Disneyland/SoCal Road Trip, 2011

Just returned from a week traipsing up and down the California coast – combo family/friend road trip + first Disneyland pilgrimage for Miles and Amy. Beyond the awesomeness of spending quality time with my brother and an old friend, a few Cliff notes:

Atascadero Lake

As a boy in the early-mid 1970s, spent many summers swimming in Atascadero Lake, so was bummed to learn that it’s actually been closed to swimming since May ’85, mainly due to high levels of bird feces in the water (lots of ducks/geese for a small body of water, and very little fresh in/outflow). But with the loss of swimming as a central activity, a wonderful summertime lakeside community has vanished. Saw very few people hanging out, despite beautiful weather – something great’s been lost. Kind of hard to see why the city doesn’t mount a cleanup effort rather than lose this centerpiece of the central coast. On the other hand, I have to wonder exactly what I was exposed to as a boy…

Getty Museum

On the way to L.A., we spent a half day at the amazing Getty Museum, a slab of architectural miracle perched high on the hills above Los Angeles, packed with classics. Honestly, their collection wasn’t exactly up our alley, but we dug the exhibition of Cuban photography covering the pre- and post-revolution periods. Mostly just an incredible place to spend a day.

Polar bear head Also whiled away an afternoon on State St. in Santa Barbara – a great example of a community thriving around a highly walkable downtown area full of funky shops, artists, great restaurants, vintage shops, and music stores. Caught it during a farmer’s market in full swing, which made it even better. Had a two-martini seafood feast on the pier with an old friend, making up for lost time. Bummed to see the old Hotel California shuttered – in the 1970s, Dad was a railroad engineer and would put my brother and I on the Amtrak with him to Santa Barbara, where we’d stay overnight at the California, then eat at Sambo’s and return home the next day. The Hotel California may or may not have been the subject of the Eagles song of the same name, depending on who you ask. Seeing it closed just didn’t seem right.

That leaves Disney, equal parts magical/amazing and disappointing. Last time I visited was as a young boy, probably around six or seven years old. So much has changed in the meantime, but so much remains. Can’t fault the park for evolving, but it’s hard to stomach the parts that have changed for the worse. One of my favorite attractions was always the submarine voyage, where you learned a ton about undersea life (Dad was a professional scuba diver, so for us, it was like a glimpse into his amazing/secret world). The apex of the ride was always the part where the submarine was attacked by a giant animatronic squid. Sadly, what you get now are a bunch of underwater digital projections of clips from the Disney/Pixar movie Finding Nemo, which left us disembarking from the sub scratching our heads. What’s the point? Fun fact: Once upon a time, Disney employed young maidens as live mermaids, to just sit on rocks in the sub lagoon flopping their tails. They stopped doing that after a few years because real live young gentlemen kept swimming out to hang with them.


Also gone is the Bear Country Jamboree (are you kidding me?), and the Adventure Through Inner Space, which simulated the experience of having your body shrunk down to the size of an atom. The good news is, Inner Space has been replaced with Star Tours, a most excellent 3-D seat shaker with witty dialog and excellent presentation. Pirates of the Caribbean is mercifully untouched, except for the introduction of not one but three animatronic Jack Sparrows. Freaky thing is, the Sparrow robots are 30 years more modern than all the rest in that ride, and the first one leaves you pretty well convinced they’ve parked real actors in there… until you realize he’s more than a bit repetitive. Important thing is, the spirit of the ride is untouched.

Small World

As always, one of the most amazing things about Disneyland is how sparkling everything is. Despite thousands of people milling around at all times, the streets and the rides are all spotless, cleaned relentlessly. All of the employees (sorry, “the cast”) are super friendly, and the introduction of the Fast Pass system means you don’t have to stand in lines for 45 minutes anymore if you do a bit of planning. And they still put on a fab fireworks show every single night (on top of the over-the-top Fantasmic show on the river, as well as the new World of Color spectacle at California Adventure, where we spent a second day).

Pretty much a glorious road trip, start to finish. Now if they could just do something about traffic on Southern California highways, which was miserable in both directions between LA and Ventura.

Two Flickr sets (see slideshows for full-screen), or non-slideshow for captions):

Disneyland 2011

Santa Barbara, etc.

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