Vacation Day! Local Summer Fun on a Budget


Vacation Day! Local Summer Fun on a Budget

Turn off your

By Suzanne Ridgway
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Since the Great Recession has impacted our vacation budget, it may be a good summer to just take a day now and then to explore fun things to do near home. Instead of travelling and spending all that money on airfare, gasoline and hotel rooms, take a “Day-Cation” instead. Some suggestions follow to help you unplug from your normal routine in a less expensive way.

Rules for Day-Cations — It has to feel like time off. No answering your pager (unless you’re really on call), no lugging your laptop, and absolutely no stopping in at the hospital “for just a few minutes.” The point is to refresh and rejuvenate by doing something different, to turn your “nurse brain” to the “off” position. Seriously. Just for a day.

Day Trip 1

BEAT THE HEAT: Picnic and a Hike at Palos Verdes Peninsula

In the dog Days of July and August, there is generally no cooler place to be in L.A. County than the far southern end of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  The ocean breezes here are usually steady and cool, even when everywhere else is baking, and there are many wonderful areas to hike, each more beautiful than the last.  

Start at Ocean Trails near the Trump National Golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes where over 90 acres of natural habitat is being restored above the ocean. Take in views of Catalina while you walk or jog along the top of the bluff or scamper down to the rocky beach on steep, unpaved trails. 

Drive about four miles west on Palos Verdes Drive South where the fabulous new Terranea Resort sits on the old Marineland site. Stop here and look around if you’re more prone to optimism than envy—perhaps when that screenplay gets picked up, you can afford to vacation like this. In the meantime, there is free parking in front of the hotel and a public access trail below it for more stunning views of cliffs and coves and rocky beaches, and a few well-to-do tourists. 

If you’ve worked up an appetite for lunch, the Golden Cove Shopping Center (another mile and a half), is a good place to pick up a picnic. There is a Trader Joe’s, a Subway, a Mexican grill and a sushi place.  Double back to the Point Vicente Interpretative Center to eat, where the park surrounding this small museum is one of the few ocean view spots nearby with trees and plenty of blessed shade. 

The Interpretative Center is free and home to many interesting exhibits on the natural history, archaeology, geology and marine life of the peninsula. The adjacent 84-year-old lighthouse is operated by the Coast Guard Auxiliary; its tower and small museum are open the second Saturday of each month.

A scenic drive around the rest of the peninsula on Palos Verdes Drive South / Palos Verdes Drive West will bring you to Torrance Beach and the Redondo Beach Pier, the site of free concerts on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Many different styles of music are offered; consult the schedule of bands at their website to find something that conforms to your taste.

Street parking is very scarce, but the pier parking structure is not too expensive and many of the pier merchants validate. 
Or just hang around the Esplanade above the beach to the south of the pier and wait for the sunset. If you head over to nearby Riviera Village, there are several inexpensive or moderately-priced options for a quick bite or beer at an outdoor café to finish up the day.

Ocean Trails
Terranea Resort
Pt. Vicente Lighthouse
Pt. Vicente Interpretive Center
Redondo Beach Pier


Day Trip 2

TAKE THE KIDS: Two Parks and a Legendary Ice Cream Parlor in Orange County

There are two large parks in Orange County that many Angelenos may not be familiar with, but both are full of great no- or low-cost activities.  You may want to pack both spots into one Extreme Day of Fun or, depending on the ages and stamina of your family members (including parents), devote a separate day to each. 

Irvine Regional Park in Orange encompasses 477 acres, nestled in beautiful rolling hills in a semi-rural area in north Orange County. There are playgrounds and picnic areas, a lake with paddle boats, and a railroad with a 1/3 scale train that makes a 12-minute loop through a portion of the park. There are bicycles and surreys for rent, pony rides and (more expensive) horseback riding, and two snack bars for refreshments. There is even a zoo, with a varied collection of animals, reptiles and birds native to the Southwest, including a mountain lion and a couple of bears. Parking/entrance fee per car varies from $3 to $7, depending on the day, and the zoo entrance is $2, but discount coupons for most of the attractions are available on the website.   

Orange County Great Park in Irvine bills itself as the First Great Metropolitan Park of the 21st Century. Right now it is a work in progress, with free parking and admission. It is being built in an ecologically sensitive manner following a comprehensive Master Plan to convert the old El Toro Marine Base into a huge public recreation and entertainment space that will eventually cover 1,300 acres. The “Preview Park” now open currently offers playgrounds and picnic areas and scheduled activities such as free concerts, dance performances and “Movies on the Lawn.”

There are also art classes and nature education (bird watching and star gazing) and entertainment such as a “Frisbee Dog Show” (July 25).
Rides on the Great Park Balloon are always free. Thursday through Sunday, both daytime and evening hours, visitors can rise to a height of 500 feet in the gondola of the huge hot air balloon, which is always safely tethered to the ground. From here you get a birds-eye look at the surrounding countryside and progress being made on the park. (Rides subject to weather and wind conditions.) 

After either of these outings, if you just haven’t had enough fun for one day, consider a trip to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor Restaurant in nearby Mission Viejo. They serve the usual burgers, sandwiches and salads, but the real draw here is the ice cream. Yes, old-timers, the Farrell’s you remember from the 1960s and ‘70s is back, with loads of gooey sundaes on the menu, including the giant “Zoo” creation ($50 worth of ice cream and toppings, but feeds 10). Bring Tums.

Irvine Regional Park in Orange
Great Park of Orange in Irvine
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, Mission Viejo

Day Trip 3

SUMMER IN THE CITY: Adventures in Downtown Los Angeles

For those wanting a more sedate outing and cultural activities, there is a compact walkable area full of opportunities right in our own backyard. Downtown Los Angeles, where many locals never go, offers much in the way of art and music, interesting but inexpensive dining adventures, and places to explore local history. Get around on foot or take a DASH bus. Metro Lines serve all of downtown too, so leave your car at home or in one of the many parking lots and experience the city the way many other cultures do it — sans automobile.

Art:  Opportunities abound Downtown to view all kinds of art. MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) is free Thursday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. and many art galleries are open for gratis gazing all the time, including those in the trendy Chung King Road in Chinatown.

The second Thursday of each month is L.A. Art Walk where you can immerse yourself, along with lots of fellow art-lovers, in all the downtown “scene” has to offer, from noon to 8pm. The crowds get younger and heavier as the evening gets later, but the walk does start at noon and daytime hours are less crowded. Or use the list of dozens of galleries and museums on the L.A. Art Walk or Chinatown websites to create your own walking tour any day of the month.

Contemporary and Historical Landmarks: Self-guided and docent-led tours are available at the Music Center, Disney Hall, and the Central Library. Beautiful Union Station, built in 1939, with its Art Deco design and tiled patios is a nice place to wander for a while, or play the tourist at Olvera Street and shop while exploring the oldest buildings in Los Angeles. You can learn about the history of Asian cultures in L.A. at the inexpensive Chinese American Museum or on free days at the Japanese American National Museum (every third Thursday of the month and all Thursday evenings).

You would never know from the outside of the building what ethereal beauty in iron and light are inside, so check out the lobby of the Bradbury Building on 7th Street (only the lower level is accessible). Splurge on a drink at the Biltmore Hotel or just marvel at its elaborate and gilded lobbies, hallways and ballrooms. Angel’s Flight is running again near the Grand Central Market — only 25 cents.

Music/Entertainment:  An eclectic mix of free concerts, dance performances and theater at California Plaza are offered weekends throughout the summer by the non-profit Grand Performances.  

Shopping: There are plenty of shopping opportunities too, from admiring fancy baubles for when your ship comes in at the Jewelry District to bargain-hunting in the bazaar-like environs of Santee Alley and the Fashion District. 

Eating:  For those all-important re-fueling stops, the choices are almost endless. A variety of ethnic restaurants are nearby and good eats are available on even a tight budget: dim sum in Chinatown, sushi in Little Tokyo, tacos at Olvera Street, or a variety of cuisine at the Grand Central Market. Visit Los Angeles institutions the Pantry or Phillippe’s for their old-fashioned atmosphere and great people-watching.

Walking Tours:  To plan your own walking tour, try the Downtown LA Walks website and download free podcasts that will guide you through different neighborhoods. The Los Angeles Conservancy offers docent-led tours Saturday mornings and, in the summer, Wednesday evenings too (Art Deco, Downtown Skyline, City Hall & Little Tokyo). There’s a nominal fee that goes to support this worthy organization and preserve our unique Los Angeles heritage. 

DASH bus info
Metro Red, Blue and Gold Line planning site
L.A. Art Walk
Chinatown art events
Central Library
Music Center and Disney Hall
Angel’s Flight
Fashion District shopping
Grand Central Market
Walking Tour Podcasts
Los Angeles Conservancy walking tours

Suzanne Ridgway is a is freelance writer and regular columnist for Working Nurse magazine. She also writes grant proposals for nonprofit organizations. She can be reached at

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