● By Wendy Sipple
Aerial photo by Larry Marran
Even if you’ve never been to Simi Valley – the sprawling suburb in Ventura County just north of Los Angeles – chances are you’ve experienced it one time or another on both the big and small screens.
Conveniently located a short distance from Hollywood, the majestic hills and open country provided a suitable backdrop for such legendary television shows as Gunsmoke and M*A*S*H. The surrounding area doubled as Walnut Grove on Little House on the Prairie and the Australian countryside for The Thorn Birds. Perhaps one of its most recognizable neighborhoods is Roxbury Street, the home of the ill-fated Freeling house in 1982’s Poltergeist. After many years as a quiet residential city, miles from the hustle and bustle of L.A., Simi Valley now attracts a new wave of tourists looking for a day’s escape and a first-time visit to one notable new landmark.
If flying, the best bet for arrival is through Burbank Airport, then it’s less than an hour-long drive along the 118 to Simi. There are several hotel options in the area, the best being the Grand Vista Hotel, Best Western Posada Royale Hotel & Suites and the Courtyard by Marriott. Though generally hotter than its beach-lined neighbor to the south, Simi Valley tends to be much more mild in the winter and spring months.
Perhaps the single most popular attraction in Simi is a relatively new one, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. This beautiful modern structure perched high up with views overlooking the Southland, celebrates the historical legacy of our 40th president. A few highlights of the visit include Ronald Reagan’s Memorial Site, a walk on an Air Force One aircraft that served seven presidents, a large piece of the Berlin Wall, and a replica of the White House Oval Office. The library also offers permanent and temporary exhibits. For those scheduled during your planned trip, visit reaganlibrary.com.
Before the Reagan Library, Simi already boasted two other significant points of interest, both California Historical Landmarks. Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village is a masterpiece of folk art and the single-handed work of the self-taught senior, Tessa Prisbrey. The village of buildings pieced together with glass bottles, tiles, shells and an assortment of strange materials, became a popular attraction in the 70s. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the landmark was heavily damaged. Guests can still visit, even if by appointment only (bottlevillage.com). In one section of the preserved parkland scattered throughout the city, the Strathearn Historical Park and Museum features the Simi Adobe-Strathearn House, a structural reminder of the area rancho past. (simihistory.com)
Simi Valley of today is also known for beautiful golf courses nestled in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains, including Lost Canyons, a Pete Dye-designed course with breathtaking panoramic views. If you’re up for a day trip, Six Flags Magic Mountain is a short drive north to Valencia, packed with roller coasters and attractions for the whole family. But, don’t be surprised if you find enough shopping, restaurants and entertainment in Simi to keep you busy. It’s one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets.
POSTCARD FROM SIMI VALLEY
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library
Strathearn Historical Park and Museum
Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village