This post is a mushy love letter to the folks at Disneyland, whose kind invitation to their annual #Halloween Time Media Day allows me to bask in all my Disney dreams… despite the fact that my child is no longer a little kid. I am living proof that you don’t have to be a kid or have young children to have a good time at a Disney park. You can even be a woman in your 50′s and have a great time there. It’s just that the experience becomes a little different.
This giant Jack o’Mickey greets visitors to Disneyland ‘s main park at Halloween Time. And every year, I take its picture.
My sister, Linda, is also a Disneyland devotee. She dropped everything this weekend and drove down here from Sacramento so she could enjoy the Halloween festivities with me.
“I really want to spend some time at California Adventure,” she told me. The last time we visited the Disney parks together, California Adventure was torn up for its $1.1 billion renovation, and she didn’t get to see much of it at all. It’s gorgeous now and better than ever. But she wanted to see that for herself.
As it turned out, the Media Day event included a reception in a “soundstage” on the Hollywood Backlot area of the park, so that was our first stop. On the way, Linda got her first glimpse of what a billion dollars buys you these days.
I took this photo last year, the first time I got to see the new Buena Vista Street entrance to California Adventure.
“This is beautiful,” she said as we wandered down Buena Vista Street, Disney Imagineering’s re-creation of Los Angeles circa 1923, the year a young Walt Disney arrived in Southern California. Buena Vista Street is very similar to the original park’s Main Street: It greets visitors by setting the stage for all the magic that’s to come, with period buildings, shops, restaurants and transportation (in this case, a replica of the old Red Cars, which criss-crossed the region and enabled residents to travel from one end of the city to the other).
Saturday was the final day for high school seniors applying to college to take the SAT, and so it was already past lunch time when we arrived at the Park and once we had checked out the reception, my daughter and her friend went off on their own, promising to check in with me by text every couple of hours. My friend Marsha (who blogs at Sweatpants Mom) joined us in a quest for something good to eat. Our first stop was the Carthay Circle, a restaurant designed to look exactly like the movie theater where Disney’s Snow White premiered in 1939. I remember seeing that theater, and also remember it being torn down in the late 60′s. This is probably the most elegant dining establishment inside either of the Disneyland parks — it is also tough to get a reservation on as busy a day as Saturday (I know — I tried to get one two weeks ago and the only available time for dinner was 4:00 PM).
So I suggested we mosey over to the Wine Country Trattoria, where I’ve always had good luck being seated. I had tried to take my sister here on her ill-fated previous visit to California Adventure, and we simply could not find the entrance behind all the construction. We were ushered to a table right away, and that’s where we made our first California Adventure discovery: There were cocktails on the menu. Now, California Adventure has always differed from the original Disneyland Park by selling wine and beer… but it you wanted a real mojito or martini, you still had to go to one of the hotels or Downtown Disney.
“Do you really have a full bar here?” Marsha asked. Our waitress assured us they did, and in the spirit of “if you build it they will come,” she ordered a margarita with her lunch. I toyed with the idea of having a cocktail and decided I might fare better on a hot afternoon with something a little lighter, so Linda and I each had a glass of white wine. Either way, we decided that feeling free to order a drink was a major benefit of enjoying Disneyland without our kids.
Yes, when bloggers get together for lunch it is totally normal for them to Instagram their drinks.
With lunch out of the way, it was time to explore the Parks. Our first stop — as always — was Space Mountain, my all-time favorite Disneyland ride, which adds a fiery ghost for Halloween excitement this time of year. For the few of you reading this who do not know, Space Mountain is a high-speed, high-tech thrill ride — the kind of attraction women our age are thought to avoid. And I will be honest: I am not as hardy as I used to be, especially when it comes to things like motion sickness. That’s one reason why I stay away from the Tower of Terror attraction at California Adventure. I think it’s a great ride — but the only time I tried it, I thought it was going to give me a heart attack. (My daughter, however, loves it and rode it twice on this visit.)
“Uh, maybe this isn’t such a great idea right after lunch,” Linda noted as we climbed into our “rocket.” By that time, it was too late. Thankfully, we made it through the ride with no ill effect, and later rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster, complete with 360-degree loop. What can I say? We may be middle-aged but we’ve still got it.
From there, we journeyed to the other side of the Park, past Frontierland and New Orleans Square to the Haunted Mansion. I was fortunate on a previous Disney excursion to enjoy this ride beside Disney’s Michele Himmelberg, who offered up lots of background on this most appropriate Halloween time attraction. I love how they pay tribute each holiday season to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Michele is the one who told me that the huge cake in the ride’s party scene is made of real gingerbread, baked by the Park’s pastry chef — and each year, he whips up something different. (This year it’s a Skellington-themed Advent Calendar.)
We did a few more rides in both parks and a bit of shopping before we met Marsha back for dinner at Catal’s UVA Bar in Downtown Disney, which is becoming a part of our new Disneyland tradition (this is my third year dining at either Catal restaurant or UVO). And this time, I did opt for an actual cocktail because the menu offerings all sounded yummy. (And they were.)
We finished by watching the spectacular Halloween fireworks show. This is another feature that is all-new every year: The one thing you can expect is that you will walk away saying it was the best fireworks you’ve ever seen.
The Park started to empty out after the fireworks, and we toyed with the idea of getting on at least one more ride. But my daughter and her friend put the kibosh on that plan: We found them sitting on a bench and looking really sleepy. They were tired and wanted to go home.
HAH! Score another one for the middle-aged moms, who were still up for more Disney fun. Then again, by the time we hit the freeway, we realized the girls’ wisdom in exiting when we did. We were tired, too. The Fitbit I wear reported that all in all, we had walked over six miles.
“You know, it really isn’t possible to do all of Disneyland in one day any longer,” my sister remarked.
She’s right. There is so much more to see than there was when we were kids, and the wait times for the “E-ticket” rides seem even longer. I’ve gotten used to leaving the Park still wanting more — which isn’t bad for an attraction that’s thought of as just a children’s place. I guess it just goes to show you that some kids never grow up.
DISCLOSURE: I received four park-hopper tickets from Disney to visit the park during their Family Media Day event, so I could experience this year’s Halloween Time. I was not compensated to do so and all opinions are my own. The print and broadcast media who were also invited don’t have to offer one of these disclosures — just those of us publishing on the Internet.
We spent yesterday afternoon walking around downtown Los Angeles (DTLA). This is something my husband I do often, with cameras in tow so we can photograph the place, while admiring the vibrant community that has grown there over the last decade.
Even tap water is displayed nicely at DTLA’s Terroni restaurant, on Spring St.
We didn’t take many pictures yesterday. I wasn’t especially keen to go this weekend. It has been hotter than hell the last couple of weeks; a situation I’ve been dealing with by getting all my errands finished as early as possible in the morning (while the temp in only in the 80s), so I can spend the rest of the day holed up in front of the AC vent.
Needless to say, I’ve been watching a lot of television (yes, even more than usual). And amazingly (for me!) it was starting to get old. The reason I got off my butt in the Valley and ventured in to the city was my kid, who wanted to attend an arts event in Grand Park (the same place where we enjoyed the fireworks this July 4). She and her friend were originally going to use public transportation to get there — which makes sense, as there is a Red Line subway stop just across the street. But her dad and I are still kind of protective and her friend absolutely had to be back in the Valley by 6:00. So my husband and I offered to drive them there.
He actually had a destination in mind: He had heard of a place called The Last Bookstore, located in the old Crocker Bank building on Spring Street and 5th. This is the kind of place that’s heaven for people who want to physically hold a book and turn its pages. It’s also kind of a hipster paradise, with lots of old, funky couches and chairs scattered around the neat, organized stacks of gently used, reasonably priced books. We looked around the stacks and found way too many interesting titles to be able to pick just one. I have a feeling we will be back, especially so we can explore the upstairs area called the Labyrinth, which showcases the work of local artists.
Spring Street was once the site of LA’s financial district. Today, it is the epicenter of DTLA’s arts community, which sprung up around the Los Angeles Theater Center. When LATC opened in 1985, the neighborhood was kind of a vast wasteland. I remember, because at one time in the late 80′s I held season tickets and going down there at night was always a little bit scary. Now, the buildings have been renovated into lofts and galleries, with people milling about the street in little sidewalk cafes and bars. We even passed a pet store there (which makes a lot of sense, for all the folks we passed who were walking their dogs). And we ordinary Angelenos can experience the best of the community on the second Thursday of each month for the Downtown Art Walk.
On a normal day, I am energized by walking the streets of DTLA. But did I mention that yesterday was downright HOT? Even though downtown is about 10 degrees cooler than the Valley, that just meant we were dealing with 90+ degree weather instead of triple digits. By the time we left the bookstore, I was absolutely parched. And the huz was hungry. We set about looking for an air conditioned spot to refresh. That meant forgoing the cute little sidewalk cafes and looking for an actual full-service restaurant.
We found it in Terroni: A gorgeously appointed Italian restaurant in another renovated old bank building. Everything about this place said style (which made us feel a little bit self-conscious in our ratty walking-around clothes). But they let us in anyway. My husband enjoyed an order of fresh gnocchi. I wasn’t all that hungry, so I ordered an appetizer of grilled radicchio, prosciutto and fresh Burrata cheese. This is what they brought me:
Not as light a meal as I was expecting!
At $17 for an “appetizer,” I’m actually glad this turned out to be so substantial. I ended up skipping dinner because of it — and it was worth it!
My daughter’s art event in the park was just two hours long — so after getting our fill of nice, cold water and delicious Italian food, we headed back up to Grand. When we told her what we had been up to, she was dismayed. It turns out that she’s been wanting to visit The Last Bookstore for a while now (“It’s famous on the Internet!” she exclaimed) and we beat her to it. I guess she’s going to want to head back downtown. And I’m betting her dad and I will be happy to drive her there. Let’s just hope it’s on a cooler day.
Matt DAMON (acteur) (Photo credit: startinghere71)
Dear Matt Damon:
It has come to my attention that you and your family are moving to Los Angeles. As a lifelong Angeleno (with Massachusetts roots), I want to welcome you to our complicated city. Our diversity, energy and culture are equal to what you’re used to in New York — you just have to look a little harder and travel a little longer to find it.
Rest assured that LA residents are used to seeing celebrities in our midst, especially in the sort of neighborhood in which you are likely to settle. Locals understand the etiquette: pretend to ignore the famous face, no matter how excited you are to see it. The only problem with this is that it sometimes takes a few moments to realize that the guy you see in the supermarket looks familiar only because you saw him on TV — but I am certain this is also the case in the community you’ve been living in up until now. I’m pretty certain you’ll find that the baristas at your new Malibu or Beverly Hills Starbucks will be just as friendly and normal as the ones in New York.
The one thing I would like to clear up is your misconception about public schools here. I cannot deny that the Los Angeles Unified School District is a dysfunctional behemoth, subject to the worst kind of publicity in the nation, and that the quality of the 800-some schools in the district varies wildly (with those in low-income communities tending to fare far worse). I am hopeful that new funding approved by voters in the last election will help solve some of the inequities.
Believe me, had I enjoyed the kind of income that would have allowed it, I probably would have sent my own child to an excellent private school, as you have decided to do. But now that my daughter is entering her senior year at public high school, I am really glad I wasn’t able to go that route. Because I think it would have been a mistake.
You see, your reasoning — that the public schools in Los Angeles could not offer the same progressive education you enjoyed growing up — is false.
Balboa Gifted Magnet is one of the highest ranked schools in the entire state of California. It is known throughout the city for its high standards and challenging curriculum — and it is LAUSD. Holmes Middle School has been designated a California Distinguished School for its academic achievement and programs that emphasize both technology and humanities — and it is LAUSD. And the experience my daughter has had at Cleveland Humanities Magnet is akin to what you’d expect from a major university (in fact, most Cleveland graduates report that college is a lot easier). Again, a high achieving school within LAUSD.
And those are just three schools in the San Fernando Valley. There are dozens of other campuses throughout the city, with academically enriched curricula and unique learning programs from performing arts, to environmental science to aerospace science. Oh yes, and lots of math and technology.
I wish you could join us on our morning carpool, Matt, and listen to these kids talk about their classes and their wonderful teachers. They are thoroughly engaged as they learn and apply concepts of history and social justice to the world around them. It warms my heart — and I bet it would warm yours, too.
It’s true that her teachers are not all Ph.Ds, as is the case at the tony Marlborough School where some of our friends send their daughters. My daughter was not required to learn Latin (and with resources so low, Spanish was the only language even offered my daughter in middle school) and her elementary school science lab was far from state-of-the-art. But she and her friends have thrived and have the SAT scores to prove it. And she’s going to get so much more day-to-day use from knowing Spanish than she ever would with Latin, although that would be a helpful language for pursuits like solving crossword puzzles.
Now, I totally understand how someone as wealthy and famous as you would worry about your kids’ safety. That alone is a good reason to place them at Oakwood or Harvard-Westlake or Crossroads, with all the other rich kids.
But that’s the problem, Matt. Rich kids who go to private schools only ever get to meet other rich kids in private schools. Yes, there may be a few scholarship students in their classes, but there’s an awful lot of pressure on those kids to try to fit in, so they may not learn a lot from them. You may be able to counter with extracurricular activities like gymnastics or soccer — but your children may never fully understand how privileged they are. And I fully believe that one of the reasons so many wealthy people in this country care little about their fellow citizens is that they live in their own private enclaves and never get to know anyone but other wealthy people living in enclaves. I think it’s hugely detrimental to all Americans that we have so little interaction across the economic spectrum. That isn’t how it was back when I went to school, and I bet that isn’t how you remember your school experience, either.
By isolating yourself and your family, you do not get to experience L.A.’s most dynamic resource: Our diversity. But maybe that’s just the way it has to be for the families of A-list actors. It’s a scary world out there. In a way, I feel sorry for you.
Anyway, I am looking forward to having the Damons join our merry band of citizens in Los Angeles, and I actually do support your decision. If you have not yet selected your family’s schools, I’d like to recommend this resource created by one of my MomsLA colleagues: Beyond the Brochure. Christina Simon will guide you through the ins and outs of the private school scene here.
Just don’t tell people you’re doing it because the public schools aren’t adequate.
The fact that President Obama was flying in to Los Angeles today for a Tonight Show appearance was rather ho-hum news. He may not spend as much time here as he did when he was campaigning for re-election, but few politicians with a national presence are strangers here — not when there is so much money to be made from deep-pocketed donors.
Then my friend Jessica Gottlieb posted a traffic advisory to Facebook with a list of streets to avoid over the next two days… And all I could think was, “WTF?”
All of the traffic will be here in the San Fernando Valley. Some of that makes sense, as NBC’s Tonight Show studio is located on our eastern flank, in Burbank. And it didn’t take me long to suss out the fact that the area around Sherman Way and Hayvenhurst borders Van Nuys Airport, which may be the city’s busiest hub for private jets.
I remember how back in the gymnastics years, some of the other moms and I would retreat to the bar at the 94 Aero Squadron, which offers great views of the runway at Van Nuys Airport. And one day, we noticed a woman in casual business dress sitting alone at a table near ours. She had binoculars trained on a plane sitting on that runway. “Secret Service,” whispered our waitress, who told us that the plane she was watching so intently had brought Laura Bush that afternoon for a school appearance in Northridge.
The published news of the President’s visit states that he will be landing at LAX, but probably taking a helicopter to the Valley, so I guess there’s no chance of going back to the 94th to see Air Force One. But the real head scratcher was the report that he’s spending the night in Woodland Hills, with the traffic advisory warning us away from the area around Warner Center. There are no mansions or billionaire compounds there – just office space, condos and shopping malls. And a couple of hotels, one of which must be where the President is bunking for the night.
The one thing my friends and I can’t figure out is: why?
Maybe he wants to get a feel for how the middle class works and plays in Los Angeles, I surmised. Perhaps he had some extra Hilton points to cash in. I bet he heard there’s a really nice PF Chang’s across the street from the Marriott.
Honestly… I have no idea why the President, who could stay anywhere in our diverse city, would choose an unremarkable part of the area author Kevin Roderick called “America’s Suburb.” Unless that was the point.
Naturally, I set my daughter up for a haircut at a salon in the Topanga Plaza mall, smack in the middle of the no-drive zone. So we may find ourselves in a Presidential traffic jam going home. (My friend Marsha expects to be in a similar predicament when his segment with Leno is taped.)
I’m actually confident we can maneuver our way around the President’s motorcade. I know lots of people who have plenty of experience doing so in more glamorous parts of the city. But I will be looking for news reports that explain why.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
My daughter decided that if she HAD to stay in Los Angeles for Independence Day, she would at least spend it with friends. She invited two of them for an overnight marathon of movies, junk food and board games.
Ever last-minute, I decided we would be traditional and grill burgers for dinner. I queried the girls on their preferences.
“Any vegetarians here?”
No. That wouldn’t be a problem anyway, as we have plenty of vegan burgers for my husband. But one of the girls likes yellow mustard on her burgers. This is a substance I do not usually stock in my fridge.
And then I dropped the bombshell:
“How badly do you guys really want to see fireworks tonight?”
Stupid question, right? But I still wasn’t sure how to go about celebrating July 4 in Los Angeles.
The closest fireworks show is at a megachurch down the hill from one of the girls visiting. Last year’s event drew 60,000 people.
“That doesn’t sound right,” my husband scoffed. “It’s probably 6,000 people. Which still sounds like a lot.”
I pointed him to the website, which clearly boasts attendance of 60,000.
The neighborhood girl concurred: “You don’t want to go anywhere near there after 5:00. There is no place to park.”
That didn’t sound promising. I’m not a big fan of hanging out in the hot sun with huge crowds of people, hours before the start of the actual fireworks show. Besides, the girls were in the middle of one of their movies and while they wanted the fireworks, they did not wish to leave before the film’s end.
The event that intrigued us the most was the fireworks show and block party at Grand Park across from Los Angeles City Hall. So at 6:00, we piled into the car and drove downtown.
What we saw made my heart sing: Thousands of Angelenos — families, couples, young and old — were gathering downtown to listen to music and celebrate the founding of our nation. In downtown Los Angeles. I’ve written quite a bit over the last couple of years about the new energy in the heart of the city, thanks to a new population of urban residents who are finally making downtown a neighborhood again.
But we did not stay very long. We were famished and could not find the food trucks we expected (just one serving ice cream and another with kettle corn). So we walked a few blocks south to the Far Bar in Little Tokyo, where we enjoyed a very nice dinner… interrupted by the sound of fireworks (way earlier than the 9:00 PM start time listed on the LA Times blog). We finished our meal and headed back to City Hall, just in time for the finale, accompanied by the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful.
I glanced at the time: It was 8:58.
But at least, we got to see a bit of the show.
And as we drove along the 101 back to the Valley, we got to see quite a number of pyrotechnic displays throughout the city.
Next time, maybe we’ll just get in the car and drive.
We will NOT be spending Independence Day this year with my sister’s family in Sacramento, which has led me to something of a dilemma: How the heck are we going to celebrate the 4th of July here in LA?
I’ve been combing local event sites for lists of fireworks shows and festivals for the Fourth, and there are plenty to choose from. So the hard part is making an actual decision. Do we want to watch the fireworks at the mega-church in Porter Ranch? All the way down to Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles? Or choose between two locations up in Santa Clarita?
It all sounds so… crowded.
I have always preferred the fireworks shows that come at the end of some kind of entertainment. Like at the end of a July 4 game at Dodger Stadium. (Alas, the Dodgers are playing the Rockies this week, so baseball fans in Denver will get to enjoy the show). Or the traditional Independence Day concert at the Hollywood Bowl. This year’s July 4 extravaganza features Josh Groban, who’s OK, I guess. But I would much prefer the July 5 & 6 tributes to Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes. Let’s be honest here: I’m not all that cultured. Just about everything I know about classical music is what I gleaned from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid. And how meta would it be to see “Long-Haired Hare” at the very venue portrayed there? (Not to mention my all-time favorite, “What’s Opera, Doc?” (You know, the one where Elmer Fudd sings, “Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit…”)
Do you think there’s any chance I can convince the family to stay in on Thursday?
See you in the crowd.