I was a little anxious about Los Angeles. What would it feel like to be in the center of the entertainment industry, this mystical place where the stars lived? I’d spent my lifetime watching things on television that were made in Los Angeles. Before I had even learned the 50 United States, I was consuming a bevy of content created in California. Something about Hollywood seemed like a fantasy, like it was this bubble that couldn’t actually be real.

When I was eight, I went to San Diego during the summer with my family. If I had understood how close I was to the place where my favorite Disney Channel shows were made, I’m sure I would have begged my parents to drive me and my sister through Hollywood. However, all I knew was that I got to go to the beach, the zoo, and the other Sea World (I’m from Florida).

So almost two decades later, I was back in California. Part one of the trip took us to the Bay Area; part two took us to the Central Coast and down the Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve been writing about television for a few years now, so I was overwhelmed-slash-excited by all the things I’d get to see in Los Angeles. This showbiz voyage began with “the happiest place on Earth,” Disneyland.

Still wondering why Goofy gets clothes and Pluto doesn’t.

I’ve been to every Disney World park except for Animal Kingdom. Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, MGM/Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon — I love them all, especially EPCOT. I had been told that Disneyland would be smaller, and it was. Even though it was manageable in size, it was impossible to see everything since I’d ambitiously gone with the one-day park-hopper ticket. We still had a blast. The first half of our day in the heat of the sun was spent at Disneyland itself. We gravitated towards the familiar things from our Florida experience, like Pirates, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and the teacups for me.

We got the coveted Dole Whips and ate even more ice cream-like substances once we walked over to California Adventure. We were intrigued by this park after watching YouTube videos about how it, apparently, used to be terrible. The only downside was that a few fun-looking rides were closed. We also got stuck on the Little Mermaid ride. There was still plenty to do as the day continued, and the highlights for me were Soarin’ (a ride we’ve previously experienced at EPCOT) and the Animators’ Workshop, which felt so 90s and made me happy.

Disney California Adventure Animators’ Workshop

We took the advice of the great David Studebaker (more about him later) and ended our day back at Disneyland. That gave us just enough time to ride my all-time favorite attraction, It’s a Small World. The mixture of nostalgia, colorful decorations, and smiling, singing children nearly made me cry. After that, we were in a prime spot to watch the fireworks show. I’ll never forget it.

Exterior of It’s a Small World ride

The next morning (Tuesday), we checked out of our Anaheim hotel and went to Seal Beach, another great recommendation, and it wasn’t crowded. Swimming in the Pacific Ocean was electrifying. Blue water, bright sunshine, and waves just right for body-surfing. I knew I’d be in the ocean again before the trip was over. After a quick lunch, we made the drive through LA proper and checked into our West Hollywood hotel. It was time to meet one of my Internet friends in person!

Jordan Holtzer from The Relunchables podcast was one of the first people I met in the online nostalgia community. After hearing his podcast in 2020, I just had to introduce myself and compliment him on his DCOM analysis. It was fun to get to know him, appear on his show, and work on a couple of other projects with him (you can read our DCOM ranking here). Jack and I had dinner with Jordan and his wonderful girlfriend, Talia. We loved talking with them and enjoyed hearing what it’s like to actually live in LA. I was sad when the evening came to an end. There’s nothing like putting a face to a friend in real life after calls and emails from afar.

It was hard to believe our first day in LA had come and gone just like that, but we discovered something about this trip in general, regarding time: it passes by more quickly when you have to spend a lot of it in a car. In San Francisco, we had walked all over the city and saw so much that we would have missed if we’d been driving everywhere. In LA, most destinations required driving and lots of traffic. However, I did enjoy a spontaneous walk the next morning.

I realized I had left one of my favorite pairs of shorts way back at the hotel in Anaheim. Jack was nice enough to drive back there to retrieve them, so I stayed in West Hollywood and had a leisurely morning. I decided to walk to Sunset Boulevard, just around the corner. I wound up by some shops and restaurants and stopped in at Book Soup. I had no idea what sacred ground I walked on. Book Soup was a hot spot for signings, and while I didn’t see any famous authors, I fell in love with the store’s television and film sections, but the whole place was grand. I bought two books that were previously signed by the authors! The 2000s Made Me Gay is an essay collection about the media that informed its author’s life and understanding of her sexuality. I first found out about this book (and its entire chapter involving Disney Channel Original Movies) on Instagram, thanks to Podcast from Planet Weird. The other book I bought was Honky in the House, a memoir by Jay Moriarty, a writer and executive producer of The Jeffersons. The author’s account of building his career in LA beginning in the 1960s is enthralling, and his work on one of television’s longest-running sitcoms impacted viewers in powerful ways.

My timing at Book Soup was perfect, since I was wrapping up my shopping as Jack was arriving back from Anaheim. We were pretty hungry, so we stopped at some healthy place in Toluca Lake for salads. That was a good decision, because after a glorious stop at The Brady Bunch house and a failed attempt at vlogging the Boy Meets World high school (schoolchildren were out front), we survived the Hollywood sign hike. It was laborious, but worth the photos, I’d say.

The Brady Bunch house

After all that, I was determined to swim in the Pacific Ocean again, and both of us were ready for more food. We opted for Malibu since Jordan had recommended Malibu Seafood. It was the perfect spot, and our food was absolutely delicious. Of course, it was getting darker and colder by the time we were done, so I nixed the swimming and just walked along the shore for awhile.

Thursday was a big day. I still wanted to take a dip, so I dragged Jack to Santa Monica this time. Before getting in the water, I documented that I was at the site of Lilly’s birthday party from Hannah Montana: The Movie. Can’t help but think of that film when I see the ferris wheel. The swim was a great start to the day, and I’ve decided I like Santa Monica.

Beach day at Santa Monica

Next up was our outing with the famous David Studebaker and his son, Matthew. David is a hilarious comedian and hosts The Unofficial Disney Tonight Show, which you can listen to or watch on YouTube. He has been an Internet friend since January 2021, when I discovered his show on Instagram just in time to tune in for the first live Zoom event! I even won David’s book, Lone Star Lance, which you can purchase here. I kept in touch with David and the show and appeared on the program to play trivia live for my birthday in July! I had told David about the trip right away since he lives in LA but has also lived in San Francisco. He was so kind to give us recommendations and answer questions about both areas.

A beautiful day at Griffith Park

We caught up with David and Matthew at the Travel Town Railroad at Griffith Park. It was so sweet to see Matthew toddle around and say “train! train!” throughout the morning. Jack is also a huge fan of trains and still has a love for Thomas the Tank Engine. The four of us even got to take a train ride together. Meeting in person was the best, and it made me sad that we live so far away from our friends. David sent us on our way and, of course, told us about a fantastic Italian restaurant that was en route to our next big event: the Warner Brothers studio tour.

The Walton family church

I wasn’t sure what to expect with the WB tour. There were so many moving parts to this vacation that I must have been subconsciously relieved to have a few pre-planned hours. The entire afternoon couldn’t have gone better. We walked around the lobby, entered the exhibit leading to the tour, and got in line. Our tour guide was the best. She decided Jack and I looked like nice people and invited us to sit up front with her on the giant golf cart. 🙂 I was thrilled to ride around and see as many sets as we could. One of my favorite spots was the Midwest Lot with all its Gilmore Girls and The Waltons history. The Friends fountain was also exciting. Since Ellen was on hiatus at the time, we even got to check out her show’s soundstage. I loved the whole experience so much that I wished I could stay and see production in action. When we were led back inside for the final, more free-flowing portion, we took our time and had a conversation with another knowledgeable WB guide. From Central Perk to Harry Potter and superheroes, there was so much more to see before exiting the self-guided area.

Next up was another round of film/TV houses! I successfully saw the Nefler mansion from Troop Beverly Hills (my favorite movie). It was most fulfilling to see the Even Stevens house and the Lizzie McGuire house after two decades as a fan of these shows. It’s an out-of-body experience to look at something like that across the street instead of through a TV screen. I loved vlogging these for Instagram. I think the Even Stevens abode looks a bit more inviting when all is said and done. Jack was a good sport about the home tours, but we were both getting hungry. We found a semi-casual Italian place in Beverly Hills that didn’t disapprove of my overalls, and we walked around Rodeo Drive in awe of the lights and the glitzy storefronts. Phyllis Nefler from Troop Beverly Hills would approve.

Cruising around Beverly Hills
The Stevens family home
The McGuire family home

The next day was, sadly, our last full day in the Golden State. We enjoyed one more leisurely breakfast and checked out of our West Hollywood hotel. The timing was just right for a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a spot I’d written about but couldn’t quite picture in my mind exactly as it is in real life. It’s another piece of history that continues to attract tourists every single day.

Our lunch that afternoon was with none other than Dennis Rinsler, who, with Marc Warren, wrote and executive produced some of the sitcoms that I love the most. Full House, Even Stevens, and That’s So Raven, to name only a few. Wouldn’t it be something to sit in the writers’ room and watch these heartwarming scripts in the making? Dennis was the first executive producer I ever interviewed. He has always been so supportive of my work as a television historian and entertainment journalist. I’ve learned a great deal from Dennis, and spending time with him in person was such a gift. Speaking of gifts, he gave me an original Even Stevens fleece he had saved from the show days. It made me feel like a member of the family, and I’ll treasure it forever. As we said our goodbyes and walked off, I shouted after Dennis, “Thanks again for my childhood!” It’s such a true statement.

Me and my friend, Dennis

The afternoon was filling up quickly. We loved our time at the Getty Museum, yet another thing on this trip that you have to see to believe. After that architectural marvel, we squeezed in a drive up to Griffith Observatory. Those folks need a better traffic system, but it was all worth it for that view — I can’t remember the last time I stood somewhere so beautiful and watched the sun set, moment by moment. Finally, we had a quick dinner at a neighborhood place and then drove to our airport hotel for a few hours of sleep before an early flight.

It felt strange to leave Los Angeles. After all the anticipation and preparation, it was time to go back to Michigan. Looking back on it, the pillars of the vacation were planned ahead: flights, hotels, tickets to major attractions. And of course, I had ideas of what I wanted to see. But we managed to find a healthy amount of spontaneity in our dining choices, the structure of our days, and the little things we happened to notice along the way. LA is still mysterious to me. Some of the most famous people in the world live there. Some of the best entertainment of all time was made there. I can’t wait to go back and learn more about this fascinating place, and I wouldn’t mind more time with the ocean or the mountains, either.

Thank you for reading about my California adventure! If you would like to join my email list, you can sign up here. It’s easy!

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