California Adventure Day Four

Day four was our last day in the LA area before heading to Anaheim for VidCon.  I didn’t have much planned for us besides visiting the Griffith Observatory.  The Observatory is a cross between a museum and a planetarium – with an awesome view.  It sits atop Mount Hollywood and you can see for miles. Best part about it – admission is free!

The weather was perfect and we got there early before the first planetarium show started so we had plenty of time to roam around the grounds and get some great pictures.

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Hollywood sign view

View up from a long trail behind the building

View up from a long trail behind the building

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The fight scene from “Rebel Without a Cause” was filmed on the front steps

Here’s our walk around the building:

 

The inside was just as impressive as the outside.

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Murals on the wall

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Ceiling of the entry way

We got tickets for two planetarium shows.  Channeling my inner nerd, I was beyond excited about this because I think the last time I was in a planetarium, I was in sixth grade!  The shows were really neat.  The guy who was narrating them looked and sounded just like he actor in the Cadillac commercials.  You know the one who says we parked a car on the moon and left the keys in it?  Yeah, that guy.

Lunch was at the on site cafe and after we successfully pissed off everyone behind us in line by ordering 3 burritos (one lady making them) we sat outside.  Here is where I experienced something I don’t think I will ever forget.  I had to use the restroom and entering the door before me was a lady with a baby and a boy who couldn’t have been more than 5.  They went into the large stall with the baby changer.  We were the only ones in there.  I hear the lady talking to the boy and she’s using the F word in every sentence, just casually like it was no big deal.  Then the boy said something as a whisper which I couldn’t hear to which she replied LOUDLY ” I don’t give a F! What the F is she gonna do?  I’ll tear her F-ing head off and feed it to her for lunch!” At this point I hope to God she’s not talking about me and decide I’d better finish up and get the hell out of there.  This lady had some serious issues to be cussing in front of a young boy like that.  Later on during lunch I see her leaving with another lady and I assume that is who she was talking about.

Our lunch view before the bathroom horror show

Our lunch view before the bathroom horror show

From lunch we decide we’ve seen everything and decide to make our way back to the car.  About halfway there, my daughter asked…what about the gift shop?  So we headed back and checked that out.  To the left of the gift shop was another exhibit area that we didn’t even know existed.  It was an entire area devoted to space and the planets.  I could feel my inner nerd tingling again so we had to go in.

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Not sure what this was

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After seeing the last few sights of the observatory it was time to head back.  We had been there all day, as it was now almost 4pm!  Time flies when you’re having fun.  We had to drive to Anaheim to check into our hotel for VidCon.  The LA traffic was horrid and a 30 mile ride took us about 4 hours!  We made a pit stop at the iconic Randy’s Donuts near the airport.

That's one big donut!

That’s one big donut!

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The donut itself…not that impressive unfortunately!  Finally made our way into Anaheim and downed some crabs at Joe’s Crab Shack before calling it a night!

Day Five – Disneyland and VidCon registration!

 

 

 

California Adventure Day Two

This day I had planned for us to go into the Hollywood area and do some sight seeing.  We got up early and after a nice (and free) breakfast in the hotel we headed out to Hollywood.  On the way there we drove through the ta-ta area of Beverly Hills:

 

Arriving into Hollywood, we parked right across from Hollywood High school:

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First on the agenda was the Hollywood Museum but they weren’t going to open for about an hour so we wandered down Sunset and came across the coolest store ever built:

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It was certainly the biggest candy store I had ever seen and there were a couple of really cool rooms that had different themes.  My favorite:

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Disclaimer: No humans were harmed in the making of this blog

Warning!

Warning!

 

Being the Walking Dead fan that I am, I had to check out the goods:

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I don’t even know how they were able to collect this and put it in a jar…

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Now we know, zombie brains are small

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Paying homage to the best show ever

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Might be a good disguise in the event of the zombie apocalypse…

The boys made a pit stop:

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The “gross” room

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When you gotta go you gotta go

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The best ideas are thought up while in this position….

There was even a gas station inside:

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And a Wonka section of course:

 

Holy Wonka!

Holy Wonka!

And this creepy baby thing:

No thanks!

No thanks!

By the time we were done navigating our way through the largest candy store ever, the Hollywood Museum opened up.

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Marilyn guards the front door

Marilyn guards the front door

 

Apparently this was the old Max Factor building where the stars like Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe would go to get made up before a shoot.  It is filled with years and years of movie memorabilia – which was a big hit for our move loving family.  It was three floors full of movie making goodness.  Here are some of my favorites:

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Costumes from Sweeny Todd

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We all know this guy

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Effie’s dress from the Hunger Games

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I’m dating myself here, but this is Pee-Wee’s bicycle from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

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Prop for the long distance shots of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”

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Dexter!!

We spent a good two hours in here at least, it was well worth every minute!  The museum is connected to Mel’s Diner so after we were done we got a jump on the lunch crowd and got a table.

20140622_093419 Food was good.  Expensive but good. By the time we left there were about 50 people waiting to get in.  Mel’s is kind of a Hollywood icon I guess.

Next on our “tour” was Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  Which I think is now Egyptian or something because it says so.

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This is where they used to roll out the red carpet

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See, I wasn’t kidding

Of course we had to take the obligatory tourist photos in front of the building:

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Note my USA jersey…it was game day vs. Portugal

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And of course checked out the footprints:

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I took a million of these pictures so here’s two

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For those of you just itching to see about a hundred stars on the walk of fame –  I took this just for you:

 

Walking back down Sunset you can see the Hollywood Sign

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See, it’s waaaaay back there

After our Hollywood romp, my husband was growing restless because we had passed lunch and the USA game was approaching…yet we didn’t know where we would stop and watch it.  We decided to go down to Santa Monica and see if we could find a place.

Parking at the Santa Monica Pier was interesting.  After paying another gazillion dollars for a few hours access, we drove into this little parking garage, wedged our minivan into the smallest spot possible between another car and a brick wall – and handed our keys over to the valet who said “you pick up your car over there” and pointed across the street at yet another parking garage.

The pier was packed!  I’ve never seen so many people crammed into one space (well, I see that later in the trip but that’s another day).  Here’s our walk from the parking area down to the boardwalk:

The water was freezing so the hopes my kids had of swimming did not become reality (they are used to FL beaches).  We didn’t do the amusement park area but walked all the way down to the end.

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At some point my son’s flip flop had a blow out (no he didn’t step on a pop top thank goodness) and we had to buy a new pair.  One pair of $8 Santa Monica flip flops coming right up!  I’ve never seen a kid get so mad at shoes before.  I’m thankful that little shop was there!

By this time, I had another man in my life getting a bit grumpy.  Game was about to start and nowhere in sight to watch it.  We had surrendered to the fact we would have to load up the WatchESPN app on the iphone and listen to it on the drive back but then I saw a little restaurant across the way.  I said “what about there?” There was a sign out front that read “Watch World Cup Here!” It was about 10 minutes until kickoff and as we walked through the door the owner greeted us with “Are you here to watch the game or eat?” We responded in unison “Watch the game”.

He seated us right in front of the big screen TV!  To our surprise there was not many people in there yet.  A few at the bar, but there were 6 of us and the table was for…get this – exactly 6 people!  God really wanted us to be able to watch this game.  Over the course of those 2 hours, even though we had eaten lunch just a few hours before, we ate…and ate…and ate….and watched the USA tie Portugal. *sigh* By the end of the game the place was hoppin but we made our exit.  The food was excellent and the hosts gracious.  We can’t thank them enough for such a great time!

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Intense

With full bellies we waddled back to our car…which was again, across the street…and made our way out of town.  Somewhere along the way someone in the car  thought it would be a good idea to take Mulholland Dr up the mountain in a quest to reach the Hollywood sign.  I think it might have been the driver…my husband.  Before long we were literally hanging off the edge of the mountain (ok not literally but it felt like it) and I was holding back my stomach from spontaneously leaping out of my body completely on it’s own accord.  We have to be getting closer….we have to be…were the words we were repeating, as we could see the sign but couldn’t quite get there.  As we drove higher and higher….

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Nothing but a steep drop off to the side of the car!

Needless to say we never made it.  We followed every tour bus we saw until finally we asked this guy how to get to the base of the sign.  The directions went something like this “Take that street until it curves right, then left…take a right and then at the next curve take a left…take another left…then go a little ways and take a right…then another left and an immediate left…yada yada” My husband was just nodding his head.  I was thinking “Are you serious right now??” We decided to just make due with the overlook area and saw it from a distance:

 

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This was as close as we were gonna get

Making our way back down Mulholland (thank goodness) we ran into a traffic jam because something was going on at the Hollywood Bowl.

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Not sure who it was that drew such a crowd

By the time we got back into Thousand Oaks, where our hotel was we were tired.  Because we stuffed ourselves silly while at Santa Monica…I can’t even remember if we had dinner that night!  I don’t think we did.  I think we all go back and crashed.  My kids are still giving me grief that we didn’t make it all the way to the sign!

Day three coming next….The Queen Mary and Malibu!

Explore the Strip for FREE (or almost)

For today’s Travel Tip Tuesday I wanted to share some insight on the many, many things you can do in Vegas without spending too much of  your hard-earned cash — better to save that for the slot machines right?

A little background:  After much deliberation and trying to “convince” my husband that there was more to Vegas than degeneracy and debauchery, we decided to spend our 2nd wedding anniversary in Las Vegas.  I had been there once before, when I was 15 and I went with my mother, her friend and her friend’s German high school foreign exchange student.  We ate, saw the sights and went to a few shows….It was 1994 and Vegas was a totally different place then.  Our first trip as husband and wife in 2001 sparked an addiction that we would be feeding for the next 11 years and more.

I think I will save the details of our first visit for another blog post some time and today,  list a compilation of the things we have experienced over the years in Vegas for free or close to free.  A weekend in Las Vegas does not have to break the bank, wipe out your kid’s college fund or blow the family nest egg.  There is plenty to keep you entertained on a small budget.  Here’s some of our favorites as we :

Luxor & Mandalay Bay

  • Mandalay Place – Shops and restaurants
  • Free tram and indoor walkway between the two and to Excalibur
  • Shark Reef – Open daily, 10am-8pm; $16.95 adults, $10.95 children 5-12 (pricey) Mandalay Bay
  • Titanic, The Artifact Exhibition – daily, 10am-10pm; $28 (pricey) Luxor
  • Bodies… The Exhibition – daily, 10am-10pm; $32 (pricey) Luxor

Excalibur

  • Motion Rides 11am-10pm daily, from $9.95

MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

  • CBS Television City Research Center – 10am-8:30pm
  • LV Monorail Stop – Daily 7am-2am. 3 ticket types starting at $5

New York New York Hotel and Casino

  • Manhattan Express Rollercoaster – daily, 11am-11pm; $14

    Manhattan Express

Cosmopolitan

  • Art scattered all around the property
  • Live music at several bars

City Center

  • Fine Art Collection – Free, open daily 24/7
  • The Gallery – 10am-midnight, daily; free
  • Water features – at Aria’s porte-cochère

 

Mirage

  • Volcano – Daily, every hour dusk to 11pm.
  • Aquarium behind the check-in desk in hotel lobby.
  • Free tram to Treasure Island
  • Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat – Hours vary, $15 for adults, $10 for children

Treasure Island

  • Sirens of TI – Open daily, 5:30, 7, 8:30 and 10pm
  • Free Tram to Mirage

Venetian/Palazzo

  • Gondola – daily 10am-11pm, $16.
  • Grand Canal Shoppes – Shopping, restaurants, street performers and more.
  • Madame Tussauds – (702) 862-7800 times vary, $25 (a little pricey, but fun)
  • Painted ceilings, 2nd floor balcony and hotel lobby.
  • Giant waterfall and flower display, changed seasonally

    Venetian Singers

Bellagio

  • Fountains – every 30 minutes from 3pm-7pm, then every 15 minutes until 12am.
  • Gallery of Fine Art: 10am-6pm daily, Admission $15
  • Conservatory – Displays change with Seasons.
  • Fiori Di Como – Artwork by Dale Chihuly on ceiling of hotel lobby.
  • Chocolate Fountain – Jean-Philippe Patisserie
  • The Art of Richard MacDonald – 10am-11pm daily, free.
  • Free tram to Monte Carlo and CityCenter

    Bellagio Fountains

Wynn/Encore

  • Penske/Wynn Ferrari-Maserati showroom – 10am-9pm, $10 per person.
  • Lake of Dreams – nightly on the hour beginning at 8pm. Outside the Parasol Down Bar, 2 drink minimum for balcony seating.
  • Gardens near the lobby.

    Water feature outside the Wynn

Imperial Palace

  • Auto Collection – Located on the 5th floor of parking garage. Daily 10am-6pm. Admission $8.95.
  • Dealertainers – Celebrity impersonating blackjack dealers
  • LV Monorail Stop – Daily 7am-2am. 3 ticket types starting at $5.

Harrah’s

  • Carnaval Court Live Entertainment
  • Dueling Piano Bar
  • Ghiradelli Ice Cream Shoppe
  • Free shuttle to Rio, Bally’s/Paris
  • LV Monorail Stop – Daily 7am-2am. 3 ticket types starting at $5.
  • Hash House – Order one meal and share, the portions are HUGE

Flamingo

  • Wildlife Habitat – 8am-dusk, free.
  • Bugsy Segal Memorial – Plaque located in a small grotto behind the hotel.
  • LV Monorail Stop – Daily 7am-2am. 3 ticket types starting at $5.

Casino Royale

  • $1 beer specials and $1 margaritas
  • Free promotional slot play with player card sign up

Fashion Show Mall

  • Fashion Shows – Fri-Sun every hour noon-6pm

Paris

  • Indoor walkway to Bally’s with shopping and eateries
  • Eiffel Tower Experience – Open daily, 9:30-12:30am weather permitting. $10 for adults; $7 for children. From 7:30 p.m. – close: Admission is $15 for adults.

    See Vegas from the top of the Eiffel Tower

Planet Hollywood

  • Miracle Mile Shops
  • Pleasure Pit – Sexy dealers
  • Indoor rainstorm at timed intervals

Bally’s

  • Jubilee! – All Access Backstage Walking Tour: Mon, Wed, Sat at 11am. Admission is $10 purchased with Jubilee! show ticket or $15 without.
  • Indoor walkway to Paris.
  • Free shuttle to Harrahsand Rio
  • LV Monorail Stop – Daily 7am-2am. 3 ticket types starting at $5.

Bill’s Gamblin Hall and Saloon

  • Big Elvis – M, Tu, Th, F @ 3pm & 7:15pm

Caesars Palace

  • Forum Shops – Don’t miss the great statues or the spiral escalator.
  • Fall of Atlantis and Festival Fountain Shows – Forum Shops. Every hour 10am-midnight.
  • Large aquarium near Cheesecake Factory

Showcase Mall

  • Gameworks
  • M & M World
  • Movie Theater

Stratosphere

  • Tower – Tower rides Sun-Thurs 10am-1am, Fri-Sat and holidays 10am-2am. $15.95 for adults, $10 children
  • Big Shot – $13
  • Insanity the Ride – $12
  • X Scream – $12

This extensive list was put together with help from my friends at the Vegas Message Board