Technology has done wonders for travel over the past few years, and you need to look no further than the Internet to see how you probably have changed the way you once made hotel bookings or decided where to go on that special getaway weekend. An array of travel deals and options awaits you online, and you now can book your whole trip with the simple click of a mouse.
For techno-geeks, the next frontier is GPS travel and already you read and hear about GPS users who meet up on the Internet and then make a game out of finding specific locations using latitude and longitude. Now we bring you GPS touring.
The idea is to create your own tour by using a GPS unit to find particular points of interest and specific addresses. Instead of shelling out $40 for a narrated bus tour of famous locations, now you can buy a GPS for $350 and be your own tour guide. Of course your GPS unit can be re-used, so that financial equation looks a little better after you’ve self-toured a few times.
For our first GPS tour, I chose Los Angeles and, for subject matter, the Beach Boys. Now for those old enough to remember the Beatles, you’ll also recall that just prior to the Beatles the air waves were awash in Beach Boys songs – probably in no small way a contributor to the population boom in Southern California as pale, cold, teeth-chattering baby boomers sought "The Warmth of the Sun" and those ubiquitous "California Girls" and guys.
Fast forward to 2005 and you can understand that many of us now regard a visit to the Beach Boys’ homeland as something akin to visiting the Cavern in Liverpool. The Beach Boys represent a distinct part of American music culture and this may partially explain why thousands of people still show up today at Beach Boys concerts even when there is only one original member still playing in the group.
Here, though, we must include a word of caution. Some spouses will just not "get" what you are trying to do when you make your own pilgrimage to the land of the Beach Boys. When I told my wife we were going to L.A. to do a Beach Boys story, she only heard the word "beach" -- hours later, she was seriously questioning her decision to come along with me to tour rundown neighborhoods in Hawthorne.
Our tour did run the gamut – from the old and depressed strip mall areas just south of LAX to the spectacular estates of Beverly Hills. All we needed were our trusty Magellan Meridian Gold GPS satellite receiver and a copy of "Heroes and Villains," the definitive Beach Boys book written years ago by Steven Gaines. In the book, Gaines carefully lays out the winding road the Beach Boys took from their early days in Hawthorne up to the early 80’s when drummer Dennis Wilson drowned at Marina del Ray. Fortunately, Gaines has provided many exact addresses that pertain to Beach Boys history.
The first address we found was El Camino College, 16007 Crenshaw Blvd. in Torrance where, in the summer of 1961, students Brian Wilson and Al Jardine first talked about forming the group that would eventually become the Beach Boys. Just a couple miles away, we drove by Hawthorne High School, 4859 W. El Segundo Blvd., where the Wilson brothers and Al Jardine all spent their school years. Judging from the older construction, the high school probably looks similar to how it looked as the Beach Boys were growing up.
Just another couple of miles and we came to 3701 W. 119th Street in Hawthorne – the place where the Wilson brothers – Brian, Dennis and Carl – grew up under the authoritarian rule of their father, Murray. Today the neighborhood they lived in is a lower-income area, although the houses and yards were probably much more attractive in the early 1960s. Unfortunately, the spot where the Wilson house was located is now an open lot. Probably few people in the neighborhood are aware of the musical history that was played out on this empty stretch of dirt.
At this point our tour moved about 16 miles up the I-405 freeway and a few years forward in the Beach Boys’ history. In 1964, Brian Wilson was living with his girlfriend’s family – even while the group was making national hits – and he finally moved out into a one-bedroom apartment at 7235 Hollywood Boulevard. Just as Gaines said in the book, the apartment building is large and anonymous, and Brian grew so lonely here he soon married his girlfriend Marilyn Rovell.
A few miles to the west and we were driving by 9000 Sunset Boulevard, the office building where, after great success with touring and many hits, the Beach Boys opened new offices on the 8th Floor. This building was like Entertainment Central at the time, with many major groups and entertainers locating their offices there.
Further out on Sunset we came to 14400 Sunset Boulevard where, in the spring of 1968, Dennis Wilson arrived home about 1 a.m. one night to find all of his house lights on and a strange, hunch-backed, shaggy-haired man waiting for him in the driveway. This was Dennis’s introduction to the Charles Manson family, who would continue to live at the house and feed off Dennis until the Beach Boy could no longer go back to his house. Today, the house is only partially there – whether through fire damage or intentional gutting, only some framework and a massive stone fireplace remain. Contractors are busy at work building a new house, but the property itself still has a park-like setting and it’s easy to imagine what that night must have been like for Dennis Wilson.
Quite nearby is 910 Greentree, where Brian Wilson lived in the 1980s as he was being treated by a psychiatrist for his well-publicized mental health issues. The house is secluded and the small lot has garden-like mature landscaping that one might imagine was there during the Wilson period.
On the way back home we checked out 2600 Benedict Canyon Road, where in Dennis Wilson’s happier years, he had moved with his wife and two kids. Unfortunately, it’s a gated driveway and a security guard was waiting in his car at the gate. We reasoned this probably now belonged to someone a little more current – perhaps someone from Linkin Park or maybe the Foo Fighters.
There are other addresses in the Gaines book – houses where Dennis lived with Karen Lamm (wife of Chicago keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm), where Mike Love lived, and even the slip number (C-1100) where Dennis died at Marina del Ray. But a few hours of Beach Boys nostalgia was enough – especially for my wife, who declared we were now going to the beach.
It was a great day for a music buff like myself and I can't imagine a more authentic way to spend part of your California vacation. But others may not agree. As my wife put it: "I wish I would have known you were going to spend the day chasing ghosts – I would have stayed home."
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: The Beach Boys history tour – just an example of what you can do with your own GPS – is mainly in a part of Los Angeles near LAX and Hollywood/Beverly Hills. Many other history tours would be possible in the area depending on your interests and the addresses you’re able to find.
WHAT: This particular GPS tour is the perfect outing for the rock and roll music lover who also happens to be a techno-geek.
WHEN: GPS tours are great anytime. These tours actually make for cheap vacations, especially if you time them for the off-season when local lodgings are offering travel deals and vacation packages.
WHY: Because it’s cool to use technology in new, different ways. And because, with a GPS, you never get lost.
HOW: You can find a reasonably priced GPS receiver at Costco – we bought the Magellan Meridian Gold for about $350, which included software and lots of extras. If you buy a new car, you often can get it with a GPS unit built in. Or, worst case scenario, you can get out your map and find these addresses the old fashioned way.
(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)