The Pacific Coast Highway via Route 101 or Route 1 stretches from San Diego, California to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Probably the most famous part of the route is the section from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It is, without question, one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the US and certainly ranks high on a worldwide list as well. It is noted for its dramatic overlooks of the rugged west coast and access to spectacular areas such as, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, and Redwood National Park in California to name a few.
San Diego, California, is reputed to have the best year-round climate in the continental United States. It is also a major tourist destination because of its many attractions. As a result of its location in Southern California, it was part of Mexico for many years of its history, and some of that period has been carefully preserved. From Mission San Diego, the oldest mission in California, to the Old Town, one finds remnants of this Spanish influence.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most respected zoos in the world. Thousands of animals, many of them rare or endangered, are displayed in habitats which have been constructed to resemble their natural environments.
In the Zoo, check out Ituri Forest, an African rain forest environment, Polar Bear Plunge, a simulated arctic tundra, and the Panda Research Station, with pandas on loan from China. The Koala Bears are also extremely popular, because they are rarely seen outside of their native Australia. The zoo is huge but very pleasant to walk because of the many trees and flowers which line the walkways. If the hills are a concern there are trams available and even a sky ride from the entrance to the farthest corner of the property.
Balboa Park, which houses the zoo and many museums, as well as offering a peaceful respite from the bustling downtown nearby, is a gem of a city park. The architecture of its buildings is positively stunning and it is a major gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Note especially the California Tower and the Museum of Man with their striking Spanish architecture, as well as the Botanical Gardens, which are superb.
Being a coastal city, San Diego also offers beaches and other water sports. Drive over to Coronado Island (really a peninsula) and check out Coronado Beach, a perennial member of the “best beaches of the world” list and the famous Hotel del Coronado, a grand, old edifice, and a symbol of the city.
About an hour north of the city, along Interstate 5, is a worthwhile excursion to San Juan Capistrano, site of the famous mission to which the swallows return each March 19th. The mission is now in ruins (the result of an earthquake in 1812), but the ruins are extremely attractive and recall a simpler time in the history of California. The grounds are pleasant to stroll and explore. The nearby village of Laguna Beach is also attractive with its steep cliffs tumbling down to the Pacific Ocean below.
Los Angeles, California, is California’s and one of the USA’s largest cities. Weather is typically sunny and mild or hot year round. However, traffic is a perpetual problem — the freeways are a challenge to negotiate, and the main city thoroughfares are often in gridlock.
In the city, there are numerous museums for those so inclined, but the major attractions are just outside the city center.
One of the most popular gathering places in the city is Farmer’s Market, located at the corner of Fairfax and Third St. Here visitors will find every conceivable type of food, both prepared and fresh. The narrow, crowded, alleys are full of numerous aromas and shops which will entice all who venture here.
Hollywood, California, is the legendary home of famous film stars. Even though many of them have residences elsewhere now, there are still many who might be glimpsed either in town or on their estates, so that people still flock here on the possibility. The Hollywood Sign (reduced from its original hollywoodland) is now a famous icon, recognizable throughout the world. One of the better viewpoints is located in Griffith Park, northeast of the city. Follow signs for the Observatory and either take the photo from the parking area or climb higher via the trail which begins here.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater has immortalized Hollywood celebrities in concrete since 1927. Most have just left hand prints or footprints, but some have left other reminders of their fame.
Universal Studios is a theme park which attracts millions of visitors each year. There are two different venues: Hollywood and Orlando, Florida (see # 8 above), in the United States. Parks also exist in Japan and Spain. The theme of all these parks is the movies, and adventure rides as well as other activities are focused on this theme.
Also nearby, in the suburb of Anaheim, is Disneyland, the “original” theme park, which, while certainly a scaled down version of its counterpart in Orlando, Florida, is nevertheless extremely popular and perhaps more charming because of its more manageable size.
Santa Catalina Island, located off the coast of Southern California, near Los Angeles, has become a major recreational resort and Mecca for saltwater fishermen. Access to the island is by air or sea, and numerous private companies are available for hire. Activities available on the island include golf, tennis, swimming, horse-back riding, hiking, and all the various types of fishing. The major community on the island is the town of Avalon.
Another possible excursion from Los Angeles is to the remote but interesting Channel Islands National Park, located off the coast of California, in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, which preserves island habitat and breeding grounds for a variety of species. Access is only by plane, private boat, or public concessionaire, and arrangements should be made in advance. Park rangers, and a few other authorized individuals conduct walks on all the islands. There are few facilities on the islands, so visitors are encouraged to provide their own food and water.
A possible inland excursion from the city involves travel eastward to Joshua Tree National Park, in south central California, which preserves an area of desert and mountain habitat of the Joshua tree. The park is noted for its scenery, which is accessible via several park roads. There are hiking opportunities, as well as rock-climbing. Park Rangers conduct tours of Desert Queen Ranch which is located within the park. There are several Visitor Centers which can be accessed from various directions.
Santa Barbara, California, lies along the coast, north of Los Angeles, and can be easily accessed via the Pacific Coast Highway. The city was originally a Spanish town, dating back to 1782, and still retains many reminders of its past, for example, its white-washed, tiled-roof buildings as well as its mission, Mission Santa Barbara, which is one of California’s best-preserved. It has also gained a reputation as an Art Center, and, in that connection, offers numerous galleries, and several museums.
1. Just north of San Diego is the lovely community of La Jolla, which is very picturesque and home to several excellent restaurants.
2. For a great view of the city skyline framed by mountains, drive out to the Cabrillo National Monument, at Point Loma. This spot commemorates the discovery of San Diego by the Spanish explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.
3. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, travel to LA around New Year’s Day and obtain a ticket for the Tournament of Roses Parade, which is held in the suburb of Pasadena on January 1st each year and begins at 8:00 AM. This is a parade that people around the world have watched on television for many years, but nothing compares to seeing it first-hand. Visitors can actually walk by the floats early in the morning while they are lined up on Orange Grove Blvd and practically touch them. What is truly remarkable is that they are made entirely of organic materials. The creativity involved in their construction is truly amazing.