Chippewa Herald * March 26, 2008

Spring break 2008: California, here we come!

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

After driving our five kids all over the country in recent years, we decided to finally try a novel approach: airplanes.

We figured we could splurge a little, this being our last chance at celebrating spring break together before our oldest son Ben leaves home.

Our destination is southern California, mostly because of the cheap flights. (If your dates are flexible, you can find some great deals!) Here's my mini-diary:

Thursday, March 13

While booking flights, I noticed that we could take a nonstop to LAX or get a connecting flight. This decision didn't take long -- with kids excited for their first air travel, why not get TWO flights for the price of one?

On the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the Minneapolis airport, Alison mutters "I hope the seats on the PLANE aren't this close together." You could tell she's never been on an airplane before.

After a couple of fun flights and some quality time in the Salt Lake City airport, we settle into a Ramada in Anaheim for a surprisingly low $70 per night.

Friday, March 14

Today is DISNEY DAY! Admission prices are not for the faint-of-heart -- just to park and get in the door is almost $500 for the seven of us. Yowza -- that's more than I paid for my first two cars, combined! We make the best of it by staying almost 15 hours.

It's expensive, but Disney really does a great job, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Besides, once you're in, you don't have to spend any more money -- unless you want do something extravagant, like eat.

We find it deliciously ironic that "It's a Small World" is closed down for months to redesign the cars. The reason? Americans have gotten a lot larger in the 50 years since Disneyland opened. Maybe it's not such a small world after all.

Saturday, March 15

Our goal today is to check out Venice Beach. This is reportedly the most "colorful" stretch in Southern California, and we are not disappointed.

Ben and Jasper get involved in a pick-up basketball game, while the rest of us explore and watch the interesting mix of people. The peculiar new fragrances are not hard to figure out, with some beggars holding signs: "Need money for weed."

We spend some time catching up with a high school friend of mine who lives in Venice and is a Real Live Hollywood Writer. She has written for several TV series, and she's now working on a movie to be released next year. Maybe some day I'll actually get to see the episodes of "China Beach" and "Diagnosis Murder" where she used my name for a character. (I'm a little behind in my TV watching.)

Speaking of Hollywood, we make the obligatory pilgrimage to see where the stars autographed the sidewalks. We stumble on a great restaurant in "Thai Town" with live music and a delicious garlic pepper chicken dish for only $5.50! Didn't see any movie stars eating there, however.

Sunday, March 16

We attend "Journey of Faith" church in Manhattan Beach. Another friend of ours goes there and invited us. We knew him as a kid in Colorado, so we are delighted to see his wife and new baby girl! He, too, was in show business; he directed a movie called "Hometown Legend."

When I mention to him that I saw his movie at the Blockbuster in Chippewa Falls, he tells me to rent it so he can get another nickel. (He left directing for real estate a couple of years ago when he realized how little time was left for his family.)

After church we drive an hour north to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. We've been to several presidential libraries before, but this is the first one honoring a president who served during our lifetime, so it is especially interesting (once we get past room after room of Nancy's dresses). We even get to tour Air Force One, the plane used from 1980-2001.

Diverting to Santa Clarita on the way back, we stop at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor. This is the last Farrell's left anywhere, so I have to show the kids a little history behind the booth in our basement.

Monday, March 17

Tired of nomadic life, we decide to stay put in one hotel for the final three nights. That gives us freedom to come and go all day Monday and Tuesday without packing up our luggage each morning and squeezing around it in the rental van. (The web page said the Chevy Uplander minivan holds "seven adults and seven large suitcases," but we dispute the latter.)

Our last two days are centered around the beach and pedestrian mall area of Santa Monica. The gale-force winds finally settle on Tuesday, allowing enough skin exposure to sunburn those who ignore Mom's advice.

Wednesday, March 19

We get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight. On the journey homeward, we take a nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. Why delay the trip home with another tiring connecting flight?

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