So today is the Super Bowl.  Many of you are sitting on couches, eating food, watching other people sitting on other couches eating food, watching commercials designed to tell you how your life is missing something, because food . . . or something.  Then you sit back with your friends and argue about whose cheese dip is the best, or whether guacamole or avocado is a better layer for the seven layer dip, finally getting into a heated debate over whose jersey is the most appropriate to wear for the game.  (For those of you who are still arguing, guacamole is made from avocado, and the Aaron Rodgers jersey needs to stay at home.  You can wear it again to your heart’s content starting tomorrow.  And it needs a wash.  Just saying.)  Steve, the company goofball, who was invited to the party or else your wife’s best friend wasn’t going to be able to come (Steve is dating her), is arguing over whether his barbecue sauce is better than the one you took hours slaving over a hot stove to get the sweetness and spiciness just right.  And your wife, while talking to her best friend, is spying on you out of the corner of her eye, making sure that you don’t murder Steve and bury him in the spot you had dug up to plant your new orange tree.  Before the end of the day, you are all couch potatoes and planning the death of Steve.  And oh yeah, there is a game going on.

So in the spirit of generating more arguments, or at least getting you to think of the fun relaxing things you are going to do after the big game today (Ok maybe not today, but in the near future.), I am making a top ten list of places to go in Southern California.  It’s possible none of you live nearby, but this will make the Green Bay Packers fan jealous while he stares at the 10th straight day of snow falling.  And what could be better for a frustrated Rams fan, whose team looks like it’s in disarray and whose only rooting interest in the Super Bowl is watching Tom Brady lose again? Go Falcons!

Top Ten Places To Visit In Southern California

1) Disneyland  –

This should be self-evident, unless you are claustrophobic.  And sometimes it makes me feel claustrophobic.   This is a great place to take the family, after you have embarrassed yourself yelling at the refs on the TV screen as if they could actually hear you.  Not only will your wife enjoy the time with you and your little ones, but you can and should take her to the Blue Bayou Restaurant which overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride in New Orleans Square for a romantic candlelit dinner.  As a former pass holder, I would suggest getting annual passes for the family if you live in the area.  I do understand the costs of the passes in recent years have become price prohibitive, but there is a sense that you get when you have one that makes the experience that much more relaxing and pleasurable.  But, I will tell you some amazing things that I have been able to witness being one, that I wouldn’t have experienced if I had been focused on jumping from one ride or show to the next.  I witnessed five Jazz bands jamming in New Orleans Square.  My daughter got to take part in a Musical Chairs game with Alice, the Mad Hatter and Peter Pan.  (Peter Pan cheated!)  My daughter won a crazy dance competition with some characters.  There was a game of fairy hide and go seek that we would have missed.  This list could be endless.  And unless you are at one of the other Disney parks, going to Disneyland is of the most unique experiences you will ever have at any amusement park, where you lose yourself to the magic and fantasy.  What could be better?

disneyland.disney.go.com

2) Knott’s Berry Farm –

I know a lot of you will jump all over me for this selection.  But as a parent, I am always thinking about the cost of things that I am doing, and Knott’s probably gives the most bang for your buck in amusement parks.  Not only is the park relatively inexpensive, and passes are as well, you can get a relatively cheap meal plan that covers two meals a day in the park.  Staring at the cost of your food going from 35 dollars down to 6 does make one feel good about the cost.  Just be aware that there will not be many spots where you can get air conditioning outside of the Snoopy on Ice Show, that they do during the summers and in the Christmas season, and the line for the Iron Reef.  Even the Bird Cage Theater, which has one of my favorite musical comedy acts, does not have an air conditioned venue.  As I have spoken about in a previous post, be sure to bring sunscreen and you might want to avoid the splash zone in the Wild West stunt show.  But the park itself has pretty decent rides that people of all ages, and constitutions can go on.  There aren’t as many shows as Disneyland but there are a few fun ones to go to.  But for those of you with slightly older children who crave more thrill rides; this is a better fit than Disneyland.  The Ghost Town is always a fun little jaunt into the past.  And they have the aforementioned Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies, one of my favorite shows in any park.  They used to be Billy Hill and the Hillbillies at Disneyland, but Disney’s loss is Knott’s gain.  This park is well worth a visit if you are in the area.  Just remember where you parked.

www.knotts.com

3) Universal Studios –

To be honest, it’s hard for me to rank this one appropriately.  The last time I was able to go, they had almost constructed the Harry Potter area of the park.  So I cannot quite compare some of the magic of this park with other parks.  Also, I went right at the end of the Halloween Horror time there, and they had everyone leave the park at a certain time to have separate people come in for the event.  It’s not that Disneyland is open late every day, but I had a hard time comparing full day to full day at the park.  And then there seemed to be a lot of construction and preparation for Grinchmas, which I am told is a lot of fun.  Ticket for ticket, it’s quite a bit higher than the price of Knott’s, but you can purchase the buy one day get a years’ admission for a little over a hundred, which isn’t much different than a Knott’s annual pass.  Although you have more blackout dates.  The park itself was a lot of fun.  You find yourself looking for all the different people dressed up as all sorts of characters and actors walking around the lot.  The Velociraptor outside the Jurassic Park area was spectacular, albeit a little frightening for young children.  The area with Gru and the Minions is a great place to take the little ones.   Just be aware if you have motion sickness issues with the Despicable Me main attraction.  And where else can you go to Springfield, entering the world of the Simpsons, and eat a donut while going on a zany ride? I always appreciated the Universal Studios tour ride.  As a big movie fan, I am not sure there is anywhere else in the world you get to see as many sets with a tour and remember all of the movies of your youth.  The fact that it’s still an active studio makes it even more fun.  And, oh yeah, now there is Harry Potter.  I wish I could speak more to this, but having a daughter who is almost 11, it almost becomes more magical.  Getting into wizard fights or drinking butter beer while walking down Diagon Alley . . . I’m not sure how it gets any better.

www.universalstudioshollywood.com

4) San Diego Zoo Safari Park –

Beware for those who are really sensitive to what people do with animals. I would suggest that almost any park is not for you.  But the one thing I appreciate about this park is that there seems to be more open areas for the animals.  I do believe that the people there are interested in the preservation of these animals.  Whether we should be domesticating them in some way or not, is another argument to be had.  In the Safari park, the animals are provided with really large areas with which to roam.  There is a tram ride that goes around the outside of the park where you see these animals in wide open spaces able to walk about, fight, hunt, play or whatever activities they might be engaged in.  It does not have the feeling of watching these animals in a cage which many of the zoos in the area can make you feel.  I also appreciated that they have a lot of shows for the people that allow you to experience some of these animals up close.  Whether elephant engagements, butterfly areas, or Gorilla encampments, you get to experience these animals in as natural a habitat as you will see in any park featuring animals.  And the great thing about this park is that during the month of October, for the last several years, kids have been able to go for free to either this or the San Diego Zoo.  This makes the price of admission with kids much more reasonable and kind to your pocketbook.

Sdzsafaripark.org

5) The Griffith Park Observatory –

Set up in the hills of the central LA Area, the Griffith Park Observatory has one of the most spectacular views of Los Angeles.  The Observatory itself is free and allows you to come and see a whole bunch of different exhibits.  There is the amazing Tesla coil that they turn on from time to time.  There are all the individual exhibits about the Discovery of Space.  And beyond that, there is the Leonard Nimoy Theater which can have a host of different programs.  We were able to watch them making a comet out of dry ice.  When they are doing a show instead of a movie, try to get up as close to the stage as you can, your kids will thank you.  And then there all the planetary exhibits down at the bottom, which talk about the studies we have made about each planet, as well as an area where you find out what your weight is on every one of the planets.  I am ten pounds I swear.  Just ask Pluto, which isn’t a planet anymore I’m told.  Oh and avoid the Jupiter scale at all costs, unless you are planning on regular gym visits from now to the next millennium.  On the top of the Observatory is a large Telescope, which they open up in the evenings to give you a great view of the night sky.  We were able to see Mars there the last time around.  It was a much better view of Mars than I have seen through other telescopes.  Finally, they have the round theater with the 360 degree camera which shows different shows throughout the days.  They have some pretty incredible movies in there where the entire ceiling is the screen and your chair is tilted to take it all in.  It’s the only thing that costs money at the exhibit (aside from the ridiculously priced food and the gift shop) but it’s relatively inexpensive and well worth going to at least one of the shows.  And if hiking is your thing, or your kids are still bouncing off walls because you made them sit on the couch while watching the Super Bowl, there is this incredible hike up into the hills where you have a spectacular view of LA all the way out to the coast, and as good a view of the Hollywood sign that you are going to get, unless you plan on illegally hopping the fence and changing the sign to

On the top of the Observatory is a large Telescope, which they open up in the evenings to give you a great view of the night sky.  We were able to see Mars there the last time around.  It was a much better view of Mars than I have seen through other telescopes.  Finally, they have the round theater with the 360 degree camera which shows different shows throughout the days.  They have some pretty incredible movies in there where the entire ceiling is the screen and your chair is tilted to take it all in.  It’s the only thing that costs money at the exhibit (aside from the ridiculously priced food and the gift shop) but it’s relatively inexpensive and well worth going to at least one of the shows.  And if hiking is your thing, or your kids are still bouncing off walls because you made them sit on the couch while watching the Super Bowl, there is this incredible hike up into the hills where you have a spectacular view of LA all the way out to the coast, and as good a view of the Hollywood sign that you are going to get, unless you plan on illegally hopping the fence and changing the sign to Hollyweed . . . or Hollyweird.  That second one may be too many letters though.  Plus, as I have hinted at, aside from the theater, it’s a free day at an amazing park with a spectacular view, and a Tesla Coil.

www.griffithobservatory.org

6) The California Science Center –

Deep in the heart of L.A. across from the Coliseum, the California Science Center is a large interactive exhibit allowing you to experience the science of everything.  From space, to the body, to eco-zones, this center allows your children to engage in a myriad of exhibits helping them to understand the world that they live in.  It’s going to cost you $10 to park, but as the Science Center itself is free, it’s a relatively inexpensive place to take your kids with so much information.  There was the incredible Ice wall that was in the Arctic Zone, learning about how erosion works with a large trough of sand with water flowing through it, and space capsules that had been used during the Apollo space missions.  Your kids will be able to not only view all of these different things, but participate actively in all of them.  And where else can you have them play and allow them to engage in some amazing different scientific areas of discovery?  Inside of this center they also have two exhibits and a show that do cost some amount of money.  The exhibit up top changes from time.  When I was able to go with my daughter, it was the Pompeii exhibit.  They had some amazing information about the city of Pompeii and all of the cultural relics that they were able to dig up from the lava and ash that had settled after the eruption back in the days of the Roman Empire.  You could learn about ancient art, culture and ultimately how a civilization died with one tragic occurrence.  I admit it was a bit harrowing at the end to see the bodies of the victims on display.  You couldn’t really see them but the lava had hollowed out areas where the bodies had been.  I could see people reaching up as the lava encased them.  Then they have a 3D movie screen that you can watch some show about a science topic.  Finally you have the Space shuttle Endeavor on display where you can reach out and touch a piece of history.  To get into this exhibit, it was free with the cost of going to the Pompeii Exhibit.  But check their website for pricing.

www.californiasciencecenter.org

7) The Pantages Theater –

I couldn’t have a list with all amusement or scientific theater type stuff on it for the Southern California Area.  You want to have a variety of experience for you, your wife, your children, and Steve who you are trying to suck up to until the day comes when your oranges are happy, or you can convince your wife’s best friend that your coworker John is much better marriage material.  I love this amazing theater on the Hollywood strip.  Get yourself dressed to the nines with your date and go out for an evening on the town.  I will say that it is a pain in the butt to find parking.  Just expect to pay twenty dollars for parking wherever you go, or a long walk from a seedy area which is fine during the day, but a little sketchy when you are leaving the theater at ten in the evening.  (Is that Steve dressed like Marilyn Monroe?  I wondered what he did on his Friday evenings.)  When you go in you see an incredible hallway with a huge staircase on both sides, and people selling memorabilia for the show.  I went with my daughter to see Mama Mia! (Don’t judge me!  My daughter loves ABBA.  What can I say?)  Entering into the theater itself, it felt like a palace.  There were all of the ornate decorations on the ceiling. You could stare at it for hours.  And oh yeah, there was a show that went along with this whole experience.  Now I would pick the show that you really want to go to, but it’s definitely something I would do while you are out in LA.  It may not be Broadway, but it’s the best we have here on the Left Coast.  I just want to send a shout-out to the person who got me the tickets.  It was an amazing experience and my daughter loved it.  And Hamilton, the show, is coming there in August.  Get your tickets while you can.

Hollywoodpantages.com

8) Angelo’s and Vinci’s –

Tucked in the heart of downtown Fullerton, this little Italian restaurant is worth a visit and the food is amazing. (What?  You don’t know where Fullerton is?  It’s about 20 minutes north of Disneyland, so stop on by while you are in the area.)  As you enter into this amazing restaurant with a vaulted ceiling you get a bit of the old world, with flair.  It’s about three stories tall and in one corner they have a spire that is decorated with angels and art all the way up.  Every inch of the place is decorated with some piece of art.  And they have a couple of rooms for people who are looking to hold larger celebrations.  Down below, for those of you who are interested in a little old world horror, go to visit the dungeon with Halloween haunts galore.  And, oh yeah, they have some pretty amazing Italian food and wines for those of you who would imbibe.  (Please drink responsibly.)  I just can’t tell you of a place in the area with the same kind of atmosphere and ambiance that you will find here.  They have great food, reasonably priced. And it is kid friendly, although you can always threaten to leave them in the dungeon if they don’t behave.  Just be sure that they don’t leave you locked down there first. For the past 43 years, Angelo’s and Vinci’s has been one of the most amazing unknown Italian places in the area.  Come enjoy the incredible food and ambiance like nowhere else.

www.angelosandvincis.com

9) La Brea Tar Pits –

If you come to the LA Area, visiting the La Brea Tar Pits is an amazing look into the natural history of the place.  (You can always forget to put the La in the title and inform Steve you went to the Brea Tar Pits.  He will end up an hours distance east and never find where you are.)  In this tar, they have been able to preserve natural history in ways they have not been able to do in other regions.  For scientists it has been the equivalent of finding fossilized animals buried underneath layers of dirt.  The Tar has been able to preserve animals like Mammoths, ground sloths, saber-tooth cats, bears and Dire Wolves.  (This last bit is for all of you Game of Thrones fans who have not gotten enough violence after the beating that Tom Brady will take today.  Did I say go Falcons yet?)  As these animals and humans have been stuck in this tar, it preserved the bones in ways that other areas more subject to erosion have not been able to.  We have been able to understand what life was like in the area for eons.  You will be able to see some of the Tar Pits themselves and go into the exhibits where they talk about means of excavation and preservation of the creatures.  It’s relatively inexpensive and a good place to take kids interested in anthropology.  Just beware that parking can be a pain in the butt to find, and sometimes they close off the lot early so you might have to find parking in the neighborhood.

http://www.tarpits.org/la-brea-tar-pits

10) The Getty Center –

Located in the heart of Brentwood, a la O.J. Simpson Fame, the Getty Center contains amazing views, some incredible art and a garden area that is awe inspiring.  If your bent is to the artsy side, you can see masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh, other European artists, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts and decorative arts.  When you are finished looking at all of the amazing art, do not forget to visit the central gardens.  The central gardens are an amazing walk through a truly beautiful and uniquely arranged fauna.  You do have to park at the bottom of a hill but you get taken to the center by a cable-car hover train.  It costs $15 to park and is only $10 after 3:00 PM.  But you will need more than a couple of hours to take in all of the amazing pieces they have on the grounds.  Originally the Museum was created in 1954 out of the original Getty House in the Palisades, but upon Getty’s death they wanted to have it more accessible and put it up in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The Center itself is free and can be enjoyed and appreciated at your leisure.  Just make sure that your children are still not bouncing off the walls when they get there.

www.getty.edu

Honorable Mentions :

Six Flags Magic Mountain, The Huntington Gardens, The San Juan Capistrano Mission, Nobu Restaurant, Disney Studios, Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Disney’s El Capitan Theater

The crazy thing is that there are so many different things to do in Southern California.  I didn’t even get into hiking trails that are magnificent, or natural habitats that will leave you breathless.  (Places you can drop Steve off and well . . . that’s up to you.  Remember murder is bad!!)  When you have only ten places to choose from, you go with what you have enjoyed the most.  For me, it’s all about connecting with my daughter.  I added some honorable mentions in there as well.  Hope you enjoyed my list, and definitely debate me, because Super Bowl!  Man! Ugh!  This is me, signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life