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Okay, it's summertime, and your friend, buddy or significant other is harassing you non-stop about Southern California: the beaches, the amusement parks, the stars! With visions of "Baywatch" rescues, squeaky-voiced rodents and starring roles dancing in your head, you embark for Los Angeles and plunge head-first into...its congested freeway system! The price for fame and fortune never did come cheap, and L.A. is no exception. Before you know it, you're shelling out beaucoup bucks for an exercise in the imaginary, doggedly following fictional rodents-turned-superstars around the park while assiduously crushing real-live ones under your feet, making a tour of the stars' homes (er, hedges...er, right-hand corner of mailboxes) while never seeing a movie star in the flesh. To temper the illusory, conserve the monetary and heighten the enjoyability, I have prepared the following list of observations and notes (hints? tips?) about Southland attractions. Read on, and remember: CARPE L.A.!
The big triumvirate: Disneyland, Universal Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain.
Disneyland: No visit to L.A. would be complete without paying homage to the place where, "When you wish upon a star," "it doesn't matter who you are." It likes us, it really, really likes us; and at $32.00 a pop per adult ticket, it has scant reason not to. Fill up before you go, though, or bring along bottled water and snacks, or the fortune you spend on food and drink will preclude you from finishing your Harvard education. All that energy also comes in handy when you're bombarded with aggressive, line-cutting tykes, or stampeded by Mickey's entourage.
Note: Avoid the ToonTown area unless you're with someone who's under 50 inches. But when you wonder how two mice (Mickey and Minnie) could own one dog (Pluto) while being best friends with another (Goofy), you'll probably want to steer clear anyways.
Nifty Souvenir: All tourists must purchase the ubiquitous key chain, whether it is the one with your name underneath the picture of Mickey or the leather cut-out of Mickey standing next to your first initial. Woe is the unlucky soul who has the "unique" name (meaning one impossible to find on a key chain or other such souvenir accessory.)
Universal Studios: Universal Studios brings the magic of movies to life, but you'll be slightly disappointed to find Jessica Fletcher's ("Murder She Wrote") beloved Cabot Cove next to the lake where JAWS resides, and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys' houses across from that of the geriatric Golden Girls. Transportation is made easy by tram and escalator. In fact, everything is so pleasing and easily available that you'll find yourself defending the legitimacy of spending your money here.
Note: The sound stage shows are participant-friendly. Volunteer yourself and your friends as early and often as possible.
Nifty Souvenir: Almost any souvenir is a good souvenir here. Nothing beats that nostalgic feeling that comes from spotting merchandise from your favorite childhood movie, such as the CD from Universal's hit movie "Back to the Future." They've got a wide array of merchandise from all sorts of entertainment, including new movies, old movies, classic movies and new shows, reruns and canceleds.
Six Flags Magic Mountain: This park is the largest (read: most spread out) of the three, so make sure your shoes are made for walking. Once again, bottled water is a plus. Dehydration and overheating can easily occur while you're in line. The wild rides are not for the tame of heart, and usually hold limited appeal for young children. Thus, teenagers and young adults have the run of the park, making the lines move a little more rapidly, in my opinion.
Note: Intersperse the roller coasters with water rides, or you'll develop a raging headache.
Nifty Souvenir: After you purchase your tickets and before you enter the park, Magic Mountain photographers subject you and your party to an obligatory photo. (Of course, there is "no obligation to buy.") However, the photograph, which comes in a viewfinder key chain, is pretty cool anyway, and can easily double as a key chain.
The Star Factor: Getting a glimpse of the stars' homes is as hard as life without oxygen, but getting directions there is a piece of cake. While your rental car is being squeegeed by a helpful road-side window cleaner, you will come face to face with a Maps of the Stars' Homes stand on the corner and inevitably be offered one for sale. Hey, it beats the Tours of the Stars' Homes, given by minivan.
TV tapings are the way to go for maximum star potential. They're free and their tickets (for the most part) are easily obtainable. Just call up the station of your favorite show (i.e., ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, WB...) and show up at the studio on the day of. You'll probably bump into sitcom stars in adjoining sound stages on your way to the bathroom. (I never knew that Christina Applegate, Kelly Bundy on Fox's "Married With Children," wore glasses.) Even better are talk shows and game shows, where they actually pay you to come and hoot and holler as part of the audience. Tickets for those events must be reserved early in advance.
Rodeo Drive: Unless you have much money to spend, you will invite the suspicious glances of otherwise well-meaning salespeople. Besides, Rodeo might be a nice place to visit, but you probably wouldn't want to shop there.
Melrose Avenue: The address of Fox's hottest twentysomethings, its famous inspiration is sadly without an equally wacky apartment complex. While you probably won't catch Heather Locklear or Grant Show during your visit, you can stop by CONDOMANIA, a large store devoted exclusively to all varieties of protection, including the different and the new in safe sex.
Nifty Souvenir: If you're an aficionado of the Hard Rock T-shirt collectible, there are two prime locations you should note. The Wilshire Hard Rock next to the Beverly Center proudly boasts Beverly Hills Hard Rock T-shirts, while the one on Universal City-Walk hawks Hollywood Hard Rock shirts. Both stores are deluged by camera-happy fans.
Abutting the Pacific Ocean, California has long been known for its "laid-back" beach image and culture. Cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway for breathtakingly beautiful views. And all this is free, except for the occasional tank of gas and minimal parking fee. Parking at most state beaches is a mere $3, but you can park for free if you're willing to walk a block or two. Have a bonfire, roast marshmallows, make S'mores, but according to new rules (at least in Orange County), fires must be out by 10 or 11 p.m. Beaches abound with college and high school students, except for the Fourth of July when everyone goes. Malibu Beach is the set for TV's "Baywatch" and filming takes place during the off-peak season. However, the Malibu/Santa Monica area is renowned for its many star sightings, as many own homes there.
Nifty Souvenir: Anything with seashells that's crafted with class (e.g., sea animal figurines made out of seashells). Anything with pink (or otherwise colored) sand in it, however, is bordering on the cheesy.
Some less popular, but just as interesting, Southern California attractions.
Medieval Times: This medieval restaurant in Buena Park, California is the site of the "Cable Guy" scene in which Jim Carey takes his jousting (and obsessive friendship) with Matthew Broderick a little too far and almost kills him in the process. Participation by the diners in the arena is typically not allowed, but, true to the movie, eating with your hands is derigeur.
Nifty Souvenir: You can look up your family crest and shield (if there ever was one) in the gift shop and purchase crests, shields or family trees.
Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace: To remain nonpartisan, I racked my brain for a presidential library honoring a Democratic president and found that there are none in the Los Angeles area. Focusing little on the Watergate scandal while emphasizing his prowess in foreign affairs, the library states simply that Nixon "chose to resign" from the presidency.
Nifty Souvenir: Anything that's possible to affix the Richard Nixon name or presidential logo to; you name it, they've got it. Often, a museum's gift shop is as interesting as the museum itself, and this one is no exception.
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