Tourism At Home Seeing With Tourist’s Eyes
Since he moved to Missoula to attend the University of Montana a few years ago, we have been able to lure, cajole, beg, trick, bribe and otherwise entice our son to come back “home” to Southern California only once a year at most. Suffice it to say, he took to the outdoor wonders and wilds of the Treasure State with complete abandon, being a fisherman/hunter/outdoorsman/adventurer at heart.
This past week, said son made his annual compulsory return home with his fiancé, a young lady who was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She has been to the Southern California only once before. Although her hometown is close to the metropolis of Seattle, it doesn’t begin to compare with the size, density and geographic variety of Los Angeles County. While there wasn’t time to do much sightseeing on her first visit to the southland a year ago, this time we were able to do some sightseeing and, frankly, wound up feeling like tourists in our own hometown.
On Sunday, for example, we joined the throngs of folks visiting the California Science Center near USC to see the space shuttle Endeavour. As one of only three so-called “space planes” that are viewable to the public (not to get uber-nerdy, but a fourth shuttle, the Enterprise, never actually flew in space. So there.), the Endeavour is an inexpensive experience that shouldn’t be missed by residents or visitors. Personally, I’ll never forget the excitement of watching (along with tens of thousands of our southland neighbors) the Endeavour fly over the Crescenta Valley on its final flight that sweltering September day in 2012. Being able to see it up close closes the loop, so to speak.
Another “touristy” spot our houseguests had wanted to see during their time under the So Cal sun (the temperature back home in Missoula was near zero and snow had been falling for days) was Olvera Street, perhaps the most historic of all Los Angeles destinations. So after our necks were sore from looking up and gaping at the space shuttle, we headed north on the Harbor Freeway towards the heart of downtown.
Having worked up an appetite, however, we decided to first make a refueling stop at another not-to-be-missed L.A. historical hot spot, the home of the French dip sandwich, Philippe, the Original, located on Alameda, just north of Olvera Street. There were already dozens of hungry customers ahead of us at the counter even though it was almost three in the afternoon, but any time spent waiting would have been worth it to indulge in a classic hot beef sandwich dripping with au jus. Oh, my.
Once sufficiently sated, we waddled south to Olvera Street, a landmark I last visited with my Cub Scout pack sometime shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth. I distinctly remember using every nickel of my saved-up allowance money to buy a leather bullwhip. (The leather shop is still there!) Even though the legendary Indiana Jones bullwhip scene was decades away, I treasured that souvenir of my childhood visit to Olvera Street long after it had gotten me into a world of trouble both at home and elementary school. But that’s a story for another time.
Olvera Street is a uniquely kitschy and touristy collection of crowded stores and restaurants all selling pretty much identical wares, but I had forgotten how fun it is to go and experience a culture endemic to Los Angeles.
Without moving our car, we could have also taken our guests on a walking tour of nearby Chinatown or viewed the incredible art deco architecture of Union Station, but frankly, by then we were walked out and more than ready to head home.
What a day it was. Then again, what a place we locals are fortunate enough to live in. Who knew there was so much to see and do around here?
I’ll see you ’round town.