For the next two weeks, National Geographic Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott will be trekking through the Los Angeles area with his family in search of the real Southern California. This is his first dispatch.
No not that Ontario. I’m talking about Ontario, California, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles.
I grew accustomed to such mix-ups when I was an intern for the local newspaper here back in 1988. They thought I was calling from Canada when I said I was a reporter with the Ontario Daily Report. That was before the days of caller ID.
So what’s here? Yes, there’s the Ontario Mills Mall, the largest one-level shopping mall west of the Rockies. LA/Ontario International Airport, the number-three airport in the Los Angeles area, is just around the corner from our hotel, the über-hip Aloft in Rancho Cucamonga. But there’s a lot more.
A few miles from the pulse-quickening interchange between the 10 and 15 freeways (they’re just referred to as “the” 10 and “the” 15 here in Southern California, never “I-10″ or “I-15″) you’ll find a quieter Ontario. It’s a place you’d probably never expect.
(315 E. Fourth Street, Ontario, CA 91764; +1 800-996-5483) is a historical, family-owned olive packing plant tucked away in a leafy residential neighborhood. Although the olives are picked in the San Joachim Valley in October, you can enjoy a free tour of the plant year-round – minus the steam, the noise and the vats of fresh olives.
One thing we liked about Graber’s was the plentiful supply of free samples.
The olives are mild, with a distinct nutty flavor. I thought they were delicious. Our oldest son, Aren, nibbled on one before declaring that it wasn’t a real olive (he’s used to the stuffed variety) while his younger siblings politely declined but then chowed down on wasabi-infused peas.
They’re still talking about that experience.
(125 W. “B” Street, Ontario CA 91762; +1 909-984-5410) is another historical attraction that’s been in business since 1933. We met up with owner Jerry Rowley, who let us sample fresh marshmallows and even allowed us to tour the “chocolate room” where Logan’s most prized confections are created and stored. Back in 2007, Rowley was lauded in an NPR story for keeping an old Christmas tradition alive by hand-making candy canes.
The candy canes that made him famous may be terrific, but the marshmallows–they were to die for!
Not only were these experiences completely fun, free and authentic, but I’m embarrassed to say that in all the years of living and working here – and holding down two respectable newspaper jobs in the ’80s – I never knew these places existed.
It wasn’t until the folks over at the Ontario Convention and Visitor Bureau pointed out these attractions that I became aware of them.
Am I embarrassed? I will be, just as soon as the sugar high wears off.