Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Winter 2011-2012: California

Santa Monica Pier
December 24, 2011-January 2, 2012 -- This past winter I traveled to The Golden State to visit family and friends. I've traversed the entire state multiple times and lived in Los Angeles for nearly nine years so I'm very familiar with California. But every trip reveals something new.

We flew on Virgin America from Washington Dulles International Airport to San Francisco International Airport and spent around four hours at the spectacular new Terminal 2, where I was greeted by a Google representative at something called a Chrome Zone pop-up shop. He explained to me that as a promotion, Google was renting out their new Chromebook laptop to Virgin America customers. The Chromebook could either be used while waiting in the terminal for a connecting flight or on a flight to another airport with a similar pop-up shop where it could be returned.

San Francisco appreciates culture and it even extends to its airport at the SFO Museum, established in 1980 "for the purposes of humanizing the Airport environment, providing visibility for the unique cultural life of San Francisco, and providing educational services for the traveling public." The temporary exhibit on display when I visited was titled "Revolutions Per Minute: The Evolution of the Record," which illustrated the history of records and album cover artwork. S.F. has such a rich rock and roll history, so it was fitting that there was an exhibit at the airport celebrating the history of records and album covers.

We then flew from SFO to San Diego. "America's Finest City" is conservative compared to liberal San Francisco, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of interesting things going on. In fact, architecturally there are some very modern additions to the S.D. cityscape, including the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge. The Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge is one of the longest self-anchored pedestrian bridges in the world. The bridge crosses over the train and trolley tracks and connects pedestrians to the Convention Center and Petco Park, the home of the Padres baseball club. It is an architectural marvel and shows San Diego's commitment to constructing a pedestrian friendly community.

Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge in San Diego
After spending time with family in San Diego, I took the Amtrak train up to Los Angeles to visit friends. We went on a hike around Temescal Canyon. The greater L.A. area offers amazing hiking trails that are easily accessible from the city. Temescal Canyon is a valley lying in the Los Angeles County portion of the Santa Monica Mountains. The hike up to the top provides spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the Los Angeles basin. On clear days you can see the downtown L.A. skyline and as far as Long Beach and beyond.

L.A. is a sprawling urban jungle that is unique in that within the city and county limits, there are so many excellent hiking trails that provide an easy respite from the constant traffic, smog and stress of the city. High above the city, the hiking trails of the Santa Monica Mountains are an oasis of peace and quiet, clean air and spectacular natural surroundings. Not many cities offer the year-round warm and dry weather and close proximity to so many amazing hiking trails.

Tinseltown's unique proximity to so many excellent hiking trails with breathtaking vistas reminds residents and visitors alike why it is so important to preserve the fragile ecological balance of the planet so future generations can enjoy the same natural surroundings and climate we too often take for granted.

Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades looking south.
I also paid a visit to Santa Monica State Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. If you have never visited Santa Monica, it is the crown jewel of the Los Angeles area. The city is progressive politically and geographically compact and manageable compared to big, sprawling L.A. County. It is bike friendly with a fantastic bike trail on the beach called The Strand. It is walkable too, with pedestrian friendly shopping areas like the Third Street Promenade and the newly renovated Santa Monica Place.

There is nothing like watching a sunset on a perfect, balmy Southern California evening and there is no better place to watch the sun set on the far horizon of the Pacific Ocean then the end of the Santa Monica Pier where you feel like you are at the edge of the world. Standing at the edge of the Santa Monica Pier as the sun sets is an exhilarating, spiritually uplifting experience.

While California changes faster than you can charge an electric vehicle, the experience of watching the sun set on the Pacific Ocean is as old as the earth itself. It is an experience that makes California a special place on this spinning blue planet of ours.

Here are more pictures from my winter 2011-2012 trip to California.