In my last article, I discussed the first two days of the Long’s 2005 summer vacation in southern California. It was an active, fun-filled couple of days, but after that, we decided we needed a rest. So we did what any veteran family travelers would do; we headed straight for the beach. And not just any beach, but the best city beach in California, Santa Monica.
Santa Monica’s main beach if famous for several reasons, but first and foremost is its sheer size. It is wider, and whiter, than just about any other beach in southern California.
The waves are great; the crowds can be huge, but somehow, the size of the beach absorbs the large volume of sun worshipers and allows for room for everyone.
My son Erik and I bought a couple of inexpensive styrofoam belly boards and spent hours surfing the shore break. We had an incredible time, but Dad, who knew better, forgot to re-apply the sun block after all that time in the water, and paid the price with a big time sunburn. Dumb, but I survived.
The other memorable aspect of Santa Monica’s beach is the dual sidewalk/bike path that runs parallel to the beach for a number of miles. Every type and age of person can be found along these pathways, either walking, biking, in-line skating, skateboarding, or jogging. It is an outdoor lifestyle, and everybody is into staying in shape. The beach also includes a huge pier, complete with fun zone, and a great pedestrian walking mall several blocks up from the shore.
The next day, the entire family took a long stroll south along the beachwalk to the wackiest place in LA: Venice Beach. Whatever number of strange people you see along the rest of the beach area is tripled in Venice. But it is a fun, crazy, anything goes type of atmosphere that somehow works. Many people would remember Venice as the famed locale for Muscle Beach, where body builders of all types would work out along the sands. These days, Venice is one long beach-front stretch of sidewalk shops, restaurants, street musicians, street vendors, street artists, con-artists, graffiti artists with their own wall to spray paint, all matched with a series of different outdoor sports venues created for the general public. There are high profile pickup basketball games, paddle tennis courts, a huge outdoor gym area with every type of weight machine, along with the steady stream of joggers, bike riders, etc. Quite the scene.
From Venice, we got into the car and headed north of LA to the land of the rich and famous, Malibu. Here, along an exclusive beach, are the vacation homes of Tom Hanks, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Courtney Cox, Britney Spears, Barbara Streisand, Steven Speilberg, David Geffen, and many other top producers, directors, actors, singers, etc. Melissa, being a star watcher, found out how to access the beach, and we walked out right next to David Geffen’s house (Geffen is the biggest producer in Hollywood today, and has the biggest house in Malibu) and strolled, amazingly, almost by ourselves along the front of all these homes. There were a few stars here and there, but we left them alone, and they basically ignored us.
The thing is, most people believe that Malibu is inaccessible to the general public, and that simply isn’t true. You just have to be enterprising enough to figure out where the few public access areas are. We had a great time ogling these beautiful homes, gazing at a few of the beautiful people, and walking along the beautiful beach. And that was the end of our LA experience.
The next day, we headed for San Diego, about a three-hour trip to the south, which has all the other great southern California beaches, and a lot more as well. We used the Frommer and Rough Guide books to locate a great spot just a few steps from the beach, called, appropriately, the Beach Cottages. From here, we spent many great hours belly boarding, lounging, and generally enjoying the incredible San Diego weather. But there were three other experiences that stood out, and that I would highly recommend to anyone coming down to this part of the world. First and foremost, San Diego is only 20 miles from the Mexican border. And no trip to this part of the world is complete without a quick trip to Tijuana, Mexico.
You can take a trolley from downtown San Diego to the border for a $6.00 round trip fare, and that way, avoid having to drive down. It’s a far superior way to go, and fun as well. They let you off near the crossing, and within fifteen minutes, you are walking into Tijuana. While we did not need passports at this time, the rules will change in 2006, and a passport will be necessary to enter and exit Mexico.
Tijuana is full of “in your face” hawkers selling every type of product. You have to navigate your way through them, but it’s part of the fun, and they all have a good sense of humor. Treat people with respect, and they reciprocate. We had no problems with anybody in Tijuana.
Tijuana’s newest wrinkle is the plethora of pharmacies that sell to the many Americans seeking to obtain less expensive prescription drugs. While a fair number of the pharmacies are quite legitimate, there are also a fair number that are questionable. You have to do your homework ahead of time if you are inclined to purchase your prescriptions down here. Still, a fair number of people from southern California do just that.
We found a wonderful spot to shop off the beaten trail, where the shop owners were low key and the deals were much better. If you want to find it, and are enterprising enough, you can buy it in Tijuana. The deals are terrific; you just have to be patient, persistent, and get off the main drag.
We also went to Coronado Island, where half the fun is just taking the amazing bridge over from San Diego. The bridge rises very quickly into the air, to accommodate the huge naval ships that are part of the U.S. Pacific fleet. You can see forever off the highest point on the span, with spectacular views, though Melissa made sure my rubbernecking was kept to a minimum.
The Del Coronado hotel is located here, which is one of the great old hotels in America, massive and grand in scale, and well worth a visit. And Coronado’s nightlife is fun as well, with a large number of top restaurants, and great shops everywhere.
Our other favorite spot was the children’s cove of La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya). This has been taken over by seals and sea lions, who lounge on the beach or swim around the cove area in constant search of play or food. They are endlessly entertaining, and you really come to appreciate what amazing swimmers they are. They are also incredibly fast swimmers, shooting through the water at far faster speeds than anyone could imagine. I think the battle between the sea lions and the fish is one-sided, which would explain why they are all so fat and happy.
Though our agenda didn’t allow for a lengthy stay in San Diego, there are many other fun places to visit, among them Mission Bay, the San Diego zoo (the best in the world), Sea World, Old San Diego, and Balboa Park. San Diego isn’t cheap, but with the right homework, you can find a great place to stay, and spend a week of pure enjoyment.
That’s all for now. I will write a third article next time finishing up this vacation discussion by talking about Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, and the earthquake trail above Palo Alto, California. This was a great vacation, so please forgive the overly long story, but it can’t be told in any fewer words!
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