Museums


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.

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.

Notes:

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)

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/

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.

Notes:

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.

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.

Notes:

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.

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.

Notes:
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.

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.

Notes:

Discovery Science Center, 2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana 92705, phone:714-542-2823, on the internet: http://64.143.71.42/

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.

Notes:

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.

Notes:

Homestead Museum
Address: 15415 East Don Julian Rd, City of Industry, CA 91745
Phone: 626-968-8492
www.homsteadmuseum.org
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.

Notes:
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93065
Tel: (800) 410-8354
www.reaganfoundation.org
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

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.

Notes:

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.

Notes:
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.

Museums&trains01 Jan 2006 12:00 pm

In 1900, a traveler could board a train in Los Angeles and arrive in Chicago about 60 hours later. That’s pretty good, considering that today a comfortable road trip from LA to Chicago would take a few days and include stops for meals and sleeping. The railway passenger in 1900 could dine, sleep, and enjoy the view while rolling across America in a comfortable or even luxury car. So what became of trains and why are so many people fascinated by them, including little children who’ve never even seen real trains before?

Perhaps, for some folks, trains are a romanticized form of travel, capturing in time a simpler life when all men wore hats and all women wore dresses. For children, it may just be the fun of building tracks and attaching long lines of cars that draws them to trains. This multi-generational appeal has produced railroad museums across the country, including several in Southern California. And, while you can find books that list all of the museums, I’d like to offer my opinion of a few of them, because, well, some have more features than others.

As an out of the way but interesting trip, there’s the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum (also called the San Diego Railroad Museum) in Campo, CA. For major train enthusiasts and those of us who like to see historical items up close, this small outpost in the rural town of Campo is worth the three hour drive. Just 55 miles outside of San Diego, Campo is an old cattle ranching town and a stop on the San Diego & Arizona Railway. The draw here is a 16 mile train ride on a couple of old passenger cars which move along the landscape until the engine comes to a loop in the tracks. At that point it is disconnected from the cars and brought around to the other end to reconnect and bring the train back home. Also in Campo is a general store, “Gaskill Brother’s Stone Store” built in 1885, which houses an impressive collection of late 19th and early 20th century merchandise. Canned food, tonics and remedies in pristine condition line the shelves. I mention the general store because the overall flavor of dusty Campo, very close to the Mexico border, made the trip appealing to me, but the driving time may not be worth it to most people, especially people with little kids who just want to get out and do something.

Closer to Los Angeles is Fillmore, CA, about an hour and 20 minutes away. Fillmore is another town that serves as a reminder that America is quite a different place outside the big city. But as far as trains go, there’s not much to it. Fillmore Train Depot offers train excursions with the most passenger cars to ride of any of the railroad museums mentioned here, but it’s quite an expensive ride at $20 a ticket for adults and the ride is too long. When we visited, the usual train route had been changed because of work being done on the railroad line. Consequently, the train took us west for a while, stopped, went back east, stopped at a fishery to feed the fish, and then came back west to the train depot. There was one outdoor car with open air benches and then a few regular passenger cars—- make sure to sit in the open air car if it’s hot. There was a car with snacks and souvenirs, but what seemed to be the main draw and the reason for such a long ride was the dining car, which obviously was not for us. It was interesting to walk through the vintage dining car with tables alongside the windows, and imagine passengers being served hot meals as they looked out at the prairies and small towns along the way. But since we wouldn’t be eating in the restaurant, the trip felt just too long. And there wasn’t much more to Fillmore besides a short but quaint downtown and some well stocked farm stands along the way.

So then we come to the cream of the crop, or rather, the top of the line, also an hour and twenty minutes away in Perris, CA. The Orange Empire Railway Museum, located in Riverside County, has more to it than any other train museum in the area. Run by volunteers who just love trains, this railroad museum is a grassy park loaded with train cars, engines, a collection of old items used on trains, and a few warehouses full of train cars you can look inside. There’s also a neat little area of real railroad signals that can be activated by pressing their buttons— buttons are always a winner.

Come on Sunday and you can buy an all day pass to ride two different trolleys around the museum grounds, as well as the passenger trains pulled by a diesel powered engine. Both trolleys were used in downtown LA in the 1920’s and 30’s and are in amazing condition, thanks to the work of the museum volunteers. The streetcar from the 1920’s has wooden benches with moveable backs for passengers to face forward or backward. It’s amazing the level of quality that could be found in mundane things before glass and wood and brass were replaced with plastic.

The train ride into town is short and sweet, just to get a taste of a commute on an old passenger car. All of the rides are really quite enjoyable and the conductors are happy to explain the history of the cars and answer questions.

We brought boxes of sushi for lunch and ate at a picnic table on the grounds. Also, we were happy to have our coats with us because it was nippy out there.

Your best bet for overall historical information and fun activities: Orange Empire Railway Museum. It’s not expensive, it’s not too far away, it has rides, and the atmosphere is pleasant.

P.S. Yes, there’s always Travel Town near the L.A. Zoo. It’s free and has many train cars to look at from the outside, but no rides on real trains. Still, for people, especially very young people who play with trains, it’s fun to see the real thing, and there is a ride on a mini train (one of three in the Griffith Park area.)

For more information:
Orange Empire Railway Museum, 2201 S. “A” St. ,Perris CA 92570 tel.: (951) 657-2605 or (951) 943-3020, www.oerm.org. Access to the Museum Grounds is free, (except during certain special events). On regular weekends, an all-day pass to ride the trains costs $10 for adults, $8 for children 5-11, free for kids under 5. Parking is always free.

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, Campo Depot
31123-1/2 Highway 94 Campo, California 91906
tel.: (619) 478-9937, www.psrm.org, open weekends and holidays 9am – 5pm

Fillmore and Western Railway, 250 Central Ave Fillmore, CA. 93015 tel.: 1-805-524-2546, www.fwry.com. Adult $20.00; Senior.60+ $18.00; 4 thru 12 years: $10.00; Infant thru 3 years $6.00

Travel Town Transportation Museum, 5200 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90027, tel.: (323) 662-5874. open M-F, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 10a.m. to 5p.m. Admission is free (train ride $2)

Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Dec 2005 12:00 pm

It’s good to have some activities up your sleeve that don’t require a full day commitment or a mall. Everybody has a few. The neighborhood park or the local library is always nice. But what about the park just a little way down the road or the library that’s so big it could fit all of our neighborhood libraries inside it? And even though Los Angeles is a city, a very big city, it still contains wildlife and swaths of green nature, tucked away from the main roads and found in the most unlikely places.

Take for example, Franklin Canyon Park, which can be found in North Beverly Hills off Beverly Drive, but which you would never have seen from the road, and yet it’s very big (605 acres.) It’s the kind of place that people don’t find unless someone else shows them. The park has different sections to it, but the main point of interest is a large pond (referred to as a ‘lake’) surrounded by trees and cattails and wildflowers and another smaller pond next to it with ducks and turtles. Of course there are trails to walk all around and explore. During this colder time of year, a chill settles into the park and you can almost smell winter in the fir trees.

Further up, off Coldwater Canyon Rd. is Tree People, another free park with trails winding over hills and through woods. It’s ideal for a long brisk walk and some fresh air.

Also in Beverly Hills, off of Foothill Rd., is Greystone Mansion, a castle-like estate built in 1928 by Edward Doheny, and eventually given to the city to be used as a public park. It has a big parking lot, an elaborate system of gardens, as well as fish and turtle ponds, and a house out of a storybook with a slate roof, and a veranda that looks out across the city. There are places to sit and read or enjoy a quiet conversation.

Then there’s the downtown area. If you haven’t been downtown lately, you are in for a surprise. When I first came out to LA, the downtown area was a faded and unwelcoming shell of its former self. But now, the sparkle and bustle of city life has returned since art deco buildings have been polished, the Disney Music Hall has opened, and real estate prices have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Public Library, a huge architectural wonder, has continued to expand its appeal with a dazzling array of art exhibits and programs (not to mention a really cute gift shop.) The building is attractive inside and out with wall murals, carvings, fountains and tile work, it’s enjoyable just to look around. But then there are the books, the floors and floors of books. For people who love books, and I know there are a lot of us out there, the downtown library is a treasure trove of comprehensive collections and hard to find publications. Just think of a subject you’d like to learn more about and a bounty of books is likely to be available to check out or to reference. Once, my husband and I found a small white jar in the woods near my Grandmother’s house in Massachusetts. We went down to the patents floor of the library and actually found a picture of the jar and description of it, made in 1898, in the patents records.
The children’s section is absolutely dreamy with an enormous collection of books to choose from and chairs and couches to settle into for hours of reading.
A slight snag to the downtown library is the parking. In order to get a discount rate with validation, library patrons must park in the garage at 524. S. Flower Street, otherwise downtown parking can be a fortune.

One of my favorite places in Los Angeles is just a little south of downtown, where a family can find hours and hours and summers and late afternoons of enjoyment, for a small fee. A $60 family membership opens the doors to unlimited admission to the Natural History Museum, (which includes admission to the La Brea Tar Pit Museum on Wilshire Blvd., and the William S. Hart Park & Museum in Newhall.) The Natural History Museum comes in handy for “home nursery school” “camp Ema” and “after school play dates,” not to mention “relatives in town who want to go somewhere with the family on a Sunday.” Right next door to the free Science Museum, the Natural History Museum is huge and it is easy to visit it again and again for years and still have sections yet to explore. The Discovery Center, within the museum, is a two story children’s section with live insects and reptiles that are taken out of their tanks on a regular basis for educational (and petting) purposes. A whole section of the main museum is transformed a few times a year for special exhibits, and in the summer an outdoor garden pavilion is filled with a variety of fluttering butterflies to study up close. While it’s difficult to park on the street during the school year because of the USC students needing the spaces, during the summer and on Sundays street parking is easy to come by; just bring quarters (and save yourself the $6 parking lot fee.) The benefit of membership at such a big place is that you don’t feel compelled to see the whole thing in one day and can visit for short outings of an hour or two at a time, also members are sent schedules of events at all three museums throughout the year.
More local activity suggestions to come…

Notes: Franklin Canyon Park, 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.lamountains.com
Tree People, 12601 Mulholland Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90210, (818)753-4600, www.treepeople.org
Greystone Park, 905 Loma Vista Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 550-4654, www.beverlyhills.org
Los Angeles Public Library, Central Library 630 W. 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90071 – (213) 228-7000, Mon. 10-8, Tue. 10-8, Wed. 10-8, Thu. 10-8, Fri. 10-6, Sat. 10-6, Sun. 1-5, www.lapl.org
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007, (213) 763-DIN0, www.nhm.org

Apple Picking&Museums&Outdoors01 Oct 2005 12:00 pm

“So where have you been? What have you seen?” Rav Natan asked my husband and me, married only a year. We’d both come out to Los Angeles to attend USC and had confined most of our exploring to the Pico Robertson neighborhood.

We shrugged and just looked at each other blankly. No wonder neither of us was enthralled with California; we hadn’t seen it. Our excuse for not having ventured beyond the county limits was that we had school and work and no money. Traveling was an expensive proposition and a big production, wasn’t it?

Rav Natan jokingly chided us, “Come on. What’s the big deal? Just get in your car and start driving. There’s so much to see.” And that is, in fact, what he and his family did on a regular basis. He and his wife piled their young children into their old Volvo station wagon, somehow packed enough food and clothing to meet everyone’s needs, and got on the road, often camping at national parks and cooking under the open skies.

So, maybe we could see what was out there, way out there, even on a tight budget and even if we had to be home by Shabbos. For the big road trips, we could even be in another state for Shabbos, with a little advance planning. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s start with a day trip.

Many wonderful adventures on the road since that conversation with Rav Natan have helped us to fine tune the road trip prep time so that if we decide on a Sunday morning that we want to go somewhere we virtually have only to hop in the car. A few things we like to keep in the car when we’re on the road: a case of water bottles, a box of hand wipes, wide brim hats, sunscreen.

Special items for this trip: lunch and snacks, packed in a cooler if perishable, cash to pay for apples and museum.

Now, onto the road…

In search of autumn one year, we found the small town of Julian, CA. I grew up in Massachusetts where autumn is a beautiful season of red maple leaves, sweater weather, and apple picking. For the cost of a three hour drive into the mountains east of San Diego, you can have a little taste of a New England autumn.

The best route is to take the 405 South to the 5 South to Highway 78 East, which you will find in Oceanside. Take the 78 all the way up to Julian. It gets kind of convoluted around Ramona, but just watch the signs. As you approach Julian, you will see orchards and farm stands with fruit for sale. You can hit those places on the way back to stock up on the wide variety of apples only available during apple season.

Julian was once a gold mining town. Today it is all about the apples and the atmosphere. The center of town smells like apple pie and mountain air. Park on the street in town and walk around. There are lots of little shops with crafts, artwork, and different tasty honeys (please note that, according to Rabbi Eidlitz in Kashrus Conscience, all pure unflavored honey is fine.) It’s a nice place to pick up little gifts for people.

Strolling up and down Main Street is a horse drawn carriage which fits right in with the late 19th — early 20th century houses and shops in town. “The Country Carriage” offers half hour rides, and another way to take in the charm of Julian. It’s an appealing option if you’d like to see the town at a leisurely pace. By the way, if you’re really interested in horseback riding, Julian Stables has guided trail rides, but you’ll need reservations.

When it’s time for lunch, find a park bench and unpack the sandwiches you brought. Another reason to always have water bottles on hand is for washing. When on a road trip, be ready to picnic anywhere. And take the time to enjoy this new place you are in. The air in Julian is delicious and refreshing, and the wonderful scent of apple pies serves as an inspiration to bake your own when you get home. After eating, and exploring Main Street with its old fashioned storefronts, take a look inside the Pioneer Museum, located just half a block from Main Street. It’s a tiny museum, but those are often the most intriguing. It’s truly amazing what the smallest towns with the smallest museums can contain, and part of the fun is finding out. The docent we met, again true to small museum form, was enthusiastic and had lots of tidbits to share about the town.

For a self-guided walking tour of some of Julian’s historic sites, hit the Chamber of Commerce office in the Town Hall building (corner of Main & Washington) for a map, updates on what’s going on in town that day (and maybe inquire about the History Hunt while you’re there.) The October calendar of events includes an in-town melodrama and a free arts & crafts show in the Town Hall. I picked up a handmade hat pin last year.

There are hiking trails around Julian to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, and at this time of year, the air not only gets cold enough to make tasty apples, but it also turns the leaves the glorious hues of a New England autumn, best appreciated in the thick of it.

Whether you want to pick some of your own apples or buy bags and bags of them at a stand, you will want to go to Julian during the brief period when apples are in season. It does not happen at the exact same time every year, with the peak of season coming sometime between September and October. The word from Calico Ranch is that apple picking starts October 1st this year, and on Sundays they are open from 10am to 4:30pm. The great thing about apple picking is that it’s fun for all ages and you can actually pick the apples you want right from the trees. Long sticks with hooked baskets on the top are used to reach the out-of-reach apples and you can buy as many empty bags to load with apples as you like. Calico Ranch is two miles west of Julian on highway 78 and they don’t take credit cards.

The thing is, it’s worth it to drive all the way to Julian just to buy the fresh picked apples, even if you don’t pick them yourself. Once you have taken a bite of a crisp Pippin apple or seen how white the flesh of Red Delicious is supposed to be, it will be hard to find a tolerable store bought apple again. Have you ever had a Winesap or a Jonathan or even a Northern Spy? Many varieties of apples are only available near apple orchards during apple season because they diminish in quality very quickly. The amazing thing about having a variety is that when you bake an apple pie with three different kinds of apples, they produce enough of their own sweetness to make the pie moist and tasty without added sugar.

Take lots of pictures, stop at Meyer Orchards, on highway 78, (no credit cards) for a wide variety of apples and pears, and appreciate that there are small towns like Julian in the mountains a few hours outside of Los Angeles with crisp autumns and even snowy winters. What an amazing place we live in.

Please check out the Julian Chamber of Commerce website for the calendar of events for the coming months: www.julianca.com

The Country Carriage: $25-$40 for ½ hour ride, reservations preferred, (760) 765-1471
Pioneer Museum: $2 donation per adult, $1 for children over 8, free for 7 or under (760) 765-0227
2811 Washington Street
Calico Ranch: approx. $7.50 for a 5 lb bag, no credit cards,(858)586-0392
Meyer Orchards: (760) 765-0233
3962 Highway 78, Wynola, CA, no credit cards
Julian Stables: $45 per person, call for reservations (760) 765-1598

My Mom’s Apple Pie Recipe:

Preheat oven: 410 degrees Fahrenheit

Ingredients

Two 9” pie crusts*
8-9 peeled, cored and sliced apples of 3 different varieties, preferably (Cortland, Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, Baldwin, etc.)
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon margarine
Spread sliced apples evenly into pie bottom, mix sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon together and sprinkle over apples. Sugar causes water to release from apples when baking, making a slight syrup. No sugar will give a drier, but still tasty pie. Dot apples with margarine. Cut vents into top crust, place on top of pie, trim and flute edges.

Bake at 410 degrees for 10 minutes
Then, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour

To make my mom’s pie crust from scratch:

2 cups flour
2/3 cup margarine
pinch salt
5 Tablespoons ice water or apple cider

Cut shortening into flour until pea size. Add 5 Tablespoons ice water (or cider), toss with fork, form into ball quickly with hands, wrap and chill. Depending on humidity of day, more or less water may be required. Do not over-handle dough.

After dough chilled firm, split into two balls, roll into two 9” crusts.