Archive for the ‘It’s Free’ Category

The library and the beach

May 22, 2012

The words Marine Research Library and kids just don’t seem like a good match. So I have always avoided the stairs leading up to the library at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. Between the whale fossils and touch tanks, authentic shark recordings and nearby beach access, it always seemed like a full day anyway by the time we reached that sign.

Boy, were we wrong.

The library is an oasis from the Cabrillo Beach crowds that just happens to understand exactly what kids need to settle down. Its oceanfront reading table, which is as long as a dining table at Versailles, is full of sea creature sketches and boxes of beautiful crayons and markers, just beckoning the little ones to sit down and check them out. Surrounding it all is a decade’s worth of National Geographic magazines, books on marine life and displays on the damage plastic can do to the ocean (I guarantee you will never purchase a disposable umbrella again). Half a dozen computers are available, too, also with ocean views.

Harbor seal haven in Carpinteria

April 29, 2012

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It isn’t often that you hear about a great California coastal destination by word of mouth. Seems like it has all been written about, photographed, and visited before. But my neighbor recently told me about a little-known place her Santa Barbara-based daughter had shown her: the Carpinteria Seal Rookery. About 100 harbor seals make their home at the bottom of the Carpinteria cliffs south of town. In December, they give birth and from a viewpoint atop the cliff, anyone can watch the mamas and babies frolic, waddle, argue, dive for fish, and sleep. It’s a beautiful show and worth the half-mile walk from the parking lot. It’s also an ideal place to stretch your legs to or from a trip up the coast. Be sure to stop and say hello to the friendly hot dog vendor near the entrance.

More information: http://www.carpinteria.com/points_of_interest/thesealrookery.

A wilderness preserve in Glendale

March 16, 2012

Gas prices and apprehensive curiosity brought me to the trails of Deukmejian Wilderness Park last Saturday. I wanted to test out a new phone application (more on that to follow in a separate post), but didn’t want to drive across town to do it ($4.29 a gallon!?).

The Station Fire ripped through this park in 2009, turning it into an apocolyptic wasteland, and it was closed for more than a year. I had heard parts of it had reopened, but was reluctant to check it out and destroy my peaceful memories of the place.

News flash: it’s as beautiful as ever.

Tucked into the northernmost Glendale, the park is named after George Deukmejian, former governor of California. Some serious money went into spiffing it up before the economy tanked. There is a wide lawn with picnic tables overlooking the Verdugo Mountains for post-hike relaxing and a restored barn surrounded by robust rows of grapevines.


The main loop trail (LeMesnegar) is slightly shorter than I remember (about 1.8 miles), but it’s in good condition and has a couple of nice turnoffs that lead to viewpoints. Half the trail has distant views of the 210 Freeway and the other half views of chaparral-covered hillsides that make you forget civilization is just around the bend. Charred oaks dot the landscape, but in hopeful contrast, wildflowers and wild fennel also coat the hills and illustrate nature’s power to fight back and survive. Interestingly, while cars jammed the pullout next to the La Tuna Canyon trails just across the freeway, Deukmejian only had a handful of cars in its ample lot. The longer and more strenuous Rim of the Valley trail is closed for the time being, so that may be one of the reasons.

Hiking in Solace

November 4, 2010

I was looking for a little down time Sunday before the Halloween activities reached full tilt. So I snuck away for a walk through one of my favorite neighborhoods, Mount Washington. Its Jack Smith Trail isn’t really a trail so much as a very pleasant nature-meets-city walk, but I included it in my book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Los Angeles. It’s a great workout if you start at the steps on Marmion Way. They used to follow a funicular railway that carried Mt. W residents to and from their hilltop homes.

It was as nice and tranquil as I remembered it, but what made the walk even better was a detour down Seaview Lane just past Mt. Washington Elementary School. Follow the road until it ends, then continue on the dirt path.

You won’t be disappointed; when I saw the bench, I really wished I had brought along coffee and the Sunday papers.

Keep following the dirt path around and you will see that it reconnects with San Rafael Ave. From here, you can follow Moon Avenue, then noodle your way downhill to the Southwest Museum and Marmion Way. Next time I’ll take the kids (and skip the steps)…but on this day, I had the clear views and incredibly clean post-rain air to myself.

The world’s loudest rock garden

August 11, 2010

I had every intention of including the LA Police Academy’s rock garden in my book, Peaceful Places: Los Angeles. It fit the mold of many of my destinations: interesting, unusual, and not widely known. But I wasn’t able to scope it out before my deadline, so it was relegated to the “someday” list.

Lucky for me. It’s a strangely beautiful place near Dodger Stadium — with giant landscaped rock formations, waterfalls, and a “Land of the Lost” vibe — but its proximity next to the LAPD’s firing range will have you running for cover within minutes. Piercing is the best way to describe the sounds you’ll hear if you find yourself at the garden on a weekday. I think this photo says it all.

The rock garden is right behind the LAPD’s Revolver and Athletic Club’s Cafe, a frozen-in-time diner with prices to match the decor. The menu features typical diner food (burgers, grilled cheese, Cobb salad) and prices (nothing is over $7) — though the bread pudding seems to have a big following. “That ain’t right,” sighed one office worker when a server told him they were out of it.

The turtle ponds of Cal Tech

July 29, 2010

Mr. T and I have started a tradition: we drop Jack at camp and then walk over to Cal Tech to explore. First stop is always the commissary, which opens at 7 am, where I get a dollar cup of coffee. Then we always end up at the turtle ponds near the Millikan library. Its official name is Throop Memorial Pond, but turtles are what you’ll remember most about this peaceful little park. There are dozens of them (along with the occasional koi fish) and it’s great fun to watch them lumbering in and out of the water. Theo has a brief conversation with them before following the path up the little hill to the big fountain in front of the library. It’s a nice, quiet way to start the day – though I’m sure the area will get busier in a few weeks when school is back in session.

A quiet kids’ space?

June 29, 2010

It’s true. The Boone Children’s Gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art may be the most peaceful kid’s activity center ever. There is soft music playing, a couple of helpful staff members, and an attractive gallery vibe that is soothing to all ages. A big picture window overlooks a bamboo forest, while another wall is covered with a giant dragon mural and another one features neatly displayed art supplies and paintings. A staffer gently coaxed Jack, who resisted the watercolor activity of the day, into painting a special box. There were even high chairs, for the under-2 set. Theo got right to work on his painting. And I parked the stroller in a designated space and just enjoyed my surroundings.

Adding to the good vibes was the fact that all children under 18 are admitted to LACMA for free through its NexGen program. One adult is allowed to accompany each child for free as well, so except for the $7 parking fee, we spent a free afternoon at one of the best-regarded art museums in the country!

Ducks return to the Upper Arroyo Seco

May 31, 2010

Good news for Altadena hikers: it looks like the trail that begins at Windsor and Ventura Sts. is open again. The upper Arroyo Seco had been closed since the Station Fire last summer. Then rain and mudslides caused more damage to the trails and canyons. It’s not quite as New Hampshire-like as it used to be, but it was thrilling to walk the trail last Friday. The barriers and Forest Closed sign that blocked entry about a mile in had been removed, and we walked about 2.5 miles before turning around. We also passed two Forest Service trucks on the way out, and the drivers gave us a friendly nod. So get out there and enjoy it before the the summer heat arrives and the stream turns into a trickle.

L.A.’s shining star

April 21, 2010

If I had only one day to show a visitor L.A., I would take them to Griffith Park. Hiking trails, ponies, Travel Town, views of the ocean and the Hollywood sign — it has it all. Lately, the Observatory, which is free to the public, is our favorite destination within the park. Parking can be a challenge on weekends, but on weekdays you practically have the place to yourself (school groups visit in the morning before it opens to the public). The downstairs gallery is a great way to introduce the kids to space, with a huge maps of the solar system and interactive exhibits. The little ones can run around and push buttons, and the older ones can find out how much they weigh on Mars or check out the 150-foot timeline of the universe (made out of celestial-themed jewelry). Tip: since the observatory doesn’t open til noon, start your visit with lunch at the Wolfgang Puck cafe inside the observatory. They have seriously good salads and mac n’ cheese, and the outside seating area has fabulous views.

Don’t leave without getting the obligatory photo of the James Dean bust placed strategically in the foreground of the Hollywood sign.

Pine cones and water pumps

February 24, 2010

An easy drive down the 110 takes you to the Audubon Center at Debs Park. As a hiker and a mom, I’m a huge fan of this park and its hiking trails and fabulous children’s garden. On a recent visit, the garden looked like it had been spiffed up and expanded. There’s a water pump, a lily pond, a cave and (marquee item) a playhouse with kid-size brooms and tables, plus a big box of plastic gardening tools. Both boys jumped right into playing and it was easy to keep an eye on both of them.

If you want to take a hike, you can borrow a jogging stroller or a back carrier at the nature center, or just do the easy Butterfly Loop off the kids’ garden. We made a morning of it by picking up seriously good pastries at Antigua Bread at 5703 N. Figueroa Ave. (a five minute drive), Highland Park, and eating at the picnic tables under the canopy.

I cannot say enough good things about this park. It is a needed and beautiful community hub.