Festival21 May 2009 09:46 am


It happens once a year at the Orange County Fairgrounds, and this year, the festival organizers have graciously scheduled the event after Lag B’Omer and before Shavous. They may not realize it, but that is what they did. So on Sunday, May 24, 2009 you will have your chance to see hundreds of kilt-clad men participating in the “caber toss” and “putting the stone” (or throwing telephone polls and cannonballs, as my husband says) and playing bagpipes and drums.

You may be saying to yourself right now, “but I’m not up on the latest log throwing techniques, and I don’t think I like bagpipe music. Plus, I’m not Scottish.” It doesn’t matter. This is a really wonderful day. To see thousands of people gathered for good, clean, fun on a clear and fine day in Orange County—well, I think it will make you smile.

In one large field are the various athletic competitions where men attempt to throw heavy items as far as they can, and in a large tent near the entrance is the highland dance competition. Even though the competition consists of girls grouped by age, performing the same dance to the same music over and over, my daughter insisted I watch it with her at length. These girls are quite serious and have obviously practiced a lot. Plus, their dresses are nice.

Meanwhile, my husband was out perusing the different booths. There are stands for the usual fairground chatchkes, but then there are also vendors selling all sorts of things from the British Isles like cable knit sweaters, kilts, handmade jewelry, and linens. Sometimes, at fairs, it seems that food is the biggest feature, and consequently, there is not much of interest to us, but that is not the case at the Scottish Festival, and we were not the only ones to eat bag lunches on the grass while watching the games.

There was also a sheep herding demonstration in the main arena with border collies showing you how it’s done by herding real sheep into a pen. On the outskirts of the fairgrounds kids can enjoy slides, a moon bounce, and even archery.

But the highlight of the games is the pipe band competition. To me, there is something thrilling about a band of bagpipers playing an ancient folk tune from the Scottish highlands. And, after watching all the teams in their matching kilts, marching together and playing, just pipes and drums and nothing else, I had a greater appreciation for it. During the competitions, the judges, in kilts and dress jackets, stand very close to the participants and study them carefully. After a while, we were able to tell who the judges liked by how they kept time with the drums. Some of the more skilled drummers not only play their drums very strictly, but add flourishes while they are playing, tossing and spinning their drumsticks between the beats.


It’s neat to see many of the men in the complete traditional outfit, which includes thick knitted socks, shoes that tie around the ankles, and even the “sgian dhu”, the black knife worn tucked into the sock. Meanwhile, all the announcements over the speaker systems are done by men with thick Scottish brogues, and there are booths with information about the different clans and what their clan tartan (plaid) is.

I’m not sure how else to put this, but it is refreshing to see a bunch of our fellow Californians, boys and girls, men and women, participating in good, clean fun, spending their extra-curricular activity time practicing an interesting skill, while carefully attired in kilts. There were more than a few yidden at the festival last year. I hope to see the whole Los Angeles contingent of our tribe there this year!


Sunday May 24, 2009: Scottish Festival, Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, CA, www.scotsfest.com, $18 for adults, $3 for children (5-12) Extra fee for parking.

Outdoors15 Mar 2009 02:30 pm

Have you ever stood in a field of sweet orange California poppies, with the wide blue sky overhead? Now is your chance! Poppy season is upon us.

California poppies, those bright and simple flowers that happily appear at the first sign of spring, cover the fields and rolling meadows of Antelope Valley at the California Poppy Reserve. The California poppy was declared the state flower in 1903, hence the reason it has become a ubiquitous image in California, like the California Grizzly Bear (but not so much, though, the official California state marine fish, the garibaldi, which is also orange, by the way, as everyone who has visited the Roundhouse Aquarium knows (see Kosher Road Trip, Nov. 2007.)) The poppy is curiously delicate, yet hearty, as you will find if you pick some (which you absolutely cannot do at the reserve), and its brilliant orange sits opposite mesmerizing sky blue on the color wheel. Standing amongst the poppies on a clear day is electric.

The late March day we went to the poppy fields it was breathtaking, and really, really cold. It wasn’t nearly as cold at home as it was in the fields, so consequently, we did not come prepared with winter coats and gloves. A biting wind was blowing, which was truly invigorating, but my first thought was “must—tell—people—to wear—coats—brrr…” I reminded myself that in New England people would be wearing summer clothes in this weather, and we forged ahead, up hills and through dancing fields of wildflowers, orange, purple and yellow, taking pictures and just enjoying the beauty.

I had actually been wanting to see the poppy fields for a few years, but the reserve website kept saying ‘it’s not so great, the poppies are kind of shvach.’ And then finally, last year, the website said it was a good year for poppies, so we went. But guess what? The folks at the reserve are calling this year’s conditions the ‘perfect storm’ for poppies. That means the rain and snow fall has been good and so the poppies should be out in full force; just make sure to check the website or the poppy hotline to find out when the best time of the season will be.

When you see all the flowers and the vast expanse with a horizon so broad you can see the curve of the earth, remember that this is the Mohave desert and that with all of man’s sprinkler system technology, these green fields are dependent upon the rain…“Who fashioned a channel for the torrent, or a path for thunder clouds, that it may rain upon a land without man, and in a wilderness in which there is no person, to sate desolation and wasteland, to make vegetation sprout forth?” (Iyov 38:25)

And yes, they have an “Interpretive Center” with the standard attractions: gift shop—check, taxidermied wildlife—check, old fashioned style informational video—check. We appreciated the center for the opportunity to warm up a bit before braving the cold again. I’m joking; it wasn’t that cold. My daughter strongly recommends earmuffs, though.

So this year is shaping up to be great for poppies, and for all those of you who have considered going to the reserve but thought it would be too big a road trip, take note: it’s an easy drive from the 5 N. to the 14 into Lancaster and takes about an hour and a half. Your GPS or Google maps will tell you to take the 5 to the 138 because it’s shorter, but I’m recommending the 14 because it’s faster and easier, although not as pretty. Also, for people wondering about accessibility at the reserve, they do have a paved pathway around the main loop through the poppies, so I hope everyone really tries to get out there this year to catch a glimpse of these beautiful flowers that bloom for a very brief period of the spring.


The Reserve is located 15 miles west of Lancaster at 15101 Lancaster Road.
Poppy Reserve Wildflower Hotline (661) 724-1180, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627

Park is open sunrise to sunset.
Interpretive Center open beginning March 14:
Weekdays 10 AM – 4 PM
Sundays 9 AM – 5 PM

parking: $5 per vehicle

trains01 Nov 2008 02:26 pm

There are quite a few places I have traveled to in search of something worth writing about for Kosher Road Trip, but that I ended up not writing about. Sometimes because there just wasn’t much to it (like the tour of the official home of the Tournament of Roses), and sometimes because my husband said: “you CANNOT tell people to drive four hours for this,” even though I thought it was kind of neat (like the town of Boron.)

With Jewish Life Magazine now entering its fourth year of publication, B”H, it hasn’t escaped my attention that I’ve written about a lot of railroad museums in California (and there’s at least ten more I haven’t been to—yet.) So, it was kind of intriguing when I was taking the kids to the Cabrillo Aquarium in San Pedro one day and I saw a sign along the highway that said, “Lomita Railroad Museum.” After driving around trying to find it myself with no luck, we went to the aquarium, but I was determined to locate that mystery museum someday.

The fact that I’d never heard of this museum before was already an indication to me that it was probably kind of tiny, but then, small museums can be fascinating and house nearly priceless items you wouldn’t expect to find in such remote locales. The Lomita Railroad Museum is a very, very small museum, with only a few train cars on the premises. Housed in a replica of a Wakefield, Massachusetts train depot, the museum has a very modest collection of railway treasures like dishes used on the dining cars and conductors’ pins. The best part was being able to walk around in an old caboose and also stand in front of all the knobs and levers in the engine. This was satisfying even to those who can barely say the word “train” (but say it repeatedly.) You could have a picnic lunch there if you like—it’s a nice little neighborhood—and then head off to another activity perhaps.

We got back on the 110 Harbor Freeway and took it right through downtown and then to the 5 North to visit the “Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum” in Griffith Park. You wouldn’t guess from the name that this museum is really something of an amusement park that only offers rides on miniature trains. Or would you? The passenger cars are those padded seats you straddle, but the engine and the caboose look pretty authentic and they run on little train tracks. Sure there’s lots of places that offer little train rides, but this one is surprisingly long. It keeps going and going—into the woods and under tunnels, and past tiny gold mining towns and old west main streets. It’s the closest I’ve come to actually riding a toy train through a miniature village. And the trees and hillsides that you roll past are something special, too.
Since these tiny trains only run on Sundays, there’s a line to board the ride, and if you come at noon, as we did, there’s an even longer wait because most of the conductors have gone to lunch. But for a suggested donation of $3, it’s well worth it. Just watch out if you are under 34” tall. The smallest member of the family almost wasn’t allowed on, but the miniature train officials brought out the official ruler and, wearing his white leather Stride Rites (detailed with trains, by the way), he managed to squeaked through.
The live steamers at this museum are actually “1/8th scale miniature steam, diesel or electric locomotives” and are run by serious train enthusiasts who work on all the trains as a hobby. They’ve probably been to a lot of train museums themselves.

P.S. Look for a report on my website about the places I didn’t write about. Perhaps Boron is your kind of town.


Lomita Railroad Museum: 2137 West 250th Street in Lomita, California, (310) 326-6255, www.lomita-rr.org, admission fee, $4.00 for adults and $2.00 for children under 12.

Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum: 5202 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, California 90027, (323) 661-8958, www.lals.org, suggested donation (they ask you what you want to pay): $3 per person.

Nature Walks01 Oct 2008 02:21 pm

How far out do you have to drive to feel that you are far out? It turns out, not very far. If you go out on a Sunday, taking the 10 E. to the 110 N. and exiting at Avenue 43, would you believe about 20 minutes?

Jut when you thought you’d been to all the parks in the area, another one appears, tucked in the hills just off the highway, behind the craftsman houses and soccer fields. And this isn’t a grassy play area with a jungle gym and some trash cans. No, this is a real Audubon Society hiking area which contains within it steep trails climbing up to walnut tress, willows, really forest-y pine trees and one of the most spectacular views of the city and tiny houses below.

Now that the weather is cooler, it is absolutely wonderful making the hike up the hill with its switchback curves and mysterious offshoot trails. And the payoff, after a long hike to the top, just past the picnic gazebo and the bristly branches of a lone fir tree, is a little pond complete with turtles and an unbelievable view. Truly an oasis, it was chilly at this pond on top of the hill the day we hiked there, with a biting wind blowing as if we had reached the pinnacle of a mountain miles up.

On the way back down the trail, we took a trail that branched off to the left, suspecting it was a short cut. It was. This small side trail was the shoot to the many ladders we took to get up the hill. It cut right over the top of the hill and what took us about one hour to climb up, this trail covered within five minutes.

So if you do not want to take a long hike, but would like to get to the pond, start at the base of the main trail and keep going upward until you reach a point where you can see the city skyscrapers of downtown to the south, little houses of Highland Park and Pasadena and its hills to the north. There, to the east on the trail, is a narrow, steep path that will take you right up and over to the pond.

Debs Park has an Audubon Nature Center on the grounds, and I am a big fan of nature centers, but this one happens to be closed on Sundays, as is the main gate to enter the park. The walking path is open and so it is okay to park on Griffin Avenue, across from the soccer field, and enter through the walking gate. The current director of the nature center says it is their goal to be open on Sundays, so keep your eye out.

If, after the hike, you might enjoy something cool to drink, there is another gem hidden in the Highland Park area called Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. Just go north a bit on the 110 and then west on York Avenue. The Soda Pop Stop has old fashioned and hard to find sodas from around the country, plus some old time candies. Make sure to bring Rabbi Eidlitz’s hechsher list with you so you’ll know what’s what.


Please note that Debs Park is near Heritage Square, Southwest Museum, and the Lummis House, all interesting historic sites and museums.

Debs Park: 4700 N. Griffin Ave., LA, 90031, tel: 323-221-2255. Hours: Tues. – Fri. 9am – 5pm. http://www.audubon-ca.org/debs_park.php

Galco’s Soda Pop Stop: 5702 York Blvd, LA 90042, tel: (323) 255-7115. Store hours: weekday: 9am-6:30pm, Sunday: 9am – 4pm. http://www.sodapopstop.com/

Botanical Gardens01 Sep 2008 02:19 pm

What was once the elaborate yard for newspaper publisher E. Manchester Boddy’s mansion in La Canada Flintridge is now an enchanted place for us city dwellers to explore.

Descanso Gardens has become one of a handful of places we keep in our back pocket and pull out when we want to take a walk outside, but don’t want to turn it into a day long production. And as long as you don’t go during a rush hour, it should take about 25 minutes to get there.

The folks at the garden have wisely laid down tiny train tracks and for $3 you can purchase a ticket at the little depot for a fun ride amongst the flowers and trees. After eating lunch at the shaded tables near the entrance, we hopped a ride on the train and took a whirl past the rose garden and fish pond and even over a small creek.

Then we walked between the roses, past the willow trees, and under the grape arbor to the Children’s Maze. Hedge mazes, like this one, date back to the mediaeval period in Europe, and the Ramchal, who lived in Italy around the turn of the 18th century, describes the hedge maze in chapter 3 of “Mesilas Yesharim:” “In this kind of garden the hedges are arranged like walls, and among them are numerous paths, confusing and interconnected, one the same as the next. The goal is to reach a gazebo in the center of the garden.” This little maze has a sweet set of child sized chairs at the center for smaller maze-goers to relax in. The Ramchal brings the hedge maze as a mashul for life, a small demonstration of how seeking advice from those who have already mastered the maze will help one avoid entanglements and confusion. We love it when our family field trips can include real life examples of things we’ve learned about.

Continuing on, there’s a pleasant surprise just past the tropical waterfall: the Audubon Society Bird Observation station. Sounds imposing, but it’s actually kind of campy and reminded me of a summer cabin one might find in the woods of New Hampshire or even upstate New York. (When you see it yourself you will probably wonder what I was talking about, but I chalk it up to my perennial search for places that look like Massachusetts in California.) Anyway, the station overlooks a small pond where exotic birds are supposed to gather, but ducks and turtles are aplenty.

Like most botanical gardens, Descanso is divided into theme sub-gardens, which are showcased at different seasons. The Lilac garden, for example, is in bloom during the months of March and April, and the Camillia Forest is at its best in the winter. I think what’s special about Descanso is that it really can be enjoyed any time of year, with something special to offer each season.

There are so many sections to Descanso and it is so big that you may not see all of it in one visit unless you’re trying to get in a walk for exercise. There is even a tour of the Boddy mansion and an art gallery if you need a break from all the beautiful flowers and trees. Certain members of our family found the colorful koi in the Japanese garden of particular interest. This is important to remember lest going to theme parks or shopping in a mall were to become the Sunday default activity. And did I mention the brown rabbit we saw in the rose garden?


There are paved pathways through much of the gardens so strollers and wheelchairs are welcome. A 50 minute tram ride is available for visitors who would like a riding tour of the gardens.

Address: Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Admission: General $8. Senior/Students $6. Children (5 to 12 years) $3.
Guild members and Children under 5 free.
Tram $4. Enchanted Railroad $3
Open 9am – 5pm

Museums20 Aug 2008 12:00 pm

Taking a little time to learn about a place before visiting can really enhance the experience. Some of our relatives have been known the check out lots of books from the library to fully research a subject before an adventure to a far off land. In our case we happen to have been reading about John Adams when the opportunity arose on our trip to Massachusetts to take a tour of his homes in Quincy.

While I recognize that a stop at John Adam’s house in Massachusetts isn’t a Sunday road trip from Los Angeles, to paraphrase a Boston comedian, any place is within driving distance if you have the time. No, I’m not really suggesting that this is likely to be on your road trip agenda, but rather, I think our experience at John Adam’s house was a parable for how to manage such an excursion. Also, I thought you might like to hear about where John and Abigail Adams lived.

When taking a family vacation, the interest level young children will have for particular activity often dictates the agenda. Two things can help inspire children to share your interest: starting them young at whatever it is, and not overtaxing them. In the case of road trips, we have started our children off as babies driving for long periods of time to get places. We have told them we are a road trip family and that we love road trips. Once we have gotten to where we set out for, we try not to demand their attention for more time than is deemed reasonable. In the case of hikes, we have learned through trial and error how many miles can be hiked pleasantly. In the case of visiting historic sites or museums, finding things of special interest and not staying too long help make it manageable if not all together enjoyable.

We started the John Adams tour at the National Park Service headquarters/gift shop in historic downtown Quincy. This allowed for the opportunity to get acquainted with who John Adams was and what life was like in Colonial America with books and objects geered toward children as well as adults. Plus we were able to negotiate how to do only part of the official tour, as visiting all the houses on the itinerary was an unrealistic expectation, especially on this hot summer day. Once we bought tickets we parked in front of John and Abigail’s home in their later years, Peacefield, and ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made in the car. (Yes, I made them in the car, and we ate them in the car.) We joined up with a group outside the front door of Peacefield and listened as the tour guide warned us to be very careful because all the contents of the house were authentic possessions of the Adams family and that a lady in another group had knocked over a priceless lamp with her pocketbook. As we weren’t allowing anyone who couldn’t control themselves to run free, we decided to venture forth into a house, and wow, were we in for a treat.

Peacefield was absolutely packed with amazing antiques of historical value. In the kitchen stood a 380 year old grandfather clock given as a wedding present to John and Abigail. It was already 100 years old when they received it and a later generation Adams had nearly thrown it away, not realizing its value. The tour guides wind the clock every week and it still keeps perfect time. The china cabinet was filled with dishes from their travels abroad and throughout the house were portraits of Adams, friends, and relatives. Somewhere in the house one can find images of Washington, Jefferson, and even Teddy Roosevelt (a friend of a later Adams), and in the study, John Adams’ famous wingback chair.

Much is known about John Adams’ life and times because of the correspondence he kept with his wife, with his friend Thomas Jefferson, his own memoirs, and the marginalia found in his extensive library. The Adams family had a huge collection of books and it wasn’t just for show; some books have more words written in the margins by John Adams than words printed on the page. Adams was very opinionated, and expressed his opinions even to himself. On the page of one book, curators found the word “Fool” written, with three exclamation points. I imagine it was something political. In another book, a piece of paper had been discovered, tucked away by John Adams at some point. On it was a list he had made of reasons why people liked George Washington better than they liked him. He mentioned that he was too opinionated.

Also in the library was John Adams’ traveling desk, on which many famous documents and letters were written, and another famous desk; that of his son John Quincy Adams, who had used his desk for many years while in Congress, a position he held after serving as President.

The tour of the one house was more than enough for the kids and we were ready to head to Brookline to round up some food for dinner. I know that “visiting a historic site” is not usually number one on a child’s list of things to do on vacation, but it is possible to find something that will interest them, especially if it something they can connect to or relate to. This may take some creativity, planning, a little research, but it is well worth it.

Uncategorized01 Jul 2008 12:00 pm

Located in Manhattan Beach, Adventure Plex is a relatively new indoor playground with activities for kids of all ages, but it is probably most appealing to toddlers and children under the age of 12.

We headed out to the Adventure Plex on a Sunday afternoon and ending up staying for three hours. The focus of the complex is a giant indoor play structure which is colorful and full of different things to explore. Much like the one in the now closed Bright Child in Santa Monica, this play structure is an elaborate web of shutes and ladders, plus a zip line, a ball pit, and some obstacle course-type tunnels. Looking at it, I didn’t think it would be interesting for more than an hour, but once I got inside to experience it for myself (which many other parents did as well) I could see there was a lot more to it than appeared from the outside. The other reason we stayed so long is because my daughter made friends with another girl who was inside the play structure maze and they were making up adventures together. She said she would have gotten bored sooner if she hadn’t met this girl, so bring friends with your children if you want to make the most of the outing (or make new friends there!)

For the toddlers, there is a separate section with their own ball pit (the colorful plastic balls they can throw themselves in), slide, and a variety of squishy items to climb on. If your toddler is an ambitious climber and you are willing to do some climbing then the bigger structure can also be fun. Some days it may be too busy with big kids, but the day we went it was not crowded at all, so we had room to explore at our own pace.

There are tables and chairs set up in front of the play structures for parents to watch and for everyone to eat. Adventure Plex has a small snack bar and does not allow outside food in their facilities, but I asked Paul, the Outdoor Adventure Manager (I think that was his title) and he said it was okay for folks like us who keep kosher to bring our food. In fact, Paul said a Jewish organization rented out the whole place one Chanukah and brought in kosher food for their big party. Which brings me to another aspect of the Adventure Plex: they offer party rooms for rental. Like the Santa Monica Pier, the Adventure Plex can provide a room to make a birthday party and serve your own food. Then your party guests are welcome to use the play structure and basketball court along with the general public.

The basketball court is part of regular admission and can be used for basketball or volleyball. The only thing is, sometimes this room is rented out to a private group (as it was the day we were there) and then it is closed to the public. So, if you would like to use the basketball court, call ahead to make sure it isn’t reserved.
Upstairs in the complex is a small gym with workout equipment and a room for classes like aerobics with your baby, yoga, and dance classes.

Outside is a “rockwall:” a faux rock surface to practice rockclimbing with a harness. Apparently this particular rock wall is the latest in technology with an automatically retracting rope and two tall rockwalls with a variety of climbing paths. There are women instructors if your daughter wants to give it a try (best to wear shorts under the skirt.) Adults can also try the rockwall. It is $5 for unlimited use of the rockwall.

And finally, there is something I haven’t seen anywhere else and that’s the “Ropes Course Adventure.” Traversing a series of tall wooden towers, teams negotiate various rope obstacles, focusing on working together to solve problems. This is touted as a unique team building experience for companies, but my first thought was that it would be a neat outing for the Jewish Boy Scouts.

At 6pm, closing time on Sunday, we drove over to Manhattan Beach Blvd., just down the road, and played in the sand by the Roundhouse Aquarium (see Kosher Road Trip, Nov. 2007) for a little while before supper time.


Wear socks! Bring lunch

Adventure Plex at Marine, 1701 Marine Ave., Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, (310) 546-7708, www.adventureplex.org

Hours: Mon. – Fri., 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sat., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission: under age 3: $5, 3 and up: $10, no charge for accompanying adults,
rockwall: $5

Arts & Crafts&Botanical Gardens&Museums&Outdoors&science&Uncategorized&zoo01 Jun 2008 12:00 pm

We all have membership to the summer club. This is a wonderful club to belong to and can really be a beautiful opportunity to make great memories, share time with family and learn new things. Or it can be riddled with stressful questions like: “What are we doing with the kids?” “How come all these activities are so expensive?” “Who has time off from work to travel?”

But summer is summer. The days are hot and the nights are cool and homemade orange juice popsicles hit the spot. Also, lots of hiking spots around LA are free. Then again, it can be mighty hot to be outside. So here’s a look at some places to consider buying membership to, particularly for the summer.

Kidspace in Pasadena is a combination children’s science museum and indoor activity center. It is small and expensive. Membership is $160/ year for a family of four, $250 for a family of six. That means that four members of a family would need to go five times in the year to cover the membership cost. Are you likely to drive up to Pasadena, near the Rose Bowl to visit Kidspace, and is it worth it?

While there are activities for children ages 1 to 10, I think the most appealing features of Kidspace are the ones for toddlers. The Early Childhood Learning Center is a dream for little sweeties. A certain 19 month old was able to climb a rope ladder and slide down a decent sized slide all by himself over and over, and he was quite overjoyed about it.

There is also squirting water in the courtyard that little kids enjoy standing over until they are soaked (so bring flip-flops and a change of clothes.) For older children there are small educational exhibits like a water table to experiment with erosion, displays of live bugs, and some fun climbing opportunities. Outside is a small race track for tricycle riding, as well as a garden to explore. Just keep in mind that it’s blazes hot in the summer. They do offer special workshops and programs throughout the year so please call or check their online calendar for more information. By the way, I timed it, and it took me 15 minutes to get from Kidspace to downtown LA.

The thing I tend to look for with a summer outing is air conditioning. Huntington Library, also up the 110 in the Pasadena area (San Marino), has lots of air conditioning for the buildings that house their amazing art collections, but then there is a little known outdoor attraction that’s nice for the summer as well. Behind a really neat conservatory and teaching greenhouse is the Children’s Garden, especially designed with kids in mind. That means water squirts and shpritzes and fills areas with thick fog—-all for children to play in. But Huntington Library is quite expensive (two adults and two children over age 5 on a Sunday = $52.) So membership ($100.), again, may be something to consider if this is a place you are likely to visit more than a few times a year. There is a lot to explore between the gardens and the art. On the other hand, The Huntington is free the first Thursday of every month with advanced reservations, so it doesn’t have to cost anything to check it out.

Of course, we have our free museums around LA—the LACMA (after 5pm or through their NextGen program), the Science Center, the Getty– but I do maintain a membership to the Natural History museum, which continues to be a great bargain at $70 a year for the family. Just to be able to pop into the butterfly pavilion on any summer day and sit amongst the butterflies is worth it.

Plus there’s the Los Angeles Zoo ($75), and while I do like to visit the zoo during the cooler months, I find it too hot most summer days. However, membership includes a 50% discount on tickets to many zoos around California and the country. Of particular interest is the very cute Santa Barbara Zoo which is situated near the ocean and would be lovely during the summer. So please get out there and embrace the summer and enjoy the long days and the soft evening breeze and remember that orange juice popsicles hit the spot—and maybe a few hotdogs on the grill, too.


Kidspace Children’s Museum, 480 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91103, www.kidspacemuseum.org, Open daily, 9:30am – 5pm, admission: $8/person over age 1.

The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108, (626) 405-2100, www.huntington.org, open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (excluding Tuesdays), admission: Adults $15 – $20 (weekends) $20, (age 12-18, or with full-time student I.D.) $10, (age 5-11) $6 Children (under 5) free Free first Thursday of every month.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90007 (213) 763-DINO open 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday and Holidays, admission: $9 adults, age 13 – 17 – $6.50 age 5 – 12 – $2 Children under 5 – FREE (recommend membership $70), Free first Tuesday of every month.

Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027, www.lazoo.org, 323/644-4200, open 10 –5 every day, admission: age 13 and up $12, age 2 – 12 $7. (recommend membership: ($75)

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 May 2008 12:00 pm

Once there were stagecoaches, rumbling over the hills of Simi Valley. The hills were alive with the sound of stagecoaches. But now, the hills are the quiet province of wildflowers and an occasional lizard. Were it not for the signs, the significance of the rugged, rocky trail cutting down the hill toward the railroad tracks below might have remained a mystery. Fortunately, as far back as 1939, some folks saw fit to mark the trail as the “Old Stagecoach Road.”

There are a few ways to find the trail—I strongly recommend coming at it from the top, on Lilac Road. This way is simple and straightforward and is located in a very rural neighborhood. The official park sign was burnt black in the Chatsworth fire a few years back, but if you walk up to it you’ll see some postings inside a glass case to let you know you’re in the right place. Plus, there’s a chain link fence cutting across what looks like an old dirt road. The road runs past an old house, well kept and clearly occupied, but from the windows of that old house the residents once saw stagecoaches roll by.

When first we ventured forth on what we thought was the stagecoach road, we climbed up and down small hills, appreciating the breathtaking view of the valley below (and when I say breathtaking, I mean breathtaking.) I’m curious to know what it looks like at different times of the year, but in the spring, it is exquisite. It was so beautiful, in fact, that it was a wonder we had never been here before. The sky, the breeze, the wildflowers—and did I mention the view? The thing is, after a little while on this beautiful trail, it became more and more implausible that it could be a stagecoach road– with all it’s ups and downs and twists and turns, not to mention the fact that there were no signs of wheel ruts. So we greets some fellow hikers and asked them if this was the Old Stagecoach road, and, sure enough, it wasn’t. They told us to go back to the beginning of the trail and take the path that branched off to the right when we first entered. In retrospect, it seemed the more obvious choice, but that’s retrospect for you.

In retrospect I’m glad we took the wrong trail at first because it was far more colorful than the Old Stagecoach trail. But this adventure was about the real stagecoach route, preserved in the hills of Chatsworth and if we hadn’t bothered to find it, I surely would have left Chatsworth wondering about the road not taken.

And what a road it is. Probably heavily eroded by years of rain and flooding, it is an incredibly rough and tumble route. It is a bit of a challenge to walk down, let alone ride on the brittle wheels of a stagecoach. This trail is straight and cuts into the side of a hill, but were it not for the tile sign set into the stone along the trail declaring “Old Santa Susana Stage Road 1859-90, Marked March 17, 1939, Native Daughters of the Golden West” one might still wonder aloud, repeatedly, ‘how could stagecoaches ride this road?’

I cannot say for sure that I saw wheel ruts, but there were some strong possibilities along the way. And there definitely was a snake that went from one side of the stage road to the other, but it looked like a baby snake, and there did not appear to be a rattle on its tail (but please note that most hiking areas around us have warnings for rattlesnakes.) To top off this whole hike into the past, there is even a railroad track near the bottom of the trail with a tunnel though one of the hills for the trains to come through.

Going back up the stage road, there is a small divergence to the left where a pond is tucked away, out of sight, but pretty. I could imagine horses being led away from the main road for a drink of water, but that may just be my imagination.

On the way back to our car, a resident of one of the homes on Lilac Road waved us over to take a look at a nest tucked deep inside a thorny cactus next to his mailbox. Crowded into the nest were a handful of very new baby birds waiting for their dinner.


If there’s an “old” stagecoach road, there must be a “new” stagecoach road, because at some point folks had to have said enough is enough with regard to that rocky ride. By going left from the offramp onto Santa Susana Pass Road there is access to the new stagecoach road. It is most definitely a smoother ride, however, I do not recommend it for a hike. This road is also cut into the side of a hill, but is has a sharp drop off into a deep revine where several abandoned cars can be spotted, not to mention lots of litter.

The best way to reach this hike is by taking the 405 North to 118 West. Exit at Rocky Peak, take a right on Suzanna pass, then a left onto Lilac Road. Drive up this road until you see a dirt turn-out on the left with some burnt posts. Park off the road and walk into the opening of the old metal fence.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Apr 2008 12:00 pm

We had actually taken a hike here once before. It was a hot, humid August afternoon, and while we were equipped with hats, sunscreen, and water bottles, there was only so much walking that was going to get done on that smoldering, end of summer day. Even with a reprieve from the heat in the air conditioned Visitors Center, complete with taxidermed rodents and models of indigenous tribal villages, we still couldn’t see fit to drag ourselves beyond Century Lake, a reservoir of water atop a steep hill.

This time, however, things were different. It was a cool, windy day, lunch was eaten in the car before we started out, and the goal was set: the far end of the main trail, to a place known as the “MASH site.” This seemed to be a goal for a lot of people hiking that day, although for different motivations than us. We had heard that it was a good hike. And indeed it was.

Starting out, the terrain looks pretty typical for the area—rolly hills, willowy trees here and there—that’s about the way it is up until the lake. After the steep, dusty climb to the top of the hill, the backup plan to turn around and go home kicks in. But keep going; it’s worth it. The path slopes downward into a small valley, sheltered on one side by a wall of stratified rock. Being that it’s springtime, the earth is green and buzzing. Orange poppies and other wildflowers dot the meadow grass like confetti.

After crossing a bridge over the creek, the path changes flavor dramatically. It becomes rocky and rough as it follows alongside the water. Interesting stones are strewn about, waiting to be studied. I happened upon a small rock with a clearly discernable clam shell fossil on its surface. This was especially exciting to me as I used to collect rocks and fossils when I was a kid and had always wanted to find a fossil myself. I took a picture of it, but then put it back on the path (for you to find.) There was also rose quartz, volcanic rock, and composite rock. As my daughter declared: “this place is full of wonders.”

The focal point of the trail, where everyone pauses a moment to admire the landscape before heading back, opens out into another valley, this time surrounded by imposing ridges reaching into the sky. Two rusted vehicles, a jeep and an old army ambulance sit along the path, remnants of the t.v. show that was once filmed here. We sat down at the picnic table by the jeep and watched a group of mountain bikers challenge each other to bike up a very steep dirt mound. Another group of hikers settled inside the jeep like little birds and ate their sandwiches. The wind started kicking up sand, so we decided to head back, finding the return hike much faster.

The full hike does require a few hours to do at a comfortable pace. It’s about 4 ½ miles of walking. Driving time really depends on traffic, but should take about 35 minutes from West LA when taking the 10 to the PCH to Malibu Canyon Road (it’s a right turn at Pepperdine.) Folks from the Valley come from the Calabasas side on Las Virgenes Road.

Ghost Towns&Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Mar 2008 12:00 pm

There are a lot of towns in the middle of nowhere in this giant state we live in. Some more nowhere than others. Why this intrigues me, I couldn’t exactly tell you. Or what it is about the world of old trains that draws me, I’m not sure. But there is a forgotten town in the Mojave National Preserve, that piqued my curiosity on several counts.

The Kelso Depot was built in 1923 to provide a full service stop for railroad workers and passengers on the Union Pacific railroad. The key ingredient to Kelso, which began in 1905, was the nearby spring water, required for running the steam engines that came through. At one point Kelso had up to 2000 residents as folks interested in working in the various mining operations in the area (including boron, iron, gold and silver) moved into the desert town.

Abandoned back in the 1980’s, the train depot was recently fixed up and turned into a museum, with national park rangers running the facilities. The most prominent feature of the building is the restaurant (no longer in use) for train passengers to have a meal or cup of coffee and slice of pie from one of the pie cabinets. There is also, within the building, a ticket counter and telegraph office, the storage area for luggage of those just passing through, and upstairs, the boarding rooms for Union Pacific workers. Here, in this distant desert depot, men who worked the railroads could live for a time, sleeping in sparsely furnished bedrooms and even reading the newspaper in the small but adequate lounge. While there are a few bedrooms to view, most of the upstairs has been turned into museum exhibit areas and office space for the rangers. The lounge is still available to sit and read books about railroads or the history of the Mojave area. There are little biographies within the exhibits, and stories about some of the towns in the area.

The ranger at the front desk will show you a short film about all the natural attractions within the Mojave preserve if you ask. Everything is spread out, though, and would require a greater time commitment than a day to visit.

Within the tiny town of Kelso there still remains the old post office, now boarded up, a rickety wooden schoolhouse, now boarded up, and, by the train tracks, a two cell iron jail. This was an endless source of entertainment for any children saw it and probably ended up in as many photographs as the depot itself. It seems that if there were any troublemakers of a criminal sort on the trains coming through, they were put in this holding cell until other arrangements could be made.

Noticing that there was a modest collection of trailer homes on the other side of the tracks, I asked one of the rangers if people lived there. After all, as far as I could tell, there were no functioning buildings for miles around besides the depot museum. The ranger told me that, in fact, there were eighteen Union Pacific railroad workers living in the town. I ventured that real estate is probably more reasonable out there than in Los Angeles.

Back down the sun baked old road we drove up is the Kelso Dunes. This truly is a wonder of the desert, a gathering of sand, blown mostly from the Baker area (which is 35 miles north of Kelso) and planted in a soft heap in the Mojave. The general floor plan of the Mojave is a dry, tan, dirt with small forms of plant life like yuccas and sagebrush. The dunes are pure soft sand. We began the trek out to the highest peaks of the dunes, hoping to hear them sing the weird rolling melody I had read about. These dunes are called “booming dunes” because, when one runs down the dunes, causing the sand to slide like a small avalanche, a sound can be heard. We walked and walked, passing people along with pieces of cardboard in their hands to use for sleds. The dunes were farther away than they appeared. Realizing we would have to walk all the way back at some point, we stopped on one of the lower dunes and began running along the ridge, hoping to hear the “booming.” The conditions apparently weren’t right that day. No one else hiking in the sand claimed to hear the mysterious dune sounds. Some reports say it has to be windy. Some say it has to be very dry. It was a fun experience just to walk on these dunes, which had been deposited in the middle of this nowhere. My husband said to my daughter that this must be like the sand that hid the Mitzri for Moshe Rebbeinu.

It is out of the question to visit this place in the summer. The temperature was lovely and mild for our winter day trip, but still so dry that carrying water is necessary even for a short walk. And then there’s that one teeny tiny factor that might make this a less than ideal road trip… it’s 226 miles to Kelso from Los Angeles.
Perhaps, if this sounds a bit much for a day trip, you might consider driving through Kelso on your way somewhere else. Kelso is, after all, on a wavy two-lane stretch, aptly named Kelbaker Road because it leads from highway 40, through Kelso, up to Baker. Baker is on the 15 freeway. Also, there are some other sites in the preserve like the “Hole-in-the-Wall” which is a hiking and camping area of volcanic rock that has been turned into swiss cheese by the wind, and Mitchell Caverns, which offers guided tours of the region’s limestone caves. Both are for experienced hikers.

So if you are on your way to somewhere in Arizona, or on your way back from Las Vegas, you could take a slight detour into this national preserve and have a stop at a train depot from yesteryear, before continuing on past the Joshua trees toward home.

Notes: Bring hats, sneakers, sunscreen, food and water. There is a gift shop in the depot with water in case you run out.

For more information on Kelso Depot and the Kelso Dunes see: Mojave National Reserve: http://www.nps.gov/moja/

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Feb 2008 12:00 pm

Somewhere between the 405 and the Pacific Ocean, up on a vibrant green hill dotted with fir and eucalyptus and willow trees, is the home of a man from America’s past.

The Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades is 186 acres of grassy yards and walking paths that line the hills and ridges around the house. The Sunday we went, the parking lots were full, and yet there were no big crowds anywhere. Families were spread about the area having picnics, playing Frisbee, taking a stroll.
After our picnic, we queued up for the tour of Will Rogers’ ranch house, recently renovated and furnished almost entirely with the famous owner’s belongings.

I wasn’t really familiar with Will Rogers prior to the tour, but the outstanding state park ranger who gave the tour of Rogers’ house was a fount of information and told us quite a lot in his short introduction.

Will Rogers was the most popular entertainer in America back in the 1930’s. He was a performer and a writer, with many quotes to his credit, including: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” It was in the 1920’s that he purchased this beautiful property on a hill and build a modest ranch to retreat to with his wife and children. The main room of the house is filled with Rogers’ collection of now quite valuable western art and artifacts, and here was Ranger Tim, equipped with a firearm and walkie talkie, discussing the origins of the furniture and rugs. It’s so enjoyable to hear someone talk about a subject they are clearly enthusiastic about.

We toured the other furnished rooms in the house before taking a short hike along a path that went above the main grounds, and looped around the hills leading toward the ocean and Inspiration Point. An expansive view of Los Angeles, from the snowy peaks beyond downtown to the shoreline of Marina Del Rey and Malibu await those who venture up this dusty trail.

The front yard of Will Rogers’ house was at one time a three hole golf course, so it is wide and clear. At one end is an old horse stable, which visitors can wander through. Although there are no horses there now, the structure holds the aura of its 1930’s past with a carefully crafted rotunda and even an old truck to climb on. In the blacksmith/carpenter shop nearby is a very old, broken down car that you can get up close to and look inside. At the other end of the property is a polo field which Rogers built to enjoy playing polo with other celebrities of his day. Polo tournaments are still played here in the spring.

There are meadows reaching up the sides of the hills as well as more paths, for walking and bike riding, that wind through the tall grass and disappear around corners.

It may have been extra crowded the day we visited the park because, unbeknownst to us, it was announced that the Governor was considering closing this park for budgetary reasons. I hope something can be worked out.


Will Rogers State Historic Park 1501 Will Rogers Park Road Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, phone: 310-454-8212, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=626 , park open during daylight hours, tours of ranch house Tues. – Sunday 11am, 1pm, 2pm. $7 parking fee.

Museums01 Jan 2008 12:00 pm

In an effort to learn more about a Jewish Boy Scout troop in our community, I joined them on an outing to the American Military Museum and Restoration Center in El Monte, CA. About half an hour from West LA, this museum is actually the work of a private collector, who, after gathering up an impressive array of old military vehicles, set up a non-profit museum to display his army green and camouflage treasures to boys of all ages who share an enthusiasm for giant versions of their favorite toys.

I have to admit that, even if I had heard of this museum before, I probably would not have been inclined to visit it, however, I do respect that even the tiniest boys find a 72,200 pound crane mottled green and beige, fantastically appealing.

On this Cub Scout field trip, den leader Cliff Alsberg, who served in the U.S. Army, started the day’s program with an introduction to military issue weapons, ammunition, and equipment, explaining how the various items laid out on the ground before him were used. Then the boys were off to explore the vehicles and tools of the military, from the UH/IM 1323 Bell Helicopter Gun Ship, to a staggeringly huge and rusted ship anchor, far from the deep ocean waters it once knew. There was an old 1940’s Plymouth, painted army green with a white star on the side, and, like so many of the other vehicles on the grounds, it looked huge up close.

After walking around, the Cub Scouts gathered in the picnic area to review their Webelos handbook to determine what they could check off for the “scholar requirements” to achieve a pin.

A bit of an explanation may be in order at this point. The Jewish Committee on Scouting includes packs (cub scouts) and troops (boy scouts) of Jewish boys from the greater Los Angeles area. Some, such as Troop 360, are shomer Shabbos and kashrus, and are inclusive of anyone willing to respect those guidelines. As members of the Boy Scouts of America National Council, the Jewish troops work with the same handbooks and training materials, and are able to utilize the many Boy Scout camping grounds around the country. The way it works in terms of age groups is: Tiger Cubs is the group for 6 year olds, Cub Scouts is 1st through 5th grade (with Webelos being specifically 4th and 5th grade), and Boy Scouts is for 6th grade up to the age of 18.

Boy Scouts receive “merit badges” when they accomplished one of the scouting requirements; Cub Scouts receive “ranks.” Boy Scouts have “den meetings” and Cub Scouts have “pack meetings.” I think. Don’t quote me. Girl Scouts is a totally different organization and is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts. There is a shomer Shabbos/kashrus Girl Scout troop that meets in the valley.

After reviewing their handbooks, a concise lesson on the history of education in American– Jewish education in particular– was given by one of the parents toward fulfillment of the scholar requirement. This was followed by a mini award ceremony, at which time pins were distributed to scouts for previous achievements. As this was a uniquely Jewish scouting event, the men gathered for mincha before heading home.


For more information about the Jewish Committee on Scouting, please contact:

American Military Museum and Restoration Center: 1918 N. Rosemead Blvd., El Monte, CA. phone: 626-442-1776, admission: $5/adult, $3/kids (age 10-16),

$1/kids (age 5-9), free for children under age 5.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Dec 2007 12:00 pm

The question I am most often asked on the topic of kosher road trips is: what’s a good hike nearby? My first inclination when the winter months come is to get out to the desert, but that isn’t a short drive away. There is, however, the Angeles National Forest, and that’s quite close. Part of it is close, that is. The Angeles National Forest is huge and sprawling, and apparently has lots of waterfalls. By taking the 110 to the 210, we found a stunning little gem called Monrovia Canyon Falls about 40 minutes away.

We drove out one Sunday morning in an attempt to get in a hike before an afternoon birthday party. Wending our way through the neighborhood streets in Monrovia, we wondered what we were in store for. We drove up the hill of the forest service park and stopped near the nature center. From that vantage point we could look at the towns in the valley below, cast in a soft morning gray, like the distant landscape of a Thomas Cole painting.

Depending upon where you park, the hike to the falls can go from two miles round trip down to a mile and a half if you start by the nature center as we did. Right from the entrance gate I knew I was going to like this park, and I couldn’t get over the fact that such a green forest-y place was so close to home. There were a lot of pine trees around, and when added to chilly sweater weather and the earthy smell of fallen leaves, it was simply dazzling.

Something I’ve noticed when hiking trails in the woods: people say ‘hi.’ On this particular occasion, people even said, ‘good morning.’ This can be a little surprising at first, as this certainly isn’t the standard in the city. There seems to be a hiking etiquette, a recognition that we all have something in common if we are walking along these trails: we must really like it.

This hike is just one beautiful scene after the next as it follows alongside a small creek on its way to the small waterfall. It is a fairly easy walk, with opportunities to branch off and explore here and there and the chance to cross the creek a few times via some well-placed stepping-stones.

We enjoyed lunch in a serene picnic area and then headed back down the hill and through “Old Town Monrovia,” where we stopped for a bit to check out some of the small shops and old fashioned storefronts.

I look forward to returning to Monrovia, hiking to the falls, and exploring the town some more. It was unusually appealing… especially considering how close it is.


Bring a sweater, water, (and lunch if you like)

Monrovia Canyon Falls, Monrovia Canyon Park Nature Center, tel: (626) 256-8282, www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles. $5 parking fee in the park.

Old Town Monrovia is located on Myrtle Ave, which is the street to exit off the 210.

Aquarium&Outdoors01 Nov 2007 12:00 pm

Always bring quarters. On the short list of things to keep in the car for a Sunday road trip, please remember quarters. Besides bottled water, sunscreen, and hats, we also keep quarters. And a small kite. If trunk space permits, please consider a picnic blanket, and some bicycles. But quarters are a priority. Sometimes quarters will allow you to park in good places. About Manhattan Beach: I had heard about a big sand dune that people ran up and down and decided to take a Sunday family road trip to check it out. Tucked into a very cute neighborhood a few miles south of LAX is a small park next to a National Guard center. The park consists of a huge, steep wall of sand and a play area for toddlers. That’s it. While that may not sound like much, it turns out that climbing this sand hill is an invigorating experience, even if you only climb up once. No special clothing or shoes are necessary, just join the many other adults and children making their way to the top. Leg muscles you may have forgotten about are called into action, and at the moment is starts to feel demanding, you’ve made it to the top. Yeay! At the top is quaint little street that leads straight to the ocean. I decided to take the stairs back down the sand dune hill, but my husband ran down and said it had almost the sensation of skiing. We watched some folks go up and down the hill several times for a hearty workout. Just thinking about it right now makes me want to go back.

Continuing south, through the neighborhood, we located Manhattan Beach Blvd., at the end of which is a pier. At the end of the pier is the Roundhouse Aquarium. Here’s where the quarters come in handy. The parking right along the beach requires lots of quarters, every day of the week, and there were plenty of parking spaces, perhaps because not everyone who would have liked to park there had quarters.Don’t be intimidated by the crowds on the pier: they aren’t all going to the aquarium. And yes, you’re in the right place. The first time I saw the little building at the end of the pier, I didn’t know it was the aquarium. I looked up and down the beach and even under the pier wondering where the aquarium was. That little round structure is it. Perhaps because we have come to think of an aquarium as being the size of a theme park, and as expensive, it was hard to imagine that the Roundhouse Aquarium was large enough to contain any fish. For a bite size, and free museum, it’s quite nice. Pop in a pet some sea urchins, cucumbers, and stars. Watch the baby rays and search for the sarcastic fringe head. Consider it an opportunity to focus on a few of the wondrous creatures of the sea.

The colder days being what they are, a strong wind was blowing and there weren’t many people on the beach, so we got the butterfly kite out of the trunk and easily got it into the sky, extending the line all the way. It was a beautiful way to conclude the afternoon outing.
Please note that there is a bike path and a separate footpath running along Manhattan Beach, affording another opportunity to get some exercise and fresh ocean air.Notes:

Sand Dune Park: the corner of 33rd St. and Bell Ave. (left off Rosecrans) Free parking.

Roundhouse Aquarium: end of pier at the end of Manhattan Beach Blvd. Open to public: weekdays 3pm – sunset, Sunday 10am – sunset., Tel: (310) 379-8117, cost: Free. Beach Parking: $1/hour (quarters only)

Museums01 Oct 2007 12:00 pm

Sometimes a road trip is right under our noses. Or, at least, some place we pass on our way to another destination.

Such is the case with the Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park, CA. Newbury Park, in case you’ve never heard of it, is near Thousand Oaks. You’ve probably seen the brown California historic landmark sign along the 101. That was actually the inspiration for our stop. I finally decided to make one of those signs we blow past on our way to somewhere else, the destination for a Sunday road trip.

I wasn’t expecting much when I saw the Disneyland-ish exterior of the “Stagecoach Inn,” especially since I’d read that it wasn’t only the façade that was new, but that the entire structure had been rebuilt from scratch in the 1970’s after a fire destroyed what existed of the original inn… This is my great grandmother’s ring. Well, actually, I lost her ring, but I had this one made to look almost exactly like it. No, the Stagecoach Inn has a lot more going for it than a new, but authentic looking structure. The architectural blueprints of the original inn were not in the building at the time of the fire and so this new building is carefully designed to resemble the original. The real appeal, on an historic level, is what the inn contains, because really, it is a museum holding a collection of interesting items from California’s Victorian past.

An enthusiast for small museums, I was pleased to find docents in every room, ready to explain what all the gadgets and photos were about—and there was a lot to explain. One room was devoted to the brief history of the phonograph, with a remarkable collection of actual phonographs, the wax cylinders, and one use only needles. In an age when even DVD’s have become passé, a short lesson on this curious invention of Thomas Edison is itself worth a stop at the museum.

But there is quite a bit more packed into the $4 price of admission. There’s a “cowboy’s” room, done in period furnishings, a room of equipment used for ironing and pressing clothes, and a rooms furnished for the innkeeper’s family, including a Victorian style nursery.

My favorite room is the kitchen. Please ask a lot of questions while you are in there so you can learn about all the fascinating obsolete instruments and utensils that fill the room. The woman who showed this room to us said that she personally remembers having blocks of ice delivered to her apartment in New York when she was a child. She showed us an instrument that was used to scrape a block of ice to make snow cones for the children as a treat. I had seen iceboxes before (which were used before electric refrigerators) and heard of ice being delivered, but I’d never seen this sweet tool for making snow cones. There was also a primitive vacuum cleaner, a stovetop toaster and so much more. This is a picture of kitchen life in America before electricity.

Of special interest to girls may be the Victorian bridal gown collection in the foyer and, to children of all ages, the Timber school, next door to the inn. Again, this building is a recent reconstruction of an old school, but is designed to represent a one-room schoolhouse from the 1890’s. The furnishings are authentic, including desks fitted with slots for inkwells and tin lunch pails set in the boys’ coatrooms and girls’ coat rooms, respectively. (For more authentic old school room experience, see the Oak Glen Schoolhouse, mentioned in Jewish Life, Oct. 2006) Make sure to ring the school bell before you leave.

Also on the museum grounds are replicas of a pioneer home, adobe house, a Chumash Indian hut, and a collection of Indian artifacts. I was drawn to the carriage house with its two stagecoaches. While one of the coaches was refurbished for use in some Hollywood films, both are authentic. Take some time to look at the seating arrangements and the wheels and think about people traveling hundreds of miles on unpaved roads without air-conditioning in these horse drawn vehicles. Awesome.

Inexpensive and close by, this is a nice way to spend a couple hours with family and friends on a Sunday afternoon.


The Stagecoach Inn Museum, 51 South Ventu Park Rd., Newbury Park, CA 91320, phone: 805-498-9441, www.stagecoachmuseum.org

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 4 P.M. for docent-led tours. Entire complex is open Sunday from 1 to 4 P.M.

Cooking&Restaurants01 Sep 2007 12:00 pm

Congratulations to Benjamin Krombach for winning the scavenger hunt contest (Jewish Life, June 2007). Benjamin’s prize is a $100 gift certificate to the outstanding Tierra Sur restaurant in sunny Oxnard, California. Housed in the Herzog Winery complex, Tierra Sur is perhaps the finest kosher restaurant on the West Coast. Chef Todd Aarons has expanded his menu to make tasty use of the outdoor wood-burning grill, and there is a “wine tasters lunch” option on the menu if you would like to try some suggested wine and food pairings. Despite being an hour away from LA, Tierra Sur was crowded with folks from our neck of the woods on a recent Sunday lunch excursion. See their website for a schedule of music and entertainment programs at the restaurant throughout the year.

Tierra Sur is a great place to stop and eat on the way back into town from a road trip to the north and an amazing example of how vast our kosher restaurant choices have become around here. It may be hard to imagine, but there are actually still Jewish communities in America with no kosher restaurants. It’s true. Then there are the cities with a kosher pizza place and of course the kosher Chinese restaurant, but nothing else! Children growing up in Los Angeles must think it is standard to have a plethora of dining options. You don’t want pizza tonight? How about Yemenite food? How about cheese fondue? How about sushi? How about steak?

Perhaps this is why people often ask me, when I tell them we’re taking a vacation in the middle of nowhere: But What Do You Eat?

It is entirely possible that some people may be disinclined to visit places in America where there are no kosher restaurants because the prospect of dealing with food and no fully equipped kitchen sounds like too much of a balagan to be a vacation.

If you are staying somewhere for more than a day or two, eating only cold food can get tiresome. So what do you do if you are staying somewhere in the country or by the ocean in Maine or on a lake in California and you need to have more than the kosher family version of the MRE (meals ready to eat)—namely, peanut butter and jelly? You need a burner and you need a pot or two. Whether it’s a burner on your relative’s kitchen stove or a camping burner you bring for just such occasions, it really opens the door for food options if you can heat things up. And you need a refrigerator. (Consult your rabbi about making use of a microwave—which can certainly come in handy.)

Folks with experience preparing their own food on vacation will tell you about a particular cooking item they like to use. One friend said she brings an electric fry pan to cook fish. Another said she takes a barbecue and a cooler of meat and they’re set for meals. My favorite cooking accessory is a crock-pot, especially for Shabbos away from home.

With regard to food, you really need to work out your menu in advance; the farther you are from a kosher market, the more menu planning you need to do. Otherwise, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time driving around and grocery shopping, and that’s no fun on a vacation. So get a big cooler if you’ll need to schlep the meat a long way, and stock up on beef for cholent, cut up chicken, shnitzel, ground beef, hotdogs, kishka, and gefilte fish. Start with meat for however many Shabboses you need to cover, then plan for a couple fleishig meals a week. Make sure you have the means to cook whatever you are buying. That is to say, don’t buy a whole chicken to roast if you don’t have access to a kosher oven. If you are going to be cooking in a non-kosher oven, make sure to have enough aluminum tins and aluminum foil to double wrap your food. Cut up chicken is easy because you can just pour sauce on it, wrap it up, and cook it.

You can cook everything on a burner if you have to. In fact, I just heard a report that someone made Shabbos for a family of seven with one pot while on a camping trip in Alaska. You heard me. One pot. Chicken, yes. Potatoes, yes. Veggies, yes. Challah? If you don’t bring challah with you, then you can usually find kosher pita or matzah at any major grocery store. And don’t forget the grape juice.

With only a pot and a frying pan you can make just about anything. And even in the middle of nowhere, you can still put together spaghetti and sauce (use the small cans of Hunt’s tomato sauce), vegetable omelet, bagels and cream cheese, rice with stir-fried vegetables. Think outside the tuna can.

You may not have a sister who lives on a farm and has a bounty of fresh peas, kohlrabi, cucumbers, summer squash, green beans, and corn for you (like I do, B”H), but if your vacation is somewhere in the country, there are probably farm stands around where you can find beautiful fruits and vegetables to enjoy.

Whether it’s Chol Hamoed Sukkos or winter break, or next summer, please consider a few pots, a cooler full of meat, maybe a little burner and a good time somewhere out there. May it be a year of blessings, simchas, and appreciation for Hashem’s Creations.

Botanical Gardens&Nature Walks01 Jul 2007 12:00 pm

The flavors of the major cities in California are so amazingly different. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco—all unique in appearance. Santa Barbara, only two hours from Los Angeles, showcases not only the appealing variety of architecture in California: Spanish, craftsman, Victorian—but the best of land and sea as well. An exit off the 101 will take you winding up the hills, past a dazzling array of beautiful homes on your way to what would be a dream of a back yard: The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

Santa Barbara Butterfly

What a place this is, tucked away in the hills, far from the bustle of the city yet nestled safely within reach of civilization. We have happily visited the botanical garden several times over the years, enjoying the fresh air, the cold shadows of the grand redwoods, and the quiet hum of nature. This year we managed to be at the front gate in time for an official tour of the gardens, lead by an Englishman who shared his enthusiasm for the horticultural variety in the gardens and took our group across the street to a part of the garden we never knew existed. We hiked up a small hill through all sorts of flowers and plants, carefully labeled with little placards and commented upon as we passed by. The view from the top was breathtaking.

“Stand and contemplate the wondrous works of G-d.” (Job 37:14) Everywhere one looks is the beauty of the Creation. It isn’t hard to take pretty pictures in this garden. While I don’t think we’ve visited in the winter, the colors in the spring and summer are delightful, especially against the backdrop of the distant hills and the clear blue sky above. There are long and short paths around the gardens, to saunter along and drink in the delicious, exulted, vibrant green beverage of life. And there is much to experience, from the “fried egg flowers” (matilija poppy), to the beavertail cactus, to the hummingbirds diving and dashing between the blossoms.

It certainly isn’t necessary to have a background in horticulture to appreciate the environment, but the gardens are very informative for those who are interested in learning more. There are different themes within the garden including the Redwood forest (the oldest trees were planted in 1926 and are already quite big), the meadow section, and even a home demonstration garden. There are also some extensive paths along the creek and through the woods for those in search of a hearty nature walk.

When evaluating the feasibility of this outing, please note that there are a few options which make it more accessible than you might think. Some of the paths through the gardens are paved for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers. We carried the baby in a baby backpack, which is a piece of hiking equipment that is sure coming in handy for the kind of off-roading I’m willing to do (especially when I’m not the one wearing the backpack.) Also, there is a nice arrangement of picnic tables and chairs next to the retail nursery where we ate our bag lunches.

On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop and found some nice nature oriented gifts, then wended our way back down the hill, past the beautiful homes and onto the highway.

It was a good day trip.


Santa Barbara Botanical Garden: 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara, phone: 805-682-4726, www.sbbg.org

P.S. Don’t forget: your scavenger hunt entry (Jewish Life, June 2007) must be received by Aug. 1, 2007.

Museums01 May 2007 12:00 pm

One day each year, the “Museums of the Arroyo” in Pasadena host “MOTO Day”, a special day when this network of museums and historic homes is open for free to the public AND free shuttles are provided to transport visitors to all the sights. This year, MOTO Day is on Sunday, May 20, 2007.

There isn’t really time in one day to fully appreciate all the stops on the tour, but over the years I have had the opportunity to dig into most of them. You could put all the locations on a historical time line and start with the earliest, which is the Southwest Museum of the American Indian. There may be some special exhibits and demonstrations there this year in lieu of viewing the permanent collection halls which the museum website says are undergoing extensive preservation efforts. It would probably be best to just ask one of the docents at Heritage Square Museum if they know what’s going on before taking the shuttle over there.

By the way, we park our car at Heritage Square, which is reached by going north on the 110 freeway from downtown Los Angeles and exiting at Avenue 43. You can see the historic houses from the highway so it’s very easy to find the museum. Technically, Heritage Square would be your second stop on the historical location timeline (but since you’re already there…) Heritage Square is a collection of Victorian era houses and buildings which have been rounded up from different locations over the years and brought to the museum grounds to maintain and keep open to the public. Heritage Square not only offers an outside viewing, but an inside look at these beautiful homes as well with period furnishings and docents who are eager to share their knowledge. On the grounds of the park are ongoing demonstrations, reenactments and activities for children such as how to play the old fashioned game of hoop and stick—so don’t be shy!

The third location on the historic timeline would be the Lummis House, which, like Heritage Square, is in Highland Park. Surrounded by a sweet and subtle garden, the Lummis House was built from 1898 to 1910 by a writer named Charles Lummis, who gathered river stones to make his curious little castle.

It is a far cry from the Fenyes Mansion, also built around the turn of the last century. Fully furnished and loaded with artwork, there is a lot to see in this home on “Millionaire’s Row” in Pasadena, but I found the pantry in the kitchen with its old food containers and cooking utensils the most interesting part.

The can’t miss spot on the tour is the Gamble House, which is across the street from the Fenyes mansion/Pasadena Museum of History. The Gamble House is the quintessential example of the American Arts & Crafts style architecture. Built in 1908, everything about it, from the front door to the banisters to the kitchen cabinets, is hand crafted and beautiful—even the walls are made of fine wood. It is a very warm and livable environment.

Finally, on the tour, there is the Los Angeles Police Museum. Frankly, I don’t recall this being on the tour before and consequently I’ve never seen it, but from the looks of the photos on the website, it may be of great interest to the boys in your particular tour group as the museum collection promises antique handcuffs, billy clubs and other necessary tools of law enforcement.

Overall, the stops of the MOTO Day tour would not generally go over well with the pre-school set as the house tours will become very trying to them within thirty seconds, but older children who are accustomed to visiting museums may enjoy it and certainly the demonstrations on the grounds of Heritage Park should be fun.

For information on “MOTO DAY” please see: www.museumsofthearroyo.com
Or call: 213-740-8687.
Heritage Square Museum, 3800 Homer St., Los Angeles. Take the 110 North toward Pasadena, exit at Ave. 43
Gamble House: 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena, phone: 626-793-3334. The Gamble House is located off the 134 freeway or by taking the 110 N and continuing on to Orange Grove, north of Walnut Ave.

Ghost Towns01 Apr 2007 12:00 pm

Johannesburg, CA
Did you know that Johannesburg and Randsburg are only a few hours drive from Los Angeles? Way out in the dusty desert on the edge of Kern County, gold and silver were discovered in 1895 and, according to legend, the locations were called Johannesburg and Randsburg by men who had mined in South Africa and found it to be bountiful in minerals, like Witwatersrand. Miners, gamblers, and the like poured into Randsburg bringing the population up to 2,500 at the peak of the gold rush. Nice family folk set up just around the bend in the town of Johannesburg. Today, “Jo-burg” as the locals call it, has a population of 176 with a one-room elementary school for the seven children in town. Randsburg has a population of 80.

On a continuing search for the quintessential Old West town, we drove out to Randsburg one recent Sunday and found, at the end of an undulating two-lane highway, a curious place with many of its original buildings. I spoke with the shopkeeper of an antiques store set up in the old town bank about living in such an isolated place (otherwise known as “yehupitz.”) She said that she and her husband had always wanted to retire to Johannesburg and that the townsfolk are very close knit. You had better get along with everyone in a town of only 176 people. The nearest grocery store is in Ridgecrest, which is also where the high school students have to be bused every day. Ridgecrest is about twenty minutes away. Like most ghost towns, Randsburg is primarily a main street with a few residential side streets dotted with little cottages and shacks, sometimes built on the frames of miners’ tents. The term “ghost town” by the way, seems to refer to any old mining town that maintains its original facades. Randsburg, then, is a “living ghost town” with an impressive collection of authentic structures (residents sniff at Calico with its many reconstructed buildings, not to mention the fact that no one actually lives there.) There is a public bathroom in the park next to the town museum, but you will notice lots of outhouses around. That’s right, very little has changed in Randsburg, including the plumbing, and residents still use outhouses. Jo-burg has the indoor bathrooms.

The Randsburg Museum is in a little house and has a few interesting items, including a table set with rocks that look vaguely like different foods. The pictures of the schoolhouses and students who lived there over the years were especially memorable.

A road around the side of a hill leads to Johannesburg, where most of the locals live, and if you want to see some affordable housing in Southern California, there it is. Frankly, there isn’t much to see in Johannesburg, so we continued up highway 395 and cut back on Garlock Road, which passes the “ghost town” of Garlock. When we passed this tiny spot, I began to re-evaluate the source that inspired this trip: a free map I’d picked up touting tourist sites in Kern County. Whenever we visit museums I like to pick up the free literature in order to collect information for future reference. This particular map listed many special attractions and historic landmarks in Kern County, and, well, some of them turned out to be less than the brochures declared. Case in point: the “ghost town of Garlock” which was basically a plaque on some guy’s property.

The map also highlighted the opal mines in the Red Rock Canyon State Park where visitors, for a small fee, could search around the mines for their own opals. We took Redrock Randsburg Road back to highway 14 and found the ranger’s station in the state park. The ranger gave me a map of the park and showed me where the opal mine was that we could explore, at no charge. It sounded great. Then she asked if we had 4-wheel drive. I said we did, and so off we went. When we turned off the highway onto a sand road and saw signs warning “no OHV” (off road vehicles) and positioned at confusing angles so that I wasn’t sure if the signs were meant for us or not (they weren’t), I should have known this also wasn’t quite what the Kern County tourist map made it out to be. Yes, we had 4-wheel drive, but this road had deep banks of sand, ruts, and pits, and I found myself gripping my car seat and wondering whether we could possibly tip over, or get stuck in the sand. Not surprisingly, we got lost, had to turn around, and head another mile down an even rougher road. By now it was getting late, and I’d had enough of off-roading, so we stopped and had a look around at the rocks all around us. This area is a veritable Toys R’ Us for kids who like to collect rocks and minerals. Opals are found in volcanic rock and there was plenty of that around. We picked up some interesting specimens, but no opals. If you have a vehicle that can handle rough, sandy roads, and you think you would enjoy a few miles of jostling and bouncing, then give it a try and let me know if you find any opals. Considering how hard it was to get there, and that we didn’t see another car the whole time, there are probably lots of opals still there for the finding.

Red Rock Canyon State Park itself is an area of unusual red rock formations and eroded strata that looks like drip castles, so for rock buffs, this is a neat place.
But is it worth five hours of driving to get to there? Well, I would recommend Randsburg to anyone who is intrigued by the Old West and favors that period of American history. This is a small but authentic mining town where gold is still being mined today. Combined with an interest in rocks, this corner of Kern County makes for an out-of-the-ordinary road trip, and if you go during the one full day of Chol Hamoed Pesach, you will likely be the only one eating matzah in this Johannesburg (unless everyone reading this goes.)


Randsburg/Johannesburg is about 2 ½ hours from Los Angeles taking the 5 N. to the 14 N, then Redrock Randsburg Road into Randsburg. The Randsburg Museum is only open on weekends, but the antiques shops are open during the week.

Red Rock Canyon State Park is on the 14 N. a little ways past the exit for Redrock Randsburg Road.

See websites for maps at details: www.randsburgcalifornia.com, www.parks.ca.gov, www.desertusa.com.

Always pack water, sunscreen and hats in your car.

Museums01 Mar 2007 12:00 pm

If your little sweeties love science then it will be worth the 45 minutes it takes to get to Santa Ana in order to explore the Discovery Science Center. This is a real hands on, kids oriented center with many different exhibits that require interaction. A tornado, simulated using fog and fans, can be manipulated to dissipate and regroup into a twister (I think that’s my favorite.) A large water table filled with sand and flowing water allows visitors to experiment with erosion. A whole area is devoted to simulating and demonstrating the effects of an earthquake. And there’s always a line of kids to experience lying down on the bed of nails. There’s also a climbing wall, and a giant wheel with fog billowing through it to make cloud rings. Upstairs there are exhibits that test strength and skill, like a chair and pulley contraption to see if you can lift yourself, gizmos to test your reaction time and coordination, and some fun with aerodynamics. A section called “Techno Arts” combines lasers, lights, and sounds for creative interaction, and there are exhibits that demonstrate optical illusions.

The activities at the Discovery Center seem best suited to children ages 5 to 13, especially considering some of the special exhibits coming up like “Sesame Street Presents: The Body” and “Bubblefest,” but most of the exhibits are so well done that the whole family will enjoy participating.

Unlike the California Science Center in Exposition Park, the Discovery Center charges admission ($12.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids) so you might want to consider buying a membership ($89 for family) when you go if there is a possibility you will go more than once in a year. As with the Natural History Museum and the L.A. Zoo, getting a membership allows you entrance into a network of neat places around the country, or, in the case of the Discovery Center, around the world– including Israel! It’s a nice indoor activity to jot on the “fun things to do” list.


Discovery Science Center, 2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana 92705, phone:714-542-2823, on the internet:

Outdoors01 Jan 2007 12:00 pm

People talk about our amazing proximity to both the beach and the snowy mountains, but how often do we take advantage of that proximity? Some might even ask, why should we take advantage of that proximity?

Just look at the Tehillim we read in the weekday Pesukei D’zimrah. In Psalm 147 it says: “He Who gives snow like fleece, He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls His ice like crumbs – before His cold, who can stand?”* It’s a glorious thing that we can experience snow and ice first hand, rather than just look at pictures. It really is amazing, when you think about it, that we can enjoy a warm sunny day in the city while less than two hours away fluffy white snow awaits us.

One possibility for sledding is Frazier Park. About 1 ½ hours North on the 5 freeway, Frazier Park is a small town with a treasure chest of snow. Our experience with Frazier Park has been that once you get off the highway and head up the main road that climbs into the mountains, it’s just a matter of stopping somewhere along the way and joining other adventurous sledders on a good hill. One year we found ourselves up in the hills, amongst the fragrant pine trees, a soft snow falling as we sought out clear areas to safely sled. It was, need I say it, freezing cold, and the air had the invigoratingly clean smell of ice and pine. We watched tufts of snow float down from the sky and caught the lacey snowflakes on our mittens. Just thinking about it makes me want to be there. There is an official “snowplay park” called Tait Ranch which is on the Frazier Park Road, only three miles off the highway and $5 per car to enter. Pulling over and wandering between the pine trees is free, however.

And then there’s Mount Baldy. Mount Baldy really takes the cake because it’s only a 1 hour and 20 minute drive from West LA. You can see it from the highway in the winter, covered in a blanket of snow. The winding drive up the mountain is kind of neat, too. It is pretty apparent where the sledding is. The road splits and there are cars parked up against the snow banks. On the hills nearby, families build snowmen and, of course, try the different sledding runs. A note about when to go to Mount Baldy: better to go during the week. A day when there happens to be no school is perfect. The trouble with going on a Sunday is that loads and loads of people from around LA have the same idea and it can make for an unpleasant experience. During the week, however, it seems to be just a few families with young children who tend to congregate on the sledding hills.

Both Frazier Park and Mount Baldy have weather condition updates online and it’s important to check the weather report plus call before you go to make sure there is enough snow for sledding. Unlike at my Mom’s house where you can look out the window, see your car buried in snow in the driveway and know that anywhere in New England there’s enough snow for sledding, we can’t determine much from looking out the window beyond if it’s raining too hard to brave the highways. We were once caught in a torrential downpour on the way to Frazier Park—I don’t recommend it.

And don’t forget your sled. The ideal sled, I think, is the red plastic toboggan, which doesn’t have any sharp edges and doesn’t require any skill to handle. We found my old standard at a local sporting goods store.

Despite the often clear blue skies, it’s important to wear the proper gear for the snow. This should include boots, heavy socks, a snowsuit or ski pants and a jacket, waterproof mittens or gloves, a hat, and sunscreen. The first time we brought our daughter to the mountains to experience snow, a little bit touched her skin and she screamed—I guess it didn’t feel the way she expected. Her reaction made me think about how we can take things for granted, those of us who grew up with four seasons, not to mention those of us who grew up around woods to explore and animals to see.

Within Tehillim 147, David Hamelech writes of grass on the mountains, of horses, and ravens– things we don’t see in the city. It’s important to get out and experience these things first hand, when possible, and to see to it that our children don’t only know snow from picture books.

*translation from Artscroll’s Klein Edition Women’s Siddur


Frazier Park: take the 5 freeway north to the Frazier Park exit, keep going on Frazier Park Road, see: www.shopoutdoors.com/activities.html or http://www.frazmtn.com/fmcoc/snowcond.htm

Mount Baldy: take the 10 freeway east to the Mountain Ave/ Mt. Baldy exit, head north up the mountain. Ph. http://www.mtbaldy.com/

Ghost Towns&Outdoors01 Dec 2006 12:00 pm

When driving through the desert on the way to somewhere else, there’s a tendency to think the desert is a whole bunch of nothing; miles and miles of dried up earth and brownish plants all around. But then, that’s what makes a place like Calico such a curiosity. How is it that a town was built around a dry and desolate hill in the middle of nothing? How did anyone happen upon this particular hill when there are so many that look just like it in the Mojave desert? Somehow it happened that silver was discovered in 1881 on a crop of hills just north of Barstow and a town was built called Calico. Actually, the main hill of Calico does look a little different than the other hills along the highway; it is mottled red, green and gray from minerals in the ground, hence the name Calico.

Calico is located a mile from the I-15 E., going toward Las Vegas, another mysterious town in the middle of the desert. But, unlike Las Vegas, Calico was only briefly populated with folks who came to work the silver mines. Later, in the early 1900’s due to nearby Borax mining (which we will IY”H discuss in the near future) the town continued, but by 1930, it had gone the way of so many other mining towns around the West. In fact, the Barstow Chamber of Commerce lists eight such mining ghost towns in the Barstow area. Calico is unique among them because it was bought by Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm and turned into the tourist attraction it is today. While five of the buildings are original, the rest are said to be replicas based on old photographs of the town. Frankly, the overall flavor is fairly touristy, especially considering that “Main Street” is heavily paved for your convenience and lined with gift shops. And compared to a remarkably well kept, dynamic, and historically packed town like Tombstone, Arizona, Calico isn’t much.

So the question is, why do I like Calico? Because there really was a small mining town right in that place, in the middle of nowhere. 1200 people lived there at one point, and, as the turn on the Calico & Odessa Railroad illustrates, the area in which these people lived was small and sparse. Looking out across the dusty ground which was once packed with small family homes and is now just a few stones from one foundation, it’s hard to imagine men, women, and children going about their business in such a blazing hot place. We are fortunate to be able to visit the desert in the winter, when the temperature is comfortably cool, but the residents of Calico lived day to day in the unforgiving desert sun. I didn’t find out where the town water came from, but that is a good question. The coolest place to be was deep in the mines, and this can be experienced with a tour of the Maggie Mine. For a small fee you can walk inside and through one of the hills next to the railroad. Throughout the tunnel there are larger rooms visible behind fences where miner mannequins have been set up in mining poses to give one an idea of what it might have looked like to be working in there. Carved into the side of the hill are cave-like homes made by some of the miners. Perhaps these primitive houses offered some respite from the heat, as the mines did. Considering that $86 million in silver was extracted from the Calico area, the desert heat must have been worth the trouble to some.

Other attractions include a craft shop where children can decorate their own ceramic medallion necklaces and a shop with old-fashioned clothes to dress up in and take a sepia toned family photo. Then there’s the “mystery shack,” a house in which the interior is a collection of optical illusions. I hear tell of an old west “shootout” that happens on Sundays, but we didn’t see any action while we were there so it’s probably a good idea to call first if your visit requires some cowboy gun-slinging.

Calico is only two hours from Los Angeles and worth the trip. I liked it so much I look forward to going again soon—but only in the winter, of course.

Ice Skating in Pershing Square

It’s that time of year again, when the park and recreation department transforms Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles into a winter wonderland, of sorts. From now until January 15, 2007, an ice skating rink is set up with skates for rent in all sizes. It’s really neat to skate on a little rink in the middle of the big city, getting a view of city life while gliding across the ice. Don’t miss it.


Calico Ghost Town, Yermo, CA 92398, phone: 1-760-254-2122
open daily 8am – dusk (5pm.)
admission: adult $6, child (6-15) $3, child 5-under FREE

Pershing Square Ice Skating:
532 S. Olive St. (parking garage underneath, for a fee)
cost: $6 per half hour skating session
$2 skate rental

Apple Picking&Museums&Outdoors01 Oct 2006 12:00 pm

What is autumn without fresh from the orchard apples? When summer is officially over and the weather cools off, the call of crunchy tart apples drifts down from the mountains and beckons city dwellers to enjoy the freshest of fruit.

You may recall last year’s Kosher Road Trip to Julian, a small mining town three hours away which remains the premier spot for autumn apples. But there does happen to be a gathering of orchards closer to the Los Angeles area. Oak Glen, just down the 10 E. Freeway, takes half the time to reach (not more than an hour and a half) and, like Julian, offers a wonderful variety of apples.

Apples require a certain crispy climate in order to thrive, and the mystery of Oak Glen is how a place surrounded by desert and not that high up in the hills could have such a different climate. On the Sunday we went, recently, a dark grey cloud was looming over the tops of the hills and, as we began a walk on the Los Rios Wildlands Conservancy trail, rain burst from one section of the sky and poured down on us. Yet the sun was shining and the sky was blue most everywhere we looked. The trail looked promising, though, so we hope to continue on it another day.

Meanwhile, down the road just a bit is the Oak Glen School House Museum, a tiny school with one classroom built in 1927 for the handful of children in Oak Glen. This charming stone building, surrounded by trees and grass (and sometimes bears that wander through) was in use until 1965, and apparently had only one teacher for all the grammar school grade levels of the children in attendance. The volunteer museum guide showed us around and shared some cute stories passed down by local families of children sneaking out of the detention room, or hiding the sauerkraut, which sometimes appeared in the school hot lunch, so they wouldn’t have to eat it. The most interesting artifacts to me were the “Rules for Teachers” posted on the walls. Prior to building the stone school, there was a little wooden school built in 1888 to service the community, and some of the rules posted date back to 1872. Some of the requirements for the one room schoolteacher read: “Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session. Women are forbidden to wear skirts slit to expose the ankles, men cannot have shirt sleeves ‘unlinked and rolled.’” Women teachers were also warned, “not to loiter downtown in ice cream stores” among other things. Perhaps even more eye opening is a copy of the 1899-1901 Eighth grade grammar school examination which asks students questions in physiology, geography, and several other subjects including the requests to: “Make a diagram of the stomach. Locate therein the openings into the stomach, and name them,” and “Name the countries of South America with the capital cities,” and “A note, face $250, interest 1 per cent, per month dated Nov. 1, 1898, due Sept. 10, 1899. Find bank discount on March 4, 1899, at 8 per cent per annum.” Makes you think.

The museum guide showed us the ground breaking indoor toilet with a rope to pull and flush, then rang the school bell for us as we left (and that’s a real bell, not the electronic timed ring schools have now.)

Back over at Los Rios, a small band was playing folk music as we checked out what apples were available in the store. Surprisingly, we didn’t encounter any honey, the natural companion to apples. In Julian there is an array of honeys which are naturally flavored by the flowers the bees collect pollen from. No local honey here, but there were some red delicious apples and very aromatic pears for sale. We then headed over to Snowline Orchards, which I had found in the past to be an excellent source for apples in terms of variety and quality. Even though we had come early in the season and not all the varieties were yet ready, Snowline did not disappoint. We gathered up bags of braeburn, macintosh, gravenstein, lura red, Ozark gold—the latter two were recommended to me for baking—and then we headed home.

So far I’ve baked two apple pies with streusel topping, a pear crisp, and some apple muffins. The macintosh are for eating straight and are crunchy and tart the way I remember from apple picking in Massachusetts.

Apple season is brief and can vary slightly depending on the weather, but when you get that vague sense that autumn is in the air, the apples are at their best. So whether it’s Julian or Oak Glen, please go and enjoy some California apples. You can even pick your own.


The simplest directions to Oak Glen: take 10 E. to Oak Glen Rd. exit, drive into the hills
General information: www.oakglen.net
Snowline Orchards: 39400 Oak Glen Road Yucaipa, CA 92399, (909) 797-3415 snow-line.com, apples about $7 per big bag (call for availability)
Oak Glen School House Museum, 11911 S Oak Glen Rd., phone: 909-797-1691, open Sunday (except in Dec. or rainy days), admission free (donations welcome)
The Wildlands Conservancy at Los Rios Rancho, 39611 Oak Glen Rd., open Sunday 9am-4:30pm, admission free.

Museums01 Sep 2006 12:00 pm

A curious little half day trip awaits you just down the highway in City of Industry. One wouldn’t think that a piece of local history could be found in a place called “City of Industry,” but then that should serve as a reminder of how layered even the Los Angeles area history is. The Homestead Museum was once the private property and residences of the Workman and Temple families, with structures built by the families over the course of a century. Back in 1840, when California was still part of Mexico and venturing west was left to risk-taking pioneers, a man named William Workman schlepped his family across the rugged terrain and decided to make a go of cattle ranching. The home he built still stands on the property.

As is so often and impressively the case, particularly with free tours such as this one, our docent was very enthusiastic and had loads of information to share with us. He gave us a summary of the regional history as far back as he could go before we stepped outside the visitor’s center and began a tour of the houses. The original Workman house was a modest structure built in 1841, but over the years additions were made and it evolved into a quaint early Victorian. Renovations are currently being done on the Workman house and since it is not furnished, a little imagination is required to picture an afternoon in the parlor, with the family enjoying a glass of lemonade and hoping for a gentle breeze through the window. Some of the original wallpaper remains and preservationists have taken pains to expose parts of the deeper architectural interests of the house such as the original adobe.

Workman branched out from the cattle business and tried his hand at different money making opportunities that arose in the ever growing west coast. His successes and failures are illustrated in development of his property. It should be noted that Workman was very involved in California politics and both the Workmans and the Temples played prominent roles in the development of the state. Both Temple Street in downtown L.A. and Temple City, among many other places, are named for members of the Temple family.

Workman’s daughter Antonia married into the Temple family and right next door to the Workman house is the house of a Workman/Temple descendent. This residence, named La Casa Nueva, was built in the 1920’s and is fully furnished with the latest gadgets and amenities of the time. The docent informed us that about one third of the furnishings were actual possessions of the family, and while this may not sound like much, it is actually considered quite a lot for an historic home. There are some colorful details to the house such as the stained glass windows of family members and the animal heads carved into the wooden beams.

Mostly, it is a sense of mystery that fills both houses. I wondered, among other things, why the Temples would build such a lavish home in the middle of nowhere when they could have lived close to all the action in Los Angeles. Driving home I realized it really wasn’t that far from downtown L.A. (only about thirty minutes taking the 10 E. and the 60), but how long did it take in the late 19th century? What once was the homestead of a cattle rancher who needed a lot of undeveloped land, became the pet project of a family at times involved in oil, land development, banking, mercantile, railroads, and politics. And, although by today’s standards, it really is close by, being at the Homestead feels far away from the city and all the familiar billboards and pavement of city life.

It’s always neat to discover these little bits of history tucked here and there around L.A., a city which generally appears pretty modern. But then, what is considered “historical” is relative. My sister lives in a house built in the 1600’s. And when we think of the ancient structures that still stand in Israel, well, a house built in 1840 is pretty new in the scheme of things. And yet, the Workman house is one of the oldest in California, and it offers an unusual taste of local history. It’s a nice change of pace on a Sunday afternoon.

If you come in between tours, take a stroll over to the brilliantly colored koi pond right next to the museum.


Homestead Museum
Address: 15415 East Don Julian Rd, City of Industry, CA 91745
Phone: 626-968-8492
Guided Tours: Wednesday – Sunday at 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm
Cost: Free

Museums01 Aug 2006 12:00 pm

On top of a hill in Simi Valley, at the end of a long driveway lined with banners depicting every president of the United States, is a place that, on the 4th of July offers face painting, story telling, and moon bounces—for free. And, during Chanukah, on the top of this hill, Chabad lights a giant menorah for all the valley below to see—and there’s also face painting, craft making, and snacks for free. What is this place?

I’m talking about the Reagan Presidential Library, of course. Opened in 1991, the library tells the story of President Ronald Reagan, with artifacts from his life as a young boy growing up in Illinois, to his years in Hollywood, to his remarkable political career. How Reagan went from being a Hollywood actor to the most powerful man in the free world is carefully chronicled in short films, news clips, and historical displays that capture moments in time. One of the most popular attractions is a replica of the Oval Office, furnished with all the décor and interior design as Reagan had it, down to the jar of jellybeans on his desk.

The jellybeans appear again in the latest attraction at the library, one for which an enormous addition had to be built on to the modest facility: the Air Force One Pavilion. A beautiful new, multi-level wing of the library, with one wall made entirely of windows to let in the daylight, Air Force One is showcased in state of the art style. And even though it’s pretty neat just to see it from the outside, with the presidential seal on a white background, the good news is you can actually go inside the aircraft and see for yourself how much is packed into the “flying White House.” The President has his office area, and then there are special quarters for cabinet and administration members, security, and even the White House press crew. There are innovations on Air Force One that today may not seem like a big deal, but a “secure phone” and a control system to contact the departments of defense in case of an emergency were once unavailable to the Commander in Chief when traveling by air.

Included in the pavilion is also a Marine One helicopter, as well as vehicles from President Reagan’s motorcade. You can also have your picture taken in front of Air Force One and have it processed and ready to purchase when you finish touring the aircraft. This seems to be a common feature at most theme parks and events these days.

The Cold War during Reagan’s presidency is presented in both the main library and the new pavilion, with the most memorable piece being a huge cement section of the Berlin wall. It was at the Brandenburg Gate in West Germany in 1987 that President Reagan shocked the world by declaring in his speech, “Mr. Gobachev, tear down this wall!” It was Reagan’s blunt language, and open confrontation of the Soviet Union which lead to his greatest legacy. Natan Sharansky had the opportunity to tell President Reagan how, when the Soviet dissidents in the gulag of Siberia got hold of a copy of a newspaper reporting Reagan’s speech in which he refers to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” that the prisoners burst out in celebration. As Sharansky explained, Reagan had put an end to the world’s pretense that the Soviet Union wasn’t all that bad. Reagan himself was happy to hear Sharansky’s story because for both the speech at the Berlin wall and the “evil empire” speech, Reagan had been heavily criticized in America and around the world. Historically, this is an important lesson about the power of strong leadership, and it is one of many informative elements of the library.

The library contains several unique permanent collections as well as temporary exhibits. One room is dedicated to displaying the vast array of gifts Reagan received during his eight year presidency, including some unusual handmade items.

A Sunday outing to the Reagan Presidential Library is a fun and manageable excursion, taking about 45 minutes to get there from LA, and, since it’s air-conditioned, any time is a good time to go. By the way, keep your eye out for the annual Chanukah party at the Reagan library, which has in the past been hosted by Chabads of Simi Valley and Conejo along with the library.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93065
Tel: (800) 410-8354
The library is open daily from 10am-5pm
Admission: Ages 18–61: $12.00
Ages 62+: $9.00
Ages 11–17: $3.00
Under age 11: Free

Arts & Crafts&Outdoors01 Jul 2006 12:00 pm

As nice as it is to be outside for a hike, often times, in the summer, it’s just too hot to trudge up a dusty trail in the blazing sun, or venture into the desert. There are a lot of neat places in the desert, but they should be discussed in the cooler months, not now, when the prospect of getting out of an air conditioned car to walk around in 125 degree heat does not sound like a vacation at all. Winter is truly the best time to visit the old west towns and other curiosities of the desert, so please keep it in mind for later…

There does exist a small place, outdoors, in Orange County, that we enjoy visiting every summer. It is the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach. Just down the street from the ocean, and shaded by a hillside, trees, and awnings, the Sawdust Festival (as we call it) is an annual summer gathering of various local artists. On display are paintings, photographs, ceramics, jewelry, blown glass, and other handmade works of art. Why is it called the “Sawdust Art Festival?” The pathways are filled with sawdust. According to festival history, the sawdust was brought in to keep the ground dust to a minimum. Whatever the reason for using it, the sawdust does have an appealing and memorable scent and it adds to the ambiance year after year.

And we have been going for several years now; it truly is part of our summer tradition. Perhaps the reason it became a standard for us is because it is so close to Laguna Woods (Leisure World), where Grampa lives. We can drive down mid-morning on a Sunday, pick up Grampa, and continue on another ten minutes to the Sawdust Festival. Grampa isn’t much for walking around, but he enjoys looking around, mostly from the raised patio at the back of the festival area. He takes a seat on a bench on the patio and listens to the folk music or watches the balloon animal artist, or whatever is going on. We bring sandwiches and drinks for lunch and eat with Grampa. Then we all watch the glass blowing artists who have amazing demonstrations throughout the day. It’s not often that we get to see glass in a malleable state being blown and spun into colorful vases.

Each artist at the festival has a booth to display his or her works, with some artists reappearing year after year and some new ones to discover. We like to peruse all the booths and find one thing we like to bring home from the Sawdust that year. One time it was a handmade ceramic beehive honey pot that we used for Rosh Hashana. Another year it was a stoneware dish with a lid that was, and continues to be, well suited for cholent. Last year it was a little handblown pink and green vase that just appealed to us.

There are a few different booths for children to make their own crafts. Last year, Grampa got a kick out of watching our daughter use a potter’s wheel to shape her own clay bowl. Ultimately, the festival is just a nice atmosphere to be together and see some interesting things.

This year happens to be the 40th anniversary of the Sawdust Art Festival, and the summer show only goes from June 30th to September 3rd, so please take a day out to enjoy the arts and crafts, and spend time with family.


Sawdust Art Festival, June 30 – September 3, open every day 10am – 10pm. Admission: $7.00 Adult one-day $6.00 Senior one-day (65 yrs & up) $3.00 Child one-day (6-12 yrs) Free Age 5 yrs & younger. Address: 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, phone: Phone: 949 494-3030. www.sawdustartfestival.org

Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors&Uncategorized01 Jun 2006 12:00 pm

Summer is coming. Summer means different things to different people. For some it means a few weeks in another country, or visiting relatives in another state, or exploring a national park far away. But not everybody can leave work for a week or more during the summer to travel. So should that mean the only difference between summer and winter is the weather? No way. There are adventures to be had during the weekday, after work, and on Sundays. Just look around.

The LA County Museum has free art projects for children on Sundays from 12:30pm-3:15pm. This is part of what the museum calls the “NexGen” program, which entitles children who have signed up to visit the museum any time for free (with free entry for one adult as well.) For the Sunday art program, a few different tables are set up with an assortment of craft ideas that share a common theme. When the masterpieces are completed, enjoy a picnic in the grassy park between the LACMA and the Tar Pit Museum.

A little known fact about the LACMA is that it is FREE for everyone after 5pm on weekdays. “Let’s meet at the LACMA after work,” is practically all the planning it takes to stroll into this enormous museum and explore as much or as little of it as you want. My particular favorites are the American art collection and the ancient glass. Even my daughter was in awe when we studied a whisper thin goblet of completely chip free glass and contemplated the fact that nobody had dropped it for over a thousands years. Amazing.

Another Sunday special is the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. It’s one of those little gems tucked away from the main road that many people miss on the way to the zoo. Built in 1926, the merry-go-round lives in another time and seems to attract people who love the sweetness of a simpler day. Organ pipes beckon with tunes from “The Sound of Music” and other well-known melodies. The horses are elaborately decorated and bob past detailed murals on the inner walls. It’s definitely worth a stop for a ride on your way to one of the many other places in Griffith Park.

Speaking of nostalgia for another time, the Fun Zone on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach makes for a nice day trip. The best way to get to the peninsula is via a small ferry that shuttles back and forth between Balboa Island and the peninsula all day long. (You can drive directly onto the peninsula but the ferry is more fun.) If you don’t need to take your car on the ferry, then stay off of Marine Road, park on a side street, and walk to the ferry. Right along the water’s edge, on Balboa Peninsula is an old amusement park with old fashioned arcade games as well as some small rides like a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and of course a merry-go-round. Sure, there are lots of shops along the streets, but it’s the old arcade games that drew us. By “old” I mean really old; games like skeeball, aiming a ball to knock over pins, or attempting to roll balls into different slots (I don’t know the names of these games, but I like them.) Originally used in “Penny Arcades” these games of skill, with hardly any electronics at all, send out streams of tickets to winners, so the other fun part is collecting up tickets and then heading to the prize counter to select from an array of prizes you could buy in packs of three at the 99Cent Store. If you are seven years old, making these prize selections can take up to half an hour. But that is part of the fun of the whole experience. There are actually two arcades; in one the games take quarters, in the other, tokens. So either way, bring your dollars—and a budget. Boat rentals are available near the ferry, and on the other side of the peninsula (across the street), a long peer reaches out across the water for a beautiful view of the sailboats and the blue sea.

A little further south, in Laguna Beach, is Crystal Cove State Park. This really is a nature reserve for land and sea animals. From the parking lot to the right of the entrance gate, the meadows along the ocean are filled with an amazing variety of birds, and the pathways through the grassy areas are fully paved, so it might be fun to explore on wheels with a pair of binoculars and some crayons or markers to sketch the colorful birds. The main feature of Crystal Cove is the tide pools. Tide pools are pockets of water between rocks along the shore that contain lots of different sea animals. It is easy to find anemones, snails, hermit crabs and shore crabs as well as other tiny creatures. According to the park website, it is possible at times to find starfish (sea stars) and even octopuses in the tide pools. A fun game would be to write up a list of animals to locate for a scavenger hunt and point them out to everyone as they are discovered.

Enjoy your summer with family and friends. I’d write out directions to all the places mentioned, but there just isn’t space, so please call or check the websites.


LACMA: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323-857-6000 (general information)
323-857-0098 (TDD)
http://www.lacma.org (see NextGen calendar for programming)
Open every day except Wednesday.

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Park Center, open weekends throughout the year and weekdays in the summer, 11am-5pm, 323-665-3051.

Balboa Fun Zone
Located on the Balboa Peninsula
in Newport Beach
600 E. Bay Ave. Balboa, CA 92661
(949) 673-0408
Ferry ride: 60cents for adults, 30cents for children.

Crystal Cove State Park, located off Pacific Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, CA with easy access from I-5, 405 and 73.
http://www.crystalcovestatepark.com, bring $10 cash for parking.

Aquarium&Museums01 May 2006 12:00 pm

Is the Monterey Bay Aquarium really the best aquarium? It’s nearly a six hour drive from Los Angeles to find out, so one really has to wonder, considering that the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is right down the road, if driving to another aquarium is worth an overnight trip. The question you have to ask yourself is: How much do I like fish?

Now that I think about it, most of the creatures we’re interested in seeing at the aquarium are not actually fish. We really enjoy all of the extraordinary creatures at any aquarium. It is amazing to observe the diversity of Creation.

The funny thing is, when we arrived in Monterey, everyone, even people at the aquarium, told us we had to do the “17 Mile Drive.” We did, but first things first.
Monterey is a quaint, ocean side town which has a lot of cute shops in the downtown area and along legendary Cannery Row. There is a wide variety of lodging available including hotels and motels, cottages with full kitchens (which is what we stayed in) and Victorian inns along Lighthouse Ave. While we visited during the off season, it was clear that Monterey really blossoms in the summer with bike and kayak rentals and the beach crowd—but for those of us who like to take a walk in sweater weather, winter is just right.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, situated at one end of Cannery Row, is the San Diego Zoo of marine life. There are many different environments to feature the various fish and aquatic creatures on display, including a lively otter tank and a rocky shore with simulated waves crashing over it. A glass dome makes it possible to stand under the crashing waves, and this is so entertaining it’s hard to pry everyone away to see the rest of the aquarium. Near the entrance to the aquarium are electronic information boards listing the feeding times for some of the major exhibits including the giant kelp forest and the penguins. All the “feeding shows” are made informative by knowledgeable guides who share facts about the animals and take questions from the moderately sized audiences. One interesting item we learned about the penguin exhibit is that some of the penguins are actually guests from an aquarium in New Orleans, which was evacuated due to hurricane Katrina.

What’s particularly impressive about the Monterey Aquarium is the excellent condition everything is in, including interactive areas for small children. Virtually everything is in pristine, working order and the atmosphere is open and comfortable.

For those who like to pet the tiny sea creatures there are touch tanks with starfish, rays, anemones and crabs. Other favorite exhibits were the orange octopus, which happened to be clinging to the glass so we could get a good look at him, and the strange giant swimming pancake called the sunfish. Perhaps the most unusual exhibit is “Jellies: Living Art.” With lighting, frames and mirrors, a variety of jellyfish are displayed, just being themselves, but with all kinds of artistic enhancements to their surroundings to showcase their curious beauty. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Having been to the Boston aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Long Beach aquarium, I think the Monterey Aquarium is the best for overall appeal. While Monterey doesn’t have any of the large mammals i.e., dolphins and sea lions, as some of the other aquariums do, Monterey successfully displays the fish and animals it does have in a clean and contemporary setting.

After seeing everything we could at the aquarium, we headed out to the 17 Mile Drive, hoping to take the tour before sunset. We stopped for directions twice before finding the entrance, paid the $8 to drive down the private road through sparkling green forests, enormous estates, and the Pebble Beach golf course to stop at several different lookout points along the ocean shore. Fortunately, we had binoculars with us to have a better look at the wildlife, and a camera to capture one beautiful image after the next. What sounded like kind of a nap—“17 Mile Drive—zzzzz….” turned out to be a very memorable part of the trip.

It seems like an obvious travel tip, but it bears repeating: ask the locals what sights are worth visiting. Ask the other tourists, too. One of the families we spoke to at the aquarium was from our community right here in LA. They also recommended the 17 Mile drive. Thanks for the tip.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940,
phone: 831-548-4888, http://www.mbayaq.org/vi/ admission: Adult $21.95, Senior (65+) $19.95, Student (13 thru 17 or college ID) $19.95, Child (3 thru 12) $12.95, Child (Under 3) Free, Disabled $12.95

17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, CA 93953 car entry: $8.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Apr 2006 12:00 pm

Where can you find a park that offers paths for biking, nature walks into a wildlife reserve, and even paved paths through the woods for wheelchairs and strollers? That would be the El Dorado Nature Reserve and Regional Park in Long Beach. Half an hour away, off the Bellflower exit, El Dorado is a two part park. On one side is a very big grassy park with ponds and trees and areas for camping and barbecues. It also has a section for archery, and one pond has miniature buoys in it for the miniature remote controlled sailboat enthusiasts to race in their weekend regattas. But wait, there’s more: the piece de resistance is the four miles of paved bike paths, mostly surrounded by grass. I mention this because it is ideal for children who are learning how to ride a bike. With no traffic or driveways or rocky spots to interfere with the acquiring of biking skills, children can feel free to focus on balancing, with soft grass nearby for the occasional tip over.

Finding a good place for a beginning biker isn’t such an easy thing. There is a long bike path along the beach in Santa Monica, but it is a wide path with skaters and bikers speeding by and a small drop to the sand. At El Dorado, the bike paths, and in fact the whole park is family friendly and easygoing.

Across the street from the Regional Park is the Nature Reserve. Paying a $6 car entrance fee to either side gets you into everything. The nature reserve is different from other reserves or state parks I’ve been to around Los Angeles. It’s more lush and green and there are some unusual birds to spot in and around the pond. A rustic cabin houses the nature center, which includes some hands on displays for children like snake skins and turtle shells, plus a reading corner and a puppet theater. It’s a small place, meant to be explored at one’s own pace. The large pond at the center of the reserve has lots of turtles swimming and sitting in the sun. Signs direct visitors to a few different pathways through the woods. The shortest one, which winds through the trees, is completely paved smooth. The other paths loop over a creek and up hills and past berry bushes filled with birds. There really is something for everyone who seeks to be in the thick of nature.

To the north, also about half an hour away, is Millard Canyon Falls, one of many hiking trails in the Pasadena area. The first trail we headed for was actually Eaton Canyon Falls, but after driving in circles looking for the entrance to the trail, and calling the rangers’ office to ask where it was, we discovered that the fence we’d noticed with the chains and padlocks, was the beginning of the trail.

So we moved on to Millard Canyon Falls and discovered for ourselves a place worth visiting again. Now this is a trail for people who enjoy climbing over and around the piles of boulders that have filled this dried creek. We saw plenty of little kids relishing the search for a path from stone to stone and it’s easily doable in sneakers and a skirt.

The air is spicy with the scent of eucalyptus trees and every once in a while the remnants of the creek make an appearance, requiring some balancing skills and careful maneuvering over the rocks to avoid getting wet. The trail ends at a waterfall, shooting water between precariously balanced boulders wedged at the top of a cliff. There’s something dramatic about water rushing over a steep stone ledge into a crystal clear pool below. The hike is only a mile, and well worth doing again.

Another thing we learned along the way is that a parking permit is required to park in the park. There was no entrance gate anywhere to purchase this permit. Apparently, we were supposed to have known that we have to buy one at a sporting good store beforehand, I guess. A ranger at Millard Canyon told us that rangers drive around to check cars for permits and if they don’t have a permit, they get a ticket—-for the cost of the permit ($5). So you don’t need to pre-purchase a permit after all. We never did get a ticket, but just know that you can still park without a permit and work it out later if need be.

Enjoy the outdoors during Chol Hamoed and be back home in good time for a matzah lasagna dinner.

El Dorado Nature Center, Regional Park: 7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach, www.longbeach.gov/park/facilities/parks/el_dorado_nature_center.asp,
tel. #: 570-1745, Trails: Tu-Su, 8am – 5pm Museum: Tu-F, 10am – 4pm, Sun, 8:30am – 4pm, $6 for parking.

Millard Canyon Falls: Angeles National Forest near Pasadena, exit Lake Ave. off the 210, tel: 818-899-1900, www.pasadenacal.com/sports/hiking.html, $5 parking if ticketed or order at: www.fs.fed.us/r5/sanbernardino/ap/

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