If you're anything like me -- and, dear God, you'd better be -- your work schedule is far from the Monday-through-Friday nine-to-five norm we've mocked and derided since...well, forever. My "work week" goes from Friday until Tuesday, and my hours vary from day-to-day. This leaves me with a "weekend" in the middle of the week. It sucks in that all my friends have conventional jobs and I can't get drunk at sporting events or barbecue on the weekends. This schedule does have its benefits. I can do weekend things in the middle of the week, and be virtually undisturbed by crowds and/or traffic. Yup, it's usually just me and the old, retired folks when I gain the courage and energy to leave the comfort of my non-air-conditioned apartment during these hot summer months.
I want to share with you some cool places and ideas for how to spend a day off in Southern California. I'm sorry if this alienates a whole lot of you, but maybe those of you who do not live in the area can use this as a mini travel guide the next time you visit this lovely state. Whether your destination is San Diego, Los Angeles, or anywhere south of the Tehachapi Mountains...here's a handy top ten list -- with pictures, even! -- to help you fill your free time.
In keeping with the widely agreed upon "list" format, this one is ranked from least interesting option to most interesting option. I choose to work in the "list" format because in November of 2007 an author for the Sacramento Bee called lists one of the worst journalistic achievements of all time. And since I'm an arbiter of bad taste and lazy journalism, I figure it is my duty to be as lazy and unlike The New Yorker as possible.
- Dearly Departed Tours - Since most people spend the majority of their time in LA inside an automobile, at least you can spend some of that time learning about some weird shit that's gone on in one of the largest cities in the world. There's at least one -- and probably more than one -- company that will take you and your friends on a tour of the city's underbelly, visiting sites of famous murders and more. As a bonus enhancement, some tours include binders with autopsy photos and taped 911 calls to help aid the experience, so make sure you fill up on gastronomic portions of greasy Mexican food before the tour starts!
- Catalina Island - It used to belong to a native tribe until some Spanish explorer came along and claimed it for his home country. Since then it has served as a home base for Russian otter hunters (insert collective "Aww!" here), smugglers, and fisherman. These days the population is a little over 3,000. It's home to thousands of species of plants and animals that aren't regularly found in Southern California, including a herd of bison that once numbered more than 500. Pretty impressive considering the island itself only measures about 20 miles in length. You have to travel there by ferry, and in keeping with the edict of responsible use of the land, the use of motor vehicles is restricted. Most of the residents of the island get around by golf cart. It's really cute, kind of like a retirement community in Florida...
- Los Angeles Memorial Pet Park - Don't get me wrong, it's not like I get off on the idea of dead animals. But I had a lot of fun the last time I went to the county pet cemetery. It's a quiet place to spend an afternoon, and you can see the final resting place of a lot of famous Hollywood pets (and even some movie stars!). For example, there is Tawny the MGM Lion (pictured at left), Did you know that Hopalong Cassidy’s horse is buried at the park? I’ll bet you didn’t know that Rudolph Valentino’s great dane Kabar is also buried there, either. Kabar haunts the grounds, supposedly. I didn't hear any howls on that afternoon, but it'd probably make for an amazingly cool field recording if I were to capture the sounds of a haunted pet cemetery! Did you know at the precise moment of Valentino’s death (3,000 miles away in New York), Kabar let out such an unearthly howl that Beatrice Lillie, who was driving past the estate, heard it and almost drove off the road? Steven Spielberg’s Jack Russell is there too, and possibly Petey from the Little Rascals!
- Mission Bay - A quick jaunt down the 5 Interstate leads one to San Diego. On the way, make sure you stop at the Sorrento Valley Road exit off I-805. An issue of Weird California
described this exit ramp as a “gravity spot.” What that means is, if
your car is parked at the bottom of the hill, and you put the car in
neutral, it is supposed to roll backwards up the hill. Sounds spooky,
right? Wouldn’t you know it, it actually
works! My car started rolling backwards — almost right into the car that
was stopped behind me! Walking parallel to the water in Mission Bay (.JPG) makes for a great lazy afternoon. There's also a little roller coaster near the bay, which I was conned into riding. I hate thrill rides, but that one was pretty alright. On the way back, you would be wise to stop at the AleSmith Brewery just north of Mirimar Marine Corps Air Station in North San Diego. Show up any time Tuesday-Friday between the hours of two and five o'clock (afternoon, duh!) to take a tour. If you're continuing north, stop at the Stone Brewery in Escondido. Their brewpub serves some of the best pub grub I've ever had.
- Pizza Port Breweries - If you're feeling very daring and you have a reliable designated driver, hop on Interstate-5 and try to visit all three Pizza Port Breweries in one day. The renowned breweries, which have won numerous awards since the first one was built in 1997, serve up some truly bizarre and tasty beers as well as great pizza. You will be hammered by the time you leave. Since I live in Los Angeles, I would suggest you drive all the way Carlsbad, then hit up the Port Solana Beach and San Clemente locations on your way north. Do the exact opposite if you're living/staying in San Diego county. At one of the locations make sure you try the beer buddies (bite-sized pieces of crust or wholegrain beer crust brushed with garlic or cajun spice and served with marinara). My favorite Port brews include the Pier Rat Porter in San Clemente, Sharkbite Red Ale (or its cousin, Shark Attack Triple Red), and the Night Rider Imperial Stout in Carlsbad. Oh if only beer was acceptable to consume at every meal!
- Salvation Mountain - A stones throw away from The Salton Sea (see #2), Salvation Mountain is a marvel of human persistence. It was suggested to me as a noteworthy side-trip by a bartender in the area. The mountain, which is entirely artificial, was constructed using adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons of paint. It is always in a constant state of construction and renovation. If the mountain's creator, Leonard, is on-site when you're visiting, you just might find yourself pitching in and helping with his project. On my first trip to Salvation Mountain, Leonard was nowhere in sight. A few weeks later a co-worker went at my recommendation, and wound up spending several hours helping Leonard haul materials up to the top of the mountain so he could continue to solidify and expand his mammoth creation. You might recognize the mountain as the image of the mountain from the back cover of the Kyuss album ...And The Circus Leaves Town.
- Salton Sea - The Salton Sea is, pardon my vulgarity, one of the most fucked up places I've ever visited in America. I can't even begin to describe the story of the sea, and the horrors that befell it and its surrounding cities. In the most basic of terms, it went from an immensely popular tourist attraction to a almost uninhabitable shit storm. On the day that I went, the rank smell of a fish die-off filled the air on both sides of the sea. The images of destroyed structures and barren wastelands were both heartbreaking and incredible at the same time. Simply put, a day-trip to the Salton Sea is an indescribable journey into one of the country's most unusual geographic and historic treasures. For a hilarious time, please refer to my story: A Trip To The Salton Sea.
- Joshua Tree National Park - I bring every visitor to Southern California and guest that I have to Joshua Tree. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and offers some of the country's most remarkable views and photo opportunities. You can visit the Gram Parsons memorial rock, climb formations in the area known as Jumbo Rocks, or hike to the Lost Horse Mine and explore its amazing artifacts. From Keys View you can see all the way to the the Salton Sea, which is almost 100 miles away. I recently traveled to the park on my day off to take some photographs and record some of the area's natural sounds. You can read about it and hear the field recordings here.
For those of you who live in Southern California, please feel free to share your own experiences or weird/amazing places you like to visit. There are many, but due to spacial constraints and the fact that I have to leave for my softball team's game in 30 minutes, I had to cut this one a little short.
Be good dear readers -- and have safe travels!