California 2009, Part 1

So I landed in L.A. at the ungodly hour of midnight, after a long layover in Portland, then a 90 minute stop in San Francisco, and I have to say that LAX is downright awful. Half an hour to get my bags, and then another trek out to the rental car lots. I reserved a car, they didn’t have any left, so I got this:

20+ capacity, more than enough room for my luggage

20+ capacity, more than enough room for my luggage

And then exchanged it the next day for this (the one on the left):

VW Beetle, thanks Alamo.

VW Beetle, thanks Alamo.

The plan was to spend a couple days in L.A. recovering, then to make the long drive up to the Bay Area, east to the 395 and the Sierras, and back down to L.A.

Somehow I never felt that I ever get to really explore L.A. The city is so sprawling, and so huge, and so diverse. I love the city, and it is going to take a lifetime or several to really get to know it. The city for me is about the possibilities of life, this wacky juxtaposition of cultures, cuisines, and ways of life that you never imagine. In Europe, the cities are old, beautiful, but with few exceptions, have stopped reinventing themselves. In L.A. the city changes every day, every hour, as only a city perpetually on the edge of natural and man-made disasters can be.

So much for recovering- I met a friend in Manhattan Beach for coffee, drove to Koreatown for lunch, and walked it off by exploring the very swank, spacious Windsor Square neighborhood on foot. I drove through Hancock Park, and drooled over the 2010 snowboard stuff at the Burton Store on Melrose. Then it was back to the South Bay to watch the sun set over the Hermosa Beach Pier, followed by Peruvian food for dinner- the world in one day.

lunch.

lunch.

Windsor Square, with a skyline of palm trees

Windsor Square, with a skyline of palm trees

Sunset from the Hermosa pier

Sunset from the Hermosa pier

dinner.

dinner.

The next day it was a tour of the vast L.A. basin, south central L.A., Watts, Compton, and stopping in East L.A. for fish tacos.

Foggy morning in Manhattan Beach

Foggy morning in Manhattan Beach

Fish tacos in East L.A.

Fish tacos in East L.A.

Watts Towers

Watts Towers

The original McDonalds, Downey

The original McDonalds, Downey

Up to San Francisco, and to avoid driving all the way on the very dull, crappy I-5, I cut over to Coalinga and followed the San Andreas Fault the rest of the way up to the Bay Area. Good choice, it was scenic, despite being a parched landscape. But it’s classic California, rolling hills, giant oaks dotting the landscape, and golden (read: brown) brush that’s ready to go up in flames.

Along Highway 198, Monterey County line

Along Highway 198, Monterey County line

San Francisco is the antithesis to L.A., I like it in its own way, as the great metropolitan village with to-die-for views from nearly everywhere. But I’m not a fan of the fog belt and the endless blocks of concrete in the western part of the city. Still, the diversity and beauty make it a great place to visit, although I’d choose to live in L.A. I normally hit up the tourist sites when I’m in town, eat my requisite burrito, walk around Chinatown and North Beach, hang out in the Mission, and wind my way up and down the hills.

San Francisco's concrete jungle, the gloomy Sunset

San Francisco's concrete jungle, the gloomy Sunset

Downtown from Russian Hill, a bit nicer part of town.

Downtown from Russian Hill, a bit nicer part of town.

Chinatown, San Francisco

Chinatown, San Francisco

I met a friend for lunch, and she mentioned that opening night at the San Francisco Opera was that evening, so I headed for the box office and picked up a standing room ticket for the hefty price of $15. This plus dinner in the Tenderloin came out to a grand total of $27, so it was a bit of luxury on a budget. The opening night performance was Verdi’s Il Trovatore, with a rather silly plot mixed in with some very familiar music like the Anvil Chorus. The singing was pretty good though, with Dmitri Hvorotovsky in the lead role, a somewhat weaker tenor, and two excellent sopranos in the female leads. All in all, it was a good way to end my stay in the Bay Area.

S.F. Opera opening night

S.F. Opera opening night

So, coming up, part 2, my Sierra adventure.

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