Meditation Mount in Ojai

Meditation Mount is a public meditation center located on a 32 acre site at 10340 Reeves Road in Ojai. Open since 1970, Meditation Mount, invites the public to come and enjoy the grounds on Wednesday through Sunday from 8:30 am to sunset. There is no charge, but the facility is part of a non-profit organization, Meditation Groups, Inc., and thus donations are welcomed.

The grounds include a winding path through the International Garden of Peace, a meditation room, the Chi Room gift shop and the Reading Room. 

Visit meditationmount.org for more information.

Malibu Sportfishing Pier

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The Malibu Sportfishing Pier is located at 23000 Pacific Coast Highway. Just north of the pier is Surfrider Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach. You can go sport fishing in a 48 foot boat or you can fish off the pier. Visit the Malibu Sportfishing website at www.zerve.com/MalibuPier/Fishing to learn more.

The pier was originally built in 1905 and first became open to the public 1934. It is currently operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

 In the latter part of 2013, Malibu Farm Pier Cafe opened at the end of the pier. Malibu Farm Restaurant & Bar is open at the beginning of the pier, closest to PCH. Previous restaurants at the Pier included Ruby's Shake Shack (closed in 2011) and The Beachcomber Cafe (closed in early 2012).

To fish off the pier, either bring your own fishing gear or rent it from Malibu Beach Supply Co. at the end of the pier. They rent fishing rods and sell bait. Call 310.456.8031 for more information.

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Learn more about the Malibu Pier at www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=24409 and www.malibupiersportfishing.com.

El Pescador Beach in Malibu

El Pescador Beach ("The Fisherman") has the distinction of being the closest beach in terms of auto mileage from central Thousand Oaks, located at 32900 Pacific Coast Highway, just east of the intersection of Decker Canyon Road and PCH. Along with La Piedra Beach and El Matador Beach, El Pescador is part of the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. 

El Pescador Beach is located about 2 1/2 miles east of Leo Carrillo State Beach and 5 miles west of Zuma Beach. Along with the other 2 beaches, El Pescador has a parking area (for a fee) and a porta-john and not much else. Dogs are not allowed on state beaches. There is also limited parking on PCH available, but be sure to look at the signs to make sure you don't park in a "no parking" zone.

Steep, uneven stairs lead you to the beach. Not particularly stroller friendly as a result, but it's not that far to go. This beach never seems to be particularly busy, so...shhh...don't tell anyone else about it.

Bottom half of the steps from the parking lot to El Pescador Beach

Bottom half of the steps from the parking lot to El Pescador Beach

Serra Retreat in Malibu

The Serra Center sign as seen from Pacific Coast Highway

The Serra Center sign as seen from Pacific Coast Highway

The Serra Retreat is a Catholic retreat and conference center located in the hills of Malibu on a 26 acre knoll, across the street from the Malibu shoreline. The location, since 1943, has welcomed church groups, schools, non-profits and other organizations a quite space for retreats and workshops.

Courtyard area facing the Pacific Ocean

Courtyard area facing the Pacific Ocean

During the week, the public is allowed to visit the grounds between 9 am and 4:30pm for personal prayer and reflection. No reservations are required. You must stop at the guard gate, located on Serra Road at PCH, about a 1/4 mile east of Cross Creek Road, obtain a guest pass, then slowly drive up Serra Road, for about a mile until you seen the turnoff on to the Retreat on the left. The actual address of the facility is 3401 Serra Road, Malibu.

Parking pass received at guard gate

Parking pass received at guard gate

There are no public restrooms at the facility and dogs are not allowed, nor or picnic lunches. This is a place for reflection, not to mention taking in the great views. There are a number of benches to reflect as you look down below as you enjoy paths and walkways and enjoy the gardens and sights. There is also a stone lined labyrinth for walking and reflection. 

Labyrinths are always cool, both to look at and to walk.

Labyrinths are always cool, both to look at and to walk.

You can get married here too, with two locations to celebrate after the ceremony. Capacity is 120 guests.

Learn more at serraretreat.com.

The view is not too shabby either!

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

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The 133 acre Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens first opened in 1966. The Zoo is home to more than 1,100 mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles representing more than 250 different species of which 29 are endangered. In addition, the Zoo’s botanical collection comprises several planted gardens and over 800 different plant species with over 7,400 individual plants. The Zoo receives over 1.5 million visitors per year and is owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles.

There's a children's zoo area with a petting zoo and fun exhibits. There's also a play area for kids that is quite popular.

Some advice! The line to get into the park can get pretty long on weekends. My advice is to buy an L.A. Zoo Membership! There is a $134 one-year family membership (as of June 2016) that gives you FREE admission for 2 adults and all of your kids, plus 2 one-time guest passes.  If you have a family of 4 and visit the park twice a year, this membership SAVES YOU MONEY as the regular entry cost is $20 for adults and $15 for ages 2 to 17. Ages 62+ is $17. (Pricing as of June 2016.) Plus, there was NO LINE to get in with your membership card! That alone gave us an extra 30 minutes in the park today.  Lastly, the card gives you 10% off your meals and gift shop purchases.  Seems like a no brainer!

Zoo membership also gives you free or discounted admission to zoos and aquariums across the country.

The Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, Reptiles (LAIR) exhibit opened in March 2012. There is a damp forest section that has Fiji Island banded iguanas, poison dart frogs, Guatemalan palm vipers and Fly River turtles, an area where you can watch staff taking care of the animals, tortoises, lizards, crocodile swamp, desert reptiles and much more. We also learned that Mexico has more reptile species than any other country on earth.

The L.A. Zoo is located at 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles. Visit www.lazoo.org or call 323.644.4200 for more information.

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Hippo relaxing at the Los Angeles Zoo

Hippo relaxing at the Los Angeles Zoo

Nicely appointed kids' play area at Los Angeles Zoo

Nicely appointed kids' play area at Los Angeles Zoo

Rhino at Los Angeles Zoo is just kickin' it

Rhino at Los Angeles Zoo is just kickin' it

Zebra at Los Angeles Zoo is having a snack

Zebra at Los Angeles Zoo is having a snack

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Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park

The Autry Museum of the American West is located in Griffith Park, directly across the parking lot from the Los Angeles Zoo, at 4700 Western Heritage Way.

The Autry features exhibits of Native American art and artifacts, film memorabilia, historic firearms, paintings and more with its collection of over 500,000 pieces. This collection includes art and artifacts of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, one of the largest collections of Native American materials in the country.

In addition to a wide range off exhibitions, the museum hosts lectures, film, theater, family events and more. 

Open Tuesday to Friday 10am to 4pm and weekends 10am to 5pm. Closed Mondays. Admission (as of June 2016) is $10 for adults, $6 for students/60+ seniors (with ID), and $4 for kids 3-12. Show your AAA card for 10% off adult admission.  Free admission on the 2nd Tuesday of the month.

 

Grotto Trail Hike at Circle X Ranch in Malibu

Although it takes a bit of patience getting from the Thousand Oaks area to Circle X Ranch nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu, Sandstone Peak (highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains), the Mishe Mokwa Trail (including the amazing Balanced Rock) and the Grotto Trail make it a worthwhile trek.

The Grotto Trail is a 3 1/2 mile round trip hike from the Ranger Station at Circle X Ranch at 12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu

You can park in front of the Circle X Ranch building, then follow the signs down to the Grotto Trail trailhead adjacent to the group campground. Parking is free. There is a restroom and drinking fountain along with maps available. A park ranger may also be on hand to answer any questions.

The mostly single track trail leads you on rolling terrain down to an area called The Grotto, where you will find a creek and, in winter months, a waterfall. The trail is a bit rocky but can be done by most ages. The hills are rolling, the terrain varies with rocks, a areas with steps, etc. There is also ample amounts of poison oak growing on the sides of the trail various section, so do be aware. That said, I've been here several times with the kids and we managed to avert any issues.

Bikes are not allowed on the Grotto Trail. Dogs are allowed on leash, until you reach the streambed at the bottom of the canyon.  Learn more at www.nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/circlexranch.htm.

Grotto Trailhead sign adjacent to circle X campground

Grotto Trailhead sign adjacent to circle X campground

So what makes the Grotto Trail special? Well, you hike down through a canyon leading to the west fork of the Arroyo Sequit. Plenty of shade and views all over. Once you reach the bottom of the trail, there is a creek. You'll hear running water pretty much year-round (though in late summer it can be a trickle). If you keep trekking down the unimproved creek bed, you'll come across large boulders and rock formations down to the "Grotto," a caved area pooled with water. But to get down there is not for everyone. You'll want to have both hands available as you climb down the boulders to the cave below. It is pretty cool though and you can explore without actually getting into the water. Photos below.

About .4 mile into the hike, you'll see see this sign for the Canyon View Trail, which takes you .6 mile up to a small parking area off of Yerba Buena Road (about halfway between Circle X Ranger Station and Sandstone Peak trailhead)

About .4 mile into the hike, you'll see see this sign for the Canyon View Trail, which takes you .6 mile up to a small parking area off of Yerba Buena Road (about halfway between Circle X Ranger Station and Sandstone Peak trailhead)

Watch out for the poison oak on the sides of the trail...there's plenty of it but you can avert it if you are aware.

Watch out for the poison oak on the sides of the trail...there's plenty of it but you can avert it if you are aware.

Another sign, the final sign you'll see, .7 miles from the trailhead.

Another sign, the final sign you'll see, .7 miles from the trailhead.

Some nice views of the surrounding canyons and towards Sandstone Peak.

Some nice views of the surrounding canyons and towards Sandstone Peak.

Eventually you'll reach this tree-lined area next to a creek that leads to the grotto area.

Eventually you'll reach this tree-lined area next to a creek that leads to the grotto area.

Continue your way to the grotto through this unmarked, increasingly rocky section.

Continue your way to the grotto through this unmarked, increasingly rocky section.

For many, this may be the endpoint for your hike once you see these boulders. But there's a path (I won't call it a trail, because it isn't) on the right hand side that, with a bit of patience, will get you to the cave below.

For many, this may be the endpoint for your hike once you see these boulders. But there's a path (I won't call it a trail, because it isn't) on the right hand side that, with a bit of patience, will get you to the cave below.

Not exactly easy but do-able. After the boulders there's a dirt path that I slipped on and flew nearly parallel to the ground, landing my lower back on a tree root. I survived but my utterances had to be bleeped out by censors.

Not exactly easy but do-able. After the boulders there's a dirt path that I slipped on and flew nearly parallel to the ground, landing my lower back on a tree root. I survived but my utterances had to be bleeped out by censors.

View of the grotto cave from the outside. You can go inside there either through the water if you are prepared or through a hole formed by boulders above the cave, which we opted not to attempt. Maybe next time. It is pretty cool in there!

View of the grotto cave from the outside. You can go inside there either through the water if you are prepared or through a hole formed by boulders above the cave, which we opted not to attempt. Maybe next time. It is pretty cool in there!

Definitely an interesting place to explore. this is above the cave area. But do watch for snakes and such down here too 

Definitely an interesting place to explore. this is above the cave area. But do watch for snakes and such down here too 

Mullin Automotive Museum

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Opened in Spring 2010 and located at 1421 Emerson Avenue in Oxnard, the Mullin Automotive Museum is a 47,000 square foot facility with a collection of over 50 French Art Deco cars from the 1930s and 1940s, including Bugattis, Delages, Delahayes, Hispano Suizas, Talbot-Lagos and Voisins. Peter W. Mullin is the founder/owner of the Museum and the collection.

The Museum is open to the public generally only 1-2 days per month. Click here for more RSVP information. Visit www.mullinautomotivemuseum.com or call 805.385.5400 to learn more and to purchase tickets. As of June 2016, admission is $15 for adults, $12 for 65+, $8 for ages 3 through 11 and free for 2 and under. Active Military FREE with ID. Private visits also available for $40 per person.

Upcoming dates (as of 6/1/16) are as follows (you must buy tickets in advance to reserve a spot):

Jun 11, 25, Jul 9, 23, Aug 13, 27, Sep 10, 24, Oct 8, 22, Nov 12, Dec 17

This museum and its contents are STUNNING to say the least!! More photos at THIS LINK.

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Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks

The main entrance into the 1,765 acre Wildwood Park is at the corner of Avenida de los Arboles and Big Sky Drive in Thousand Oaks. The Chumash Indians lived in Wildwood Park for nearly 8,000 years, until the early 19th Century, when the Spanish colonized California. Eventually the park became owned by the Janss Corporation, which sold it to the Conejo Recreation and Park District in 1967.

Main trailhead accessible from the parking lot at Ave de los Arboles and Big Sky

Main trailhead accessible from the parking lot at Ave de los Arboles and Big Sky

Wildwood Park is an extremely popular hiking and cycling spot and CRPD frequently hosts nature hikes there. The park has 14 trails covering 17 miles, including two year-round waterfalls, Paradise Falls and Little Falls.  Wildwood is known for its spring wildflower displays from January to June.

The park hosted a number of movie/TV productions in the 1930s to the 1960s, including Spartacus, Wuthering Heights, Wagon Train, The Rifleman and Gunsmoke.

Call the CRPD at 805.495.2163 for more information about the park. But for lots of detailed information about Wildwood Park, including trail maps and pictures, visit the Conejo Open Space Foundation website at www.cosf.org/website/html/wildwood.html.

As far as facilities in the park, there are drinking fountains at the main parking lot as well as at the Teepee, at Paradise Fall and the two restroom areas in the park. The restrooms are located at Meadows Center, a small building located across the bridge that is adjacent to the short trail to the Indian Cave. CRPD often host short hikes from the main parking lot to Meadows Center for fun, games and s'mores.

Bridge over creek that connects wildwood canyon trail to meadows center, which has restrooms and drinking fountain

Bridge over creek that connects wildwood canyon trail to meadows center, which has restrooms and drinking fountain

The other restrooms are at the bottom of Wildwood Canyon. You can get there by taking the Tepee Trail roughly 1/2 mile to the bottom of the canyon, or alternatively from Paradise Falls about 1/4 mile down the Wildwood Canyon Trail. The Arroyo Conejo Creek runs down from Paradise Falls to here and is fun to explore (keeping in mind still that this is partially urban runoff and thus you don't want to play around in it too much).

Additional restrooms at the bottom of wildwood canyon

Additional restrooms at the bottom of wildwood canyon

Sign at Paradise Falls indicating this particular water is partially urban runoff and best not to swim in

Sign at Paradise Falls indicating this particular water is partially urban runoff and best not to swim in

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Trout Dale in Agoura (Local Fishing Fun!)

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Try your luck at local fishing at Troutdale, 2468 Troutdale Drive, Agoura, just off Kanan Road before Triunfo Canyon.  Troutdale has been around for 40 years and has two ponds nicely stocked with fish.

For $7 per person (as of June 2016; pricing hasn't changed for years), you get a bamboo fishing pole, corn bait and bucket.  For another $5 you can buy worm bait, which we did. Admission is applicable whether or not you fish there.

My boys loved it there, though for the wrong reasons...they quickly lost interest in fishing as they were fascinated by the worms (which we subsequently brought home and now reside in our lawn).

If you catch a fish, you can't throw it back in the pond. Fish prices range from $6 for a 10 inch fish to $11 for fish 15+ inches. Cleaning available for $1.50 per fish. $20 penalty for throwing a fish back in the pond.

Hours (as of June 2016) are 10am to 7pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 7pm Saturday/Sunday. Open on all school holidays.

For more information and pictures, visit www.allyoucanfish.com.

The Punch Bowls in Santa Paula

The Santa Paula Canyon Trail takes you to the "The Punch Bowls" in the Los Padres National Forest. This is a fairly challenging hike that is definitely not for everyone. But for many, it is quite an interesting, roughly 7 mile round trip exploration. Plan on at least a 4 to 6 hour excursion.

The trail begins in the hills behind Thomas Aquinas College at 10000 Ojai Road, Santa Paula. This is a private college and thus the public is not allowed access to parking on the campus. There is a small amount of street parking and several dirt lots nearby. Make sure though not to not leave any valuables in your car.

Access to the trail takes a bit of a walk on the paved road that swings to the right of the college. There are signs that point the way to the trailhead and that asks hikers to stay on the paved roadway.

The winding road to the trailhead

The winding road to the trailhead

You will be entering private property (continue following the signs), so be mindful of that as you veer left, then past an oil rig through an avocado farm. You will be walking past a large red gate, then continue on, until you reach another oil pumping rig. Go left along the path around the rig to the trailhead, where you will be greeted by the sounds of the Santa Paula Creek.

You will be veering left after walking through this gate,  into private property. You will be walking past an oil pump then into an avocado orchard, then past another oil rig (veer left) to the trailhead

You will be veering left after walking through this gate,  into private property. You will be walking past an oil pump then into an avocado orchard, then past another oil rig (veer left) to the trailhead

Cross the creek (there are strategically placed stones) and you are on your way.

Veer right around this., which would seem obvious but to me it wasn't. 

Veer right around this., which would seem obvious but to me it wasn't. 

From here, there are no signs that clearly say "trail this way." Perhaps the main thing to keep in mind is that for the most part, you will be following the creek to the area known as the Punch Bowls. But the exact path is not always clear, especially when you are like me and have a tendency of picking the wrong path at each fork.

Some sections of the trail are perfectly flat and scenic. Most of the trail you will hear  Santa Paula Creek

Some sections of the trail are perfectly flat and scenic. Most of the trail you will hear  Santa Paula Creek

But one thing we generally found is that someone has sprayed orange arrows in the direction you need to go. That said, it is still not always clear. Unfortunately, there is graffiti and markings of various sorts much of the way up the trail. In fact this is probably the worst example of defacing of a public trail that I've ever seen. I will not post the images here.

In any case, we didn't let the graffiti bother us too much as the trails were so beautiful, interesting and challenging. In fact, aside from hiking up Boney Mountain, this is the probably the most challenging trail I've tried in the local area. There are some "perfectly flat" sections but many sections of the trail are quite rocky, narrow, sections of poison oak and challenging.

Also, be prepared to cross the creek in various sections. It wasn't always clear if we should be on the left or right side of the creek. But make sure to wear good hiking shoes as you will be making some creek crossings, which can be slippery.

I don't usually hike with a walking stick, but it definitely came in handy on this trail. The higher up we got, the rockier and more "bouldery" the trail became. 

The boulders get larger and there are more areas with loose rocks the higher you get up the trail. I don't usually use a walking stick, but it definitely came in handy for this hike.

The boulders get larger and there are more areas with loose rocks the higher you get up the trail. I don't usually use a walking stick, but it definitely came in handy for this hike.

In any case, after some crazy sections of rocks that, when we went (mid-June 2016), included sections of significant piles of rocks (including some fairly recently looking rock slide areas), you will reach the first of the Punch Bowls. This was our final destination, but there are additional pools of water higher up, on trails that appear increasingly challenging.

This punch bowl was our final destination before heading back down. Beautiful to see, though the water was not particularly deep (blame it on the drought) or clean looking. But quite a great destination to hike to nonetheless and enjoyable to relax and take it in.

This punch bowl was our final destination before heading back down. Beautiful to see, though the water was not particularly deep (blame it on the drought) or clean looking. But quite a great destination to hike to nonetheless and enjoyable to relax and take it in.

I took 4th and 7th graders with me and they did fine. It was a lot of fun. Definitely not stroller friendly. Dogs are ok on leash, though I wouldn't bring my dog due to the proliferation of rocks.

My biggest "beef" about this beautiful trail is that there is quite

Learn more about the Santa Paula Canyon Trail at www.hikelospadres.com/santa-paula-canyon-trail.html.

Conejo Players Theatre - Thousand Oaks

The Conejo Players is a community based theatre arts group that has entertained local residents since 1958.  It is a volunteer based non-profit organization that hosts six productions each year, as well as several productions geared towards kids.

Productions in the 2015-2016 time frame include shows like Amadeus, The Graduate, The Wizard of Oz, Godspell, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Hound of the Baskervilles, etc. 

Individual shows vary in cost from $10 to $20 with discounts for seniors and kids under 12. Season tickets also available.

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The 185 seat Conejo Players Theatre is located at 351 South Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks, just south of the 101 near the Los Robles Greens entrance.  Phone is 805.495.3715.  www.conejoplayers.org