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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Greater Los Angeles: Experiencing Disneyland --- and the Disney California Adventure

Last summer, my wife teenage kids and I spent a couple of days in Los Angeles, followed by several days in Orange County, finishing up at Disneyland. Feel free to click any of these links to our time in Hollywood, Griffith Park Observatory, Universal Studios Hollywood, Newport Beach, Crystal Cove, or Laguna Beach

Disneyland is not in Los Angeles, per se - but located 26 miles southeast in Orange County. While Orange County is generally considered part of "Greater Los Angeles" ... it has a different vibe and feel than the City of Los Angeles - or Los Angeles County. 

But in the spirit of "Experiencing LA" ... we'll keep Disneyland as part of "Greater Los Angeles."

Thanks for a free sign in for our family from a good friend, my wife, kids and I have been able to get into Disneyland once a year for free for the past 15 years. We always arrive early - and, now that our kids are older, stay late.

When we lived in Los Angeles 2005-2010, we just drove down in the morning, enjoyed our time there, and drove home. Living out of the area is a bit more of a production, involving a couple night (or more) on the road.

We spent the first hour at Disneyland, enjoying family favorites like Space Mountain.

After an hour or so, we headed to the adjacent Disney California Adventure. 

There are great blogs on how to maximize a day at Disneyland. I won't even try to compete.

We have fun, take advantage of the Fast Pass system, and with a bit of planning are able to get on 20 or more rides and attractions during the day.

Above, a replica of the 1926 Baine Building, located in Hollywood on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Whitley Avenue. What's wild (to us, at least) is we actually walked by the real thing less than a week earlier in Hollywood. 

Above, the Radiator Springs Racers attraction, located in the Carsland section of the California Adventure. 

Back in 2009, we took 9 days to drive from Los Angeles to Chicago. This section of the real American Southwest - what this ride is based upon - is spectacular. Yes, you really want to see the actual thing some day. That said, Carsland is still fun - and very popular.

I was never a big fan of the Paradise Pier - it has always been the part of Disney California Adventure that felt the most like "Six Flags Over Anaheim." But my kids like it, especially California Screaming. Since then, it now has a new (and slightly underwhelming) Incredibles theme overlay. 

As a Christian, I'm always interested individuals integrate their faith in the real world. I found it fascinating that the modern American roller coaster owes much of it's development to LaMarcus Thompson (1848-1919) an inventor - and devote Christian. 

Sure, LaMarcus looks pretty serious. Of course, he was a man of his era. 100 years ago, no one smiled for photographs.

photo credit:

Thompson was concerned about negative influence of saloons, brothels and other "sinful diversions" of his day. 
But rather than simply curse the darkness, he developed what he considered a wholesome alternative, and in 1884 opened the "Switchback Railway," considered to be the first American rollercoaster, at New York's Coney Island. 

Above, Thompson's 1910 Venice Beach Scenic Railway - built almost fifty years before Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds. 

Here's an additional link with more info.

Both Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure try to keep things "fresh" to keep people coming back. Personally, I liked the more historic theme of the orignal Tower of Terror - especially the original in Orlando. But I have to admit that the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout overlay is quite entertaining, with a bit more upbeat story. More importantly, my teenage kids loved it. So, as I dad, I was sold.

Back over at Disneyland, we stopped by the Walt Disney Story display off of Main Street, USA to view this scale model of what Disneyland looked like when it first opened on July 17, 1955. With the exception of perhaps Shanghai, every other Disney "castle" park (Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong) is very similar to this original design.

I admit I'm a bit a of Disney geek - and like this sort of stuff. In fact, our week long So Cal vacation started five days earlier at the Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, which was featuring an incredible display of Disneyland historic memorabilia. 

Above, Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, also found at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. In many ways, Big Thunder is great grand child of LaMarcus Thompson's 1910 Scenic Railway

The original California version opened in 1979 and the rock work was strongly influenced by Bryce Canyon National Park. Again, I strongly suggest a visit to the original national park in southern Utah.

I put together a "Top Ten List" of suggestions of how to enjoy a day at Disneyland last year. Again, there's plenty of other suggestions all over the internet. 

Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade debuted in 1972 and formally closed in 1996. While relying on 40+ year old technology, it's still a loved and popular parade. In 2017, Disneyland brought it back for a limited engagement during the Spring and Summer. Glad we caught it.

Afterwards, we headed back over to the California Adventure. The neon of Carsland really pops at night. 

Radiator Spring Racers is great - but I strongly recommend trying to get Fastpasses earlier in the day to avoid a 90-120 minute wait.

We finished up with the Wonderful World of Color show. I like it. My kids really enjoy it. 

This next week, our 18 year old son and driving the 4+ hours with three friends to spend a day at Disneyland. They're all heading off for college later this month. Wow, where did the years go? I'm reminded of that little sign I saw a few days earlier at the Newport Beach Marriott Timeshare Resort:

"One day you will wake up and there won't be any more time to do the things you've always wanted. Do it now." 

While we never could justify investing the time and money involved annual passes, we've enjoyed spending a day there once a year. It's made some good family memories. That, I'm very thankful for. 

© 2018

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Greater Los Angeles: Experiencing Orange County

Early last year, my wife and were asked if we'd consider attending a time share presentation in exchange for highly discounted lodging at the Newport Coat Villas, a Marriott time share resort in Newport Beach. 

Sure, why not? I feel like time share presentations get a bad rap. The sales woman showed us around, explained the program they offered, and was very kind when we said it really wasn't for us. It was a really nice place. Just wasn't going to work for us. 

The three days we were there, is was usually sunny each day. The morning we were leaving, the normal coastal fog finally began to roll in (above) creating what's often known as "June Gloom" along the Southern California coast. For whatever reason, we avoided this - fortunately enjoying sunny weather normally associated with much later in the summer. 

"June Gloom" around the pool. The sun would probably be out later in the afternoon. 

Final photo before taking off to explore a bit of Orange County. 

For those of you outside of Southern California, Orange County is a located between Los Angeles and San Diego Counties (as well as San Bernardino and Riverside Counties). While it's considered part of "Greater Los Angeles," Orange County has it's own vibe and feel. 

Unlike Los Angeles or San Diego, Orange County has no single downtown or center. Orange County consists of 34 different cities, including Anaheim, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach. 

With just over three million people, Orange County has a larger population than 21 US states. And also has a higher population density that Los Angeles County. Perhaps the best way to describe Orange County would be "high density suburban." 

I was also surprised to learn that it has a higher percentage of Asian-Americans than L.A. County (20% in Orange County vs. 14% in L.A. County). 

First stop: Cornell Court, my old street next to the University of California, Irvine. I lived on Cornell Court 1991-1994, while working in campus ministry at UC Irvine. At one point in the 1990's UCI's student population was about 65% Asian-American. Not "international students" -- but Americans, mostly from California, who's families were of Asian decent. 

My last year there, I was able to work with the city planning office - finally getting some very needed street parking at night. Guess what? Over twenty years later, my little project is still there. We also drove the campus, just to show our teenage son, 17 at the time, as he was starting to think seriously about colleges. 

Wide streets, nice cars, office towers, and lots of sunshine. This view out my windshield seems to sum up Orange County. This is on our way to Din Tai Fung, at the South Coast Plaza Mall.

We got to Din Tai Fung before noon - and there was still a wait. This is, without question, the best Chinese restaurant we've ever eaten at. But be prepared to wait. We were at this same restaurant at Americana at Brand a couple years earlier - and waited 2 1/2 hours for a table. I think our wait for lunch this time was more like thirty minutes. 

While waiting for our table, my teenage kids wandered over to watch the chefs prepare jiaozi (potstickers). 

My kids expression is so great. They were horrified that I stepped into the kitchen area to get a photo of them watching the prep work. "Dad! What are you doing?!"

Food was great - I highly recommend it. Just plan ahead for a possible long wait. 

We drove north from South Coast Plaza along Harbor Blvd, through the cities of Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, and into Anaheim. 

Unlike Walt Disney World, which is a 43 square mile resort complex, the Disneyland Resort is 160 acres - a quarter of a square mile - and is located a couple of miles up on Harbor Blvd. Disneyland's actual street address is 1313 Harbor Blvd. 

We stayed at the "The Anaheim Hotel" an older complex, literally across the street (Harbor Blvd) from the Disneyland Resort. Above, you can see at bit of the Paradise Pier section located in Disney California Adventure. For what we paid, and knowing we'd be spending the entire day off site and at Disneyland, it was fine. The "supply and demand" side of me actually likes the fact that there numerous reasonably priced hotels within walking distance of Disneyland. 

Walt Disney World in Florida has it's fans, but I prefer the more manageable, walk-able size of the Disneyland Resort. To the surprise of many, the two parks at the Disneyland Resort actually have more rides than the four combined parks at Disney World. Not shows, or exhibits - but rides. Theres' a total of 57 rides at Disneyland verses just 50 at Walt Disney World. Finally, the weather. California wins hands down on weather. 

The Lego Store at the "Downtown Disney" shopping complex - basically, a nicely themed outdoor mall.

We splurged and saw Cars 3. Mildly entertaining. My kids, especially my daughter, loved it. 

Inside the lobby of the "Frontierland Tower" at the adjacent Disneyland Hotel is a replica of the original model used in the design of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Fun to see on our way back to our motel. We'd be on the real thing the next day

Here's a final image, highlighting several of Orange County's 34 different cities, plus Orange County's location in relationship to downtown Los Angeles. 

© 2018

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Experiencing Greater Los Angeles: Laguna Beach, Orange County

This time last year, my wife, teenage kids and I were in Southern California for about a week. A highlight, for sure, was spending an afternoon enjoying Laguna Beach. 

Laguana Beach is perhaps the most  quintessential California beach town. Certainly, one of - if not the - most beautiful. We parked in neighborhood, and walked a couple blocks to the beach. 

This is one of several different steps leading down to the beach. Tide coming up, and so my kids wanted to find a wider beach. So, drove about a mile north, parking in another neighborhood, and walked to the Main Beach.

After enjoying the water at Main Beach, I decided to walk about and explore a bit. I walked back along the south along the coast to where we originally stopped. This is looking south from the overlook at a set of stairs.

And looking north.

What can you say? Laguna Beach is simply beautiful. Even a broken down wall is gorgeous. Anywhere else, this would probably be covered with graffiti.

In Laguna Beach, local residents instead have painted a classic an beautiful painting. Artwork that, for some reason, is not destroyed by vandalism or taggers. 

Sorry for whoever's house that was ... but I admire the local artists painting over the cement walls and creating something of beauty. 

Another view, looking north. Yes, the beach is small. So what? 

I turned around at some rocks and headed back. 

Another set of stairs - this one with beautiful ceramic tile. 

I decided to head back through a neighborhood. Turning back around, I love the simplicity and beauty of this of the stairs and ocean beyond. In many ways, this one photograph summarizes Laguna Beach. 

Walking south along the Pacific Coast Highway, I noticed other paths towards the beach. Before you get too excited, real estate in this community is expensive. Very expensive. 

Walking along the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, south toward Main Beach. I would add that traffic along the PCH has can be horrible on weekends, especially during the summer. If you visit, don't expect to roll into down around 2pm and expect to find a place to park. 

Plants planted along the side of the building. Really impressive. If you'e from Laguna Beach and happen to know the street address of this building, please let us know in the comments below. 

Laguna Beach has a long connection with the arts. The Laguna Beach Artists Associate began in 1918, and the Laguna Playhouse, founded in 1920, is considered the "oldest continuously running theatre on the west coast". Above, some of the colorful and whimsical artistic banners along the Pacific Coast Highway. 

Another banner - celebrating both art and the beach. 

And surfing. What would a California beach community be without surfing?

Above, one of artist Ken Wyland most famous murals. This is the first of what would become 100 "Whaling Walls" painted around the world between 1981 and 2008. The the 100th is located in Beijing, China. 

Back in my single days, I lived in Irvine, about ten miles north of Laguna Beach. I really took for granted. Rather than try to end with something profound, I'll just end it here. 

© 2018