There are a number of tourist attractions in the Valley, not to be missed. Take a tour of a studio, go to see the taping of a show, check out a top-notch amusement part, etc. We cover our favorite must-sees for tourists here.
Andres Pico Adobe
If you head over to Mission Hills in the San Fernando Valley, at the junction of Sepulveda and Brand Blvd, you’ll find a historical home called the Andres Pico Adobe (http://www.sfvhs.com/AndresPicoAdobe2.htm). It’s the second oldest home in the City of Los Angeles, first built in 1834 by the Indians of the Ex-San Fernando Mission. It is uncertain as to what the building was first used for, but it was acquired by Andres Pico along with land and the old mission in the area. He eventually passed it to his son, who lived there for a while before moving away and renting the home out. By the 1920’s it was all but an abandoned shanty, used occasionally by vagabonds.
In the late 1920s, a museum curator by the name of Mark R. Harrington fell in love with the near-ruined adobe and worked to save the landmark by restoring it to the way it would have been when Andres Pico first remodeled it. Harrington sold the house in 1945 to some close friends who completed another refurbishing of the home. In 1957, it was purchased by the North Valley Y.M.C.And some changes were made to adapt the structure to a business office when they put it up for sale in 1965, the San Fernando Valley Historical Society campaigned to save the landmark and it is now owned by the City of Los Angeles and run by the Department of Parks and Recreation with the help of the Historical Society.
The home boasts a collection of furniture, china, silver and other artifacts, as well as a library that is housed in Harrington’s study. The Historical Society hosts tours, breakfasts, and special events at the Adobe and if you visit on the weekend or as a group, the docents will greet you in period costume. A visit to the Andres Pico Adobe is a great way to see a piece of San Fernando Valley’s cultural history.
Griffith Park Observatory
In addition to being an oasis of nature and outdoor activity in an otherwise bustling metropolis, Griffith Park is also home to the Griffith Observatory (http://www.griffithobs.org/), which sits high up above the San Fernando Valley and the City of Los Angeles and offers visitors a chance to see another kind of star than the usual Hollywood suspects.
The Griffith Observatory was first built in 1933 and underwent a major renovation and expansion in 2002. Admission to the observatory has always been free to the public, as decreed in Griffith’s will, though tickets must be purchased for the Samuel Oschin Planetarium Theater if you are over the age of five. Children under five are only allowed during the first show of the day. The observatory is well-recognized as it was used as a major filming location for the James Dean classic, Rebel Without a Cause.
There are a number of things to see and do during a visit to Griffith Observatory. It’s open from 12-10pm Tuesday-Friday and 10am-10pm on Saturday and Sunday. The observatory is closed Mondays. Parking is limited so visitors are encouraged to come in groups and tours or even ride their bikes or use the hiking trails. There is also a public bus service on the weekends from the Vermont/Sunset Metro Line. Once at the observatory, you can see one of the two live planetarium shows, or check out the 200-seat Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater, which shows information and educational films.
There are also public star parties held monthly and put on by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society and the Los Angeles Sidewalk Astronomers. Come out and look through a variety of telescopes at the wonders of the night sky. And of course, make your way to the enormous Zeiss Telescope during an evening visit for an astronomical view.
Helicopter Sightseeing Tour
If you’re in the mood to splurge and want a real bird’s eye view of the San Fernando Valley and it’s neighbor Los Angeles, then there’s no better way to tour the town than with a helicopter tour. There are a number of companies that operate from the conveniently located Van Nuys airport, a local San Fernando Valley airport that primarily services private and charter planes as well as helicopters. Tours can be pricy, but it may be well worth it if you are looking to celebrate a special occasion, not to mention, it’s a great way to see the sites while avoiding the crush of Los Angeles traffic.
Copter Pilot (www.copterpilot.com) offers eight different tour packages from their most basic, the Hollywood Fantasy Tour, which at $89 per person, based on a two-passenger minimum, will have you flying high over the city for a 20-minute tour that affords you a glimpse into the world below from the Playboy Mansion to Hollywood Blvd to a trip past the Hollywood Sign. Spend a little more and you can hop in for longer and get a more in-depth view of Hollywood or even head to the coast for a glimpse of the ocean its neighboring cities. If you want to see it all, plunk down the $265 for a one-hour tour that’ll leave you feeling like you’ve been everywhere.
Other companies, like Orbic Air (www.orbichelicopters.com) offer similar packages. Orbic also offers a unique Shoreline Picnic Package. It’s $299 per person based on a two-person minimum and includes a trip out from Van Nuys airport and over the hill. You’ll soar over Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, and the Pacific Palisades and finally land on a plateau overlooking Malibu Beach. A made-to-order picnic basket will be ready for you at the destination. A perfect choice for a special occasion like a birthday or proposal.
Hollywood Homes Tour
Want to see how the stars live? Hop on a home tour and take a trip around the neighborhoods of your favorite celebrities. A number of tour companies operate movie star home tours and most of them offer pick-up locations in the San Fernando Valley, predominately in North Hollywood. Hollywood Tours (www.hollywoodtours.us) and Los Angeles Tours (www.losangelestours.us) both offer pick-ups in North Hollywood. Other companies, like Starline Tours (www.starlinetours.com) will require you to get yourself over the hill, but that’s an easy trip on the Metro from North Hollywood or Universal City Station.
Once on board your choice of a double-decker bus, single-level coach, or other transportation option, you’ll head out on a driving tour that will take you to approximately 45 homes. You might see the current homes of Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Orlando Bloom, and Tom Cruise. As well as the former homes of classic stars like Lucille Ball, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra. In addition, you’ll get an overview of Hollywood, including a view of the Hollywood Sign, a trip past Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and down Hollywood Blvd’s Walk of Fame.
These companies offer a variety of tours, but they generally last 2-3 hours. In the process, you’ll also head out of the crux of Hollywood and down some other famous streets like the Sunset Strip and see locales that were crucial to the history of music, like The Whiskey A Go Go, the Viper Room, once owned by Johnny Depp and The House of Blues. And no trip would be complete without a jaunt down the world-famous, glittering shopping mecca of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. You’ll want to bring your sunblock if you’re on an open-air vehicle. And don’t forget your camera! You never know who you might see headed out to get the morning paper!
Leonis Adobe Museum
In the city of Calabasas, you can explore a little piece of California’s history at the Leonis Adobe Museum (www.leonisadobemuseum.org). The museum is committed to preserving the remains of the old west and the ranch-style life that existed in the area in the late 1800s and sharing that with society today. The house was originally an adobe structure, built in the mid-1800s, and was expanded and remodeled into the building that stands today by Miguel Leonis and his wife, Espiritu Chijulla, who was the daughter of a Chumash chief. The home today has been restored to the way it was when they lived there after the remodel. The Plummer House, also built in the late 1800s, now sits on the property as well – it was moved from West Hollywood where it was originally built, and added to the museum as part of the preservation. It now operates at the Visitor Center and gift shop.
The museum and gift shop are open Wednesday – Sunday from 1-4 pm, with extended hours on Saturday when everything opens at 10 am. It’s $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, and $1 for children under 12 to visit the museum. You can visit on your own but a guided tour will help you learn more about the history of everything that is on display and the docents will also share with you the colorful stories of the Leonis family. Guided tours are available on Saturday and Sunday. You can also schedule your own group or private tour for your class or organization.
The Leonis Adobe Museum sometimes hosts special events like wine tastings and you can check the website for more information about any events going on around the time you would like to visit. In addition to the houses, on the ranch, you’ll see vineyards, animals including horses, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, and doves, a collection of old farm equipment that was used on the ranches of yesteryear, as well as a number of special exhibits designed to show you what life was like in the late 1800s. It’s an informative and educational experience to visit the Leonis Adobe.
Hidden in a commercial office park in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Sylmar, MB2 Raceway is a great entertainment destination for the whole family (www.mb2raceway.com). MB2 Raceway is a 60,000-square-foot indoor go-kart racing center. The ¼ mile race track is designed by professionals and changed on a periodic basis to keep the course fresh for regular visitors. It’s challenging enough for seasoned racers but completely manageable for beginners as well. The karts at MB2 are high-performance electric go-karts and are capable of reaching speeds up to 50mph. Smaller karts are available for younger children so the whole family can race at MB2. Juniors race in a separate race from adults and make only 9 laps around the track. Adult races are 14 laps each and your times are posted on a scoreboard. You also get a printed performance report to keep.
An adult race will set you back $23 and a junior race is $20, but you can save by visiting mid-day, being a member of the police force, fire, or military. Memberships are also available – they last a year and include a free race at sign-up, a free race on your birthday, a t-shirt, and discounted race prices and specials throughout the year. MB2 is also a great destination for parties, special events, and corporate outings. You can get together with a group of up to 10 racers and host a Grand Prix, which includes a qualifying race and the main event. Party rooms are available to rent and the venue also has a small arcade and a concession stand.
Helmets and neck guards are provided to every racer, though you can bring your own. Each race can have up to 10 racers, and if it’s crowded, you might have to wait a while for your turn to race, though generally, the place operates with a pretty good flow. You can find tips on the website about how to improve your speed.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Located just past the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley in Valencia, a day of adrenaline-filled fun awaits you at Six Flags Magic Mountain (www.sixflags.com/magicmountain). It was built independently in the early 1970s but was purchased by the Six Flags chain of theme parks in 1979. Over 2 million adventure seekers visit the park each year in search of fast-paced fun. Magic Mountain is a roller coaster lovers’ paradise and boasts some of the country’s fastest, tallest, and most complex coasters around.
For a coaster junkie, must-do rides include Tatsu, the newest thriller, which features a looping track that soars above the park on the highest point and features a seating system that tips you forward to give you a flying sensation and an unhindered view. X2 and Déjà vu are also extreme coasters designed to challenge the way you think about zipping around a track. If you don’t like all the upside-down twists and turns, you can head over to Goliath, a monster steel coaster with hyper-fast speeds and a steep drop, but no loops. If your adventure park style is a little tamer, there are plenty of options to keep you happy. Warner Brother’s movie-themed rides, Riddler’s Revenge, and Batman in the Gotham Park area are fun and still offer up the thrills, but are a little smaller in scale and less daunting for a novice. On a hot day, water rides like Log Jammer, Jet Stream, and Roaring Rapids will keep everyone cool and there’s a kids zone with smaller rides for the little ones.
Try your hand at the midway games and take home a stuffed animal or two, but be prepared to pay extra as those games aren’t included in the park admission. On a crowded day, you can also opt to purchase Fast Passes, which allow you entrance to a shorter line on some of the most popular rides. They are available for an additional fee inside the park. You’ll never go hungry at Magic Mountain and the food options range from turkey legs to pizza and burgers to a theme park favorite, funnel cakes.
Universal Studios is one of the biggest entertainment attractions in the San Fernando Valley (www.universalstudioshollywood.com). It is the primary residence of the similarly named neighborhood, Universal City, and offers plenty of entertainment and thrills and is fun for all ages. The highlight of a trip to Universal Studios is the back lot tour. A tram will take you, along with a group of people and a live guide, on a trip through the working back lots of an actual movie studio. Drive down Wisteria Lane and see the sets of Desperate Housewives, take a trip back in movie-making history and see the original set from Psycho, and watch out for a few thrills along the way, Jaws just might make a surprise appearance!
In addition to the back lot tour, this movie-business-themed theme park offers up plenty of shows and rides to keep you busy all day. Don’t miss Waterworld, a high-energy, action-packed stunt show that will keep you on your toes with acrobatics, high falls, pyrotechnics, and high-speed water chases. Terminator 2: 3D is another exciting live-action show that combines special effects, stunt performers, and the magic of the movies to bring your favorite flick to life right before your eyes. If rides are more your thing, head over to The Simpsons Ride or Revenge of the Mummy for some motion-oriented fun. If you really want to feel like a part of the action, visit the Special Effects Stage, where you can learn how it’s all done behind the scenes.
Amidst the major rides and shows, you find all kinds of excitement popping up everywhere you go. You might see the Blues Brothers performing, or get your photo taken with Shrek and Fiona. And plenty of food choices abound from burgers to pizza to good old-fashioned fried chicken. You can buy a variety of park passes online and there are options to skip lines, go all-you-can-eat or buy a season pass, a great deal if you’re a local resident. And if you’re around near Halloween, Halloween Horror Nights take place throughout October, with special shows and the scariest haunted mazes around. Keep in mind that this is an adult-oriented Halloween experience and might be too intense for young children.
Warner Brothers (VIP Tour)
Check out movie-making in action with the Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour (http://www2.warnerbros.com/vipstudiotour). The tour starts at the VIP Tour Center, where you’ll have a chance to watch a short film that will tell you a little bit about the world of movie-making at Warner Bros. Studios. Then you’ll get into electric carts in groups of 12 and your guide will take you through the back lots of the studio. You’ll have an exclusive look at the streets, sound stages, sets, and craft shops and maybe see an actor or two on their way in to film their next big scene!
The tour ends at the Warner Bros. Museum. There you can check out the memorabilia from throughout motion picture history. Tours head out throughout the day Monday through Friday, from 8:20am until 4pm. Extended hours are in effect in Spring and Summer. Book your tickets online ahead of time, or take a chance at getting the first come, first served tickets that are available the day of the tour. Children 8 years old and above can come on the tour but the younger ones need to stay at home. You can bring your still camera, but not the video. Tickets will set you back $48 per person and the tour is about two and a half hours.
If you want to go all out, you can opt for the Deluxe Tour, which is five hours long and really dives into the craft of movie-making. The best tour guides in the house will actually take you into the craft shops, where you’ll have a chance to talk to the artists at work. You’ll head into the studio buildings and onto live sets to talk to the crew and really get the firsthand story of how movies are made. And you’ll get a chance to dine at the studio commissary, where the stars may be eating lunch right alongside you!