Jurassic Park and The Mummy – Hollywood, California

My all time favorite movie as a kid was Jurassic Park. I saw it in the theater more times than any other movie, probably combined. When I went to Universal Studios for the first time 15 years ago I rode the Jurassic Park ride on repeat all day, even though it was pouring down rain and you get quite wet on the ride anyway. We would go Jurassic Park, then over to the Backdraft ride to dry off and then back to Jurassic Park. All day. Now, 15 years later Backdraft has been replaced with the Transformers so luckily when we went it was a beautiful sunny weekend. And we still got soaked.

I don’t know what it is about the ride, other than the intense nostalgia it brings up since I watched the movie so often as a kid. It is a river raft ride, not unlike Splash Mountain at Disneyland. The ride takes you through a mellow water cruise observing some very cute animatronic dinos, some of which spray water on you. Then there is a faux raptor breakout, and more dinos startle and soak you.

And then at the end you drop forever and land in a giant splash which actually doesn’t get you terribly wet but since you have already been soaked several times it wouldn’t really matter. This time around we got stuck on our first ride of the day, for several minutes in a not very comfortable part of the ride and managed to get some free passes. So we had the opportunity to ride on repeat without waiting in line, which we took full advantage of.

Since the release of Jurassic World they have updated the ride, it is quite a bit different than I remember. They also added a character attraction, where you can meet a raptor. I chose not to participate since the line was quite long. So instead I watched from a ways back trying to figure out if it was a very clever robot or a very good and possibly suffocating actor. I never did figure it out, either way people loved it and it was fun to watch.

Across the way is the Mummy Ride which is new to me. But given how old the movie was I assume has been a part of the park for quite a while. It has been added to my list of favorites  because it is an actual roller coaster in the dark that goes 45mph and then stops suddenly and reverses you back to the start.

The line did get pretty long at one point but it was never too terrible and with a single rider line we managed to not have to wait more than 10 min for any of our rides.

I couldn’t help but get my picture taken with one of the decorative mummies. Good lookin’ guy isn’t he.

All in all the lower lot of Universal Studios Hollywood houses the best rides, in my opinion. But with less to do in total you can’t really spend your whole day down there. We took a couple trips to do some back to back rides and then hopped back up to the main park where we spent most of our time there.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hollywood, California

I feel like it isn’t much of a confession to say that as an adult I am totally obsessed with all thing Harry Potter. It is certainly not a rare affliction these days. I had been wanting to visit the Orlando park since the second the build was announced, but living all the way out on west coast paired with a deep seeded need to see literally everything in the world caused it to be bumped down on the list more than once.

But then Universal Studios Hollywood made an addition to their park (yes addition, see the Universal Studios post for information) and then I waited a year. I waited a year on purpose because while I love all things Harry Potter, I love pushy frantic people a lot less. I very purposefully waited until the park addition wasn’t the hottest thing on the West Coast and then I slipped in for the weekend to FINALLY experience it for myself. It did not disappoint.

 

One of the things that has always made me more loyal to Disney than other amusement parks is their ability to transform a dusty strip of land into a whole new place full of charm, and character. It is quite frankly magical. I know it is all fake, façades, false front, forced scale building to appear taller, miniatures and faux landscaping. But I love it all the same. Universal Studios in my opinion anyway, for the first time, managed to capture this in the creation of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It was flawless, from the cobble stone streets, the crooked buildings to the music and smells pumped into the air. However the most magical thing I think was the wands.  For a not so low price you can pick your wand and then walk around to all the windows in the village and perform “magic”. Done I am assuming through some remote connection between specific wands and window displays (it doesn’t work with a pen or lip balm tube I tried). A brilliant business move while also being one of the sweetest things to watch as delighted kiddos all dressed up as witches and wizards zoomed around the park feeling like they too are magical.

There quite frankly isn’t a lot to do in this section of the park, though I think we spent most of our time there all the same. It felt calmer, they had better food vendors, the shops were less intrusive (lower lights, calmer music, more continuity in the trinkets being sold) plus this being a dead ended portion of the park there wasn’t as much through traffic so there were more places to sit and catch a break from all the crowds.

In The Wizarding World of Harry Potter there are two rides, one interactive show, several performances, two staged photo opportunities and of course the wands. As well as a restaurant, several outdoor vendors, two souvenir shops, a candy store and a joke shop. We made a point to do everything in the park and while I loved it all I stand by my earlier statement that the best thing to do is just wander around and take it all in.

The two rides were on the opposite end of the spectrum one being the small kiddie-coaster “The Flight of the Hippogriff” which is a lot of fun but really mellow and quick. We only rode it when there was no line since it goes by so quickly. The other “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” is quite the ride. It was the first thing we did on our first day, and it was a blast. But then we turned back through the line and road it a second time and that was all I could take. For some reason the motion simulated rides (those with small motion made more intense by projecting rapid motion on a screen or a 3D screen) make me a tad ill. I can drop several floors on the Tower of Terror or scream through a huge coaster but get me on one of those simulators and I nearly puke.

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I loved the ride and I wanted to go again but since almost all the rides at universal are the simulator type I was feeling a tad green by the end of the trip and just couldn’t stomach it. But it is clearly incredibly popular the line time was an hour plus the whole trip.

The other major draw to the park is the Butterbeer, going in I was convinced I wouldn’t like it and nearly skipped out on trying it. Try it, you will love it. I did a little research after finally giving in and it turns out it is the number one customer satisfier at the parks. That’s not to say the parks aren’t impressive, it IS to say the Butterbeer is that good. It tastes a bit like butterscotch and I don’t quite know what else. It is vegan, gluten free and is also free of corn syrup. All requirements allegedly from J.K Rolling herself to ensure that the maximum number of guests could enjoy it. It is pretty expensive and the serving at the street vendors are HUGE. Which is super if you know you like it, but if you are like me and slightly hesitant I would suggest getting it with your breakfast at The Three Broomsticks. We ate there both days as they offered hearty options and a drink of your choice with your meal, which includes Butterbeer (either frozen or non frozen). We chose frozen, it appeared to be a more manageable serving. Which even in the smaller size I couldn’t finish. It was amazing but oh so sweet, again the smaller size is key unless you know what you are getting yourself into.

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For more information check out my post on Universal Studios Hollywood.  And please  let me know in the comments below if you have been, what your favorite thing was and if you plan on going to the park in Orlando as well. I can’t decide if I should still make the trek out to the original park or if Hollywood was good enough.

Indian Canyons – Palm Springs California

Palm Springs is one of our favorite places in the world to hike. We always go in the winter when the weather here in Oregon is at its worst and the weather in the desert is the best. One of our favorite locals is Indian Canyons a group of hiking and equestrian trails on the native Aqua Caliente lands.

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There are couple trail heads and several trails at each trial head. Some hikes providing these lovely stream and palmed canyons and some higher up in the hills with endless views of the valley.

Admission costs are per car and then per person as well. The money goes to the native groups that live and work to maintain the land so I don’t mind one bit having to say it. Since there is a pay gate you have to wait in line, so I would suggest getting there early to avoid waiting. Some of the hikes are fairly long too so getting there early will behoove you anyway. When you drive in they provide a driving and trial map which helps since there really isn’t any road signs once you get in.

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Parking is also fairly limited at both trail heads so again, get there early. At the main trail head there is a trading post that sells souvenirs and snacks as well as providing real bathrooms. The smaller trail head only has pit toilets.

I don’t think I would call any of the hikes easy, and I only say this because no matter how short some of the hikes may be there are still some very steep parts. Even getting to the interpretive area at the base of the main trail head you have to walk down a canyon hill from the parking lot and trading post.

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We have hiked the larger hills twice, once with my parents on an insanely sunny day and once we got to the top we spent most of the time just sitting and looking at the views. It was also REALLY hot for being December and I didn’t want to push it so I took a seat on a sunny rock and just enjoyed my surroundings.

The second time around we hiked alone and the weather was the exact opposite, we got warnings from the park rangers that it was raining in the hills and to look out for flash flooding. We brave stupid Oregonians pressed on, lucky for us it was just a light drizzle and because of the weather we had the trail to ourselves. It was beautiful to see the desert come to life with the light rain and to be all alone out there was restorative and peaceful. In retrospect it was pretty stupid, we could have really gotten hurt and probably should have just not gone that day.

Where: 38520 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA

When: Open daily October through June. Friday, Saturday and Sunday (July through September). 8am to 5pm, but last entrance is at 4pm.

How: By car to get there, it is quite far from town even though it looks like it is close to town. Once there you can go by foot or bring a horse and go by hoof.

As always please be prepared, hiking in the desert can be dangerous. Sunny weather can mean dehydration, sun stroke stumbling onto snakes or scorpions. Cloudy weather can mean flash flooding, trail wash outs and sink holes. Always dress appropriately, bring food, water, sun screen and a basic medical kit.

Hiking Joshua Tree

We visited Joshua Tree the first time we went to Palm Springs California. My step-dad actually wanted to hike there. And I chose to do something totally unprecedented and not plan a thing. I didn’t even research it. So going into the park I knew literally nothing, I just let myself experience and enjoy the park with no frame of reference.


Since we were hiking on Christmas Day and the actual ranger station would be closed we drove up a couple days before to get a feel for where we needed to go for the hike that had been chosen.

From Palm Springs you drive up highway 62, through Morongo Valley and through Yucca Valley which looks like driving through Thunder Mountain at Disneyland, and then finally through Joshua Tree. You take a right just past the town of Joshua Tree on Park Boulevard, the road turns into Quail Springs Road where the Ranger Station will be located on the right, you can’t miss it, there is a sign, and a lot of cars.

We stopped in at the ranger station, talked to a couple people about the best day hikes and got a driving map for the park. If you do nothing else at the station I would suggest getting a driving map for the park. It is quite large and cell service is pretty spotty, so I wouldn’t necessarily rely on your phone’s GPS applications to keep you from getting lost.

After our fact finding mission we drove up to Pioneertown. The town was built for filming  early westerns. The town was a lot smaller than I would have imagined but it is worth the drive if you are a movie buff or just like old things. The buildings are nearly all facades built out to scale but you can still interact with them and there are a million places to take pictures. There is also a hotel and a saloon you can eat at. Sadly for us we managed to be there the one day of the week the Pappy & Harriets is closed. But I have heard they have some of the best food in the area and have live music nightly. Next time we head up that way we will certainly plan better.

On Christmas Day we woke up early and made our way back up to the park again. The drive through the park is amazing, and even though I don’t love desert-scapes as much as other natural areas I was in awe the entire time.

We had chosen to hike the Lost Horse Mine trail which is a four mile loop out in open desert. The hike wasn’t hard but it certainly wore us out. Being fully exposed to sun for that number of hours is draining, but the views were worth every minute. We took our first break at the mine itself, spending extra time hiking around the area and taking pictures. We continued on the trail to the spectacular views of the park and past the old home site. Then on the easy part of the trail, which was mostly sand and gravel. So while flat it was actually fairly hard to hike through.

It was a good thing we had gotten there early, by the time we got back to the parking lot people were having to park out along the road and hike up to the trail head. We took a few minutes to use the restroom and have a snack and then high tailed it out of there so that people could have our parking spot.

We ended out the day driving around the park a bit and taking a peek at some of the interpretive areas. We got pretty hungry toward the end of the day, cheese and cracker snacks don’t last forever! So we took the long drive back to our rental house and had a nice Christmas dinner. Aside from our trip to Barcelona this was probably my favorite Christmas to date.

Things to Remember when heading into Joshua Tree National Park:

  • As with all national parks, the lands and wildlife in them are protected for a reason. Be kind and respectful, don’t leave trash, damage plants or walk off trail.
  • Wildlife here isn’t always nice: cactus, scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes and other large game make their home here. Be safe.
  • Always back more food and water than you need. It is the desert and it is a high desert meaning you are loosing more water than you realize and can easily become dehydrated with very little exertion.
  •  Cover your head and wear sun screen. Many people think “I tan well” so you don’t need to protect yourself but sun stroke is very common and covering your head well is just about the only thing you can do to prevent it.

 

Questions:

Have you ever been to Joshua Tree? What was your favorite part about it? Or if you haven’t been what is your favorite California Park?

Pioneertown, California

I am a huge fan of strange and unique sites and my family is a huge fans of old westerns.  So when I stumbled on the existence of Pioneertown an old live in western town movie set that happened to be pretty close to Palm Springs I jumped on the chance to take my family while we were already down there for a hiking trip.

 

The town was built up in the 1940s and it include several blocks of a an old western town, a sound stage, a functioning blowing ally and post office as well as a working restaurant. The restaurant Pappy and Harriett’s Pioneertown Palace started as a movie set cantina but continues today as a popular restaurant and music venue.

 

Most of the building while interactive are mostly facade’s. You can go into the store fronts but not much more and the heights are all faked to look real by scale but in fact are not true to life two story buildings.

It felt a little bit like being in Disneyland’s Frontierland, which makes sense because it was a movie set meant to evoke a feeling while also being compact and manageable. Much like Disneyland as a whole. We spent about an hour poking around the buildings pretending we were in old movies, dashing between sets and running down the dirt road. We had planned on having dinner at Pappy & Harriett’s but sadly we forgot to check their hours and open days and they were closed. So we hungrily drove back into Palm Springs and had dinner back in the valley. Moral of the story the restaurant and the set is worth the trip but make sure you check the restaurants open hours before you drive up because it does take a bit to get there.

Address and Additional Information: It doesn’t really have an address since it is an unincorporated community in the Morongo Basin but here are the coordinates 34°9′26″N 116°29′41″W.

 

 

The Cove – La Quinta, California

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Hiking in the Palm Springs area is one of my favorite things to do. Granted I have only done it in December, after having left behind a very very rainy Oregon. So the heat (minor given the time of year) is not terrible and hiking in a completely exposed desert is not a complete death sentence and the dry climate was quite welcome.

 

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The first time I went to this area we stayed in La Quinta, a southern suburb (is it a suburb?) of Palm Springs. The area is small, mostly comprised of houses, condos, and golf courses. Which I suppose for the most part is a pretty accurate assessment of most of the greater Palm Springs area. We rented a house in the “cove” of the La Quinta area, not knowing we had booked a house walking distance to a major hiking area. What a happy accident.

 

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There are several hikes in the cove area and I think we have done them all now. My favorite is the BooHoff Trail. Which is a 17.5 mile hike through the desert flats of the cove, up into the mountains and back around past a lake. The hike is challenging but the views are well worth it.

The area is so popular it was voted top 45 best hikes on the west coast by Sunset Magazine!

 

 

 

San Francisco California or How I Made My Friend Marry An Ax Murderer 

One of my all time favorite movies is So I Married An Ax Murderer, and lucky for me many of my friends equally enjoy this 90s romcom (is it really a romcom?). And in a perfect storm of movie madness a number of years ago one of my closest friends who also loved the movie moved to San Francisco. So of course the first thing I did once she was properly settled was visit her and then visit all the film sites quoting the movie and taking ridiculous pictures.

In our defense we are probably insane. Also in our defense we did do other things, sort of. Like visit film locations from the movie Vertigo.

We visited the Fog City Diner and quoted the entire conversation from the movie. Then we walked away in broad daylight on a sunny day saying “It’s really raining out here!”

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**Fog City Diner from So I Married an Ax Murderer**

We visited the Palace of Royal Arts, and did terrible dance moves while saying “evillllle, like froo-its of the devil, evil” and “come Nadia, let’s dance like the spirits of the night”.

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**Palace of Fine Arts**

We even went to Alcatraz and kept commenting on what a great tour guide we had but that we were expecting “John Johnson, or Vickie” as most people know him. Did I mention we are insane?

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**This guy was so not Phil Hartman**

Like I said we did do other things too, like visit the Cliff House and Haight-Asbury Street. As well as the California Palace of Legion of Honor  and the Presidio from Vertigo. Surprisingly we managed to fill nearly a whole week visiting film locations and cackling at our own jokes. It was one of my favorite trips of all time.

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**20 something me making friends with a lion outside the California Palace of the Legion of Honor**

In case you are also a lover of this classic Mike Myers film, and want to visit some of the filming locations I have included all our favorite sites below.

  • Fog City Diner – 1300 Battery St, San Francisco, CA 94111
  • Alcatraz Island – San Francisco Pier 33 – Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA 94111
  • Coit Tower – 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • Palace of Fine Arts Theater – 3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
  • San Francisco War Memorial – 401 Van Ness Ave #110, San Francisco, CA 94102