We took our big annual family vacation the week before Halloween, and we decided to do Southern California. My wife and I went to Disneyland in 1996 for our 1st anniversary, and this would be the first time since then that we've been back. Needless to say, a lot has changed. We have three kids now, two are adults, and they've never been. As we've also been on a National Parks kick over the last few years, we decided to go visit Sequoia/Kings Canyon (which is basically one big park, but is divided into two), and the Channel Islands. We also threw in a day in Hollywood, just for fun.

Day 1 - Flew out to Burbank from Charlotte, NC. Our daughter, Jaci, who lives in Austin, TX, met us there. Got the rental, and drove four hours up to Kings Canyon NP. I'm not going to write much about the national parks, because this is a Disney forum.

Day 2 - Drove around and checked out the beauty of the park that hosts the General Grant Sequoia tree, and the deepest canyon in the US. Yes, it's deeper than the Grand Canyon, by 3000 feet (at the deepest). Then we headed down to Sequoia NP.

Day 3 - We had checked out some of Sequoia NP the afternoon before, and so today we went to the General Sherman tree, the largest tree (by wood volume) in the world. We also hiked around the Giant Forest to look at other amazing trees. By lunch, we had seen everything that we wanted to, so we headed south to Anaheim.

We got to the Disneyland Hotel around 5pm and checked in. We were in the Fantasy Tower, which is the main building. We were waiting for my cousin and her family to show up, so we decided to go hit the pool. We're Walt Disney World people, and we've stayed at a lot of different hotels there, including the Beach Club, so we expected a lot from the Disneyland hotel. We were disappointed. They had renovated the Monorail waterslides, but the big one was closed until Saturday. This was Tuesday, and we were checking out on Thursday. So, we swam in the pool a bit, which is just a pool, and then we got in the Mickey hot tub. After about a total of 30 minutes in the pool/hottub, we headed back to our room to get showered and dressed for the evening. My cousin showed up and we headed to Downtown Disney.

We chose different quick service places at DTD, but found a table where we could all sit together. We looked at all of the different stores and had a great time window shopping.

Day 4 (First Full Disney Day) - Disneyland! We had been explaining to our children that it would feel familiar, but would be very different than the Magic Kingdom. This was more true than I expected. I have mental map of the Magic Kingdom in my head, and my head kept trying to reference it for the location of various rides/attractions, and it was often wrong. I mean, Tomorrowland is in the right place, as is Fantasyland and Adventureland, but everything else is just wrong! To shorten this post, here are our thoughts about Disneyland:

1. Some attractions that both DL and WDW share are definitely better at DL. Hyperspace Mountain, for one. Much smoother, and I love the bigger ride vehicles. Plus the Star Wars overlay is cool. Also better at DL are the dark rides (for the most part). And the Storybook Boats are actually pretty cool. I loved the Alice in Wonderland ride, which we rode at night. Big Thunder Mountain is also a MUCH smoother ride, with better effects, at DL. It might have been my favorite ride at DL, including the Indiana Jones ride, which I love.

Better at WDW (IMHO), Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion. Splash Mountain at DL doesn't do a good job telling the story. The audio is harder to make out, and the scenes feel disjointed. Pirates of the Caribbean also feels that way to me at DL, so I prefer the Walt Disney World version.

Star Wars Land is cool. I love the look and feel of it, and Smuggler's Run was a great attraction. I rode it twice. My children rode it three times. We also did Savi's Workshop and three of us built lightsabers. They're cool, and definitely hefty. They also have some pretty cool electronics inside that allow you to buy extra Kyber crystals which change the color of the blade, and the sound effects that it makes.

Day 5 - California Adventure! I must say, we LOVED this park. Cars Land and Pixar Pier are amazing. The Radiator Springs Racers was a great ride, and the atmosphere here...they absolutely nailed it. The Incredicoaster was a ton of fun, and we loved the boardwalk feel of that area. We also thought that Grizzly River Run was light-years better than Kali River Rapids. Grizzly River Run has many smaller drops, any of which could get you wet, and rapids the entire way through. Right at the end are geysers which can soak you, but we escaped those. Also at this park is the re-themed Guardians of the Galaxy ride, which used to be Tower of Terror. I like the original, WDW version of this better. I don't care for the storyline, and the way they changed the ride makes it a slower loading ride than the original.

We had dinner at DTD again, but this time at a table service mexican restaurant with delicious table-side Guacamole. Then we turned in for the night.

Day 6 - Last Disney day. We started at DCA, and hit RSR and the Incredicoaster again, while also splitting up as a group to do different rides. We had lunch here, and then headed over to DL for the rest of the day. Around 8:30pm, after riding Hyperspace Mountain one last time, we finally said goodbye to my cousin and then headed to our hotel in Hollywood for day 7.

Day 7 - Time to be tourists! We had a hotel right in Hollywood, and so we walked down to the TCL Chinese Theater to check out the Walk of Fame. There we boarded one of those double-decker tourist busses. It took us around and pointed out famous establishments, hotels, bars, etc where various movie scenes were filmed and where some celebrities had died. We got off around lunch and saw the La Brea Tar Pits and the Petersen Automotive Museum, which had some iconic vehicles in it, like a couple of Batmobiles, one of the cars from Transformers 2, a couple vehicles from Mad Max: Fury Road, some vehicles from both the original and new Blade Runner movies, KITT from Knight Rider, and a DeLorian from Back to the Future. This was the only DeLorian to be in all three movies. So cool!

After a long day wandering around Hollywood, we drove out to Oxnard/Ventura for our last big day of the trip.

Day 8 - Channel Islands! These islands off of the coast of California are maintained by the National Park system and the Nature Conservancy. There are various cruise options to see them. It is also one of the healthiest waterways in the world, so there is quite a lot of wildlife to be seen. We were going to to a "Wildlife Cruise", but the boat was in the shop, so they rebooked us on a cruise out to Santa Cruz Island and back. On the way we saw a pod of over 3000 dolphins (which was AMAZING) and a humpback whale. It was a fun little trip. We had lunch in Ventura, and then headed to the Santa Monica Mountains NRA, which has Paramount Ranch and Malibu Creek State Park, where M.A.S.H. was filmed. I would have taken the time to see Paramount Ranch (where Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and Westworld were filmed, but it was destroyed in a fire last year). Luckily, they haven't filmed anything at the M.A.S.H. location since 1982, so there was nothing for the fire to destroy but a replica signpost and vegetation. My youngest daughter and I hiked out to see the M.A.S.H. site (my favorite show of all time). It was awesome. There is a new replica signpost in the exact spot of the original, and there are two historical markers showing the layout of the camp. The mountains are unmistakable. Also, it was cool to wander up to the helipad and look down on the camp site. It's smaller than you would think.

After all of this, we drove to our hotel by LAX, got up early the next morning, and flew home.

It was a great trip! Loved taking our kids to Disneyland and seeing the differences between that and Walt Disney World. Also loved visiting Southern Cal.

However, I have to say, I don't understand why so many people live in LA, or would want to live in LA. It's too crowded. The traffic is *always* horrible. Every fall there are devastating forest fires. There are earthquakes. High real estate. High taxes. High prices. High crime rates.

Someone told me, "But we have great beaches!" So does Florida, Georgia, SC, NC, and Virginia, and our water is WARM. You can SWIM in it as well as surf.

I just don't see the appeal. But, I'm a country guy.