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Out & About in Southern California - Spring 2023

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas showcases iconic signs from hotels, casinos, restaurants, and more. Photo courtesy the Neon Museum, Las Vegas

Bright lights, big city

Red Barn Sign

Photo courtesy the Neon Museum, Las Vegas

By Sean J. O’Connell

You might say that the Neon Museum in Las Vegas was a brilliant idea: This funky museum, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, preserves and elevates the art of glowing glass tubes.

The 800-piece collection gathered from about 200 Las Vegas properties includes some of the most recognizable signage of the 20th century, such as those from the Sahara, the Riviera, and the Moulin Rouge. The flashy fonts and spectacular colors have lured motorists from miles away on Interstate 15.

Plaza Hotel & Casino Sign

The newest addition to the Neon Boneyard is the Plaza Hotel & Casino's 1,500-pound sign. Photo courtesy the Neon Museum, Las Vegas

The latest addition to its outdoor exhibit space, known as the Neon Boneyard, is the Plaza Hotel & Casino’s iconic 1,500-pound sign (pictured), which was revived with 576 new light bulbs. Opt for a guided 45-minute night tour for the best viewing experience. Daytime admission: adults, $20; guided night tours: adults, $28.

You may also like: A guide to Las Vegas, from A to Z

Ninjas in training

Boy climbing an obstacle at American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park

Kids and adults alike enjoy the obstacle courses at American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park. Photo by Jen Warren

By Elisa Parhad

Unleash your inner ninja at the country’s first American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park, located at MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana. The 17,500-square-foot indoor venue has all the familiar obstacles from the hit NBC reality show—including spider walls, tilting logs, floating bridges, and monkey swings—designed to test strength, agility, speed, and balance. The park has 5 obstacle courses of increasing difficulty, but as in the show, each ends with a scramble up the Warped Wall.

All ages are welcome, but little ones—as well as those who need to give their muscles a break—might enjoy bouncing in the adjacent inflatable arena. Luckily, becoming a ninja warrior is somewhat of a bargain: A 1-hour time slot costs $19.99 online and $21.99 on-site.

Celebrating 100 years of Ramona

By Meghan O’Dell

If you grew up in Southern California, you might have taken a fourth-grade field trip to Hemet to see Ramona, the outdoor pageant based on the novel written by Helen Hunt Jackson in 1884. The book tells the tale of star-crossed lovers Ramona and Alessandro, as well as the tragic history of Southern California’s Native people.

In 1923, the novel was adapted into a play, and the spectacle—complete with actors, singers, dancers, and even horses—began running on a rocky hillside in the San Jacinto Valley. This eventually became known as the Ramona Bowl, complete with a stage, seats, restrooms, and a sound system, but many scenes still take place on surrounding trails and clearings created in the ’20s and ’30s.

What’s perhaps most astounding is that the cast of 300 to 400 is mostly made up of volunteer members of the community—including those who represent Southern California’s Native tribes—who have been coming together for the past century to keep this important story alive. April 22, 23, 29, and 30, and May 6 and 7. Adult tickets start at $30.

You may also like: A sneak peek at the new Orange County Museum of Art

A new vision in downtown Visalia

Darling Hotel seen from the street

The ailing Tulare County Courthouse was transformed into The Darling Hotel in downtown Visalia. Photo courtesy The Darling/Topograph

By Jim Benning

Visalia native Matt Ainley grew up near the 1935 art deco Tulare County Courthouse, and he hated seeing the elegant building fall into disrepair in the early 2000s. So when the county put the structure up for bid in 2018, he jumped at the chance to save it.

Darling Hotel Rooftop Restaurant and Lounge

Hotel guests and visitors can enjoy the view from Elderwood, the rooftop hotel and bar at The Darling. Photo courtesy The Darling/Topograph

Ainley, his brother Bob, and 3 additional investors have since transformed the building into Teh an award-winning, 32-room boutique hotel replete with the city’s only rooftop restaurant and lounge. The Darling now sees a steady stream of guests, from fruit brokers negotiating citrus deals to travelers visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. That’s how I wound up spending a night there and dining at Elderwood on the rooftop, enjoying views of the Sierra and the Central Valley.

The hotel’s design isn’t the only draw: Its downtown location makes walking to shops and restaurants easy. Instagram influencers from L.A. and beyond are raving: “They often come through on their way from the parks and say they wish they’d had more time here,” Ainley says. I’m no Instagram influencer, but I can relate. Rates start at $179.

Park hopper

"Moon USA National Parks" book cover

Photo courtesy Becky Lomax

By Jim Benning

Guidebook publisher Moon released an updated edition of Moon USA National Parks (2022, $19.99), which offers tips on visiting all 63 parks. We asked author Becky Lomax to share some parkland intel.

National parks are facing big crowds. Any tips?

See if reservations are required for entry, campgrounds, or trails. Then devise backup plans in case parking is full, tours are maxed out, lines are too long at restaurants, or campsites aren’t available. Also make use of off-seasons, early mornings, and evenings.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park. Photo by Jordan Siemens/Stock.Adobe.com

What’s your favorite park?

Glacier [in Montana], because I live 20 minutes from it. I love its many moods: waterfalls that rage in spring, wildflowers that fill summer alpine meadows, golden aspen and larch that cover mountainsides in fall, and snow that buries roads in winter.

What do you think is our most underrated park?

Great Basin in Nevada has such diverse experiences: underground cave tours, trails to lakes, ancient bristlecone pines, a 13,000-foot rocky peak to ascend, and even a glacier, although it’s completely covered with rocks. And at night, it’s one of the best places to see the Milky Way.

The book includes “top experiences” in parks. What’s your personal top experience?

I grew up hiking, camping, and skiing the national parks in Washington with my family. My dad worked at Mount Rainier during his younger years, and we could see the prominent peak from our family trips around the state, so summiting it was a special moment for me.

The book also highlights the best meals in parks. What’s your favorite?

The ones with bison: burgers, nachos, meatloaf, chili, or tenderloin. Yes, that’s a little odd after spending the day in Yellowstone watching bison herds, but only ranched bison is served in restaurants.

You may also like: The coolest and wildest things to do in our national parks

Opulent orchids

Phragmipedium Tall Tails, a type of orchid

Phragmipedium Tall Tails. Photo courtesy The Huntington/Ramon de los Santos

By Eric Plante

The 75th annual Santa Barbara International Orchid Show was ready to open its doors in March 2020, only to be canceled at the last minute due to the pandemic. Now, it’s back in person for the first time in 3 years, returning to the Earl Warren Showgrounds on March 10–12. 

With about 28,000 species—more are being discovered every year—orchids are the world’s largest plant family, and they are believed to have evolved around 80 million years ago. While the majority of orchids are native to Asia, South America, and Central America, they’re found on all continents except Antarctica. This year’s show will feature vendors from Taiwan, Thailand, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, as well as local and regional participants.

Lauris Rose, the show’s president and an exhibitor and vendor, has been involved in the show since the 1980s. “The sights, scents, humidity, and color of this show … it’s an experience and an extravaganza,” she says.

She wants people to know that the gathering isn’t just about buying or admiring orchids: “There’s so much to learn at this show; our exhibitors and vendors are eager to share their knowledge, from the history and culture of orchids to how to properly care for them at home.” Single-day tickets, $20. 

Raptor rapture

A falconer holding a falcon spreading its wings

Photo by Darren Baker/Stock.Adobe.com

By Susan Lendroth

A speck against the sky, a falcon circles above the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Falconer Joe Roy III angles his iPad toward me so that I can see the green loops recorded by a GPS tracker fastened to the raptor’s leg. The bird of prey is on the job, chasing away seagulls, crows, and other avian pests from the Terranea Resort.

For more than a decade, Terranea Resort has employed falconers to fly raptors as an abatement program. “I’m not here as an exterminator; I’m here as an intimidator,” says Roy, explaining that the patrolling raptors keep other birds from scrounging for food and leaving droppings on the property.

Roy shows some of his raptors at free 30-minute meet and greets with resort guests, and guests can book a private falconry experience for $150 per person (minimum 2 people).

During the 90-minute session, Roy demonstrates training methods and bird abilities while sharing tidbits about the history of falconry and the role raptors play in the environment. Feeling the rush of air from a hawk diving past you and holding a Eurasian eagle-owl on your gloved fist are unforgettable experiences.

More falcon encounters in Southern California

Enraptured by raptors but not staying at Terranea Resort? You can meet these magnificent birds at one of these places. Prices range from $77 to $94 for group sessions.

High-fi in Los Angeles and San Diego

By Sean J. O’Connell and Jeannine Boisse

At the peak of the trend in the mid-1970s, Tokyo had more than 200 jazz kissa—intimate listening rooms dedicated to the long-playing album. The centerpiece was the music, and the largest piece of furniture was often the sound system.

Instead of conversing, patrons would sit quietly, listening intently to the record spinning on the turntable. The soundtrack wasn’t the erratic result of customers dropping coins into a jukebox, but a curated playlist that stretched for hours. Today, only about half of these venues remain—analog time capsules in nondescript corners of the city.

But luckily for audiophiles, the concept has finally made its way to Los Angeles and San Diego, and several listening bars and coffeehouses are making waves for their unorthodox commitment to hi-fi. These hi-fi venues offer a unique and immersive experience in expertly designed spaces.

DJ and Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf came up with a clever way to store 7,500 of his records by opening Gold Line Bar, a cozy but lively listening space and bar in Highland Park.

Sunset & Vinyl adds an element of the speakeasy, serving cocktails and tunes above a pizza place in the heart of Hollywood.

Shelves with books and vinyls at In Sheep's Clothing

In Sheep's Clothing. Photo by Jen Warren

In Sheep’s Clothing, which lost its lounge to the pandemic, hosts hi-fi listening evenings in its record shop on Fairfax Avenue and at popup locations throughout the city.

At Part Time Lover in North Park, guests can sip on a Japanese highball while listening to full albums—played from a high-quality sound system—and browsing the vinyl shop curated by Folk Arts Rare Records, one of California’s oldest music stores. The space combines Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired designs with warm lighting and a hip art deco aesthetic.

A secret alleyway entrance will bring you to Convoy Music Bar in the Convoy Asian Cultural District. The dimly lit lounge is outfitted with lush furniture, intimate seating, and enhanced acoustics to prioritize the listening experience. Convoy uses imported Japanese audio technology and custom mixing equipment, and the bar serves sophisticated cocktails ranging from refreshing to spirit forward.

Longplay Studio in Sherman Heights offers a craft-coffee experience rooted in local culture and immersed in music. The shop, showcasing record selectors from the area and across the border, offers coffee and tea beverages, nonalcoholic and low-ABV cocktails, wine, Japanese and Mexican beer, and sake. Food is served daily with an alternating menu.

You may also like: Day Trip: 8 things to do in La Jolla

For more places to go and things to see in Southern California, check out our editor-curated list of the best fairs, festivals, events, and more.

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AAA travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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