A very pleasant, smaller city with an attractive harbourside area as well as an old town
called the 'Gaslight District'. They have one of the old Spanish Missions that are common
in California and from which you can hear the bells regularly.
One of America's most livable cities, they say. It is also a large military town, being the
base for the 7th (Pacific) fleet. They have an Aircraft Carrier Museum in the harbour,
which features the now decommissioned carrier USS Midway. San Diego is small enough
to have avoided the congestion, pollution and other problems that plague LA. It has lots of
eucalypt trees too – a familiar feature for us Aussies.
There are some really nice beaches in the San Diego area, and also on the coast between LA
and San Diego. After we flew into LAX from New York, we picked up a Mustang convertible
from Budget and drove that afternoon down to San Diego. About a two hour drive or so.
Where possible, we came off Interstate 5 to travel along the Pacific Coast Highway,
which runs along the coast. It is very beautiful along there, and we drove though places like
San Clemente. Maybe we just hadn’t read our maps properly, but we found ourselves having
to get back on I-5 from time to time, even though we had intended to drive most of the trip
along the Pacific Coast Highway. Whether it really doesn’t run all the way or we just
messed up, I am not sure.
We visited the famous San Diego Zoo. It is supposed to be one of the world’s great zoos,
and indeed it was pretty good. We wondered, though, whether it was all that much better
than our very own Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney. I guess apart from anything else, you can’t
beat Taronga the beauty of its location, right on Sydney Harbour.
We also spent a day at SeaWorld, which was wonderful. Lots of great exhibits, including the seals,
polar bears and penguins. Excellent show with ’killer whales’ (Orcas).
On the way back to LA a few days later, we went through La Jolla. I was interested to see it,
as my parents had spent some time there in the early ‘60s. That is a fabulous looking place,
perched on a crest overlooking the sea. Obviously a prosperous town with a nice
Strange weather in San Diego though - each morning started with a fog or mist along the coast,
which then burned off by about midday. We wondered if this was LA-style smog, but it is
apparently quite a normal phenomenon this time of year, called 'June Gloom' by the locals.
Kids at San Diego Zoo
More San Diego Zoo
Caity with Gorillas – San Diego Zoo
Killer Whale Show – Sea World San Diego
Orca – San Diego Sea World
We drove down there (about 15 miles) one day from San Diego. An interesting experience –
a bit like Bali in lots of ways. As soon as you alight from your cab you are set upon by
touts and hustlers of every stripe. The Mexicans seem to be very nice, friendly people though,
and there is nothing really nasty or intimidating about the process, although you do get a bit
tired of the continual calls of 'amigos, come in my shop!' after a few hours. It was early on a
weekday, a very slow time for business, I think, and we were among the relatively few ‘gringos’
in the street, so we were probably singled out for more attention by the merchants than we
would have been if it was more crowded.
It’s amazing to see what you can buy there – one of the most common types of shop are
those selling cheap pharmaceuticals, over the counter. All the big-name American drugs like
Viagra, Celebrex etc seem to be available - apparently much cheaper. I don’t know whether
these are ‘knock-offs’ or the real thing - I don’t think any prescription is required. We were
told that Tijuana has also become a popular destination for Americans living near the border
who want to get cheap (and apparently good quality) dental work done. The same applies to
auto repair and panel beating. You bring your car down there, drop it in, go have some lunch
or do some shopping, then pick it up and drive home. We met an American family there, of
Hispanic origin, who told us they regularly visited Tijuana for all these things. They did not
have health insurance, but apparently some of the US health insurance companies will now
pay for dental work done in Tijuana. Guess it’s a win-win for all concerned, as long as the
quality is OK…
One thing that really surprised us was that at least a few of the merchants appeared to
recognize us as Australian, some without even hearing us speak! I asked one of them how he
could tell - he was a bit vague but said there was a time 10 or so years ago when Aussies were
common in Tijuana - he thought it was when our dollar was stronger and said they used to be
among his best customers. A lot of Aussie sailors go through the various US Navy training
establishments in the San Diego area, and this may be why they are familiar with us in Tijuana.
The same guy even knew John Howard was our Prime Minister. Very, very few Americans
would know that.
Tijuana is a border town, set up largely for American tourists, so in a way is not really Mexico
proper, which we would like eventually to see. The day we were there we never used Mexican
currency; most all transactions seemed to occur in dollars, with them making change in dollars also.
Still, you do get a bit of a flavor of Mexico.
The US rental car companies will not let you take the cars into Mexico, so we had to leave it
in the special parking lot set up for that purpose just on the US side of the border
(USD $5 or $7 per day, I recall) . We then walked over the border and got a quick cab ride into
the main street of Tijuana (about $5 or so, negotiable). If we'd had more time, and were not
encumbered by the rental company's policy, we would have liked to drive further into Mexico,
perhaps down to Ensenada in Baja California. We met Americans who had done so, and they say
it is perfectly safe and a nice area to visit. If you are an American who has their own car (not a rental)
it is no problem. You just need to purchase Mexican Auto Insurance at the border. Mexico City
itself is a very long way from the border.
Crossing the border was no hassle at all, especially going into Mexico. We just joined a line
of people walking through a one-way revolving door that prevented anyone coming back the
other way. You then walk down a pathway, which leads to Tijuana itself. We passed a little hut
that appeared to be the Immigration Office, but in which no activity seemed to be happening.
A little while later I remembered that while Americans can cross into the border area with just
a photo ID, other foreigners are supposed to have passports. We had brought our passports
or this purpose, so we walked back a little way to the Immigration Office, found the lone officer
lounging inside watching TV and reading the paper. We told him we were Australian, and thought
we needed to show him our passports. He grunted a bit, took the passports, stamped them and
sent us on our way. Anyone could have just walked in - it
seemed to be totally up to our honesty
to tell them we were non-US citizens.
Going back the other way is a little bit more of a hassle. There is a huge roadway of about 20
or 30 lanes, which creeps forward slowly towards the US Immigration checkpoint. As we were
on foot, we lined up in the immigration hall with many others. The process was reasonably quick,
and the US official did not even stamp our passports; just asked a couple questions and we were
on our way. Probably much easier on foot than by car, I think. It would not be quick to get
through by road on a busy day.
A few days later, heading back up to LA for the last few days before flying home, we noticed
there was an Immigration checkpoint on the freeway between San Diego and LA. You have to
slow down while they do a quick bit of racial profiling – presumably they pull you over for a more
thorough check if you look suspicious or they think might be carrying illegals. I guess they are trying
to catch those who sneak across the border in an unpopulated area (or are smuggled across by
‘coyotes’) and are trying to make their way to LA and
We picked up some cheap duty free too - you buy it on the US side, then must carry it into
Mexico and declare it to the US authorities upon your return to the 'States. For the smokers,
really cheap cigarettes, (I think USD $19 for a carton of 10 packets) and liquor – although the
booze is pretty cheap in the States anyway, even without getting
it duty free.
Anyway, the kids found it interesting. We got our daughter’s hair braided at a restaurant while we
had lunch, and bought some silver bracelets and other souvenirs. We were told that you can decent
jewelry fairly cheaply in the proper jewelers shops, but that we should beware of the guys hawking
silver necklaces, bracelets etc in the street, as they are most likely selling fakes. The kids got their
photos taken in a cart drawn by what I am sure was a donkey painted with stripes so as to look like
a zebra! There are lots of these in Tijuana. Very strange. There is a picture of this below…
NLK and Dom at US-Mexico border - Tijuana
Kids with ‘Zebra’ - Tijuana
Venice Beach, California - Part II
We loved Venice Beach the first time around – it was where we first stayed upon our arrival
in the US. It was great to get back there for the last few days of our trip.
We had lovely weather for our last few days at Venice – clear skies, temps in the low to mid 70s,
remarkably little smog, with a clear view all the way to Malibu, the Hollywood Hills and the tall
San Gabriel (I think) mountains to the north of LA that are so often obscured by the haze that
hangs over the LA basin.
We went for a swim and got rather sunburned. The manager of our hotel was kind enough to
lend us some boogie boards. As mentioned earlier, we had a Mustang convertible, and the weather
was good enough to have the top down most of the time. The kids were initially very impressed
with the convertible, but our daughter started complaining that it blows her hair about too much!
When we arrived back here from San Diego, we were unable to put our car in the hotel’s parking
lot as a movie crew had rented it out. Turns out they were making a new movie called ’Million
Dollar Baby’ (possibly a remake, I think), directed by Clint Eastwood. We saw Mr Eastwood
himself, lifting weights outside his trailer. Narrelle got a photo of the kids with him. Also got a photo
on the beach where they were filming of the female star of the movie, Hilary Swank, with the kids
(see below). Apparently Morgan Freeman is also in it, but we did not see him.
We didn’t do much the last two days, just hung around the beach, went for a drive to Malibu
and back through Topanga Canyon. From what we could tell, you couldn’t really see that much
of the beach at Malibu as the houses are built right on the beach, and I think a lot of it is private beach.
It’s also hard to stop and walk around, as the houses seem to be right next to the Pacific Coast
Highway, with the beach just on the other side of the houses. Not really many side streets you
could turn into and stop for a walk around. We also took the kids to Santa Monica Pier, where
they rode the various rides and had a go at winning stuff in the carnival style attractions there.
We were sad to come to the end of our trip. Venice Beach was a nice place to finish (and to start).
You hear a lot about California’s budget crisis, but we were most impressed with the facilities around
the Venice Beach area. Everything seemed clean and well maintained. As can be seen in the photos,
there are lots of things there that are available for use by the public. As I have said earlier, I think
many of the Aussies you meet who say they didn’t like LA might have enjoyed it more had they
stayed in the Santa Monica/Venice Beach area. In many cases the ones we met were on group tours
and didn’t want to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, so they tend to stay downtown or at
Anaheim. Each to their own I guess…
We look forward to visiting the area again one day.
Basketball at Venice Beach, California
Acrobatics at Venice Beach!
Kids with Clint Eastwood, Venice Beach
Kids with Hilary Swank, Venice Beach
Venice Beach - looking North towards Santa Monica and Malibu
Caity and NLK, Venice Beach
Outdoor Gym, Venice Beach
Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach
Flags at half-mast for Reagan funeral – Venice Beach
At Santa Monica Pier
Drive-thru ATM – Los Angeles
Dom & Kids with our Mustang rental car – Venice Beach
NLK with our Mustang convertible – Venice Beach