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The Mature Traveler

Tours Head for Hills, Deserts of California

July 20, 1986|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 25-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks.

Here's a solution for mature travelers who would like to do some exploring but prefer not to drive their own cars.

Three years ago Lee Klein gave up the corporate business life style and started a modest little tour company using vans instead of buses for a more personalized tour.

He called it the California Native and created a day-long tour he called the Other Los Angeles. It skipped Hollywood and the other usual urban sightseeing and encompassed instead mountains, the desert, San Andreas Fault and other earthquake locations, mixing in an early gold discovery area, a bandit's lair and other fascinating historic locations.

He planned it for out-of-state tourists who wanted something different, and he expected them in droves. But a funny thing happened.

Local Customers

"More than 90% of my business has come from folks living in the Los Angeles area," said Klein, "and about 30% were born here. Many of them never knew these places existed until they took the tour."

Much of Klein's patronage comes from mature travelers, with many senior groups going because of his membership in the Senior Travel & Recreations Associates of California. He does a large business with senior groups of 10 or more, offering them discounted rates.

"More and more we're getting individual mature travelers rather than just groups," Klein said. "They have the leisure time to take the trips we have scheduled midweek.

"I can't say I cater exclusively to the mature audience," he added, "but they predominate. We still get grandchildren, families and, finally, even out-of-state tourists who are beginning to hear about our trips."

Three Pickup Points

The Other Los Angeles starts at 9 a.m. and has three pickup points: in West Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and in Westchester. The tour returns about 7:30 p.m. after a 200-mile swing through the countryside. The cost is $45. There is a lunch stop, but the meal cost is not included.

"For seniors and others who don't wish to drive, especially in mountainous terrain, it's a convenient way to tour through the San Gabriel Mountains with all their vistas, or see the Mojave Desert or such sites as the Devil's Punchbowl, which was created by five earthquake faults.

"And many of the people living in Los Angeles have heard of the San Andreas Fault all their lives without ever seeing graphic proof of what it's like," he said. "They really see it on the trip.

"Considering the seniors' age spread we get on the tour, we make many stops and let the individual determine how strenuous the tour can be. They can hike, climb rocks if they wish or just enjoy the view from the van. Basically it's a pretty easy and relaxing trip, " Klein said.

Klein's 200-mile local adventure uses stretch vans seating 14, although they usually leave with 12 or 13 for more comfort, Klein said. There can be several departures a week, depending on demand.

Year-Round Program

In addition to the popular one-day trips around the Los Angeles area, Klein's California Native has branched out in the last two years to include a year-round program of other trips: wine-tasting tours, excursions to Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands and other more unusual tours.

Some on the agenda that appeal to the mature and slightly adventurous traveler include:

A combination wine-tasting and sailplane tour to the Santa Ynez Valley on Aug. 23. The one-day trip includes several winery stops and a picnic lunch, and a ride in the skies in a glider. Cost, $93 per person.

"East of the Sierra" Sept. 4 to 7 is a van trip to that scenic area that includes the White Mountains, Mono Lake, the ghost town of Bodie, with three nights' accommodations at Mammoth Lake. Cost, $240 per person.

"Ballooning Adventure" Sept. 13 is a van tour to Perris (near Hemet) for a balloon ride followed by a catered picnic lunch and the traditional champagne; $99 per person.

Camping in Mountains

"Mojave Desert Campout" Oct. 24 to 26 is a van tour to the desert that includes two nights' camping in the Providence Mountains, tours of caverns and sand dunes, all meals including a buffalo stew and champagne; $180 per person with your own tent and sleeping bag.

Other fall and winter trips offered by the California Native include a van trip to Mexico's Baja Peninsula staying at a historic cattle ranchero; a camping tour to Death Valley; a trip to Mexico's Sea of Cortez for whale watching by kayak.

"All of our trips are aimed at the mature traveler with a dash of adventure but who still likes the creature comforts," Klein said. "We have one lady of 70 who's taken every one of our adventure-type trips, and our oldest tripper was 90."

For more information, write to the California Native, 6701 W. 87th Place, Los Angeles 90045, or phone (213) 642-1140.

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