Denver/Boulder blogger Dave Taylor writes about his experiences as a single dad with three great kids and his occasionally tenuous grip on sanity. Pretty sure they're related.


After much planning and packing of things, we've made it to Southern California for our regular journey to visit with my Dad in the Laguna Beach area. But this time I've planned ahead and lined up all sorts of fun and interesting things to do rather than just "take each day as it happens" which generally doesn't go too well with a 16yo, 13yo and 9yo in my entourage. Or am I their entourage? It's confusing.

This time we're staying at four different hotels - it just kinda worked out that way - and visiting three different cities: Orange County (Irvine area), San Diego (Mission Beach area) and Anaheim (Disneyland). I have procured tickets to tons of fun things, including a day at Legoland and another day at Disneyland, along with bike rides, boat tours, car museums and even a hot air helium balloon ride over a former Marine Air Base.

By no particular coincidence, our first day of adventure also ended up being my birthday! We celebrated with a lackluster free breakfast at our Comfort Inn hotel (how can people subsist on this kind of food?) and drove over to the Orange County Great Park, a terrific in-progress example of repurposing a former military base.

Turns out that it's the former El Toro Marine Air Station, 4,682 acres smack dab in the middle of the greater Los Angeles sprawl that now goes roughly from Santa Barbara down to Camp Pendelton, just north of San Diego. The base was originally built in 1943, during the height of World War II, and was officially decommissioned in 1999. After a few years of debate, the City of Irvine begin in 2003 working on the Orange County Great Park plan, a repurposing of the land into a huge park, agricultural areas and, on the edges, an eventual planned community.

It's a work in progress, and there's even another portion of the park that's opening up in a few months, as we could see from our ride on their signature attraction: The Great Park Balloon. It's one of five tethered helium (not hot air) balloons and rises 400′ above the ground to give you an amazing view of the surrounding area.

In the above picture, notice the "N" with an arrow. That's pointing north, logically enough. You can also see that the original markings of one of the El Toro runways was preserved and makes a cool design with its line of chevrons. The diagonal orange line from the lower left to upper right? That's a walkable area timeline that's going to stretch quite a ways and feature important historical events from thousands of years in the past up to the decommissioning of El Toro itself. Neat idea.