Tourists Could Visit Us. No, Really.

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Here’s one oddity about the San Fernando Valley: There’s a bounty of cool stuff to do and see and experience. Yet a tourism industry is next to nonexistent.

Will that ever change? Will tourism one day thrive in the Valley area? Well, maybe, just maybe – if you cross your fingers and dream. More about that in a minute. First, let’s take a moment to rack up some of the possible lures for visitors.

Probably the foremost attractions for out-of-towners are all the houses and outdoor scenes filmed in TV shows and movies, such as those in “E.T.,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Karate Kid” and “Wayne’s World.” In fact, if you want a reminder of how people go bonkers for that kind of stuff, consider that the Studio City house used for the exterior of the “Brady Bunch” show sold 1½ years ago for $3.5 million – twice its asking price.

Other attractions? Well, we have an abundance of hiking trails and the Angeles Crest Highway is nearby. Visitors could always go on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour or spend a day at Universal City Hollywood or half a day at the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys. Like architecture? There are some nice specimens of post-war buildings in the Valley, including architect John Lautner’s spaceship-like Chemosphere, which, according to Wikipedia, was once called “the most modern home built in the world” by Encyclopedia Britannica.

Since I’m kind of a car guy, I’d travel from Peoria or Poughkeepsie or wherever I lived to visit George Barris’ old shop in North Hollywood (he designed the Batmobile and Munster Koach); the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, which Autoweek called one of America’s five greatest car museums; and Galpin Auto Sports in Van Nuys, the home of an excruciatingly cool collection that pays homage to hot rodding in general and to design legends Von Dutch and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in particular.

And the Valley would be a fine place for families to stay because, generally speaking, it’s relatively cheap, and it’s a great launching pad for day trips. Families could travel to, say, Santa Barbara, Solvang or Hollywood. I’d probably find something to see in the Mojave Desert but only after stopping at Vazquez Rocks, where – once again – plenty of shows were filmed, including several “Star Trek” episodes and such movies as “Blazing Saddles” and “Hail, Caesar!”

“There’s a lot of stuff here,” said Robert Scott, the longtime executive director of the Mulholland Institute. “More than about anyplace else.” He paused. “Except for the place next to us.”

Ah-ha. That explains why the tourism industry in the Valley is as dead as Francisco Franco. The Los Angeles basin sucks away vacationers’ attention and money. A vibrant tourism culture in the Valley, complete with hotels and nightspots, never could develop in that long shadow.

Scott was involved in an effort more than 20 years ago to create a Valley-specific conference and visitors bureau. However, as detailed in an article in the Dec. 9 issue of the Sam Fernando Valley Business Journal, the Los Angeles City Council would not redirect transit tax money to it, so it quickly belly flopped. It’s frustrating that most of the tourism tax revenue generated by the Valley’s hotels goes to support the L.A. basin and little of it comes back here. In a way, the Valley is forced to subsidize its main competitor: the L.A. basin.

  1. So why might tourism in the Valley take off?

Well, consider two developments. One is the rise of home-sharing websites. With many travelers today preferring an Airbnb-like experience, especially for family or personal travel, we no longer need rows of hotels to support a tourism industry. That Catch-22 is solved.

The other development was featured in that Dec. 9 article. Local entrepreneurs have started a tour-bus service called MyValleyPass that offers five kinds of trips in the Valley. One, of course, is a film location excursion that takes tourists to places where such shows as “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Back to the Future” and “CHiPs” were shot.

Yes, that’s small, but it’s a start. And you know how these things work. MyValleyPass may attract a competitor, and then another. Restaurants and shops that cater to tourists likely would pop up, and next thing you know, we may be complaining about all the tour buses.

OK, so perhaps that’s said with fingers crossed. There is a long way to go. On the other hand, there’s an abundance of raw material here for a tourism industry to work with. Maybe, just maybe, tourism one day will thrive in the Valley.

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