California Dreamin’

Clare and I decided to take a week long trip along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco. Well, we didn’t quite make San Francisco but we did leave from SFO. We started our journey in San Diego on Wednesday with a careful plan laid out. As any traveler knows, plans are meant to be modified when airplane travel is involved. Our plane had problems so we were an hour and a half behind schedule when we finally arrived in San Diego so instead of going to Balboa Park as we had planned, we opted to take the ferry to Coronado.

We passed the aircraft carrier Midway on our ferry ride to Coronado where we disembarked. There was a pretty good view of the San Diego skyline from Coronado. We ventured to the Hotel Del Coronado after eating lunch at a brewery. It was a pretty good view of San Diego through the Coronado Ferry Arch. I must say, I was surprised at the hotel when I was singled out at the Sofia Hotel upon arrival.

Balboa Park

The next day, we took the bus to Balboa Park. Taking the bus is a great way to get around San Diego very cheaply, yeah, I know I can afford a taxi but Clare and I like to mingle and really get to know the locals. Our first stop was in the Rose Garden and Cactus Garden. The stunning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden displays approximately 1,600 roses of more than 130 varieties on a three-acre site full of fragrance, color, and beauty The historic Cactus garden was developed under the direction of Kate Sessions for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Moving on, we past the Natural History Museum and discovered the Zoro Garden Nudist Colony, no longer active. Unfortunately the California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man was closed due to a seismic retrofit. The California Tower, the soaring, intricately detailed, portion of the California Building, is an icon of San Diego, and can be seen from miles around. The tower, designed by Bertram Goodhue, was constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. This beautiful structure is an architectural hybrid of architectural different styles, including Baroque, Plateresque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo, with some Gothic details.  We went to London to see the Globe Theater, we could have just gone to San Diego. We passed the Museum of Art on our way to Palm Canyon. Past Palm Canyon, our next destination was to see the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Unfortunately we were unable to see the outdoor organ.

We visited the Japanese Friendship Garden that is an expression of friendship between San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama. It illustrates two cultures and creates an immersive experience into Japanese culture that is worth the admission to see. The Botanical Garden was closed the day we went but even from the outside, it was impressive.

The Gaslamp Quarter was developed by Alonzo Horton who purchased 800 acres of land on the waterfront for 33 cents per acre in 1867.  In 1869, Horton built a wharf at the end of 5th Avenue making the area the backbone of the developing city.  The Gaslamp Quarter contains some of the finest examples of Victorian-style commercial buildings constructed in San Diego between the Civil War and WWI.  The Gaslamp Quarter was designated as a Historic District in 1980 on the National Register. 

Gaslamp Quarter

The first building pictured is the (1) Ingle Building, built in 1906 for a Northern California Elks Lodge but now a Comedy Club.  Next is the (2) Lester Hotel also built in 1906, followed by the (3) William Heath Davis House built in 1850 and the oldest surviving structure in San Diego’s New Town.  It is a well-preserved example of a prefabricated “salt box” family home and is now the office of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation.  The (4) Brunswig Drug Building, on the corner of J and 5th Streets, was built in 1900 and was constructed of brick and mortar with cast-iron columns and show windows. 

Originally built for $1,900 in 1912, the (5) Nanking Café (Asian Fusion) is a single-story building with cast-iron columns on the front facade. It has operated as various Asian restaurants since its construction and at one point was only a front for a lucrative gambling parlor in the back.  Next (6) The Manila Café, built in 1930 has been a Chinese restaurant from 1931-38 and 1944-73 and a billiard hall from 1939-43.  It served as a backdrop for scenes in the movies In God We Trust and Writer’s Block.

The (7) Callan Hotel at 502 5th Street is a historic structure built in 1878.  The (8) Lincoln Hotel, 1913, is a four-story, steel-framed building featuring a distinctive Chinese architectural treatment conveyed through a red clay tile roof and decorative hollow clay tile on the façade.  The (9) Yuma Building, 1888, was the first brick structure, first owned by Captain Wilcox, Captain of the U.S. Invincible.  The ground floor of the small but beautiful structure housed a variety of retail establishments.  In 1912, The Yuma building was the first to be closed during the sweep of the redlight district.

A bit of history was that in 1912, citizens influenced politicians to clean up the Stingaree, as it was known.  From the 1880’s, San Diego had attracted gamblers and prostitutes, including Wyatt Earp who ran three gambling halls.  In 1912, police arrested 138 prostitutes in the district.  One hundred thirty-six agreed to leave the city and 2 agreed to reform, however; one changed her mind and the other was declared insane.  The upshot was that San Diego became unpopular as a liberty port for the Navy. 

The (10) Backesto Building, 1873, among the finest office buildings of its day, housed Klauber and Levi, a pioneer grocer and general-merchandise firm from 1878 to 1886.  The (11) Cole Block, 1891, is typical of commercial buildings that were built downtown around the turn of the century.  The Llewelyn Building, 1887, stands as a Victorian-style landmark.  First operating as a family shoe store until 1906 when it became a hotel with many different names and had an unsavory reputation.  The (12) Spencer Ogden building, 1874, is the oldest structure in the district to be owned continuously by the same family.  Early tenants included realtors, an import business, drug stores, a home furnishing business, drug stores, a home furnishing business and from 1902 to 1922, dentists, including one who dubbed himself “Painless Parker”.  The (13) Marston Building, 1881, is an example of Italianate Victorian style.  The (14) Keating Building, 1890, a Romanesque style building, had such conveniences as steam heat and a wire cage elevator and was heralded as one of the most prestigious office buildings in the city at the time. 

The (15) Louis Bank of Commerce, 1888, punctuated by twin rising towers was San Diego’s first granite building.   It is an excellent example of Baroque Revival architecture.  The four-story structure housed the Bank of Commerce until 1893, when Isodor Louis opened an oyster bar that became a favorite of Wyatt Earp.  The upper floors later became the Golden Poppy Hotel, a notorious brothel run by fortune teller Madame Coara.  Her ladies wore dresses colored to math the doors of their rooms.

The (16) Nesmith-Greeley Building, 1888, is an example of Romanesque Revival style known for its brick coursing and circular lower elements capped by simulated stone towers.  The (17) Watts-Robinson Building, 1913, was one of San Diego’s earliest skyscrapers, this building is an excellent example of the Chicago School of Architecture. The marble wainscoting, tile floors, and brass ornamentation are complemented by the original, ornate lobby ceiling. The building was long a favorite of jewelers; at one time, 70 occupied offices in the building were of gemologists.  We showed up with the Gaslamp Quarter Architectural Guide and a camera and were allowed to take the elevator to the top floor to enjoy the view of the city.  The Saint James Hotel, 1912, was once San Diego’s tallest building and was extolled as “first class in every respect, with excellent service”.  The hotel featured a barber shop, a Turkish bath, a billiard room and an observation room that boasted the finest view in the city. 

Driving up the Coast

Day 3 of our trip found us driving up the coast, stopping for a brief visit to see La Jolla cove where seals and sea lions bask upon rocks and play in the surf.

We took our time going up the coast from San Diego on North Coastal Highway 101. It’s interesting to be able to get a real sense of where places are as you drive along the highway. Passing by Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Camp Pendelton (which I done some work at in the 1980’s), San Clemente, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach (i.e., Surf City), you can associate places and where they actually are along the coast. By the way, California beaches are fantastic in comparison to the East Coast, so big and wide, they put the East Coast to shame.

We stopped in Long Beach for the evening but took the opportunity to visit the Queen Mary. As a child, I remember traveling on ocean liners.  One, I believe, was the Queen Mary so I was very interested in seeing the ship to see if I could remember anything more vividly.  Unfortunately, the visit didn’t bring back any specific memory.  It was still worth visiting the Queen Mary to have some memories of those trips across the Atlantic to see my Grandparents, Mamie and Papi, in Paris.  I kind of remember big dinning rooms where we would have dinner with white table cloths, looking out on the ocean from the deck of the ship, shuffle board, once a severe storm and looking out on a boiling ocean, a cramped cabin with a porthole, evacuation exercises and putting on a life vest, NYC and the Statue of Liberty, but then I was between the ages of 4 and 8 when we took these excursions.  If you’re wondering what the last picture is, it’s the propeller looking down through a hole cut into the bottom of the ship.

Santa Barbara

When visiting Santa Barbara, in my humble opinion, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a must. The courthouse is a Spanish-Moorish architectural masterpiece with a 80 foot clock tower which has a great view of the city. Generally staying away from courthouses is a good idea and that’s from someone who worked in the Federal Judiciary but many courthouses might be considered museums. Many Federal courts around the US have moved whole court rooms that were built in the 1800’s that are treasures into new buildings so as not to lose outstanding works of woodwork and stone. In this case, the whole courthouse is a treasure.

Be sure to walk down De la Guerra Street and find the courtyard of Casa De La Guerra. Casa De La Guerra was constructed by the fifth Presido commandant, Jose de la Guerra, who was among Santa Barbara’s wealthiest and most influentail citizens. From there, you will see the plaza De la Guerra where the City Hall building is. We should have given ourselves more then a day in Santa Barbara but we saw as much as we could in the time allotted.

Before leaving Santa Barbara we went to the Old Mission Santa Barbara Museum and Garden tour. The church’s architecture design was taken from The Ten Books of Architecture, written by the Roman architect Vitruvius around 27 B.C. The artwork displayed is from Mexican artists of the 18th and 19th century. The cemetery dates from 1789 to the present, containing burial sites of early Santa Barbara settlers and Native Americans. The Skull Carvings placed over the church doors were used to indicate a cemetery location. The Sacred Garden was originally used as a work area for the Native American peoples to learn building trades. The Fountain was built in 1808 along with the adjacent stone lavanderia which was used by the Native Americans.

After visiting with our old friends, Liz and Len, in Buellton and enjoying some wine tasting with them and their daughter, we again hit the road. Our next stop was in Morro Bay along Route 1. Morro Bay is a coastal city and is known for Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic mound at the end of Morro Rock Beach. The rock sits within Morro Bay State Park, home to lagoons, trails and a bird-rich saltwater marsh.

Next on our way to Monterey was enjoying the drive along the Coastal highway through Big Sur State Park. What can one say about the California coast in this area, spellbinding vistas.

On our way we stopped at McWay Falls, a tidefall, a waterfall that empties directly into the ocean. McWay Falls has an 80 foot drop to the ocean and is a spectacular sight.

Further along, we stopped at the Bixby Canyon Bridge which is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world and one of the most photographed.


The Monterey Peninsula has a rich history. First inhabited by the Rumsien Indians for several thousand years. Unfortunately, the arrival of Europeans decimated the local natives by disease and imported livestock. The Spanish arrived in 1542, led by the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Sebastian Vizcaino found Monterey bay in 1602, naming the bay after the Viceroy of New Spain. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican flag flew over Monterey for 25 years. In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Monterey was occupied. When gold was discovered in 1848, statehood was pushed and in 1850, California became the thirty-first state. San Jose was chosen as the first permanent seat of California state government, ending Monterey’s years as California’s capital.

Our first stop was at the Cooper-Molera Adobe which is a National Trust Historic Site, dating from 1827. Next is the Monterey Museum of Art followed by the Larkin House. The Larkin House is a two-story mud adobe brick home built during Monterey’s Mexican Period by Thomas Oliver Larkin. It is known as the “prototype” for Monterey Colonial architecture. Colton Hall was built to serve as a public school and town meeting hall. It now offers visitors a re-creation of the meeting room where California’s first Constitution was drafted in October 1849 and exhibits on early Monterey. What trip would be complete without a trip to the Monterey Jail built in 1854. We also strolled by the Alvarado Adobe built in the 1830’s and the home of the first Monterey born governor of California and the Gordon House built in the 1850’s.

It took some time but we found the Stevenson House. Reportedly, Robert Lewis Stevenson rented a second floor room of the French Hotel as it was known and gather ideas for later works including Treasure Island. We walked down to the waterfront and found the Customs House, built in 1827 by the Mexican government to collect customs taxes. Moving on, we discovered the First Brick House in Monterey which ushered in the American Period brought Gallant Dickinson who, in 1847, introduced a new building technique to California, the art of fired clay brick making, replacing adobe. Close by was the beautiful home and garden of the Old Whaling Station. The old adobe was built in 1847 by David Wight as a home for his wife and daughter.  The home was based on Wight’s ancestral home in Ayton, Scotland.

Also in the area, is the Casa del Oro house, the Pacific House Museum and California’s First Theater.

Our final views of Monterey where of the harbor and the Point Pinos Lighthouse that gave such a wonderful, peaceful view of the area. We’d love to come back. We left late that afternoon for San Jose and caught a plane the next day to return home but won’t forget the beauty we found along the coast of California.