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Life Is Really Just a Big Free Tour

October 05, 2003|NELSON HANDEL

Jodi Jill had a problem--she didn't understand how the world worked. "I was illiterate until I was 15," she says, recounting her family's 11-year residence in a Colorado self-storage unit. With the help of a friendly librarian, she taught herself to read, and the world began to open up. But she still had a lot to learn. "I wanted to see what was behind the big curtain," she says.

So she started taking tours. Not the vacation type, but the kind that businesses, museums and community organizations offer, often for free. More than 600 tours later, Jill wrote a book of her own. "Tours for Free California" (Bentlight Media) describes more than 100 free tours for everyone in the family. Here are some of the best from Southern California.

Goodwill Industries of Southern California

It's more than just a charity thrift store, it's a huge family dedicated to helping people gain work skills. "The only tour where everyone is always smiling," Jill says. Stay for a delicious meal in the cafeteria.

Guided tours. Reservations required. 342 San Fernando Road, Los Angeles; (323) 223-1211.

Frederick's of Hollywood Lingerie Museum

From a highlight of Madonna's private collection to the boxers Tom Hanks wore in "Forrest Gump," this self-guided tour is guaranteed to get your knickers in a twist.

6608 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 957-5953;

Guide Dogs of America

Intense training, careful matching, a fascinating glimpse of these special animals and their sight-impaired masters.

Guided tours. Reservations required. 13445 Glen Oaks Blvd., Sylmar; (818) 362-5834.

The Nethercutt Museum

See more than 100 classic cars--including Packards, Duesenbergs, Pierce-Arrows--all meticulously restored. After the tour, cross the street to visit the Nethercutt Collection, which includes a world-class collection of glass hood ornaments and one of our planet's largest pipe organs.

Reservations required for the collection. 15200 and 15151 Bledsoe St., Sylmar; (818) 367-2251.

Los Angeles Times editorial and printing plant tours

See how the city's newspaper does it, day in and day out, from idea to words to ink on the page. Two separate guided tours: the downtown editorial offices and the 8th Street printing facility.

Reservations required. 145 S. Spring St., Los Angeles; (213) 237-5757.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Get spaced out with full-size replicas of spacecraft and a model of a Mars rover. It's a blast.

Guided tours. Reservations required. 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena; (818) 354-9314.

Lawrence Welk Museum

If every accordionist had his own prime-time TV variety show, the world would be a better place. Located at the Welk Resort-San Diego, this nostalgic shrine includes a bandstand, a reconstructed radio studio and a replica of one of the master's own squeezeboxes.

Self-guided tour. 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido; (760) 749-3448.

Fillmore Fish Hatchery

Minutes from Magic Mountain you'll find the aquaculture farm where California grows the fish used for stocking lakes and rivers. As Jill says, "There's a bazillion of them!"

Self-guided tours 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. 612 E. Telegraph Road, Fillmore.

Graber Olive House

Every second, 12 cans of California olives are opened somewhere in the world. See how each can is filled by hand on one of Jill's favorite tours.

Guided tours. Reservations required for groups of more than 12. 315 E. 4th St., Ontario; (909) 983-1761.

William S. Hart Museum

A shrine to the famous silent movie cowboy, "Two Guns Bill," housed in his Newhall mansion.

Extensive collection of Western and Navajo art and

movie memorabilia. Guided tours. 24151 San Fernando Road, Newhall; (661) 254-4584.

Lummis Home

Made of Arroyo Seco stone, the "El Alisal" house was "built to last a thousand years."

The home of poet and author Charles Lummis, the first city editor of the Los Angeles Times, who walked here from Ohio in 1884, reporting for the paper along the way.

Guided tours. 200 E. Avenue 43, Los Angeles; (323) 222-0546.

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