Pali in Cali


Pali Outdoor Adventures

Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

One-week residential: $1,000

Three-week specialty: $3,000

Ages: 9-16

California is teaming with attractions that lure the population in droves, especially kids. Despite this atmosphere, a new camp has arrived on the scene that’s establishing itself as a go-to destination for kids from Southern California and beyond.

How Pali Outdoor Adventures, a camp embarking on its third year, is able to do this is the result of the creative free thinking of its founder, Andy Wexler.

Still a student at UCLA in 1990, Wexler founded a day camp in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles called Pali Camp. So successful was this day camp that it soon found itself hosting dozens of movie stars’ kids.

Pali Day Camp capitalized on the myriad Southern California attractions by basically operating as a tour group and ferrying various age groups (3-15) to the best field trip locations imaginable.

In 1995 Wexler also founded a magazine called Los Angeles Family, which touts a monthly circulation of 150,000 and a readership of about 450,000. Building on the success of these ventures, Wexler looked east to the mountains surrounding Los Angeles.

Pali Day to Pali Overnight

Pali Entertainment Group, the parent organization for Wexler’s businesses, bought a 74-acre former overnight camp site near Big Bear Mountain in 1999 to fulfill Wexler’s vision of a residence camp.

Virtually re-built in 2000, Wexler called the property Pali Mountain Retreat and Conference Center. Nine months out of the year it operates as a conference center for corporations, church groups, reunions, weddings and other gatherings, averaging about 100 people per night on the weekends.

During the three summer months it’s Pali Overnight Adventures, a residence camp for kids 9-16. During those three months Pali runs two one-week traditional camps, with three three-week specialty camps sandwiched between.

“On the West Coast three-week camps are a bit unusual, because there are so many competing interests,” says Mark Benhard, director of marketing and public relations for Pali Entertainment. “But we have strong repeat business and we’re seeing kids go from the one-week traditional to the three week specialty camps.”

The three-week specialty sessions are certainly special, as they provide an eclectic mix of programming, much of which is unique in children’s camping. The specialty portion is done in the morning, then campers have a number of traditional programs to choose from in the afternoon.

Pali offers 11 different specialty camps during the nine weeks of specialty terms, which run concurrently. The camps include Secret Agent Camp, Modeling Academy, Skating, Whitewater Rafting, Water Sports, Acting Academy, Scuba, Leadership Training, English as a Second Language, Horseback Riding and Film Academy.

All of these specialty camps are organized with the Pali flair, utilizing experts in their respective fields to run the programs.

For example, Secret Agent Camp has the expertise of an ex-Navy SEAL to show the kids the ropes of what it really takes to be a secret agent.

“They rescue hostages, repel, play paintball, have overnight adventures in the woods where they live off the land and make contraptions from household items,” says Benhard. “We have an unbelievable ropes and zipline course that’s close to 10,000 square feet; 20 kids can be on it at one time. At the same time they’re learning leadership, team building, discipline, independence and self confidence.”

This attention to detail and scale carries over to the other specialty camps. The skating program features a 12,000 square foot skate park for skateboarding and roller blading.

In scuba camp, kids are certified and go to Catalina Island to complete their training. At the Film Academy, the kids learn film theory and test it out by making films of their own. Modeling Academy campers meet with agents and get real Hollywood experience.

All of these specialties are, again, taught by experts, some of them rather famous, like the head of Acting Academy who just did a stint on The West Wing.

What it Takes

The scope and breadth of this programming alone should be enough to fill the rolls every summer, and it practically has. Going into just its third summer, Pali Outdoor Adventures is close to realizing full capacity.

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