Best Of :: People & Places
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Aquarium of the Pacific has helped to make Long Beach a tourist destination for families from Southern California and beyond. Many, however, aren't aware of the fun tours it offers that many other aquariums—we're looking at you, Monterey!—don't. For $90, you can sign up for a behind-the-scenes Animal Encounter tour. You've got three choices: the shark encounter (put on wet suits and climb into the pool with sharks!), the seal and sea lion encounter (get kissed by a sea lion!), and the sea otter encounter (learn just how FUCKING DANGEROUS cuddly sea otters really are!). All three tours include a general tour of the aquarium's inner workings, like climbing above its largest tank, feeding sharks some delicious-smelling chum, and preparing meals for sea otters and such. Charlie the otter will even offer you his paw before you very gingerly hand him chunks of scallops, shrimp and fish. He's not as nice as he looks, though: Otters are actually related to badgers and wolverines. On our last encounter, we even got to meet Mr. Green the Puffin, who likes to hang out by the door of his exhibit—and who promptly took a chunk out of a trainer's hand after performing a mating-dance ritual with her waggling fingers. Puffins? Not that nice, either.
Okay, so it's not that far of a drive from Balboa Island to Balboa Peninsula, but the ferry's fun to take anyway—and it'll save you about five miles per car trip. The ferries have been making the quarter-mile (just less than 1,000 feet!) scenic ride since 1919, traveling at a mind-boggling, lightning-fast speed of 4 mph. Eighty-nine years ago, the ride cost a nickel per person—and people were loaded aboard what was called the Ark, a giant rowboat equipped with a small engine. Three double-ended wooden boats—the Admiral, the Commodore and the Captain (no Commander? What about the Seamen?) replaced the Ark in the '50s and are still in operation. Each ferry holds just three cars and about 75 people. Riders mostly consist of bicyclists, families and couples enjoying the view we all-too-often forget about, which includes the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round of the Balboa Fun Zone, the Balboa Pier and the Balboa Pavilion, which is especially pretty at Christmastime. Also: It's cheap (50 cents to $2), your kids will love it, and you can even bring your dog.
If children are the future and history repeats itself, then homeless children are very likely to repeat their parents' mistakes and end up on the streets themselves. In an attempt to break this sad cycle, School on Wheels, a non-government-funded charity founded in 1993, sends volunteer tutors to homeless shelters, motels, group homes and the streets to mentor students and provide them with school supplies and uniforms. Serving much of Southern California, from Dana Point to Santa Barbara, School on Wheels has several local tutoring sites including the Santa Ana Catholic Worker office and several locations in Long Beach.
We always get this question from out-of-town guests: What's a decent, affordable place to stay near Disneyland? There is only one right answer: Hotel Menage. Several years ago, three young men bought a crappy old hotel on the location, tore everything out and refurbished it in style. The rooms aren't necessarily large, but they come with eye-soothing mahogany-wood beds, comfy sofas, non-chain-hotel wall art and plasma televisions. Conveniently located next to Interstate 5 and minutes from the world-famous theme park, the hotel also offers a large pool and K'ya Restaurant, featuring Pacific Rim dishes.
Yes, it's the happiest parking structure on Earth. Built in 2000 to hold more than 10,000 vehicles, this monster of a parking lot is not only the most magical place to park your car, but also the most efficient in all of Orange County. In a time when other parking lots, like those at the Irvine Spectrum, take cars on daring adventures around and around, bringing them precariously close to crashing and offering exciting twists and turns to people of all ages, the Mickey & Friends parking structure offers a direct exit from every level, expertly placed traffic cones, friendly attendants trained to wave even the most impossibly sized cars neatly into a spot, and the cartoon faces of America's favorite rodents plastered on its walls. Yes, in a world of craziness and disorder, the Mickey & Friends parking structure, once honored with the title of largest parking lot in North America, offers simplicity and peace of mind for just $12 per visit.
Utterly amiable and vastly knowledgeable, Bubba Jackson handles the crucial weekday 6-to-9-a.m. slot for listener-supported KKJZ-FM 88.1, where he plays excellent jazz and blues cuts from the 20th and 21st centuries. Now, many radio jocks can do the same thing, but no professional on-air personality possesses more genuine enthusiasm for the music he's spinning than Jackson. No, not even Henry Rollins. Bubba's getting up there in years, but the decades haven't muted his zest for the many styles of jazz and blues he plays while Southern California's more discerning denizens are getting ready for work or school and simmering in rush-hour traffic. A glance through one day's playlist for his Breakfast With Bubba show reveals tracks by Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Bernard Purdie, Ray Barretto, Lalo Schifrin, Herbie Mann, John Scofield with Eddie Harris, and Esperanza Spaulding. But whatever day it is, Bubba delivers the choicest cuts along with folksy commentary and generous praises when he back-announces his sets, like a hip grandpa who never lost his youthful passion for great music. More than most genres, jazz and blues desperately need champions like Bubba Jackson to keep their legacies thriving. His charm, knowledge and impeccable taste both benefit the music he advocates and help to kick-start your day on the brightest note possible.
God bless college radio. Without it, we'd be stuck in the morass of Top 40 tyranny, slaves to the electronic DJ programmed by corporate suits halfway across the country (Indie 103.1, you are exempt . . . for the time being). And God bless KUCI for being one of the more interesting college radio stations in the country. Boasting an eclectic programming schedule, KUCI will satisfy your jones for talk and music, with long-running programs such as Dan Tsang's Subversity and Mari Frank's Privacy Piracy butting up against a frequently alternating schedule of student-programmed music shows. No one knows good music like a college student. . . . Why, pretty much all UC Irvine's students do is write papers, drink beer and illegally download mp3s, so you know you can trust them.
This expanse may not have the acreage or wildlife population to compete with some of Orange County's larger rural parks, but for a suburban oasis, it has no competitors. Sure, you could make the drive out to some of the county's unspoiled wildernesses to feel like you're away from the grind, but what if you've only got a couple of hours? Huntington Beach's Central Park offers the beautiful, expansive Shipley Nature Center, a tranquil library, an equestrian center, a dog park, a disc-golf course, a playhouse, two restaurants (for now—say it ain't so, Alice!), Lake Huntington, an amphitheater, an adventure playground, a par course, playgrounds, picnic tables and barbecue grills. Pretty much everything one could want in a park, plunked down on 356 acres in the middle of Huntington Beach.
Remember how the U.S. Olympic hockey team emerged from certain defeat and beat the Russians in 1980? Well, almost as exciting was this year's Hall of Administration miracle pulled off by John Moorlach, the Christian, conservative chairman of Orange County's Board of Supervisors. Less than 24 hours before the June 3 board vote to name a replacement for indicted ex-Sheriff Mike Carona, Moorlach was down 4-1, with the majority favoring Paul Walters. By conventional wisdom, the veteran Santa Ana police chief had solid votes from Supervisors Bill Campbell and Chris Norby and needed only one additional vote from either of the two other supervisors—both of whom had expressed admiration for him. During weeks of discussion about the selection, a visibly annoyed Norby repeatedly pressed Moorlach for an early vote, confident that his choice had the three necessary votes. All that seemed left was for a tailor to fit Walters for his new uniform at the almost-$800 million-per-year department. But Moorlach helped stall the process for several weeks and . . . something . . . nobody's been able to decipher it completely . . . happened that left Campbell, Norby and Walters nearly gasping for air. When the board voted, Moorlach led a stunning 3-2 majority, with Supervisors Janet Nguyen and Pat Bates. The trio gave the county's most powerful job to underdog candidate Sandra Hutchens, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's chief.
The odd-shaped park next to decommissioned train cars, the La Habra Depot Theater and working-class neighborhoods boasts three baseball diamonds, basketball courts, an impressive tennis center with several lighted courts, and open space with strategically placed shade trees, picnic benches and barbecues. That should be enough to take care of the older kids. Now let's talk rugrats. Within the park is the Children's Museum, which is smaller than certain others in the county with millionaire benefactors, high-end public-relations firms and constant mainstream-media coverage. But many attractions are packed into the compact space. Just off the lobby is the Science Station, which is currently filled with displays about water, storm drains and sediments. Sure, sounds boring, but give kids a trough filled with mud they can sink their hands into, and they'll leave you alone for hours. The Carousel Room has a small carousel, a replica of a produce stand with plastic fruits and vegetables that can be weighed on a scale, and Buster the Bus, a chunk of an actual municipal bus donated by the Orange Country Transportation Authority. Sit inside and take it for a pretend spin. The Changing Gallery is not, thankfully, for diapering. It is the changing exhibit space that currently houses the Backyard Safari, which explores critters such as butterflies and spiders. The Kids On Stage room lets your little ones slip into costumes used in children's theater productions. There's also a teeny stage where they can get all Brando on you. Outdoors, there are the Train Village with the old cars, the Dinosaur Garden (basically two dinosaur statues in bushes), a Nature Walk, and playground gear that'll have 'em sliding, swinging and digging all afternoon. All in all, there's enough packed in to guarantee someone will be napping by the time he or she is strapped into the carseat. As they say in the credit-card commercials: priceless.
Rambunctious real-estate developers and their stooges in the local Orange County media love to celebrate massive, publicly subsidized but privately owned developments and to attack critics as unreasonable leftists. But the poster face for reasonable, responsible development—especially ones that don't rob the public of parks and other valuable open space—belongs to Debbie Cook, the popular mayor of Huntington Beach. A rare breed in OC politics, Cook is articulate, feisty on her cherished issues and yet still principled. In 1990, as a concerned citizen, she helped enact a city charter amendment that required politicians and their real-estate-developer contributors to seek voter approval before they could commercialize any public park. She has also been instrumental in preserving a portion of the Bolsa Chica Mesa from overdevelopment. This year, Cook, a Democrat, is willing to gamble her political capital to challenge the gorilla of the OC Republican Party: Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the 10-time incumbent who is described by some (okay, by us) as an angry, rambling hodgepodge of steaming partisan flatulence and dubious associations. A Cook victory would give the 46th Congressional District (Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Seal Beach and portions of coastal Long Beach) a fresh voice on ethics, energy and the environment. Oh, and unlike Rohrabacher, she'd probably never lobby for the Taliban.
Everyone hates vacation resorts popping up in their back yard, but when Montage Resort & Spa appeared, it brought the Treasure Island Blufftop Park (and an underground public parking structure!) with it. While the actual beach isn't too easy to get to—hiking across rocks during high tide isn't much fun—there's now at least a path that leads down to the shore. Lush patches of grass, palm trees and gardens with lots of tables and benches are there for picnickers and admirers, but the most notable asset to Treasure Island has to be its sandy bluff with lots of rock formations, tide pools and even caves to comb through. Resist any temptation to poke at anything slimy, crawling or gross-looking in the tide pools, though—it's a $1,000 fine if you touch that moving . . . rock . . . thing.