I have been to California countless times in the 17 years I have been covering the RV industry, but I have to admit my experience has been mainly confined to the area around Orange County and San Diego.
San Diego is one of my all-time favorite places to visit. It has perfect weather year round, plenty of things to do, extraordinary places to eat and the ocean. Who could ask for more? Yet, its outlandishly expensive and finding people who speak conversational English is a genuine challenge.
I was in San Diego for almost a week earlier this month. The Sweetwater Regional Park is a wonderful place to camp. It’s out of the way with some incredible views of the valley. Best of all, at $33 per night for a full hookup, it is very affordable.
Using that as a base camp, my recently-retired about-to-become-a-full-time-RVing uncle and I enjoyed the seals of LaJolla, the activity at one of the nation’s only glider ports, the community of Mission Beach, the gas lamp district and lunch at the legendary Hotel del Coronado.
We had dinner with friends at a restaurant overlooking San Diego bay as the sun set, which cast a golden hue to the infamous skyline. We also walked through some interesting vessels — including a submarine — on display at the Maritime Museum. Like I said, there is never a shortage of things to do in that city.
The following week, I was up in Anaheim where I got to walk the streets of Downtown Disney and travel, stop, travel, stop, travel, stop along Los Angeles’ massive legendary parking lot that, upon occasion, actually allows cars to move from one point to the next.
That has pretty much been my experience each time I visited “California.” It’s very metropolitan and nice place to visit, but you could never pay me to live there.
That’s especially true after I was ticketed at a Los Angeles County beach back in 2002. One of my daughters wanted me to bring her a “pretty pink rock or shell” from the ocean. I had a few minutes before I needed to get to the airport and pulled into a beach parking lot about five miles from LAX.
There I discovered the minimum parking rate was $5, and they didn’t have a parking attendant or a change machine, nor did the meters accept credit cards back then. I figured if I put in the $1.50 I had in my pocket into the machine, it would buy me enough time to get to the beach, find the silly pink rock or shell, and get back to my car. I figured wrong. It’s $5 or you don’t park.
The parking police had a $50 citation on my window when I returned 12 minutes later. I haven’t spent a dime in Los Angeles County since then.
But, the past two weeks, I ventured away from Los Angeles and the noise, humanity and smog. In doing so, I discovered there are actually two Californias — one wild, crazy and congested, and the other relaxed, fragrant and beautiful.
My first stop on that leg was in Holister, a sleepy little community not too far from San Diego, but far enough. The Holister area is home to miles and miles of farms and orchards and a few small towns scattered into the mix.
Even driving on the highways, you can smell citrus in the air. In a few months, there will be fresh cherries, apples, plums and apricots on the trees. Farmers grow every conceivable type of vegetable in that area. You’ll also find an assortment of nuts — the real crunchy kind, not the Los Angeles and San Francisco variety.
I could hear the cows mooing at night and watch them work their way through the hills during the day. It reminded me of my home state of Wisconsin, except the hills were bigger.
Unfortunately, my schedule only allowed a few days in Holister, so the region is on the list of places I really need to explore sometime in the future.
The next stop was Sacramento, which was like most other state capitol cities, except I never encountered a traffic jam. It’s a very historic community with plenty of museums and other cultural attractions. I took a day trip to Auburn, which was an old mining town split in two by the railroad and split again by the Interstate.
I spent a few days at the Cal Expo RV Park, which was nothing more than a parking lot with full-RV hookups and a building with restrooms and showers. But, it offered the fastest Internet connections of any RV park I have been to at speeds exceeding 38 megabits per second. The park was convenient to the highways and, in season, there appeared to be a full schedule of things to do at Cal Expo itself.
From there, it was pedal to the metal all the way up the mountains, and all the way down again. The scenery was splendid with the snow-capped mountains providing quite a contrast to the vast sea of green below. I spent one night in tiny Mt. Shasta, which sits at the foot of a mountain from which the city derives its name.
There is so much snow on the mountain that officials actually think the nearby Mt. Shasta Lake could flood this summer as the snow melts. The crisp mountain air and the smell of pine trees was noticeable. It would have been the ideal night for a campfire, but I didn’t have any wood.
My RV spent most of the next day groaning to get up one mountain and braking constantly to get down another. This went on for hours with each vista offering spectacular views of mountain valleys, lakes, acres of pine trees or spacious farms.
In one of the valleys, I saw a sign posted on a ranch welcoming everyone to the State of Jefferson, a reminder of the succession movement underway by people in northern California who no longer want to bear the burden of supporting the ever-expanding populations in the southern part of the state.
It makes sense to me. Put the counties of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa into one state, and call it Utopia where the residents can speak 400 different languages as they ignore you on the street.
What the heck? Toss in San Francisco County as well. Although anyplace where a family can earn $225,000 per year and still qualify for subsidized housing deserves to be a country of its own.
The rest of the counties can remain in California and bask in the sovereignty of a spectacularly beautiful state in a laid-back, friendly environment. With a bunch of national parks and an ecosystem that includes an ocean, lakes and streams, deserts, mountains, forests, farm land, orchards, wineries and wide-open expanses of land, California is worthy of any time invested in the northern part of the state.
The next time I head up this way, I’ll travel from Phoenix to Kingman to Needles. From there, traveling anywhere but southwest will ensure a memorable adventure. In fact, I can’t wait to come back.