As much as I loved my time in New York city in 2012, it is still California on the west coast which I have the most affection for as that was where I first entered the country in 2002 before returning nine years later for a road trip through the state as well as Nevada, Texas and New Mexico.
Before entering America back in 2002 at the tail-end of my world backpacking trails I was told by many to go to San Francisco or San Diego rather than stay in L.A. Money and time restraints meant that the latter was a far more realistic option and so as my trip was coming to an end I took a three night break from the sprawling suburbs of L.A. and headed down close to San Diego where I experienced some great hospitality from a local stranger.
Thanks to the journal that I kept at the time it is now possible to recall the events of that experience.
On May 1st, 2002, I paid $23 for the 127 mile return trip on the Greyhound bus (where I saw a motorcyclist fall or get knocked off his bike though he thankfully seemed ok and got back on) where on arrival I rang Ocean Beach International hostel who had a free taxi pick-up. $16 per night was the cost of my 6-bed dorm where someone had previously left behind a breakfast bar, crisps, fruit and cash! The money was mostly one cent coins but at a time when I was desperate for money, a few nickels, dimes and quarters too totalling up to a few dollars was most welcome!
The following morning I went for a walk on the very long Ocean Beach Pier (below) which proved to be a major turning point in what would have probably been a very average day. I got talking to a bald guy called Dennis having asked him to take my picture and before I knew it I’d agreed to let him drive me to Coronado Island.
This popular wealthy island of stately Victorian homes was accessed by the two-mile San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge (such a snappy name!) which was toll free for all those not driving alone which may have explained why he was keen to give me a lift there! The islands best known feature is the eye-catching Hotel del Coronado (above) which is a beautiful fine example of Victorian architecture.
The other half of the island is the US Naval Air station that we drove by on the way to the ferry terminal which provided some decent views across the water of the city. Expecting to be dropped off back at Ocean Beach, Dennis suggested driving on towards Balboa Park which was fine by me but the fact that he touched my knee a couple of times when saying that I was such good company had me slightly worried and a part of me was still a little suspicious! I needn’t have been though and at the park we took the free park tram around some of the 1,400 acre site viewing the many museums and the San Diego Zoo which are all located in the park.
I was then treated to a ‘Jack In The Box‘ drive-thru burger and and milkshake which again left me wondering what he wanted in return! Dennis’ tour of his beloved home city continued on up to Mount Soledad (below) which had 360 degree views of San Diego county from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
We then continued on to the rich persons playground that is La Jolla (San Diego’s own version of L.A.’s Beverley Hills) where we went to the Cove Seal Colony (above) and saw dozens and dozens of seals surfaced on the beach which was considerably more than at Kaikoura in New Zealand and therefore smellier too!!
Next, we drove by the Pacific, Mission and Ocean beaches before arriving in Old Town San Diego which was basically a restored area of Victorian homes, shops, museums and patio restaurants including Bazaar del Mundo; a Spanish-style plaza (below) featuring craft shops, sun-splashed gardens, spirited mariachi groups (singing, instrument playing entertainers) and Mexican restaurants amid a swirl of colour which even I found quite enchanting.
In finishing off the remainder of San Diego’s sights, Dennis drove me through the Gaslamp Quarter (trendy downtown area full of nightclubs, chic restaurants and coffee houses) and by Shelter Island near Seaworld before dropping me off near where we met at Ocean Beach.
Dennis gave me his phone number and offered to take me to the Mexican border town of Tijuana the following day if I rang him. I did call but it was a bit late and he had already gone out so I left a message thanking him so much. I felt very, very lucky to have bumped into such a good bloke who was all too willing to show me the city he lived in.