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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Warner Brothers Studio Tour, Part I


Last October, were back in Los Angeles visiting family ... and took time to visit the Warner Brothers Studios. It was our son's 17th birthday, and thought it might be fun to connect with his cousins who had recently returned from living overseas for several years and experience a part of Los Angeles that was new and different. 


Back in 2008, when we were living in Los Angeles, my wife and had a chance to visit Warner Bros. Here's a link

Back then, our kids were too young to go on the tour. The tour actually has a minimum age limit of 8 years old. Which is a good thing. It's not that there's such that's scary or inappropriate. It just that younger kids would be bored. If you're thinking about visiting, as a parent I'd suggest a minimum age of 13. Actually, 15+ would be ideal.  


Unlike Universal, Warner Brothers is not a theme park. It's a real working studio. Every tour is different. Some areas might be off limits due to current production. Other times, you can literally get out and touch the sets. And, as the groups are limited to just 14 people, you can ask lots of questions. 


As I shared in a previous post, our experience at Universal was less than stellar. You can read my review here. In contrast, we really enjoyed our time at Warner Brothers. 


The first stop was the New York styled "Hennesy Street" sets. 


Hundreds of movies, television shows, and commercials have been filmed here. 


Remember the occasional outdoor scenes on Seinfield? They were filmed here. 


Bugsy, Dick Tracey, Spiderman, Batman, Rent, Minority Report ... 


... Annie, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and many other movie were all filmed here. While we were able to get out and explore a couple of outdoor sets later in our tour, we noticed a group walking along Hennesy Street. My guess is that they were part of the longer (and more expensive) tour. 


Our tour guide was an encyclopedia of information. No way I could take it all it - and I mean that in a good way. 


View from our tour cart (which felt like an extended electric golf cart). 


Look out and up towards the alley. 


Looking back on Hennesy Street.


A final view before moving on. 


Several of the offices on the lot are designed to be re-purposed for movies or TV shows. This can double as an public library or government building. 


More offices, which can double for a motel or suburban apartment building. 


These offices look like, well, offices. We were there on a Saturday. I'm curious what this looks like when they're actually filming something out front. When we lived in Los Angeles several years back, we had a chance to see "on location" filming in several L.A. neighborhoods. Here's a good example (filmed along Sunset Blvd) from the 2009 drama It's Complicated


Continuing on into the jungle section. 


This is where the infamous scene from Jurassic Park where the T Rex was chasing the jeep was filmed. Obviously, the final product was more exciting than cruising through some trees. 


Warner Village. According to TheStudioTour.com: "This collection of residential houses was built in 2004 on the site of the from Laramie Street Western sets, with a crescent shaped residential street set in a woodland environment. This set has eleven two-story homes in a variety of styles, sidewalks, plush green lawns, driveways and garages. From certain angles you have the Hollywood Hills as your backdrop and from others lush established trees and a small neighborhood park."


The Warner Bros Bridge Building - which is a yet another office building on the studio property According to our tour guide, it's entrance is often used for exterior shots of hospitals.  


Which looks, well, exactly, like a hospital. My understanding is the name is based on the fact this area is a "bridge" between the backlots and sound stages. 

More next time. 


© 2018 www.experiencingla.com

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: themeparkinsider.com

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 www.experiencingla.com






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 www.experiencingla.com