By Roger ALLNUTT
Los Angeles is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations for travellers from Australia and while many then go on to other places such as Las Vegas and San Francisco the lovely area south from Los Angeles to the Mexican border is often overlooked.
From LAX highway 5 leads south to the Mexican border at Tijuana. Once beyond the sprawl of Los Angeles (the highway is handy for Anaheim, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm) the highway gets close to the coast around Capistrano Beach and then there are a number of interesting coastal/beach communities to explore. From Capistrano Beach there is a ferry (Catalina Express) which can take you out to South Catalina Island, a popular resort spot and nature conservancy. In 1981 it was the centre of a controversy when actress Natalie Wood drowned offshore.
Near San Clemente it is worth turning off the highway at Reading Beach to see some unusual sandstone cliff formations. The beach and cliffs are a great place to watch sunsets and a train line goes right along the foreshore.
Oceanside is an attractive stopping point as it has a long sandy beach and a picturesque port. Stretching out into the Pacific Ocean is a long wooden pier, at 594 metres the longest remaining wooden pier on the west coast. Just about every bollard seemed to have a large pelican sitting on it watching the passing tourists. There are a number of excellent properties that make Oceanside a good choice for a short break.
The surf rolls in and numerous surfers sit patiently waiting to catch the waves. The small port and marina is busy with tourists (as well as a large pod of seals lolling on the jetties) and there is plenty of choice for dining with fresh fish and chips very enticing.
Further south down the coast Carlsbad and Del Mar have become very up-scale residential communities with trendy boutiques and numerous restaurants. Near Carlsbad is California Legoland. We had an excellent lunch in Del Mar at Sbicca, an Italian restaurant, where the serves were the usual huge American size. A ‘doggie bag’ was provided for what we couldn’t manage. All along the coast small parks dot the cliffs providing panoramic views.
Near Encinitas is the San Diego Botanic Garden which features rare bamboo groves, desert gardens. a tropical rainforest, California native plants and Mediterranean climate landscapes. It is a relaxing place to wander and is clearly very popular as a wedding venue.
La Jolla is the location of the San Diego campus of the University of California and a thriving technology industry business centre.
Approaching San Diego you first come to the world famous Seaworld San Diego located in the large Mission Bay Park area. Comprising an animal theme park, oceanarium, outside aquarium, and marine mammal park, you can spend a fun day watching the excellent whale show, get up close with dolphins and sea turtles, or just experience the thrills of the many scary rides.
San Diego is a thriving city, major port and home to huge naval and other military bases. However it still manages to maintain a strong Spanish influence especially in architecture reflecting the early settlement of Spanish missionaries dating back to the 16th century.
A great way to experience the city is take the hop on, hop off trolley tour with its eleven different stops. The tour starts at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, a number of recreated buildings and activities capturing aspects of life in San Diego from over a century ago. The area is regarded as the birthplace of California following the establishment of the first permanent Spanish mission there is 1769.
There are eleven stops on the trolley route and although you can alight at every stop and explore I found restricting myself to a few was a less tiring option.
Along the waterfront (Embarcadero) the Maritime Museum attracts many visitors as does the nearby USS Midway Museum with the old aircraft carrier fully decked out with vintage craft. The pathways along the waterfront encompass parkland (interesting sculptures), boutique shops and restaurants.
There is a huge convention centre on the waterfront and in July each year it attracts thousands of visitors to Comic-Con International a multigenre entertainment and comic convention now encompassing not only comic books and science fiction/fantasy related film and television but also a larger range of pop culture.
The historic Gaslamp Quarter still contains many wonderful old buildings, many in Art Deco style. The gas lamps have been restored but now the quarter is full of trendy boutiques, galleries and eateries. Don’t miss the superb Palace Bar in Horton’s Grand Hotel.
The trolley crosses over to the island of Coronado where the beach is often packed with sun worshippers. The famous Hotel del Coronado from 1868 is a local landmark and location of the filming of the famous 1950’s movie Some Like It Hot that starred Marilyn Monroe.
One of the most interesting stops is at Balboa Park which is the centre for a number of superb museums and galleries. For the cultural aficionado Balboa Park deserves a full day itself especially if you include the world famous San Diego Zoo which is nearby. Among the many attractions are the Museum of Art, Museum of Man, Hall of Champions, Automative Museum, Air and Space Museum while there are many offering covering music, theatre and dance (don’t miss the Spreckles Organ Pavilion).
Balboa Park is also known for its gardens and walking trails including the Japanese Friendship Garden, Desert Garden and even an Australian Garden.
San Diego Zoo has often been voted no 1 zoo in the world and it is certainly amazing. In addition to all the usual favourites like polar bears, giant pandas, tigers and elephants you can see many exotic species including a selection of Australian favourites such as koalas, kangaroos and Tasmanian devils.
By now you are probably looking for sustenance and there is a dazzling choice of eateries around the Little Italy stop.
Drive out to Point Loma peninsula for great views back to the San Diego skyline, see the monument marking the spot where Juan Cabrillo made the first landing in 1542, and see the large cemetery where many US military are buried (San Diego has a long history as a US military area especially for the Navy and bases are visible everywhere). Ocean Beach is a popular recreation spot for sun-worshippers and fishermen, and has a 600 metres long concrete pier.
Many tourists are drawn to cross into Mexico. Although going into Mexico is easy I was told that the return crossing can often take some hours and is hardly worth the effort.