Welcome to the Golden State! The United States added her to the family as part of the Compromise of 1850. That was the document, signed by President Fillmore, that made California and the District of Columbia entities free of slavery. It isn’t hyperbole to say the country hasn’t been the same since California joined the party.
California is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north by Oregon, most of the east by Nevada, and the extreme southeast by Arizona. All of California is in the Pacific Time Zone, recognizing Daylight Savings Time. California is virtually a nation unto itself.
What do we mean by that? If it were a country, California would be the sixth largest economy in the world and the 35th most populous. It is also regarded as a global leader in both popular culture and politics. “As California goes, so goes the country,” is a statement that may not ring true immediately. Eventually, though, trends and customs flow outward from California.
A state like California must be handled in portions. We’re going to tackle it with three separate entries into The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken. In this first one, we will talk about what makes the Southland unique. We’ll visit sites and attractions from just north of Los Angeles to the border with Mexico. We’ll delve into some of the advantages, and the challenges, of housing, feeding and hydrating this many people. Speaking of many people…
“The sheer volume of people down there boggles the mind.” That’s what one reader had to say about Southern California. What numbers did he have in mind? Here are just three examples:
- The population of Los Angeles is 3,792,621. That equals the population of the combined four smallest states in the Union, plus the District of Columbia.
- The population of San Diego is 1,307,402. That’s just about the population of Maine, which is more populous than nine other states.
- In just over 56,000 square miles, (roughly the size of Ohio) Southern California includes 39 cities with a population of 100,000 or more. Six states have one, and four states have none.
What is good about having that many neighbors? It makes for a vibrancy of educational and recreational opportunity found nowhere else in the country. Do you want to learn something? Southern California has 15 colleges and universities waiting to teach you up. Oh, but that is just the public colleges and universities. Would you like to attend a private institution of higher education? Well, there are 69 private colleges in Southern California alone.
Recreational opportunities? Are you kidding? Southern California is blessed with natural wonders (Have you seen a sunset over the Pacific?), and man-made extravaganzas. Golf courses are abundant, tennis courses are everywhere and professional sports are plentiful. Horse racing? Glad you asked. Two of the nation’s finest tracks are down here. They would be Santa Anita and Del Mar. Truly, one almost has to try to be bored in Southern California.
Okay, those are the pluses, but are there minuses? Of course, there are minuses. In a part of the world that is a desert in its native state, the question of water is one without a ready answer. We discussed water in our examination of Arizona, and the number of people in Southern California taxes the precious natural resource. Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the Los Angeles Basin consume oceans of water annually. Northern California and the Pacific Northwest begrudgingly contribute. As the population grows and climate change becomes ever more apparent, decisions from up north are coming. They will be decisions made by a relatively few thirsty folks who do not call Los Angeles home. We can only imagine the potential political tension.
America has traditionally been referred to as a melting pot, welcoming people from many different countries, races, and religions. Southern California is the world’s greatest example. English is the native language of only 57% of Southern Californians. Spanish is the primary language spoken in 29% of Southern California households.
The highest point in Southern California is atop 11,503 foot San Gorgonio Mountain in the San Bernardino National Forest. The lowest point is sea level along the many beaches of Southern California. California is actually well below sea level in several places, but that is a subject best saved for Central California.
Airports in Southern California:
There are four major airports in Southern California, including one of the world’s busiest.
Burbank Bob Hope serves almost two million passengers a year. The most common destination is Oakland.
John Wayne serves a little more than 4.5 million passengers a year in the Orange County area. A frequent destination is Phoenix.
San Diego International enplanes almost nine million customers annually. The favorite destination is San Francisco. San José del Cabo, Mexico also gets a lot of action from San Diego International.
Los Angeles International, the famed LAX, serves about 32.5 million patrons a year. Where are they all going? A good number are going to San Francisco, but, almost as many are flying to London.
Movies Filmed in Southern California:
You’re kidding, right? The movie industry was born in California and the area remains the hub for movie making activity to this day. From the early days of Al Jolson talkies to the modern Marvel mayhem, Southern California is the place to be seen. It’s also the place to be hired and on the road to international fame. Alas, the success rate of those who strike out on the road to Hollywood in search of fame is a cautionary one. For every Marion Morrison or Norma Jean Baker destined to be John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, there are thousands of Gloria Ingblatts destined to experience their dream as a failed one. Stay in school, kids.
Famous Southern Californians:
President Richard Nixon
Military/Politics: Gen. George Patton, Anthony Kennedy, Earl Warren, and Adlai Stevenson.
Actors: Shirley Temple, Robert Redford, Angelina Jolie, Casey Simpson, Jaden Smith, Paul Walker, Miranda Cosgrove, Marilyn Monroe, Laura Marano, Cameron Boyce, Rowan Blanchard, Myra Black, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tyler Posey.
Entertainers: Michael Tilson Thomas, Ruby Rose Turner, Snoop Dogg, Collins Key, Adam Levine, Tyga, Becky G, Coolio, and Julia Child.
Athletes: Tiger Woods, Marcus Allen, Venus Williams, Nikki Bella, Serena Williams, Dominique Moceanu, Mark McGwire, and Pancho Gonzales.
Weird and Wonderful Facts About Southern California:
Pacific Park, on the venerable Santa Monica Pier, re-creates the amusement parks once dotting the Pacific coastline.
Fallbrook is known as the Avocado Capital of the World and hosts an annual Avocado Festival.
The 1922 Los Angeles County Fair featured demonstrations of how to make toothpaste from orange by-products.
Totaling nearly 3,000,000 acres, San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States.
Hollywood Bowl is the world’s largest outdoor amphitheater.
On April 2, 1902, the first motion picture theater in the world opened in Los Angeles.
About one out of every 16 United States residents lives in Southern California.
Let’s Take a Trip Across Southern California:
Let’s g…Oh, you’re already up. No surprise, because Southern California has a lot to do and more to see. Our trip is only going to cover 282 miles, but you have never seen so many things in less than 300 miles. Let’s go!
A word of caution. On The Greatest Road Trip Ever taken we seek out attractions that would provide “Wowza” memories, but we also find things that a family on a budget can enjoy. To do all of the things we are about to suggest would cost thousands of dollars. That’s “once in a lifetime” stuff, and we are glad to show you such a trip, but know that there are things to see and people to watch all over the southland. There are sunsets to adore and food carts at which to indulge our taste buds everywhere we look. Don’t be daunted by what we are about to suggest. Any of these stops can be the anchor for a wonderful vacation. Do them all at once for a trip to remember forever. Or, spread them out over ten trips to Southern California. It’s your trip, and should be enjoyed your way!
We touched on the movie industry and we’re starting with an immersion experience into that world. Universal Studios Hollywood is the original and, for our money, still the best movie lot tour out there.
There are some amusement park rides here, but Universal Studios Hollywood is more about the experience than it is about the thrills and chills. First, we’ll make reservations for the studio lot tram tour. It takes us around and through several historic movie sets. Insiders know to eat at CityWalk ( a free attraction right outside Universal) before going in. That leaves our hands free to point!
Still a working studio, Universal has reader boards that show what may be filming that day. Will we see someone famous? Wait, wasn’t that Bud Bundy? It’s a great day at a place too often overshadowed by a mouse and a princess.
Just eight miles from Universal Studios we check into Jerry’s Motel. It is an excellent Southern California bargain for a nice place to stay. Our room is $99 a night.
The next morning we get up in time to catch a boat. We’re going to Catalina Island, and a casino!
Nope, not that kind of casino. Catalina Island Casino has inside it the first ever theater for sound motion pictures, plus one of the country’s biggest dance floors! The Casino architecture is a marvel and we will see some stunning artwork and decorative features throughout. The “Discover the Casino” tour will last 40 minutes, but we will wish it was longer.
Back on the boat for the quick one-hour ride back to the mainland. Then we’ll brave the infamous Los Angeles traffic on our way to Anaheim. We’re spending two nights at the Alpine Inn. Get your rest, since we’re going to both Disneyland and California Adventure in the next two days!
Disneyland opened in 1955 and has only gotten bigger and better since. Walt Disney’s vision of an amusement park that he could call “The Happiest Place on Earth” is all here.
Almost everyone you know has been here. Many people make it an annual pilgrimage. That’s because it continues to evolve with the times. We shopped for discount tickets, and it’s a good thing we did. Full rate tickets for four people will set us back almost $500! We’ve almost never spent that kind of money on the Greatest Road Trip, but we make an exception for Disneyland.
That half thousand dollar bill means being transported to a glorious world, filled with both familiar characters and new adventures. It buys shows, rides, and enough photo stops to fill ten albums. Food is extra, but not all that expensive.
Here is a traveler’s tip for enjoying Disneyland. Get there as early as humanly possible. Spend the morning enjoying the park. Then (and this will surprise some of you) go back to the hotel and take a two-hour nap. Arise refreshed and ready to go back inside for the late-afternoon and evening events. We’ll follow the same plan at California Adventure tomorrow.
What a two-day, three-night experience that was! Memories abundant!
Just 94 miles from Anaheim finds us in Palm Springs. Once the playground of everyone from Dean Martin to Bob Hope to Elvis, Palm Springs is a lovely lady, perhaps past her prime. Not as many people pass those iconic windmills on the way into the area. Still a desert paradise, Palm Springs makes its reputation these days on the Coachella Music Festival in nearby Indio.
We’re here for a specific reason. On the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, we will take a journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. We begin the 10-minute ride at the Valley Station and end at the Mountain Station. We will have ascended about 6,000 feet on the ride. On top, there are pristine views and fine dining. It’s a great way to experience this unique part of Southern California.
Two hours in the car find us in San Diego! Known as the nation’s most livable city, San Diego enjoys lovely weather pretty much every day of every year. We call that livable.
We start by checking into the Old Town Inn. Convenient to the trolley, it’s an outstanding independent place in the historic Old Town section of San Diego.
Did I say trolley? Indeed I did. We start with an overview of San Diego via the Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour. We will visit some of the highlights of San Diego with a one day pass on the shiny red and green vehicles. These highlights will include the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, USS Midway, and the cruise ship terminal. Then we will check out Little Italy, among other places. The trolley tour features live commentary from the onboard guide during our ride.
Later, we return to the Zoo. San Diegans like to say people who like zoos will love the San Diego Zoo, and people who don’t like zoos will like the San Diego Zoo. All true.
Since this is a one day trip we’re going to take the Zoo Tram. Later, we can walk back to favorite areas. The San Diego Zoo is a veritable Madagascar for the numbers and types of animals we are able to see. This place is impeccably maintained and beautifully laid out.
It was a great first day. I’m glad we caught the earliest trolley possible so we could enjoy the balance of the day at the zoo.
The next morning we get up and take a short drive to a world apart. A two-mile drive from downtown San Diego, we cross one of the world’s most distinctive bridges. It’s the bridge to Coronado Island! Developed in 1888 as a beach resort town, the Island is home to the famous Hotel del Coronado, and is blessed with one of the finest beaches in the world. This is a magical place bathed in seemingly endless sunshine.
The sun starts to set and we drive back across the bridge, headed for Balboa Park. We have tickets to a show at the Old Globe Theater.
It’s a beautiful theater, designed to look like Shakespeare’s Globe in England. The cast will be excellent and the scenery and props outstanding. The view of the stage from all the seats is very good! Before the performance and during the intermission we can stroll around outside and enjoy a drink or a cup of the Old Globe’s famous lobster bisque. Yeah, that sounded good to me too.
One more day in Southern California, and an important day it is. We’re going to a park, but it isn’t just any old park. This is Friendship Park, on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. We’re here to put aside what we have heard, exchanging rhetoric for what we see with our own eyes.
The U.S.-Mexico border is portrayed in the news as a place defined by criminality and violence. This portrayal betrays a profound misunderstanding of what life on the border is really all about. In fact, the U.S.-Mexico border is mostly marked by profoundly peaceful human encounters. More goods and people cross the US-Mexico border each day than any other border in the world. Millions celebrate the relationships of family and friendship that span the international boundary. Celebrating this fact is what makes America special, and we thought it was important to come here today.
Wow! That was something else, wasn’t it? You can see why ten million people want to call Southern California home. You can also understand why an equal number of people want to visit but go home afterward. Mostly, we know you won’t soon forget what we did in just a few days.
Next up: Central California.