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September 19, 2021

Photo Essay: Exploring More of Winchester Mystery House, From Turret Tip to Basement

After driving nearly 400 miles over the course of more than six hours (making a couple of stops along the way, of course), it felt like a miracle that I made it to Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California at all for my first tour of the day

But after ambling up two-inch steps and making hairpin turns around switchback-laden stairwells up and down four stories over the course of a couple of hours, I found myself facing the fact that I'd been so ambitious, I'd booked myself on a second tour of Winchester Mystery House, immediately following the first

With just a few minutes of rest between the two, I was tempted to bail and head to dinner early. But the second tour was the one that was really appealing to me—because the "Explore More" tour takes guests in places of the mansion not usually open to the general public. 


September 15, 2021

Photo Essay: A Friday the 13th Visit to Winchester Mystery House

It's easy to dismiss the tragic heiress and philanthropist Sarah Winchester as having gone crazy...


...and that being the reason why her 160-room home, now dubbed the "Winchester Mystery House" is so bizarre and, well, mysterious

September 13, 2021

Photo Essay: Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights, Back in 2021 With a Vengeance

When I first experienced Universal Studios Hollywood in 2015, I considered it one of the best places in LA. 

I know that sounds like sacrilege—especially coming from someone whose favorite LA places include the Los Angeles River, the abandoned Murphy Ranch, and the St. Francis Dam Disaster Site

But when I returned for Halloween Horror Nights in 2019, and again for the studio tour in 2021, I was even more sure about it. 

I wasn't crazy. Universal Studios is great.

Oh, it's no Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm—but it's not meant to be. It's a uniquely Hollywood amusement park, with plenty of film history to offer. 


And I couldn't wait to go back to its Halloween Horror Nights, after having a good time there two years ago and it being suspended last year during COVID-19 closures.

September 12, 2021

Photo Essay: Off the Shore of Avalon, A Cove for Lovers and Tropical Fish

California's Catalina Island may offer more than 60 miles of coastline—but among its most popular and secluded beaches is Lover's Cove, located between Avalon Bay and Pebbly Beach. 

The rocky shore off Pebbly Beach Road near the rock formation known as Abalone Point leads you to the Lover's Cove State Marine Conservation Area, a protected ocean habitat where sportfishing is prohibited.

September 11, 2021

Anaheim: Where Orange County's Oldest City Got Started (Nearly 100 Years Before Mickey Mouse Moved In)

In 1857, Anaheim became the second-oldest colony experiment in California—nearly a century before the arrival of Disneyland

Named "Ana" for the Santa Ana River and "heim" after the German word for home, this "Home by the Santa Ana River" was originally founded  by a collective of 50 German families who had formed the Los Angeles Vineyard Society.

Although you might associate such a German community with biergartens, these German immigrants established Anaheim with 50 vineyard lots, 20 acres each, on 1,165 acres of the former Rancho San Juan Caj√≥n de Santa Ana. They hoped to find wealth through wine, planting primarily Mission grapes in an attempt to create the largest vineyard in the world—despite being miles from markets, seaports, and railroad depots (at least until 1875).

And they succeeded, reigning for a time as the greatest wine-producing district in California, until 1885 when a blight wiped out their wine grapes. 

That's when they quickly shifted their attention to other agricultural crops, like Valencia oranges and walnuts.

Anaheim is now the oldest town in Orange County (though it was LA County back when it was founded). And much of its history has been forgotten, or at least eclipsed, by haunted mansions, intergalactic adventures, and the smell of freshly baked churros. 

But there are still traces of it to be found—if you know where to look.

 

September 09, 2021

Photo Essay: Mt. Ada on Catalina Island, The Other Wrigley Mansion

Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. did most of his candy business out of Chicago—but he liked Southern California so much, he bought the island of Catalina in 1911 and spent his summers in the city of Avalon, Los Angeles County, California. 

Postcard by Western Publishing & Novelty Co., Los Angeles (via University of North Texas Libraries)

September 07, 2021

Photo Essay: The Steepest Narrow-Gauge Railroad (With the Tightest Curves) Survives Among the Redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains

It had been almost a year since I'd ridden the Sugar Pine Yosemite Railroad in Sierra National Forest (and gotten smoked out of the area by local wildfires)—and it had come time for me to ride the rails once again. 
  

covered bridge (one of the shortest in the U.S,), built 1969

I'd planned a trip up to San Jose to tour Winchester Mystery House (blog post forthcoming) and had decided to drive the long way back home—mostly so I could ride the Roaring Camp Railroad on an antique train through the redwood forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

September 05, 2021

Photo Essay: A Sanctioned Visit Into the Off-Limits Sanctuary of Forest Lawn's Great Mausoleum

I recently posted about the incredible stained glass collection of Forest Lawn Memorial Park's Glendale location—but the truth is, I was really only scratching the surface. 

Gladiola Archway

Many of its most significant stained glass windows are inside the Great Mausoleum—which celebrated its centennial in 2020 and deserves a post entirely dedicated to it. 

August 19, 2021

Photo Essay: A Southern Sea Otter Safari in Monterey Bay

I don't remember how long ago it was when someone first told me about Elkhorn Slough as a destination for sea otters—only that it was sometime before I made it to the otter viewing spot in Morro Bay in 2019. 

Leave it to me to make smalltalk about otters with strangers. 

But when I was mapping out my trip to San Jose last weekend, I noticed that if I took the long way—hugging the coast instead of staying on an inland freeway—I could convince myself that this otter destination in Monterey Bay was on the way home.
   

August 18, 2021

Photo Essay: Dormant, Ignored San Jose Carousel Waits Patiently For Riders to Return

I've visited a handful of ill-fated carousels in my day—ones that are in disrepair or threatened with demolition and have survived fire and years in storage.