San Diego, at first glance, doesn't seem to be a historic city. The visitor approaching along the freeway sees so many large clusters of new homes that it appears that the city just created itself. Wherever there aren't homes, there are glass headquarters of intriguing new companies, or sleek new shopping Hotel del Coronado complexes. At all hours the freeways are filled with vehicles moving purposefully and quickly. Perhaps more than San Francisco, this is the New California, filled with high-tech bioscientists, and definitely on the rise.
But this seemingly brand new city does indeed have its history. Explorers and missionaries were followed by citrus farmers, retirees, and moviemakers. The Navy made San Diego an important base and training center. General Pendleton (for whom the Marine camp is named) was mayor of the city. The desirable climate along with the prosperous American economy kept bringing more and more immigrants, some of them walking north from somewhere in Latin America and entering illegally. San Diego is a port of call for cruise ships en route to Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco.
We soared across a bridge from downtown to visit the Hotel del Coronado, one of the largest wooden structures still standing in the U.S. Lovingly painted with thick coats of enamel, the "Del" was built in the nineteenth century, and deservedly is listed among our great historic sites. It is of an Gardens, pool, and beach tables age with the great Florida resorts, many of which are no longer standing. It sits on a beautiful stretch of sandy beach where there is, unfortunately, no swimming allowed. (We did see one surfer defying the law.)
The Del is surrounded by gorgeous gardens, outbuildings, tennis courts, swimming pools, all neatly landscaped and groomed. It's built in a giant rectangle, with a signature circular dormered red-roofed tower over the entrance. Those who resort love to sit and read and soak up sun, while those in suits take advantage of conference rooms and power lunches. The sand was soft and clean, and a toddler equipped with shovel and pail was moving it from one place to another and back again.
The public rooms are filled with dark woodwork, museum-quality furniture and large old comfortable chairs. The lavish chandelier in the lobby caught our eye, as did the Royal Crown ballroom, whose crown-shaped chandeliers were designed by L. Frank Baum. The vaulted wooden ceilings are truly Polished mahogany bar wonderful. A helpful staffer showed us the Prince of Wales restaurant, but unfortunately he did not have a key to let us view the interior. It looks first rate, although modern gourmet restaurants seem never to be comfortable with traditional recipes -- perhaps the chefs are judged more on their originality than their ability to replicate a well-known (to us old folks) dish.
Around the basement level is a band of upscale shops, with clothing, jewelry, shoes, toys, luggage, and ice cream. Here too are beautiful bars and restaurants, and we had a fine luncheon overlooking the terrace (we thought it too hot to sit in the sun!) We were only sorry that we had waited so many years to tour this attractive and enjoyable hotel.
The following day we left San Diego to take up our travels once again. We passed acres of blackened hills as we approached the Cajon Pass, and were buffeted by Santa Ana winds roaring down the canyon. We imagined the heroic firefighters managing to stop the flames short of the large new housing Bagdad Cafe development on the other side of the road.
At the Daggett Exit, the blue sign which displayed a knife, fork and plate, and another with a picture of a gas pump, were dead wrong. Daggett seemed to be closed, but it was nice to be free of traffic. So we continued east to Newberry Springs, where the side road took us to the Bagdad Cafe. This is not the local terrorist headquarters, but an Old-Route-66 establishment bearing the adjective World-Famous. Two ladies stood in front talking. One was waitress, cook, and cashier (and probably bus-girl and dishwasher too.) We were the only customers, although another couple came in later. We remarked on the map of France on the wall. "Oh, yeah," she said, "the French love to stop here." We can recommend most highly the chicken-fried steak and eggs with hash browns and rye toast. Being in the desert always meant being somewhat of a desert rat to us, and these back-road cafes have just the ambiance we appreciate.
We always have mixed feelings about leaving California. We'll hate to leave those we visited, and regret not seeing those we missed. But there are other places to see, and other friends and family members to meet. Perhaps we're trying to fulfill Robert Frost's dream of taking all the Roads Less Travelled. One thing is true, for reasons both historic and geographic: there are more back roads in the East.