Sunland-Tujunga is steeped in a history of new beginnings. At the turn of the last century, new arrivals transformed the chaparral-covered land in the northeastern San Fernando Valley into an expanse of ranches and orchards. Artists and asthmatics alike came for the clean air and inspirational beauty. When Steven Spielberg's friendly extraterrestrial made contact, Sunland-Tujunga was his landing point (the house where E.T. was filmed is still there). Today, this suburban community has banded together to fight the "mansionization" and big box stores that threaten the area's rural character.
Taste a refreshing bite of Sunland-Tujunga's agricultural roots at the 48th annual Watermelon Festival this weekend, sponsored by the local Lions Club. One-dollar admission gets you a raffle ticket, ice cold watermelon and access to rides, games, live music and a petting zoo. Also, don't miss the seed spitting contest and the carving display. Sunland Park, 8651 Foothill Blvd., (866) 420-4118, www.lionswatermelonfestival.com.
Olde Towne Commerce Avenue
In the early 20th century, markets and shops on Commerce Avenue brimmed with locally produced goods and buzzed with activity. Now this historic heart of town, which had fallen into disrepair, is on the brink of revitalization, with a smattering of new boutiques and cafes. Olde Towne Cafe (10024 Commerce Ave.,  951-2700) serves Persian-style kebabs and other Middle Eastern delicacies on a charming covered patio. Rio (9931 Commerce Ave.,  951-5228) stocks worldly fashions and accessories like bangle bracelets and embroidered tunics from India. The Foothill Commerce Town Center, a new retail complex, is projected to open toward the end of 2009.
Bolton Hall Museum
Housed in a 1913 historical monument built from local hillside stones, the Bolton Hall Historical Museum (10110 Commerce Ave.,  352-3420, www.laparks.org/dos/historic/bolton.htm) features exhibits on Sunland-Tujunga history, with artifacts and photos of early settlers from the Gabrielino Indian village to the Mission and Mexican land grant periods.
Poetry in motion
The former home of California poet laureate John Steven McGroarty, the McGroarty Arts Center (7570 McGroarty Terrace,  352-5285, www.mcgroartyartscenter.org) offers art exhibitions, performance, and multidisciplinary art classes and workshops in drama, poetry, dance, music, ceramics, drawing and painting.
Sweet Cherrie's Diner (8236 Foothill Blvd.,  353-0465) cooks up down-home favorites like country-fried steak with gravy in a 1950s atmosphere complete with whimsical cherry print curtains. Its big omelete selection and banana nut waffles make it a popular breakfast spot.