill rides like the roller coaster in the Revenge of the Mummy and the 85-foot waterfall drop for the boats in the Jurassic Park ride.   We were especially impressed with the Waterworld show, which apparently is doing a lot better than the movie ever did. A group of actors and stunt persons puts on a show filled with acrobatic feats and pyrotechnics climaxed by an almost full-scale airplane startling spectators by landing in the water right in front of their seats.

There are numerous rides, attractions, top-notch shows – everything to keep you busy for much longer than a day. But don’t forget to take the studio tour – the thing that got all of this started decades ago. The tour is still conducted on the famous trams that snake their way through the Universal back lot. The trams have been updated to offer TV commentary by stars like Whoopi Goldberg, but the experience was much the same as it was back in the 70’s – only the TV shows and movies have changed.

Longtime attractions like the original Psycho house are still there, but now the tour includes a stop on Wysteria Lane to see the Desperate Housewives. You can still see where Spartacus was filmed, but now you also drive right through the plane crash scene from War of the Worlds. A new Fast and Furious demonstration adds another thrill with two race cars hurtling toward the tram through the magic of hydraulics.

Universal Studios is one of the best and easiest ways to get a close-up view of L.A. movie-making, but there are many other fascinating locations around town. For example, the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills was home to productions like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas and numerous TV series. And, did you know that you can visit a Culver City industrial area that was once the “Forty Acre Back lot,” the former location of Mayberry where all the outdoor scenes on the Andy Griffith Show were filmed?

Waterworld show is action-packed and entertaining

Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank – We enjoyed this two-hour tour which we took a few years back. Visitors are escorted in groups of 12 through the Warner Brothers lot, with stops along the way at television and movie sets. All of the sets and props here are real and not just for the benefit of the tourists. Visitors get to see the costume department as well as the mill that creates the sets. Since numerous productions are ongoing at any given time, you may have a better chance here of seeing a star – we didn’t, but it was fun seeing the actual sets for shows like Friends. Phone 818-972-TOUR.

Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City – If you want to visit the studio that made the Wizard of Oz, this is the place. It’s the former MGM Studios and offers a walking tour of the studio’s back lot, sets, sound stages and historic scenery. In more recent years, the studio is where Men in Black and Spiderman were filmed, and where shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are taped. Phone 323-520-TOUR.

NBC TV Studio Tour, Burbank – These studios are where many a live television show has been taped, including the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The guided walking tour takes you into the warehouses where costumes and props are stored, control room areas and the tour gives you a great overview of how network television is produced. Phone 818-840-3537.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Universal Studios Hollywood is located in Universal City, just north of downtown Los Angeles. The theme park is easily accessed using Highway 101 North. General parking is $10 while preferred parking is $20.

WHAT: Universal Studios Hollywood offers the most complete experience of any movie studio tour – a major theme park and a tour through the actual working areas of Universal Studios.

WHEN: Year-round. Keep in mind that summertime temperatures can be warm under direct sun, so wear sunscreen and dress appropriately.

WHY: While the Universal Studios tour is the most slickly produced of the movie studio tours – which is not necessarily an advantage – it offers a major theme park right next door. Any trip to Universal
Studios Hollywood is as much about visiting the theme park as the movie studio.

HOW: For more information on Universal Studios Hollywood, phone 1-800-UNIVERSAL or visit .universalstudioshollywood.com. Admission price for an adult is $59, or $49 online. The Front of the Line Pass is $99.95 per person.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If San Jose is your idea of a California vacation, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Marine WorldDisneyland, Legoland and Hollywood.