There's something very basic about the fun to be had on a behind-the-scenes tour of almost any industry. Whether you're seeing cars being made or water being purified, learning how guide dogs are trained or what the local airport is like, these field trips provide a chance to see something out of the ordinary.
The San Fernando Valley offers a number of free (or inexpensive) tours for individuals, families and groups. Each of the tours takes about an hour and involves easy walking. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to ask questions. Most tours provide brochures that offer background information and details on the facilities.
The Van Nuys Airport bus tour gives a close-up view of the busiest general aviation airport in the country. Visitors will see small aircraft and hangars, corporate jets, rescue squadron planes, Air National Guard facilities and the control tower. There also are about 90 private companies involved in using, chartering or maintaining airplanes.
The tour includes a step-in view of the large National Guard C-130, used to carry everything from food supplies to elephants. Some of the airport scenes will look familiar; the Van Nuys Airport is frequently used as the generic airport in films and television shows ranging from "Casablanca" to "Moonlighting."
Van Nuys Airport, 6950 Hayvenhurst Ave., Van Nuys, (818) 785-8838. Free tours (1 1/2 hours) are offered Monday, Friday and one Saturday a month at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. for individuals or groups of 10 or more, age 6 and older.
The 2.2-million-square-foot General Motors Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada (CPC) Plant in Van Nuys assembles Chevrolet Camarros and Pontiac Firebirds at the rate of 60 cars per hour. The tour shows each of the four major production areas, including the body shop, the paint department, the trim department and the chassis department. Visitors also will see humans and robots going through many of the intricate stages involved in turning a dealership's order for a car into a complex, functioning machine. Cameras are not allowed.
General Motors Corp. Van Nuys Plant, 8000 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 997-5153. Free hourlong tours are offered Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. for those age 8 and older.
Volunteer tour guides lead visitors through the 6.5-acre site of Sylmar's International Guiding Eye, which trains blind students and their dogs. The tour shows students and their dogs working together as well as the kennels, the outdoor runs and the indoor medical facilities. The tour usually includes a trainer/dog demonstration. A short film on the breeding and puppy program is shown. Visitors are encouraged to play with the puppies encountered on the tour--an important part of the animal's socialization. There are many steps on this tour, but wheelchair access is available.
International Guiding Eye, 13445 Glenoaks Blvd., Sylmar. (818) 362-5834 or (800) 528-2552. The free hourlong tour is offered Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Those interested should request reservations 30 days in advance.
A visit to the local water reclamation plant may not sound like an exciting morning outing, but visitors might be surprised at the beauty that has been created at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant and Japanese Garden in Van Nuys. The tour includes the treatment facilities that convert sewage water for reuse in places like golf courses and parks. The 6.5-acre Japanese Garden, designed by Koichi Kawana, uses the reclaimed water for its lakes, waterfalls and irrigation.
It also provides a fascinating introduction to the 18th- and 19th-Century Japanese stroll garden originally built for feudal lords. The garden includes a tatami mat teahouse, yatsuhasi (zigzag bridges designed to foil the devil as he chases after you), and a variety of flowers and trees including azaleas, cherry trees, magnolias, wisteria, irises and lotus. At the end of the tour visitors will view the aeration tanks and learn a bit about how sewage is converted into useful irrigation water. Be sure to bring your camera.
Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant and Japanese Garden, 6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys, (818) 989-8166. The free hourlong tour is offered Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. for those 8 years and older. Reservations required.
The studios are not just for tourists--they make for a good family outing, any day of the week. On the NBC Studio Tour, you will see how special effects and sound effects are done, stroll by sets and see the filming in action. There's plenty of opportunity to ask questions.
NBC Studio Tour, 3000 W. Alameda St., Burbank, (818) 840-3537. The tour, 1 hours long, is offered every half hour from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Saturday (reservations are not accepted). Visitors should go to guest relations bungalow. Tickets are $5.50 for adults and $3.50 for children 5-14.