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SUMMERTIME : Tours to Go : Leave your car at home and let someone else worry about fighting traffic, getting tickets and parking at all the places you plan to visit this summer.

June 26, 1992|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster writes regularly for The Times

It's Saturday, and you're taking some out-of-town guests on a tour of what's left of Los Angeles.

Cousin Ned says he wants to see Mann's Chinese Theatre. You head to Chinatown. Confused, you tell Ned that the Chi Dynasty restaurant on Hillhurst Avenue is the famous Hollywood landmark, except now it serves dim sum along with popcorn.

"Not!" says Ned.

For the Thomas Guide-impaired, there's an easier route when touring Southern California. Sit back and let someone else figure out where Knott's Berry Farm is. Try some entertainment-to-go. With worries of traffic, parking and tickets in someone else's hands, you just might enjoy yourself.

The following companies offer a variety of one-day excursions--island tours, night tours, dinner and dancing adventures, tours for church groups, rafting adventures and aerial flyovers.

All trips depart from the San Fernando Valley in buses, unless otherwise noted.

The California Native, begun in 1984 with its popular "Other Los Angeles" tour, now offers four one-day getaways; most include a picnic lunch or barbecue. Pickup is at the Caltrans park and ride on Rimerton Road, just south of where the San Diego Freeway crosses Mulholland Drive near Encino. Call (310) 642-1140 for times.

A wine-tasting excursion travels up the coast, over San Marcos Pass, past Lake Cachuma and into the Santa Ynez Valley. Aug. 16, $75 per person.

Anacapa Island, at the eastern end of the Channel Islands, is explored on foot. Sights include caves, seals, sea lions and dolphins. Aug. 22, $99 per person.

The Other Los Angeles tour takes adventurers on hikes through the Devil's Punchbowl near Pearblossom and Vasquez Rocks near Agua Dulce, where guides tell of bandits who roamed the area. A trek through the San Gabriel Mountains is also included. The trip does not include lunch. Aug. 15, $70 per person.

An aerial adventure puts participants in gliders that soar over the Mojave Desert. Instruction is included. July 18, $99 per person. (310) 642-1140.

Glendale Community College offers a "Tour of Fascinating Events" that begins and ends at the college Sept. 20. The day starts with a Civil War skirmish staged by performers in authentic uniforms at historic Fort Tejon, just off the Grapevine. Class members are then shuttled to lunch in the town of Buttonwillow, 35 miles north of the fort--then on to the nearby Tule Elk State Reserve's breeding farm.

The late afternoon is spent at Bussel Ranch, where Johnny Appleseed Days will be in full swing. A smorgasbord dinner is served at the Swedish Kitchen in Lancaster. The course fee of $48 includes dinner, entrance fees and transport. Bring a blanket or folding chair. From 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Ask for course number S1044-OS. (818) 548-0864.

Mission College features a "Day Trip to Japan," which takes participants to Little Tokyo's 52nd annual Nisei Week festival. Sightseers will tour a street arts fair, offering flower arrangement demonstrations, a quilt show, tea ceremony, paper folding and Japanese calligraphy, among other things. The tour departs from Granada Hills High School at 9 a.m. Aug. 9, returning by 6:30 p.m. Ask for course number 401. Cost of $50 includes lunch. (818) 365-5262.

Meridian Jets offers a helicopter flight for two that soars over Hollywood, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, downtown Los Angeles and Studio City. The half-hour flight includes a bottle of champagne. $189 per couple.

All flights depart from Meridian Jets at the north end of Van Nuys Airport. (818) 909-7909.

Oskar J's Sightseeing Tours offers weekly dinner tours of Southern California from June through late October. Valley pickup locations for groups of 15 or more are at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City and the Universal Hilton in Universal City. Tours depart between 6:30 and 7 p.m. each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

A two-hour night tour takes sightseers to Chinatown, Hollywood, Westwood Village, Beverly Hills, Century City and up Mulholland Drive for views of the Valley and Los Angeles.

Dinner and dancing follow at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks, a glitzy, Art Deco restaurant replete with Swing Era musicians wielding white lacquered instruments. Waiters and band members sing to the beat of rumbas, sambas, tangos and mambos. Don't leave before the nightly conga line snakes through the maze of tables. $68 per person includes tour and dinner.

Oskar J's also runs shuttles to Buena Park for Wild Bill's Wild Dinner Extravaganza, a 800-seat dinner theater offering Western variety acts. Miss Annie, "the maid of the Western plains," is featured, along with Manuel Dexterity, who bathes in 10 gallons of kerosene while juggling flaming torches.

The action also includes sing-alongs, can-can dancers and Indian dancers paired with a meal of range stew, chicken, ribs and corn. "It's an all-American, red, white and blue show," sales director Kimberly Freer says. Travel time to Buena Park is about one hour. $55 per person. For either tour, phone (800) 458-2388.

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