Did the floating house from Pixar‘s animated film Up inspire you to fly to South America? This weekend, somewhere east of Los Angeles, a house tied to 300 helium-filled balloons flew 10 stories in the air. Each of the 8′ weather balloons contained an entire container of helium. Inspired by Up, a crew from National Geographic Channel‘s new show How Hard Can it Be? filmed the house reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet. The 16′ x 16′ house remained airborne for an hour, presumably not weighed down by an old man, a Wilderness Explorer, or a talking dog.
You already know the Southern California’s top tourist attractions by heart. Disneyland. Hollywood. Hearst Castle. Ever wonder what else is out there? Here are five great lesser-known attractions to check out on your next visit to the Golden State.
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
Wildlife is often entertaining, and you will get more than your money’s worth (it’s free) by making a stop at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Located about seven miles north of San Simeon (site of Hearst Castle) along Highway 1 on the scenic central California coast, the rookery is home to an estimated 15,000 animals, according to Friends of the Elephant Seal.
The seals travel in the open ocean for 8 to 10 months a year, but they head to land at the Rookery to give birth, breed and rest. The site is typically a hive of activity as the animals bark, scratch, crawl, fight, sleep and care for their young. They are funny, sweet and fascinating creatures to watch any time of the year. Parking and entrance to the Rookery are free, and there are plenty of viewpoints from which to enjoy the antics of these strange but wonderful creatures.
Santa Claus Statue Did you know it’s Christmas all year long in Nyeland Acres, California? You might just miss the area’s very own jolly old St. Nick, unless you know where to look. While cruising down Highway 101 through this area of Ventura County north of Los Angeles you’ll encounter a giant 22-foot-tall statue of Santa Claus resting behind wrought-iron gates off the Rice Avenue exit on South Ventura Boulevard.
For more than 50 years, this SoCal Santa stood atop a candy store in what was then Santa Claus Lane off Highway 101, nearly 30 miles away. After the Christmas-themed attraction closed down, Santa’s future was in jeopardy. In 2003, Mike Barber, president of Garden Acres Mutual Water Co. in Nyeland Acres, took possession of him, and the 5-ton Saint Nick moved to his new digs. The custom wrought-iron gate has Santa’s initials (an “S” and a “C”) in it, and he now has company: a snowman and two soldiers. Although the site is opened by appointment only and on special occasions, you can still come to peer at him behind the gates any day of the year for free.
Santa Paula Murals
The quaint Ventura County town of Santa Paula holds a treasure trove of artwork — all on walls of buildings in the city’s downtown. As the city says, you can “enjoy a Walk Through History” by viewing the nine colorful murals as you stroll through town. Santa Paula’s rich history in aviation, “black gold,” citrus, Chumash Indians, Latino culture and more is represented on the various murals. Best of all: It’s free. Visit SantaPaulaMurals.org for more information, including a map with the murals’ locations.
Nitt Witt House
Chances are you know about Hearst Castle, the opulent mansion built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst in the central California coast town of San Simeon. But have you ever heard of the “Poor Man’s Hearst Castle?” That’s the nickname given to the Nitt Witt Ridge home at 881 Hillcrest Drive in Cambria, about 15 minutes away from Hearst’s fancy digs.
The Nitt Witt home, built lovingly out of junk, is the product of Arthur Harold Beal, aka “Captain Nitt Witt” or “Der Tinkerpaw.” Beginning in 1928, Beal spent 50 years building his “castle,” out of such items as toilet bowls, tires, tile, rocks and beer cans. In 1986, the home was named California Historical Landmark No. 939. Today’s owners, Michael and Stacey O’Malley, offer tours of the folk art home. Call 805-927-2690.
Fillmore & Western Railway
Residing in the rural town of Fillmore, north of Los Angeles, is a star of huge proportions. He’s been in more than 400 TV shows, movies and commercials. “He” is the Fillmore & Western Railway, also known as “The Movie Trains.” Just a few of his credits: “Monk,” “Seabiscuit,” “Criminal Minds,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Walk in the Clouds,” “City Slickers II,” “Bugsy” and “Fatal Instinct.” You can ride the rails on this famous train year-round for a myriad of special excursions, such as murder mystery dinner train rides, the Pumpkinliner Halloween journey and the North Pole Express trip. Visit Fillmore & Western’s Web site or call 1-800-773-8724 for ticket reservations. All aboard!
Architecture buffs and fans of Frank Lloyd Wright have long enjoyed a visit to the architect’s Fallingwater house, near Pittsburgh, and soon, true fanatics can pay a premium to spend two days and two nights on the famous property. The new overnight program will debut on weekends, welcoming up to 8 guests at a time, either this December or in early March of next year.
Guests won’t actually sleep in the house – they’ll retire at night to a newer four-bedroom home built on the grounds. They’ll take an in-depth tour one night and be treated to a dinner party with a special guest and the house curators the next. Days are free to spend at leisure, enjoying Fallingwater as the house’s director says it was meant to be. Guests can stroll the grounds, explore different rooms of the house, or simply relax as though the home was their own.
The going rate to sleep in an architectural masterpiece? $1,195 per person for double occupancy.
I love staying in hotels, if for no other reason than I don’t have to clean up (much) after myself — I can leave the bed unmade, and fresh sheets and towels will magically appear without me having to make the trek to the laundry room. But sometimes a hotel isn’t the best option — renting an apartment or house is often the way to go, especially if you’re staying for a while. According to this article from MSNBC, there are lots of reasons to avoid hotels. Such as?
Space: Hotel rooms can be pretty limiting size-wise. Your own flat or house will come with lots of extra space, and maybe even your own yard.
Privacy: Hotels are public places; you can keep to yourself in your own apartment.
Price: It’s often a much better deal to rent your own place for a week than pay a nightly rate at a hotel — which can be really expensive! Plus, you can make your own meals in the kitchen, which saves a lot of money.
Cultural experience: Renting your own place allows you to avoid all the other tourists and get a feel for what it’s like to live like the locals. And, consider this: All name-brand hotels are basically the same, so why stay at one when you’re somewhere exotic? You might as well be staying in Poughkeepsie as far as the hotel decor goes.
Flexibility: There are rules at the hotel. In your own place? Not so much.