Los Angeles Activity Tips from a Pasadena Native

December 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Elaine Coger is a tour guide based in Los Angeles who has spent most of her life living in Pasadena. She has worked with California Tours for many years, specializing in Las Vegas and San Francisco tours, as well as local Los Angeles area tours.

I grew up in Pasadena. There were quite a few of us, because my great grandfather had 4 wives and 10 children—that meant that I had a lot of aunts and uncles, and needless to say a lot of cousins.

A year after I graduated high school, I got married. My husband and I started a business making photography equipment for professional photographers in our garage. One of our first customers was Disneyland. We worked with one of the photographers there who took photos outside of the Matterhorn ride. Disneyland gave us the promotion that sent our business skyrocketing—it grew so fast that we could hardly keep up with it. Finally after several years, we decided to sell our company. We became the subsidiary of a camera equipment company in Minneapolis, with my husband as the president. Our company became one of the largest photography equipment companies in the US.

Pasadena City Hall

After we sold the company, I decided that I would go back to school and take tour guide classes. It was at the school for tour guides that I got reacquainted with my sense of humor. In earlier years I used to give trivia skits at high school youth camps. While at the tour guide school, I would give my talks and people started laughing, and sometimes they would clap. That was when I knew I was headed in the right direction. I love interacting with people, I love making a tour come alive with our exciting history, and most of all I could be myself.

I graduated from the school in 1998 and did local work for about 8 years. Then I started branching out to Southern California, and learning about the rest of California, New York and Washington DC. A personal goal is to know everything there is to know about California and Los Angeles in particular—past and present.

Having grown up and lived my whole life in the Eastern part of Los Angeles, I have some suggestions of fun events and activities that most tourists don’t hear about.

  1. Heritage Square Museum – This is a living history museum of homes that were once built in Pasadena and Los Angeles. These Victorian homes range in time from the Civil War to the early 20th century. They have special events during the year and regular tours during the month. Coming up is the Annual Holiday Lamplight Celebration on the first weekend of December.
  2. Pasadena Float Barns – I love to watch volunteers decorate the floats for the Rose Parade. I used to take my kids and their friends to help glue the flowers on the floats.
  3. The Huntington Library – Located in the Huntington Gardens, this is a great place to see art, have some tea, and see the filming location of a lot of films. It’s free on the first Thursday of every month.
  4. Forneris Farms Corn Maze – Open between October 1 and 31 in Granada Hills. Everyone who enters the labyrinth gets a score card to see if they can find the “corny” signs hidden throughout the 4 acre maze. If you can find them all you may win a raffle prize.
  5. Pasadena Holiday Home Look In Tour – this fundraiser for the Pasadena Symphony gives you an opportunity to see the homes of wealthy people in Pasadena and San Marino. I have done this tour for over 30 years. We have gone through the home of the couple that creates the dance routines for the Princess Cruise Ships, and the home of the president of University of Southern California. It takes place in the first week of December.
  6. Fillmore Movie Trains – The majority of these train cars came from the property departments of MGM, Paramound and 20th Century Fox. These studios and others now rent these trains to make their films. You can visit during the daytime and they also have a Saturday night mystery dinner theater along with seasonal events.
  7. The Annual Colonial America Experience – The American Revolutionary era comes alive at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on the first Saturday in April. They have a town square, military camp, 18th century games, and crafts. This event is free, but there is a fee for the museum.
  8. Last Remaining Seats – Los Angeles Conservancy – Every May through July the Conservancy shows old films in the old incredibly beautiful theater palaces on Broadway Boulevard in downtown LA. This has become a highlight for me every summer, and I have been going for over 25 years.
  9. El Capitan Theater in Hollywood – This theater premiers Disney films every month, and along with these films they often have a live stage performance before the film.

Downtown Los Angeles surrounded by mountains

More resources to help you plan your trip to Los Angeles:

Los Angeles Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: discoverlosangeles.com

California Tours Los Angeles vacation packages

A Little Adrift blog post about falling in love with Los Angeles

California Tours blog post about a perfect day spent in Los Angeles

My Perfect Day in LA

October 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

People seem to either love Los Angeles or hate it, and in the past I’ve always been a bit overwhelmed by the seemingly endless snarls of freeways that run through it and the blonde, beachy beauties that inhabit it. But a recent weekend spent in Los Angeles visiting family revealed to me some of the highlights of living there: a beautiful beach, endless sunshine, great shopping … and food trucks!

Beach Day

My perfect Los Angeles day began as my boyfriend and I met up with my cousin and her 18-month-old baby for a trip to Santa Monica Beach. The white sands stretched out before us as we trekked along, looking for the perfect spot.  The beach was fairly empty since for Los Angeles the 75 degrees was a little chilly. I kept Baby Lila entertained by hauling buckets of seawater back to our picnic spot so that we could play in the wet sand together, methodically creating and destroying drip castles. Finally, I could resist no longer–the warm waves of Southern California’s Pacific Ocean called to me and I spent nearly an hour bodysurfing and splashing in the water.

Next, finished with the beach, we took a long walk from Santa Monica Beach to Venice Beach, one of the most popular and scenic walks in Los Angeles. Though we were on foot (or in a stroller, in Lila’s case), many people whizzed by on roller blades or bicycles as we made our way along a concrete path lining the beach. Our arrival in Venice Beach was marked by stands hawking Bob Marley t-shirts and henna tattoos, beachfront shops selling surf-wear and plenty of ice cream places.

We briefly explored the beautiful canals that give Venice its name, and then shopped our way back to where the car was parked in Santa Monica, ambling along Main Street and stopping in boutiques and quirky art stores. In between purchasing a pack of Big Lebowski playing cards at a toy store and trying on summer dresses at a boutique, we happened upon what must have been a budding reality TV star. She beamed at the camera following her around as she pranced down the street; later we saw her happily eating a cupcake for the (presumed) viewers at home. What an LA experience!

A Night Out in Los Angeles

After a day in the sun, we were pretty drained, but we cleaned ourselves up, put on appropriately trendy outfits and headed out to Elysian Park for Los Angeles’ popular Outdoor Cinema Food Fest. Food trucks serving unique, gourmet food have grown in popularity around the US, even snagging their own reality TV show, but they were born in Los Angeles. This festival was a great way to experience Los Angeles: we got to try Los Angeles’ own multicultural culinary invention, Korean tacos, and we got to see a classic movie, LA Confidential, projected onto an outdoor screen with the skyline of downtown LA in the background.

Though full from all the food truck goodies, and tired out from a full day of fun, we had to make one last stop before heading home. We cruised by a few late-night Pasadena taco trucks before deciding on the one with the longest line. After a few tongue, brain and chorizo tacos scarfed down in a dark parking lot, we were ready to call it a night, but we resolved to return someday soon to Los Angeles for more fun!


Visit Los Angeles:

A weekend in Los Angeles is difficult without access to a car. If you don’t want to rent a car while you’re there, you can join tours that will transport you to all the famous sightseeing spots. California Tours offers a 3-day tour to Los Angeles from San Francisco that visits Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Santa Barbara and more. If you’d rather go on your own, staying in Universal City or Anaheim is a great choice for travelers with children, as these locations are walking distance from two great theme parks. The Los Angeles airport area is the most budget friendly while still being centrally located, whereas staying in Santa Monica can get pricey.

For more on loving L.A., check out Fall in love (or at least like) with Los Angeles on A Little Adrift!