Attractions in Southern California: 800 Miles of Fun
My sister comes to visit!
Vacation Time in Southern California!
Living in Southern California, you might take for granted all the tourist attractions around you . This usually means you avoid these tourist traps because you don't want to be bogged down by how many outside visitors these places attract. You may avoid these places like the plague because it is such a tourist area and tourists downright annoy you. It is too busy and it is too expensive. And since you are living in the area, you don't think of it as a vacation, you think of it as something you can do whenever you want to.
Southern California is a tourist area. And if you live here, you might be taking these tourist attractions for granted as you have become more comfortable with the more "local" hangouts. But what are you missing by avoiding these places. This of course can be said about any place that you live. Usually if we live there, we have a tendency to avoid the attractions associated with it.
However, as a native to the Green Bay, Wisconsin area, I have always thought of California, particularly the southern half, as a place with lots of touristy things to do. My husband is from Riverside, California. He is used to this type of area and the variety of things to do. I am not. Therefore, I am still in the exploration mode of my new home, but I will admit, even after awhile, these tourist attractions seem like normal backgrounds and I too avoid them.
When I was growing up, my idea of tourist attraction was usually centered around the Packers or Wisconsin Dells. There is also the Door County area and Bay Beach, which is a very, very small amusement park. I am not used to all this excitement. Therefore, when my sister Crystal and her boyfriend planned a trip (well, I did most of the planning; they flew out for the adventure!), I made it an opportunity to show them around Southern California.
They were able to spend a week in Southern California with my family and I… and after about 800 miles, and more than 15 hours spent in the car, there are still so many attractions they have yet to see! I guess we will have to save those until the next time they come out!
It took me several months of planning, but by the time the arrived, I had a fully packed schedule with a little something for everybody to enjoy. Including those of us who have been living in California and avoiding what we have "coined" tourist traps. After all, we had the mindset that since we lived so close, we could go anytime. But what happens if you never take advantage of these places because you live so close. You end up missing out on great times and great memories!
Whose feet did you spot?
Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood
Here's your award!
Whose your favorite character?
Out of this world!
Have you experienced it?
Have you been to Hollywood?
Day 1: Hollywood and Griffith Observatory
I woke up Wednesday morning. Today was the day that my sister would arrive. It has been 3 months since I had seen her in person and my excitement was ready to bubble over. Yet, as I looked outside, a cloud of disappointment rose over me. I was promising them warm temperatures (preferably in the triple digits so they could experience California at it’s best!), yet Southern California was going through a cold spell. The highs, which the week prior were in the 100’s were now in the ranges of a comfortable mid 70 to 80 degrees. Not normal for mid-July in California. Either way, the plan was set.
We got up and started getting ready to go. There flight was to land at 11:15 a.m. and there was little time to get everything done; picking up the rental van, packing a picnic lunch, getting the kids out the door, getting odds and ends ready for the big day ahead of us. Naturally, things didn’t go as planned, as we rushed out of the door 30 minutes late, keeping our fingers crossed that we would get there in time!
The day’s agenda was full. The first stop was to Newport Beach. After all, it is California so everybody wants to go and see the ocean. The second stop would be Hollywood and then to the Griffith Observatory, right outside of Hollywood. My fear was there wasn’t enough to do. Boy was I wrong!
We picked up Crystal and her boyfriend Darrel and gathered in the vehicle to discuss the day’s plans. The beach got thrown out. With a chilly temperature around the ocean, we thought it would be best to reserve the beach for different day when it was much warmer. So we headed straight to Hollywood.
Hollywood is a great place to visit if your looking for something cheap to do. The only necessary money needs to be spent is on parking, which will range from about $5 to $20. Obviously the further you get to the outskirts of Hollywood Boulevard, the cheaper the parking but the longer the walk.
Hollywood is littered with unusual shops for the souvenir collector. Otherwise, grab a camera and keep your eyes to the ground. You never know whose star you might be stepping on. Don’t forget to look up occasionally. You don’t want to miss the occasional character dressed up like Superman, Michael Jackson or even Darth Vader. Closer to the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, you can see imprints of the hands and feet of celebrities. This is a prime place to stop, but it can be very busy, even on a slow day. So seek out some of your favorites and snap a picture. Warning though, you might catch a shadow or a random foot!
As for the rest of Hollywood, there are random museums to check out, and there are people soliciting along the streets to take you on Tours of the Stars. If you are mindful of your budget, check the prices and make a decision if it is something you want to do. None of these are necessary, but can be interesting if you have the time and cash on hand.
For our trip, we scored a deal for three different Museums. For less than $100, my whole family (5 people), got to go to the Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and Hollywood’s Wax Museum. There is also Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, but for around $25 a ticket, I did not think it was worth the extra money. I will save it for another time as I have heard it is a must see if you are in Hollywood.
After we finished exploring, we barely got back to the van in time before the lot closed. Just as the clock struck 8, we were heading out of the lot. (But don’t worry, if you want to spend more time in Hollywood there are other lots that stay open longer!) From there we headed to the Griffith Observatory.
Now I have been to Griffith Park, but since they finished the Observatory a few years ago and reopened it, I have yet to come back. I was amazed at how busy it was! There were people crawling around everywhere, and this was a Wednesday night. There was a large museum inside which is free to the public. There you can learn about the stars, the universe, black holes, the planets and anything else out of this world. You can also see how much you weigh on the other planets, which is great if you are sick of just reading the massive amount of information in this museaum.
If the shows don’t interest you (which you can see for a small fee) it makes this another stop that is completely free. There are also telescopes placed outside where instructors will explain what you are looking at. The only downfall, the parking fills up fast and you might have an uphill walk to the Observatory if you get there late!
One day down and we already put on 164 miles!!
The Hollywood Sign from The Griffith Observatory
Wanna go for a spin?
Day 2: Knott's Berry Farm
After day 1, it was not easy getting up for Day 2. However, in means of driving time, this day was going to be a little calmer than the one before. We only had one destination and it was Knott’s Berry Farm.
My husband and I both love theme parks, and my sister of course fits right on board with that one. Following in our tracks is my two daughters, who are also adrenaline junkies. So when I said we were spending the day at Knott’s Berry Farm, no complaints were heard! (Well, hardly no complaints. Darrel doesn’t really like rollercoasters. When we forced him on an “easy” one… I am pretty sure he was cursing us under his breath!)
Knott’s Berry Farm is located in Buena Park, California. While it is a tourist attraction, it isn’t as well known as Disneyland or Universal Studios. Therefore, it is not only more budget friendly, it also isn’t as packed as the other tourist attractions. That, of course, means more ride time than line time! But don't be fooled, this park is still a popular attraction and will still be plenty busy.
There are several coasters to choose from: including the wooden rollercoaster Ghostrider to the “smack-you-in-the-face-so-hard-you-will-enjoy-it” Accelerator. There is also the Pony Express, Boomerang, Jaguar, La Revolucion, Wipeout, Sidewinder, Big Foot Rapids, and so many others. There is water rides for when you are hot; loop de loops that will spin you upside down; and a whole place for the little tikes called Camp Snoopy. It is definitely not a disappointment. There are also plenty of shows going on and plenty of shops to look for souvenirs.
For lunch, we enjoyed some burgers and fries and Johnny Rockets. When it comes to theme park food, Johnny Rockets surpasses other food stands not only with price, but with the amount of food you get for your money. It is still pricey compared to restaurants outside a theme park, but they are by far the most reasonable place to eat without leaving the park.
We spent the whole day at Knott’s Berry Farm and everyone had a blast. In fact, we closed out the park.
After all was said and done, we put on another 91 miles.
La Brea Tar Pits
The Wall of Wolves
The Real Reason my sister was here!
Day 3: La Brea Tar Pits
This day was a day for excitement. Not only was it my husband’s birthday, but it was also opening night for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. I can’t lie, so I must tell you the truth. One of the main reasons my sister came out to California for a week was to watch this movie. It has been a tradition for us that every opening night of Harry Potter the four of us, Crystal, Darrel, my husband and I would go see the movie together. Even though we recently moved to California and my sister still lives in Wisconsin, the distance did not stop us from continuing the tradition!
However, we couldn’t just sit around and wait for Harry Potter all day, so to take up some time we headed to Los Angeles to see the La Brea Tar Pits.
Crystal is a museum freak. So is my husband. Between the two of them, they could spend hours digesting the information. I look at the stuff and go, “Oh… that’s pretty!” Ok, so I learn some stuff too! But when it comes to museums, I am on the side of once you have seen one you have seen them all. The La Brea Tar Pits seemed a bit different to me, and even though I was headed to another museum, I couldn’t wait to see these tar filled pits!
Upon arriving at the La Brea Tar Pits, I will say I was a little disappointed. It was nothing like I imagined. These tar pits resembled dirty water. Yet, this was how they worked. Animals would get caught in them trying to get a drink. If they were the tarry mess I thought they would be, no animal would even come close. The nature-made trap is unique and once you get past the smell of burnt rubber, there is a lot of information to take in.
The La Brea Tar Pits is one of the world-famous fossil sites, and have lead to the discovery of over 3,000 fossils from the Ice Age. (This means there are no dinosaurs. So if you are looking for dinosaurs, you have come to the wrong spot!) While the museum itself does cost something to go through, the tar pits are actually located outside in Hancock Park. That in itself is a bonus because you can see the tar pits for absolutely free (but you will have to pay for parking). However, I would recommend entering the museum if it is your first time. The displays really help you understand prehistoric Los Angeles.
After we finally saw all the tar pits and indulged into as much tar filled history as we could, it was time to head into rush hour traffic and get home. Harry Potter was only a few hours off and we wanted to get there with plenty of time to get the best seat in the house. (Although we were seeing it in 3D IMAX, which makes me think all seats are pretty good!)
We got to the theaters an hour prior to the starting time. I can honestly say, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows will not disappoint. However, I will not cover the movie here at this time. I think it was wonderful and you should see it while in theaters. When it comes out, buy the DVD. Yes, it was that great. In fact, get the whole collection. The whole series is top-notch.
Friday night was the latest night we had. We didn’t get home until almost 1 a.m., yet we were so hyped up about the movie it was difficult to sleep. Yet, sleep we must. Saturday would be equally as tiring.
All and all, we put on another 157 miles!
Playing in the sand
Fun in the backyard!
Day 4: Corona Del Mar and Newport Beach
A person can’t visit Southern California and not go to the beach. So that is just what we did. Today was mostly a beach day. There is nothing more breath taking then watching the waves crash onto the sand. Yet, while we brought my sister and her boyfriend to our favorite beach, we detoured to the tide pools first in order to give them a different look at the ocean.
We headed to Corona Del Mar to check out all the animals that would be holding stake in the rocks. There you can see fish, crabs and star fish among other sea life. I had been there for Memorial Day and thought this would be an interesting thing to do on vacation. Unfortunately, not being a California native, the idea of high tide and low tide never crossed my mind. We ended up getting there at high tide and for the exception of 2 small crabs, you couldn’t see anything. So we headed to Newport Beach for some good old fashioned swimming and cheese-on-a-stick.
Cheese on a Stick is just what it sounds like. Basically it is a corn dog without the hot dog. I am not a big corn dog fan, but I do like the cheese on a stick. With a choice of Jalepeno or Cheddar, it is definitely something to try when at Newport Beach. My only question… if Wisconsin is the Dairy State, why doesn’t Wisconsin have cheese on a stick?
After fun in the sand and jumping in the waves (and don’t forget the cheese on the stick!), we headed back to Riverside for a barbeque with family and friends. All and all, a total of 113 miles for the day.
Which one would you choose
Which Knott's Soak City would you go to...
Day 5: Knott's Soak City in Palm Springs
After a cool week in Southern California, we headed to the desert to have fun at a water park. We have season passes to Knott’s Soak City, so this was an ideal place to cool off. Since we had already taken a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, we took advantage of Soak City having 3 different locations. So we headed off to Palm Springs!
By the time we got to Palm Springs the temperatures had already rose to 100 degrees, and it wasn’t even noon yet. Perfect since we were close to the water… so it was easy to cool off. The water park is decent, offering a kids water playhouse, a few slides, a tide pool, and a lazy river. In the 8 hours it was open, we were able to hit every slide and attraction offered. My favorite ride was the Pacific Spin!
Since we had already been to Soak City in Buena Park, this was the perfect opportunity to check out a different park. Overall, they both go hand and hand. There is little variations in the slides. The main difference is the layout and the temperatures. Not only is the air hot, but the ground is as well. So be warned if you if you head to Knott’s Soak City in Palm Springs. The next one we need to check out is the Soak City in San Diego. We will save that for another time.
After spending all day in the sun, it was finally time to go home. As we left, it was already after 6 p.m., and the temperatures had risen to 114 degrees. Thankfully, we were headed back to Riverside which would be much cooler.
With a quick stop at Walmart for some supplies, we put on another 111 miles!
Day 6: Newport Beach
We are all thoroughly exhausted. It has been a long week. But, as with any vacation packed full of activities, a person must push on. That is exactly what we did.
Today, since we didn’t get much time on the beach a few days earlier, we decided to head back to Newport Beach. After all, what is a California vacation without maximum beach and ocean exposure. We packed a picnic lunch and headed out.
We spent the whole day at the beach, since we had no other obligations. We buried each other in sand; we body surfed the waves; we even worked on our tan. Okay, so we really all just came home burnt and full of sand.
One of the main things was making the kids into mermaids. While both my daughters were buried, my son decided he wanted to join as well. So, to make him part of the group, we made him a mermaid man. He loved every bit of it!
Another 106 miles for the day.
Time to say Goodbye
Day 7: John Wayne Airport
It was the final day of my sister’s vacation. This was the hardest day. It was the day we had to say good bye again.
With there bags packed, we headed back to the airport.
As they walked to security, my day was not over. I still had to return the rental car. With a heavy head, I navigated traffic by myself. The final day equaled another 105 miles and the end of the vacation.
Out of all these destinations, which would you prefer to go to?
After all was said and done
After a full week of jam-packed days, we managed to put on 847 miles on our rental vehicle. Every minute was well worth it. Not only did my sister and her boyfriend get to take one of their first vacations out of state, but it gave my family a chance to explore more of Southern California as well.
As a person who currently lives in a touristy area, you seem to overlook all the fun stuff that you can do. Yet, whether you live in Southern California or somewhere else, think of all the attractions that you might be avoiding because of their "touristy" stereo type. You might be missing out on a great adventure!
While this vacation was full of adventures every day, there was still so much left to do. I can't wait for the next time they come out to visit.
Adventures are everywhere...
So... what is a "tourist attraction" near you?
Feel free to recommend any local hidden gems or attractions that you would recommend. Hopefully, we can not only enjoy the memories together, but get ideas for possibly our next vacation spot!
About the Author
Stacy Harris, also known as Barbergirl28, is a wife of 12 years and a stay-at-home mom of two beautiful girls and one handsome little boy. After high school, she joined the Army to become a photojournalist. To this day, she continues to have a passion for writing and photography. After leaving the military, she obtained a license in Cosmetology and also studied Massage Therapy. Her passions include writing, photography, cooking, crafts, health, and fitness. Currently, she is working on a book and freelancing at Hubpages.
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If you would like to check out her blog Ramblings of an Undiagnosed Mad Woman, click here.
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