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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.


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.

Attractions in Sacramento- California

Sacramento- California-cr-.keepitplanned.com

Sacramento- California-cr-.keepitplanned.com

Aerospace Museum of California 3200 Freedom Park Drive, McClellan 916-643-3192; www.aerospaceca.org The museum features 40 civilian and military aircraft, motion ride simulator and special exhibits. $

B.F. Hastings Building Corner of Second and J streets Old Sacramento 916-440-4263, www.wellsfargo.com/about/museum In April of 1853, the historic “Hastings” opened as a bank.  Today it is a museum housing communications, a reconstructed Supreme Court, the Pony Express, and Wells Fargo Bank.  FREE.

Big Four Building 113 I Street, Old Sacramento 916-445-7387, www.csrmf.org Named for the “Big Four” of western railroading: Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington and Charles Crocker.  Includes the Huntington Hopkins Hardware Store Museum and Stanford Gallery.  Railroad Museum Library, 323-8073.  FREE.

Blue Diamond Growers Visitors Center 1701 C Street 916-446-8439, www.bluediamondgrowers.com Factory outlet for the largest almond processing plant in the world with a 20 minute video in several foreign languages.  FREE.

California Auto Museum

2200 Front Street

916-442-6802, www.calautomuseum.org

More than 150 vehicles including race cars, muscle cars, hot rods, luxury cars and antiques.  $ W.A.

California State Archives

1020 O Street

916-653-7715, www.ss.ca.gov

The Archives contain a wide array of historical
California documents.  The Constitution Wall, an outdoor piece of art, is open to the public and accessible by entering the courtyard.  Temporary exhibits on display in lobby.  FREE.

California State Capitol Museum

10th and L streets

916-324-0333, www.capitolmuseum.ca.gov

After a massive restoration completed in 1982, the building once again reflects the beauty and grandeur of the 1900s.  The magnificent dome, marble mosaic floors, crystal chandeliers and monumental staircases are highlights FREE. W.A.

The California Museum

1020 O Street

916-653-7524, www.californiamuseum.org

The Museum, home of the California Hall of Fame, is a cultural destination dedicated to telling the rich history of California and its unique influence on the world of ideas, innovation, art and culture. $ W.A.

California State Indian Museum

2618 K Street, Sutter’s Fort

916-324-0971, www.parks.ca.gov/indianmuseum

The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into California’s history and illustrates Native American culture, arts and the lifestyle of the state’s earliest inhabitants. $

California Military Museum

1119 2nd Street, Old Sacramento

916-442-2883, www.militarymuseum.org

Exhibits reflect California’s rich militia and military history from pre-statehood to contemporary times. The museum contains more than 30,000 military papers, documents and memorabilia.  $ W.A.

California State Railroad Museum

125 I Street, Old Sacramento

916-445-7387 or 916-445-6645, www.californiastaterailroadmuseum.org

The Transcontinental and Sacramento Valley Railroads began in Old Sacramento.  The 100,000 square-foot building houses the largest interpretive museum of its kind in North America, displaying 21 restored locomotives, cars and 46 exhibits.  Same ticket admittance to Central Pacific Passenger and Depot Station on Front Street.  A reconstruction of the 1876 depot depicts the bustling activities of train travel in the mid-1800s. Steam train rides are available on weekends from the depot to Miller Park. $ W.A.

California Vietnam Veterans Memorial

15th Street and Capitol Avenue, at the east end of State Capitol Park. A $2.5 million project established by law and built entirely by donations.  Its 22 shiny black granite panels memorialize the 5,822 names of California’s dead and missing.  The exquisite full-relief bronze figures depict the realities of daily life during that conflict.  FREE.

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento

11th and K streets

916-444-3071, www.cathedralsacramento.org

The 217-foot tower, visible miles away, was built in 1889. Its prominent architectural design comes from 19th century Paris and the stained glass is from Austria. The Cathedral was restored to its original splendor in 2005. FREE

Crocker Art Museum

216 O Street

916-808-7000, www.crockerartmuseum.org

A restored Victorian houses the oldest public art museum in the West, which has grown and expanded since 1873.  The original European paintings and master drawings collections were soon augmented with 19th-century California paintings, sculptures, Asian art, and more recently contemporary art and photography. The Crocker completed a $100 million expansion in October 2010 which tripled the size of the exhibit space.  $ W.A.

Delta King Hotel

1000 Front Street, Old Sacramento

916-444-5464, www.deltaking.com

A historic riverboat returns to the Old Sacramento waterfront as a hotel with meeting rooms, restaurant, entertainment, theater.  Partial W.A.

Discovery Museum Science & Space Center

3615 Auburn Boulevard

916-575-3941, www.thediscovery.org

Planetarium and an exterior exhibit highlighting native California plants, animal science programs.  Gift shop with science related merchandise. $ W.A.

Eagle Theatre

925 Front Street, Old Sacramento.

916-323-6343 (special event rental), 916-445-4209 (group tours)

The first building constructed as a theater in California in 1849.  Docent-led Sacramento history programs.  $

Esquire IMAX® Theatre

1211 K Street

916-443-4629 (IMAX), www.imax.com/sacramento

This 420-seat theatre houses a 6-story high, 72-foot-wide screen with 12,000 watts of digital sound.  The 70mm film technology provides film entertainment that “takes you places you only dream of going.”  $ W.A.

Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park

16th and H streets

916-323-3047, www.parks.ca.gov/governorsmansion

Built in 1877, the 15-room Victorian mansion was home to 13 California governors until 1967 when Ronald Reagan was elected.  14-foot ceilings, Oriental rugs, Italian marble fireplaces, chandeliers and French mirrors are all reflections of tastes of California’s governors and first ladies.  $

Historic City Cemetery

10th Street and Broadway

916-448-0811, www.oldcitycemetery.com

Established in 1849, the cemetery is the last resting place for over 20,000 early Sacramentans, including John A. Sutter Jr., Edwin and Margaret Crocker, and  Mark Hopkins. Open daily 7am to 5pm.  Guided and self-guided tours available. FREE

Leland Stanford Mansion

8th and N streets

916-324-0575, www.stanfordmansion.org

After a 14-year, $22 million restoration and rehabilitation, the Leland Stanford Mansion is now open to the public as a museum. It also serves the citizens of California as the state’s official reception center for leaders from around the world. A stunning example of the splendor and elegance of the Victorian era in California, the four-story, 19,000 square foot Mansion dates from 1856 and has special historical and architectural significance. It served as the office of three governors during California’s early years: Leland Stanford, Fredrick Low and Henry Haight. $ WA

Old Sacramento

916-558-3912 www.oldsacramento.com

The Old Sacramento historic area, a registered national landmark and state historic park, is a 28-acre site on the banks of the Sacramento River.  It is a vital historical, business, residential, shopping, and dining district with a fascinating past and the greatest concentration of historic buildings in California.

John Sutter arrived in 1839 and founded the first permanent settlement in the area.  After the gold discovery in 1848, businesses sprang up along the riverfront in what is now Old Sacramento.  There were hotels, saloons, bathhouses, the first theatre in California, and a variety of shops, where would-be miners could outfit themselves for the gold fields.

Transportation has always figured prominently in Sacramento’s history.  The city was the western terminus of the short-lived Pony Express and the transcontinental railroad.

Today, Old Sacramento is home to the largest interpretive railroad museum in North America-the California State Railroad Museum.  The 100,000 square-foot museum displays 21 meticulously restored locomotives and cars and over 40 one-of-a kind exhibits tell the fascinating story of railroad history from 1850 to the present.  Historic equipment and exhibits on the transcontinental railroad and 19th-century rail travel are housed in the reconstructed 1876 Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station.  About one mile from the California State Railroad Museum, just on the edge of Old Sacramento, is another spectacular facility dedicated to transportation-the California Automobile Museum.  The collection includes an array of original and restored cars from the late ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Other museums in the area include the California Military Museum, the Sacramento History  Museum and the Crocker Art Museum. More than 100 unique shops and eclectic restaurants will satisfy even the most discerning visitor. Numerous special events take place here year-round including the Gold Rush Days, Sacramento Jazz Festival and the Pacific Rim Festival.

Old Sacramento Schoolhouse

Front and L streets, Old Sacramento

916- 483-8818, www.oldsacschoolhouse.org

Built in the style of one-room schools found in the 1800s. FREE

Pony Express Monument

2nd and J streets, Old Sacramento

In April 1860, 80 young riders were able to complete the 1,966-mile mail run on horseback to St. Joseph, Missouri, in fewer than ten days.  In October 1861, the completion of Western Union’s Transcontinental telegraph put the “Express” out of business. FREE

Sacramento History Museum

101 I Street, Old Sacramento

916-808-7057, www.sachistorymuseum.org

Housed in the reconstructed 1854 City Hall on the Waterfront in Old Sacramento, the museum explores Sacramento’s city’s founders, industry and the Gold Rush.   $ W.A.

Sacramento Zoo

3930 West Land Park Drive

916-808-5885, www.saczoo.com

Located in William Land Park, Sutterville Road and Land Park Drive.  The 15-acre zoo is home to over 340 exotic animals. Across from the zoo is Fairytale Town, a six-acre children’s theme park. $

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

1430 J Street


Sacramento’s oldest congregation, Tiffany stained glass windows and rare Johnson Tracker organ. FREE.

Sutter’s Fort

27th and L streets

916-445-4422, www.parks.ca.gov/suttersfort

Sacramento’s earliest settlement was founded by John Sutter in 1839.  Self-guided audio tours  explain the exhibit rooms which include copper and blacksmith’s shops, a bakery, prison, dining room and living quarters as well as livestock quarters.  $

Theodore Judah Monument

2nd and L streets, Old Sacramento

The brilliant young engineer responsible for creating the plan for the Transcontinental Railroad is honored by the monument. FREE


The streets of Sacramento comprise blocks of elaborate Victorian houses.  Nestled along tree-lined streets the majority may be found from 7th to 16th streets, from E and I streets. Not to be missed is the Heilbron home at 740 O Street and the Stanford Home at 800 N Street. FREE

Wells Fargo History Museum

Wells Fargo Center

400 Capitol Mall

916-440-4161, www.wellsfargo.com/about/museum

Hundreds of items on display include original artifacts, documents, old photos and lithographs, which bring to life the commercial history of Sacramento and Wells Fargo’s role in it since 1852. FREE W.A.

Visit the Sacramento Museums Association’s site at:  www.sacmuseums.org

$ = Admission Charge W.A. = Wheelchair accessible

Courtesy of the Sacramento Tourist bureau

Adventure Travel- Sacramento California

river rafting, cr-whitewatervoyages.com

river rafting, cr-whitewatervoyages.com

Scenario: you’re wrapping up your business trip to Sacramento and you have some free time; or, the kids want their vacation to be more than museums and backseat bickering; or maybe, you and your friends are genuine thrill seekers new to the area. Whatever the case, when you look to add an exploratory element to your stay, Sacramento’s variety of options will satisfy your adventure bug. Rivers, Whitewater Rafting & Water Parks The water activities in Sacramento are truly top-grade.

The city is geographically focused around both the Sacramento and American Rivers, which provide a natural playground for jet skis, ski boats, patio boats, and houseboats. Conditions are glassy and safe for perfect wake boarding or water-skiing, with long stretches of clean water for fast-paced fun. Family houseboats are also available for rental at the nearby Sacramento Delta. For a day of exploration, the quirky, little towns in the unique Delta region turn ordinary house boating into an adventure. House boating is also the perfect way to be right where the action is for a great day of fishing. At Folsom Lake, fishing is perhaps the most popular activity. Catches include trout, catfish, large and small mouth bass, perch and kokanee. Bottom fishermen have even been known to catch sturgeon.

For world-class adventures, up the American River you’ll find some of the top white-water rafting conditions imaginable. Varying levels of difficulty are available, starting with the North Fork where you’ll find a technically challenging four-mile stretch of intense Class IV+ rapids. The Middle Fork is a true wilderness river. In this deep and rugged canyon are numerous Class III and some technical Class IV rapids perfect for eager first-timers and athletic individuals to conquer.

The South Fork has something for everyone. It is the most popular introductory whitewater river in the western United States, yet it also satisfies experienced rafters with numerous Class III rapids. For artificial rapids, you can’t beat “Raging Waters,” consisting of 25 water rides, a wave pool and lazy river. The highlight of the water park is the five-story Dragon’s Den, an inner-tube slide down a 45-foot enclosed flume. The Sacramento region also offers a more leisurely kind of rafting, as well as kayaking opportunities for all skill levels. Extreme Sports & Races For the kind of thrill you can coast through, check out the 23-mile American River Parkway spanning 5000-acres of “oak trees, whitewater rapids, massive boulders, shaded bridges, and abundant wildlife” (Runner’s World Magazine). This is the ideal location for bike riding, roller blading or running. And just off the beaten track are various nature areas great for hiking, walking and nature viewing.

Take your adventure to a higher and faster level at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Northern California’s premier wildlife, oceanarium and theme park. Make the one-hour drive to Vallejo where you’ll find thrill rides, animal attractions and great shows.

Skydiving centers are a short drive away in Lodi and at the Yolo County Airport in Davis. For tandem-jumps, you can receive your training and jump out of a perfectly good airplane all in one afternoon! Then, jump into a mini-Indy racecar at Scandia Family Fun Center and whip around the track, or push it to the extreme with street-legal fun drag racing at Sacramento Raceway. If spectating is your sport, you can view horse-racing and major sporting events year-round at the new Cal Expo Sports & Wagering Center. There are private carrels and booths and over 300 TV monitors, as well as a Theatre, Club House and Winner’s Circle Grill. For your own horseback experience, the stables and ranches in the area offer everything from a leisurely pace to jumping and mountain trails. And for an adventurous but peaceful view from above, hot air balloon rides and seaplane tours take flight from scenic points surrounding Sacramento.

Courtesy of Sacramento visitors bureau

Big Sur California

Famous coastline well worth spending a few days

The Pacific coastline and old-growth forests are two of California’s biggest scenic highlights — and these two natural wonders converge nicely at one of the state’s most famous tourist attractions: Big Sur.

Located about 150 miles south of San Francisco, this part of the California coast offers non-stop amazement for travelers willing to drive the curvy Scenic Highway 1 the 90 miles of coastline that today encompass the Big Sur California scenic recreation area. Visitors see new panoramas around every curve — pristine beaches, craggy mountain ledges, fascinating rock formations amid swirling, sometimes angry coastal waters and, of course, the giant redwood trees that swallow up tiny vacationers posing for their vacation photographs.

Keep in mind, this road was not easy to build. Your scenic experience today comes at the expense of convict labor that was brought in over the 18 years prior to the completion of the road in 1937. Until Highway 1 was completed, most of this highway probably wasn’t much wider than a harrowing goat path along the side of the steep coastal mountains.

While many travelers drive through Big Sur California on the way to someplace else, the area is also a prime destination that offers a variety of accommodations and enough hiking to keep visitors occupied for weeks. Several state parks and campgrounds are tucked into the coves or carved out of the forests to give vacationers an authentic camping experience and entry to the wilderness by way of numerous well-marked trails. A few cabin resorts are scattered along the coast and there are even a couple of high-end luxury resorts charging upward of $700 a night.

We felt we had just the right combination of amenities with the Big Sur Lodge, the only accommodations located in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This resort offers 62 housekeeping cottages spread throughout the park where trailheads and those big trees are never far away. While the cottages offer many resort amenities — big, spacious living rooms with comfortable new furniture, spacious bath areas with shampoos and lotions, a massive heated swimming pool footsteps from your unit — the overall feel was like going to summer camp (for those of us who can remember that far back). There were no phones, no televisions and,even in June, night-time temperatures were cold enough to start a real fire in the cottage’s real fireplace.

Our unit featured two queen beds, one in a bedroom area and one in the “great room” or living room part of the cottage. These facilities are perfect for families with some units suitable for up to six people. A full-service restaurant is on the property — indeed, we were pleasantly surprised that our dinner there was high-quality and fair-priced, and not substandard just because the lodge has a quasi-monopoly. A few other restaurants are scattered up and down Highway 1 but our guess was that many guests at Big Sur Lodge were fully utilizing the kitchen facilities that are available in many of the cottages.

For hikers, this kind of destination is paradise. While it did get warm in the afternoon, the mornings during our June visit were crisp and ideal for walking through the thick forests of oak and redwood trees to waterfalls or climbing to vantage points offering even more spectacular views of the
Big Sur coastline. All trails we were on seemed to be well-maintained. The trails in Big Sur California also were varied in both scenery and levels of exertion. We took easy trails out to watch waterfalls cascade onto scenic beaches as well as more difficult switchback trails up into the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The morning was good for hiking, while afternoon was the best time to drive the coast, stopping along the way to visit some of the shops, general stores and bakeries that you come across every few miles. One gets the impression that many of the “hippies” from the 1960’s ended up here at Big Sur where, today, they enjoy a no-frills back-to-nature lifestyle selling various natural or locally produced products. There definitely is a new age flavor in many of the shops that is apparent from the music, fragrances and product offerings.

Another Big Sur point of interest is the historic Point Sur Lighthouse. Located about 19 miles south of Carmel, this lighthouse has been designated a State Historic Landmark and sits 361 feet above the ocean where it operated from the mid-19th century until l972, keeping ships away from the coastal rocks during foggy weather. Docent-led tours are given every Saturday and 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

No doubt about it, though — a Big Sur getaway most likely will include lots of hiking on a variety of trails. Here is a sampling of the most popular trails:

Pfeiffer Falls — This trail in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is just 1.4 milesroundtrip and takes you along a scenic passageway following the Pfeiffer Redwood Creek. The route goes through some of the area’s finest redwood groves and ends at a 60-foot waterfall.

Valley View — Also in Pfeiffer Big Sur, this trail is two miles roundtrip and leads to an observation area where you can see the coastline and valley below.

Oak Grove Trail — This Pfeiffer Big Sur trail is 3.2 miles roundtrip from the Big Sur Lodge and intersects the Pfeiffer Falls Trail. This passes through a variety of ecosystems including redwood groves, open oak woodlands and dry chaparral.

Mt. Manuel Trail — Also located in Pfeiffer Big Sur, this is a strenuous 8-mile trail that gives you an overview of the Vantana Wilderness from 3,379-foot Mt. Manuel Peak.

McWay Waterfall Trail — Down Highway 1 a few miles is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park which features this easy one-mile hike to an overlook which faces McWay Falls, a spectacular 80-foot waterfall that drops into the Pacific Ocean.

Ewoldsen Trail — Also in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this is a moderate 5.7-mile roundtrip hike that offers great views of the coastline from hillsides covered in wildflowers and oaks.

Beach and Creamery Meadow Trail — A few miles north of Big Sur Lodge is Andrew Molera State Park which offers this 1.8-mile roundtrip hike that is recommended for kids. The trail follows the Big Sur River and features many different plant species as well as redwood trees.


WHERE: Big Sur California scenery starts just a few miles south of the Carmel/Monterey area and continues for 90 miles before the curvy road straightens out near Cambria.

WHAT: Big Sur California is the perfect combination of gorgeous coastline and mountain scenery and forests. It’s a popular place to vacation and visitors can choose between a variety of lodgings and campgrounds.

WHEN: The weather at Big Sur California is moist and cool year-round, perhaps a little warmer in the afternoon during summer months. Fog will roll in during many mornings during the summer months.

WHY: The opportunity to enjoy a natural experience in some of California’s most scenic countryside.

HOW: For more information on Big Sur California, visit www.bigsurcalifornia.org or phone 831-667-2100. For more information on Big Sur Lodge, visit www.bigsurlodge.com or phone 1-800-424-4787. Rates vary by time of year and
types of accommodations, but the cottages rent for between $99 (no kitchen) off-season and $359 (with kitchen) June through September.

Photos: Coastal views, McWay Falls, Big Sur Lodge cottage, Big Sur Lodge pool.

Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway

Click here for more great California vacation ideas!

L.A. Weekend

City getaway combines outdoors with wow factor

It’s true that many people look forward to a weekend exodus out of the Big City, but there are others who are looking for an extra dose of energy and excitement and find a place like Los Angeles offers a menu of attractions that makes each visit just a little bit different.

Our recent weekend in L.A. reminded us of just how much there is to see and do in that city at any time of the year. We visited places we knew as well as attractions we were exploring for the first time. We did a lot of things right, but also learned some lessons for future trips to the city. But, most important, we simply had fun.

On this trip we combined a little business with pleasure and that meant I had to be in the city for business before my wife and daughter could join me. Schools nowadays are getting a little touchy about letting kids out for their parents’ vacations or getaways, even though we still maintain our eight-year-old daughter is indeed learning something every time she travels.

So we decided my family would join me, after school was out, by taking the Amtrak train from the San Diego area into L.A. where I would pick them up. The trip up on the train was just a couple of hours, so that part went fine. The problem was it took me only slightly less time to travel from Santa Monica to the downtown LA train station. That’s 15 miles in one hour, 45 minutes. You do the math.

Note to travel diary: Never plan to do any L.A. driving on a late Friday afternoon. Weekend visits should start Friday morning or Saturday morning — but not Friday afternoon.

Aside from that little miscalculation, our trip from that point forward was fun, relaxed and full of interesting things to do. We checked into the Hotel Oceana, a completely updated, upscale lodging on Santa Monica’s picturesque Ocean Avenue, where our third-floor suite had spectacular views of the ocean and, in the distance, Catalina Island. This hotel proved to be ideally located near the beach as well as the popular Downtown Third Street Promenade shopping district.

The mood of the Hotel Oceana is colorful and breezy and what you would expect to find in a Caribbean resort. Entering our suite, we were struck by the colors — bright yellows, greens, pinks — and by the spaciousness. If you’re looking for a suite that has lots of room to move around in, this is your place. The bedroom was a typical size, but the living room area had room for a couch, table and chairs, and then another whole section of the room that had a small dining table, mini-bar, and work desk.

Both rooms had picture windows offering panoramic views of the ocean. A big-screen flat panel television also was available, and the bath area was also unusually spacious with a tile bathtub enclosure as well as a European spa-style shower. A double marble vanity rounded out the stylish bathroom décor.

Such attractive accommodations just seem to put you in the right mood for a weekend of exploration and good times. After dinner and an early turn-in, we were up early Saturday ready to spend some time in Santa Monica as well as at nearby attractions we had selected.

Santa Monica is a playground for L.A. TV and movie people that is all neatly compressed into 8.3 miles strategically bordered by the Santa Monica Mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The words “trendy” and “hip” seem to pop up a lot in the descriptions of the some 400 restaurants packed into this little piece of real estate. Throw in a few art galleries, some luxury hotels and — oh yes — celebrities, and you have the makings of an eye-popping diversion from your everyday hometown.

As we took a short walk to the Santa Monica Pier, it seemed like half of L.A. was down here jogging or walking. Wide, tree-lined and well-landscaped Ocean Avenue stretches along the coastline offering about as pretty a downtown street as you’ll see considering this is all modern office buildings and not historic mansions.

The Santa Monica Pier is the dominant feature on the water’s edge — and also over the water — and is a favorite for families. The pier is home to a variety of fascinating tourist shops, carnival rides, seafood and other restaurants and even a trapeze school that was drawing a crowd every time one of the students would go up and risk life and limb to swing on the high trapeze.

Just up from the pier are blocks and blocks of shopping in the popular Downtown Third Street Promenade, an area where city fathers have taken a street and turned it into a pedestrian mall. There are fascinating shops and an unusual number of movie theaters along this walkway that seems to attract people from all walks of life — young and old, wealthy on down to the homeless.

Santa Monica is only a few miles from Hollywood so, just for fun, we decided to drive over to the Hollywood Museum, near the intersection of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood. The museum does not advertise much and has been building its business through word of mouth and walk-in traffic since it opened just a few years ago. Gradually the word has gotten out that this four-story museum is loaded to the rafters with props and memorabilia from hundreds of Hollywood’s most famous movies.

The items on display cover both movies and television and span the history of motion pictures. You’ll see things like Sylvester Stallone’s boxing gloves from Rocky, or a complete selection of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses, or the actual jail cell where Anthony Hopkins was incarcerated in the Silence of the Lambs. Big displays are presented for movies like Dreamgirls, Gone with the Wind, Planet of the Apes and many more. Walls are lined with old Hollywood publicity photos of the stars and famous Hollywood restaurants and haunts. Located in the old Max Factor building, the museum truly is a trip down memory lane and is well worth spending an hour or two immersing yourself in all things Hollywood.

On Sunday, we drove over to another L.A. attraction we had always wanted to visit: Will Rogers State Historic Park, just three miles from our base at the Hotel Oceana. The famous writer and celebrity made his home in Beverly Hills, but had a weekend ranch in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. Rogers moved to the ranch in 1928 and eventually the small original cottage was enlarged to its present size of 31 rooms. Rogers loved horses and the entire household has a Western feel with its Indian rugs and baskets, saddles and even a polo field on the property where Rogers could indulge in one of his favorite pastimes. The park service offers a brief 20-minute tour of the house that is both interesting and entertaining.

A lot of people visit the Will Rogers State Historic Park simply to take advantage of the park-like grounds and the trails you can walk on the 186-acre property. We took the loop trail, which is a moderate hike that offers panoramic views of Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills — a great place to get a little exercise while sampling what seem to be an endless number of L.A. attractions.
At a Glance
Where: Santa Monica is just west of Los Angeles and on the coast south of Malibu. It’s easy to reach by taking Interstate 405 or Interstate 5 to Interstate 10 and driving west.

What: The weather in Los Angeles is sunny most of the year — about 343 annual days of sunshine to be exact — so there’s no bad time to visit.

When: Any time of the year, although there is some mountain driving and most roads are narrow and windy, so spring, summer and fall would be best.

Why: The scenery’s great, but there’s also an electricity that comes with a getaway so close to celebrities and the entertainment business.

How: For more information on Santa Monica, phone the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-544-5319 or visit www.santamonica.com. For more information on the Hotel Oceana, please go to www.hoteloceanasantamonica.com or phone 310-393-0486.

Photos by Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway except where noted Captions, from top: Loop trail at Will Rogers State Park provides great views; couple enjoys romance on Santa Monica Pier; Hollywood Museum is a must-see; Hotel Oceana has prime Santa Monica location (photo courtesy Hotel Oceana)

Ghost Towns In California

Old mining towns offer view of 19th Century

The Wild West and the mining of the late 1800’s are a rich part of California’s heritage, and what better way to experience the past than to visit California’s ghost towns? California ghost towns are more about history than spooks, and you’ll spend hours exploring every nook and cranny of sometimes dusty old buildings in various states of disrepair or restoration. Here are two distinct examples to get you started.


Calico Ghost town

Just about the time the drive from Los Angelesto Las Vegas gets a little tedious, up comes the Interstate 15 exit to Calico Ghost Town — a stop worth making that will give you a chance to stretch your legs and learn a little California history at the same time.

This is a real California ghost town, although not the scary type and really as much an amusement park as a historical dig. Some of the original town has been refurbished, some re-constructed, and some buildings created just for tourists. The town was carved out of the colorful hills of the Mojave Desert back in 1881 and today offers a fascinating glimpse of what life might have been like for the borax and silver miners of the 19thCentury.

If Calico looks in some places a little like parts of Knott’s Berry Farm, it’s because Calico was once owned by Walter Knott, the popular amusement park’s founder. He gave the property to San Bernardino County in 1966 and it has since become a regional park complete with its own historian and many authentic buildings and furnishings. Mixed in with the history is a good deal of commerce ‘ from eateries to crafts shops to gift shops — that caters to the busloads of tourists who find this a convenient stop half way between L.A. and Vegas.

This ghost town is not dusty and dirty like less developed places that still have dirt roads and sagebrush tumbling through town. The streets are paved, the trails are well-marked and the historical exhibits each have descriptions that help you get a sense of what you are seeing. The surrounding hills provide a scenic backdrop and you begin to realize this place was called Calico for a reason; blue, red, gray, green, vermilion, brown and yellow can be seen in patches along the craggy hillsides.

Like most ghost towns, Calico was once a bustling place where prospectors came to find their riches in the mines. Both silver and borax were taken from more than 500 local mines. This made it possible for the town to grow to more than 1,200 people and sustain many local businesses — including 22 saloons. When the price of silver was cut in half, the town’s hay days were over and the residents eventually moved away.


We spent a couple of hours in Calico, where Main Street is a pleasant walk of maybe four city blocks, each packed with historical attractions, stores and surprises. For example, you can visit the Calico Jail, where Calico’s gunfighters were hauled off to serve time. There is a visitor’s center that includes vintage photographs, historic newspapers and interpretive materials to help you understand the town’s history. There’s a place to do some gold panning and another called the Mystery Shack — as you might expect from a man named Knotts. Plan to have your lunch at Lil’s Saloon — nothing fancy to eat here, but just beyond those swinging saloon doors is a bar that looks like it came out of a Hollywood Western. And, yes, families are welcome.

There aren’t any true amusement park rides, but there is a coal train you can ride on a short loop while getting a history lesson from the train’s engineer. We also enjoyed stepping into a re-created mine shaft where you can get a sense of the darkness and claustrophobia under the mountain — and do it safely. There’s a house made of bottles and several other oddities that are fun to come across. You’ll see miners’ homes carved out of the hillsides, and a variety of free-standing Old West style buildings.

If you still need a little more help imagining what the Wild West was really like, the town’s modern day ” gunfighters” will oblige with shoot-outs and demonstrations on Main Street.

The Calico Ghost Town is just northeast of Barstow and, because we were visiting in late afternoon, we decided to stay over. We were pleasantly surprised by the accommodations available at the new Holiday Inn Express which offered surprisingly upscale rooms and an overall feel that was modern and pleasing, with gorgeous desert views right out the window.

If you’re traveling by RV, Calico offers campsites right on the park property. For more information on Calico Ghost Town, phone 1-800-TO-CALICO or visit www.calicotown.com. For recommended accommodations.



If you’re looking for a California ghost town that is a little less commercial, the state has helped to restore the town of Bodie on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada range. This one will be a little harder to get to and will require a lot more walking. But it will be worth it.

If you thought those underwater photos of the Titanic were at once haunting and mesmerizing, Bodie gives you the same feeling. Just as you imagined what life must have been like in those last fateful hours of the Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage, a look inside the many remaining buildings at Bodie will stir you to ponder just how life had been during those years back in the 1880s when Bodie was bustling with 10,000 souls.

In 1859, gold was discovered near this town by Waterman S. Body and townspeople paid homage to Body by naming the town after him with one slight variation: The residents were concerned that Body would be pronounced as it is spelled so they changed the spelling to Bodie.

As mining on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada went into decline, miners crossed the mountains to search for other sources of gold and, soon, with the discovery of such deposits as the famed Comstock Lode at Virginia City, this whole area east of the mountains began to surge with the influx of miners.

By all accounts, it was wild, raucous sort of existence during the 1880’s as miners and other residents indulged themselves at the 65 saloons that had sprung up all over town. Killings were said to be an almost daily occurrence. According to the park service, Bodie was also the scene of many robberies, stage holdups and street fights. Along Bonanza Street, Maiden Lane and Virgin Alley, ladies of the night set up a row of one-room cabins called “cribs.”

Haunted places

Having read all the stories about Bodie,  perhaps the most famous California ghost town, we were primed to see just what was left of this town and its colorful past.

The country road to Bodie is clearly marked on US 395 just south of Bridgeport, and our anticipation grew with each of the 13 winding miles. Along the way we could see in our rearview mirrors the panoramic views of the Sierra range that became more and more spectacular as we climbed closer to Bodie’s 8,300-foot elevation.

Then, at the top of the grade and just around a corner, there stood Bodie. From a distance it didn’t look like a complete town but rather a lot of random out-buildings spread over a few modest hills. Then, as we came closer, the buildings began to take shape — a church and steeple at the edge of town, a few remarkably well preserved houses, and then a few larger Main Street buildings that looked like they had been built for a Western movie — except this was the real thing. This was a real town where real cowboys had real gunfights.
Maybe it’s because we’re more accustomed to visiting movie lots and fake western towns, but somehow we weren’t quite prepared for our first glimpse into one of these buildings — which happened to be the old Methodist Church. There, covered in a thick layer of dust, were the hand-carved pews, the pulpit and an ornate pipe organ. It seemed that, with just a bit of a scrub down, this church could be ready to host a congregation this coming Sunday.

And that’s when the Titanic effect started to kick in. We had come to see the buildings of a town that had its hay day more than a hundred years ago, but somehow we had not realized that this historic park was much more than a set of buildings — many of those buildings are, in fact, mini-museums still housing the artifacts of the day. In some cases, it looks like the residents just got up and left one day, but didn’t take anything with them.

To learn more about Bodie State Historic Park, and other California ghost towns, call 760-647- 6445 or visit www.parks.ca.gov. Online, you can also visit www.bodie.com, where the Friends of Bodie offer many more details about the town.

Photos, from top: Main Street Calico; short railroad takes visitors on tour of Calico buildings and mines; Bodie sits alone and lifeless in the high plains; authentic buildings still stand in Bodie.

If you enjoyed reading about California ghost towns,, be sure to visit our site ” www.califroniaweekend.com” and read the hundreds of feature articles on the many getaway travel destinations in our coverage areas. Like the California ghost towns, these other attractions are worth including in a your upcoming vacation or getaway. If you think about it, we’re fortunate to live in a place where we can enjoy destinations such as California ghost towns without traveling thousands of miles.

Redwoods- California

New lodgings, tours come to national, state parks

Just a few years ago John Russavage was a busy stock broker and real estate developer living in a desert city where it got as high as 120 degrees. Now he lives in the California Redwoods, where the temperatures have cooled off a bit — but his passion for developing seems to be as hot as ever.

Next time you go to Redwood National and State Parks you’ll no doubt hear about John and his enterprises if you watch local TV, read the local papers or just look for a place to stay overnight in the park. His company, Redwood Park Lodge Company, has begun offering park lodging and tours and a special event center, and now has plans for a new 80-room hotel on the beach along with an RV park, botanical garden and a new Redwood Adventures store. Oh — did we mention the new TV show starring John as his alter-ego Johnny Redwood?

If truth be told, Russavage seems much more like Grizzly Adams than Gordon Gekko, the ruthless broker played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street.” The affable, bearded Russavage seems to be in his true element as he runs errands in the park wearing blue jeans and pulling off an Eddie Bauer look that seems perfect for a place like Redwood National Park.

As Russavage recalls, his new enterprise all began as “a second home that got out of control.” Russavage and his wife were vacationing at a bed-and-breakfast inn in the coastal community of Trinidad, about 22 miles north of Eureka and just another 20 miles from the entrance to Redwood National Park. They were so impressed with the scenery that they asked a real estate broker to keep an eye out for a house on some nice view property. They found one and bought it, began renting it out when they weren’t using it, and then discovered they could get $330 a night because quality lodging opportunities on this part of the coast were so rare.

The wheels started turning for Russavage and, presto-change-o, Russavage left his Palm Springs position with Merrill Lynch to become chairman and CEO of Redwood Parks Lodge Company, the umbrella for his many Redwoods-related enterprises. The company bought an old sawmill and the workers’ three-bedroom houses that are located just a short walk from the park’s Elk Meadow and numerous trails. They kept the redwood shells of the homes, but replaced everything inside with new and generally top-quality furnishings. The company now rents them out for $199 per night.

On a recent visit to the area, we had a chance to sample the new digs at Redwood National Park and, for families or multiple couples looking for reasonably priced quality lodgings, these houses are ideal. The multiple bedrooms provide room for at last two families or one very large family, and it looked to us that two or three couples could easily maintain enough privacy while sharing the kitchen and living room areas — which, by the way, are both furnished to the hilt. Divide three into $199 and you’re paying about what you’d pay for an inexpensive motel room.

The location of course is a big advantage. The homes are located just a little north of Orick, which is just inside the Redwood National Park boundaries. The nearby trails are thick with redwoods and moss-covered trees and vines and take visitors to waterfalls or over to the beach just a few miles away. And, right on cue, two bull elk came out to spar just 50 yards in front of us as we were conversing with Russavage out in front of one of the homes.

But these six homes — which are what Russavage calls Redwood Village — are just the beginning. Soon, his company will be breaking ground on a new 80-room Holiday Inn that will be located in the coastal area near the Redwood National and State Parks visitor center. Russavage said the design of the inn will be a “resort model” with expanded pool and recreation areas and will be especially well-suited for families. Eventually a new RV park and botanical garden will be built nearby.

The company already offers adventure tours in the park, which is actually four different parks. The national park and three state parks are operated as a single unit, and Redwoods Park Lodge Company has a concession to offer various types of tours through the parks including orientation tours and longer, day-long tours that include meals.

And, in a location somewhat removed from the glitter of the entertainment world, Russavage plans to use television and Hollywood star power to take his message well beyond Northern California. Teaming up with an Emmy Award-winning director, Russavage is launching a Redwood Adventures television show that will be appearing every Friday on HCTV in Eureka. The segments will feature Russavage — known in the show as “Johnny Redwood” — showing viewers the sights and attractions in Redwood National and State Parks. He’s already used his connections to have actor Robert Conrad do a corporate video and appear at one of the Redwood Adventures grand opening events.

“Once we have our act together,” says Russavage, “we know some pretty big people in the entertainment industry. Nature’s a big topic with global warming and that kind of stuff. We don’t think it’s going to be addressed in the way we’re doing, so we’re taking a shot at it.”

Redwood National and State Parks

Altogether there are about 105,000 acres in the parks — which often are simply referred to as Redwood National Park by visitors unaware of the official designations — most of the area covered with the giant redwoods. The western border of the parks includes about 38 miles of coastline, including picturesque beaches and many beach trails. There are five visitor centers in the parks, each including interpretive information about the area and its attractions. Altogether there are 164 miles of hiking trails, 51 miles of bike trails and 41 miles of horse trails.

We enjoyed the hike up to Trillium Falls, a walk that begins close to the Redwood Adventures Village. The Trillium Falls Trail covers 2.5 miles through ancestral forest and has one of the few falls in the parks. Be on the lookout for Fern Canyon with its 30-foot walls dripping wet and full of ferns.

Another nearby attraction is Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, where you can take a 10-mile scenic drive through the ancient redwoods. Along the way, you’ll see an opportunity to take a short 1/8 mile spur off the trail to Big Tree Wayside, well worth the diversion.

Also on the south end of the park is the Coastal Drive, which is an eight-mile somewhat primitive road that takes you to expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and then down into the redwoods at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Still another park highlight is Howland Hill Road and Stout Grove, where you can take a 10-mile scenic drive through old-growth redwoods and a half-mile walk through a river-bottom grove of these giant trees.

At a glance

Where: Redwood National Park is located about 40 miles north of Eureka in northwestern California. The park areas begin along the coastline and visitors then drive deeper into the parks as they travel northward on Highway 101.

What: This combination of four parks offers some of the California’s most spectacular scenery. While the name implies it’s all about the giant redwood trees, the parks’ coastal areas are every bit as impressive. Beaches, jagged rocky coastline, even gray whales are among the highlights of the coastal areas of the park.

When: Year-round, although the weather along the coast can change quickly and be quite unpredictable. In winter, bring layers to bundle up — specially when you get out on the beach in a strong wind.

Why: The redwoods are a California treasure and this is one of the best areas of the state to see them up-close. There is also a great area south of Eureka called Avenue of the Giants where there are several vantage points as you travel the old highway that runs parallel to Highway 101.

How: For more information on the Redwoods Park Lodge Company, phone 866-733-9637 or visit www.redwoodadventures.com. For more information on Redwoods National and State Parks (Redwood National Park), phone 707-464-6101 or visit www.nps.gov/redw.

Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Redwood Parks Lodge Company; Pictured: tours into the Redwoods; a cabin in Redwoods Village; John “Johnny Redwood” Russavage; part of 38 miles of coastline in the Redwood parks.