Visiting LA with Joel Hale is a Hollywood epic. Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin worked with him on The Big Year but how does he spend his time in Los Angeles, on a big day off?

Joel McHale

 Holiday Goddess editor Vicki Arkoff  met with  him to find out more about one of his favourite Los Angeles locations – Travel Town – in her occasional series, L.A. My Way.

  It’s official. Joel McHale is one ofHollywood’s funniest new stars and his career is speeding up faster than a runaway train. He has two hilarious TV shows – NBC’s Community and E! TV’s The Soup . Joel also appears in the upcoming 2012 film, Ted with Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg.  Joel is also in The Big Year with Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Jim Parsons and Steve Martin. And in addition, What’s Your Number with Anna Faris and Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World. Yep, the Hollywood Hills transplant from Seattle is taking the express train to stardom…which could be the corniest thing ever to say about him except that he’s nuts about trains.

“I have two sons, so parks are a huge deal. Especially Griffith Park, because that’s whereTravel Townis,” McHale says of the 9-acre property near the Los Angeles Zoo and Autry Museum of Western Heritage. “It’s a huge park where they’ve parked a ton of retired locomotives. It’s filled with them. You walk in there and see locomotives from the 1800s. And you can crawl all over them.”

Travel Town – a combined museum and recreation center which served as a location set for the Clint Eastwood film J. Edgar – is a Mecca for transportation hobbyists, displaying dozens trains and old-time vehicles from a 104-ton locomotive to a one-horse shay.

Best, it’s designed to encourage everyone to climb aboard. Travel Town offers visitors what for most of them is the only opportunity they ever have to see and examine at close hand, many different types of vehicles. It opened in 1952 after Charley Atkins, a Recreation and Parks employee, along with a handful of rail enthusiast friends, had the idea that a steam locomotive would make an attractive addition at the Griffith Park miniature railroad ride. And so his new museum was born as a “railroad petting zoo,” where kids could “imagineer” themselves as engineers. The City of Los Angeles Harbor Department started the collection by donating two little engines that were destined for scrap. It was at a time when the steam locomotive era was drawing to a close, so major railroads soon began donating old engines and equipment for subsequent generations to enjoy.

Toot! Toot!

For $2, visitors can also ride one of a few different miniature trains around the property on a 16” gauge track: The Courage, a 2-6-0 Mogul built in 1993, the sister locomotive to the Stanley Diamond, modeled after narrow gauge engine that worked the mining areas of the West during the early part of the century; The Diesel Switcher, the heaviest and most powerful locomotive here, it’s a classic yard goat design built in 1986, and modeled after the EMD series of yard switchers; and a Pullman style train with six seat coaches built in 1956 for Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch Special train.  The five operating mini-trains atTravelTownand theGriffithParkand Southern Railroad nearby, carry nearly 600,000 passengers each year.

After a trip toTravel Town, McHale and his family often make tracks to another train stop nearby.  “We also like to build stuff – forts and Legos — and make train set- ups, so we get very excited about going to the Train Shack inBurbank,” he says. “My oldest son will see something great and he tells me ‘We need four of those.’ And I have to tell him ‘No, actually, we don’t.’ Which isn’t easy because it’s all so good. It’s like a toy store for toy train lovers, but it’s not really for kids. Not with engines that cost $3,000. It’s for men!”

Travel Town is at 5200 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, California 90027. Please see the website for updated  hours, directions and admission prices. Proceeds from the Gift Shop support the Travel Town Museum Foundation’s on-going restoration work. Images NBC/Mitchell Haaseth