Culture Shock In Green California, Where Even Homeless People Drink Craft Beer

homeless drinking beerI live in a very left-leaning community just outside of Chicago, a city that would sooner elect a Martian than a Republican to office. But even though I’m accustomed to mingling with people who listen to NPR’s “Car Talkin order to feel like honorary members of the proletariat and cast stink eyes at people who fail to bring their own bags to Whole Foods, traveling to California, the state that invented cool, still presents a kind of culture shock.

We went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, traveling in a carpool lane for much of the way, and noticed that all the best parking spots were reserved for hybrid cars. On our Africa tram ride at the park, our driver gave us a lecture on how to drive (slow down, come to complete stops, use proper tire pressure) in order to help us be more green. Afterwards, we repaired to a nearby mall to get my sons, ages 3 and 5, slices of pizza and noticed a Caucasian family all eating with chopsticks in the food court.

I approached the mother and told her I was impressed that her children, who ranged in age from 4 to 15, were using their sticks so deftly.kid eating sushi“They’ve been eating sushi and using chopsticks almost since they were babies,” she explained. “The trick is to tie them together with rubber bands for them to practice.”

My son, James, is such a bad eater that he actually nibbles around the exterior of McDonald’s chicken nuggets so as to avoid eating the stuff that is supposed to resemble chicken in the middle. If we can’t find pasta, pizza, mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese, McDonald’s or peanut butter, my kids are in trouble, but these kids eat sushi for God’s sakes?

In Laguna Beach, we had dinner at a fast food Mexican place called La Sirena Grill and when I asked the cashier why the food was so good, I got another dose of eco-California.

“Everything is all natural,” he said. “The fish is wild, sustainably caught. The mixed greens and the rice and beans are all organic. The meats are humanely raised and even these containers are made out of corn.”

We stayed at my brother’s home in North County and noticed that he has three cans for different types of garbage and recycling provided by the city. And if you’re anywhere near the Pacific, you’ll see legions of surfers, cyclists using bike lanes and nary an overweight person in sight. (Although there are a startling number of people in this state who supposedly need medicinal marijuana for various health problems!) Chain restaurants in California are required to display the calorie count next to menu items and many other restaurants do so as well.

waterless toiletIn San Diego, our hotel encouraged us not just to keep our same sheets and towels but also to decline housekeeping altogether. And in a La Jolla cupcakery (organic, of course), we encountered an eco-friendly waterless toilet. Is it any wonder that 7 of the country’s top 30 greenest cities are in California?

And if you’re looking for a psychic, a tarot card reading or some kind of eastern style wisdom seeking, California is certainly the place for you. In Encinitas, I saw this enormous complex with golden domes (see photo) and a sign advertising “Self Realization Fellowship” and thought, only in California.

One of the other things a traveler can’t help but notice in California is that there are homeless people everywhere. A 2011 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness put the total population of homeless in California at 135, 928, while other estimates put the figure at closer to 200,000.

self realization center encinitasAs a traveler who covers a lot of ground on foot, I’ve encountered dozens of homeless persons every day so far in my travels around Southern California and it isn’t possible to help them all. Southern California’s mild climate makes it about as good a place as any for homeless people in the United States but it’s hard to know if most of the homeless here are native Californians, people who moved here on a wing and a prayer to follow a dream that didn’t work out, or people who were already homeless and moved here to take advantage of the warm climate.

Whatever the case may be, at least some of them apparently still retain their good taste in beer. I saw a young, heavily tattooed and pierced homeless man drinking early in the morning in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and at first I thought he was drinking some kind of cheap 40-ounce beer. But upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a 22-ounce bottle of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale.

Along that same brighter culture shock angle, it’s practically illegal to drink Bud Light or other bland, mass-produced beers in San Diego and other parts of Southern California. In hipster circles around the country these days, it’s socially acceptable to drink either very, very bad cheap beer, like PBR or Old Style, or craft beer, but certainly not Bud, Miller and the like. There might be people drinking bad beer in San Diego, but I certainly haven’t noticed them.

Last night in San Diego, I was in the mood for some good beer, so I did a quick Google search of brewpubs in the area and found that there were at least 32 to choose from. It’s no wonder that Men’s Journal named San Diego the best beer town in America. I ended up at the Coronado Brewing Company, which serves up a pretty damn good English Brown Ale, but the dizzying selection of places almost had me feeling nostalgic for the days when cities had just a handful of places to drink good beer and it wasn’t so hard to figure out where the hell to go.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, eyeliam and Darin Barry on Flickr]

Dude, The Surf’s Always Up In San Diego’s North County

del mar north county san diegoIf you want a taste of quintessential California beach culture, complete with a heaping dose of surf, sand and tacos, head north of San Diego to North County. When I’m in Southern California, I don’t mind soaking up the cliché tourist experience: I want to be on the beach, gazing out at the limitless Pacific Ocean, watching the surfers, preferably with a taco or three in hand. Here’s an idea for how to spend a totally epic day in North County and La Jolla, dude.
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Start the day at Pipes Café, a killer breakfast spot very close to the beach in Cardiff by the Sea. Step up the counter and order the #1 breakfast burrito ($5.95), which comes with sausage, avocado, cheese and, get this, five eggs. Five eggs for God’s sakes! When my bad boy arrived, the beast took up the entire basket (see photo) and I practically needed a forklift to get the damn thing up and into my mouth.


breakfast burrito pipes cafe cardiff by the seaI’m a total glutton, but I couldn’t come close to finishing this frightening, but very tasty creature. I liked it so much that I couldn’t help but ask some locals sitting next to us about the feasibility of moving to the area with my wife and two little boys.

“Well, North County is really expensive,” said the guy who would have looked right at home in a J Crew catalog. “Basically, the closer you get to San Diego the more expensive it gets. Oceanside isn’t too bad, then Carlsbad, Encinitas and Solana Beach will be more expensive than that and things really get crazy in Del Mar and La Jolla.”

north county san diegoMy hopes of moving to North County dashed, I knew we’d have to make the most of our visit, so we drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway, taking in peeks of the Pacific when it wasn’t hidden by large homes, shopping and hotels along the way.

I worked off about 5% of my ridiculous breakfast burrito with a short walk in Encinitas’s attractive little town center followed by a longer walk on the beach in Del Mar, a pristine beach community if ever there was one. I watched the surfers, who were out in force on a day when the waves were up to a gnarly 8 feet, and fantasized about winning the next Powerball drawing and moving to this fine place of soaring palm trees, trendy restaurants and stunning Pacific vistas.

carne asada tacos rudy's taco shop Before I knew it, it was lunchtime and since I tend to follow an all taco & burrito diet when I’m in California, we backtracked north a couple miles to Rudy’s Taco Shop, a hole-in-the-wall place in a strip mall in Solana Beach that specializes in carne asada. I was ready for a siesta after scarfing down two of their salty, melt-in-your mouth carne asada tacos, but summoned the energy to press on south to La Jolla, which means “The Jewel” in Spanish.

La Jolla is filled with pricey shops, but we were in town to soak up the natural splendor of the place so we headed straight for the waterfront. I don’t think there are many more scenic places for a stroll anywhere in the country than the area around Scripps Park in La Jolla. There’s a long walkway set up high above the crashing waves of the Pacific below, flanked by neat rows of soaring palm trees.


We walked down to Seal Beach and my sons, ages 3 and 5, got a huge kick out of seeing dozens of seals lying comatose on the beach as though they were sleeping off hangovers. Every few minutes one of them would decide they wanted to change their spot and would hop around awkwardly as the assembled paparazzi fired off shots of them.


sea lions la jollaA local, who told me I was standing too close to the seals, also mentioned that the seals give birth right on this beach each year from January through March. After my kids had their fill of the seals, we walked a half-mile north to gawk at a colony of sea lions that were all huddled up on top of each other on a huge rock.

There’s been a huge controversy over the supposedly foul smell of bird crap in La Jolla, with many merchants claiming that the smell is scaring away customers, but I didn’t even really notice it other than for a brief moment when we pulled into town. Anyone who dwells on bird crap in a place this beautiful is a little jaded, if you ask me.

bull tacosAfter a few hours wandering in La Jolla, we repaired to Bull Taco, a taco stand located up on a bluff above the Cardiff State Park beach that advertises itself as “inauthentic Mexican.” It only seemed fitting to wind down my culinary day the way I started it – with a tortilla in hand. This time, I had three tacos – shrimp curry, sea bass and a lobster, chorizo and bacon beauty. Inauthentic? Maybe, but damn good as well.

We drove further north and enjoyed an extravagant sunset at South Carlsbad State Park beach. On a late Saturday afternoon in December, the beach scene in North County was magical for a cold weather family like us.


Families were taking their Christmas card photos on the beach, no doubt to taunt their cold weather friends, surfers of all ages were emerging from the crashing surf, raving about the “epic” waves and people who drive posh sports cars happily mingled with surf bums living in beat up old camper vans with rusted old California plates. In the fading light, we beat a retreat, intoxicated from a day of Pacific delights, not ready to go home but determined to return one day to this idyllic little corner of America.

[Photo and video credits: Dave Seminara]

Video Captures A Day’s Worth Of Airplane Arrivals At San Diego International

Remember that New York Magazine cover by Ryu Ho-Yeol showing the departure of a score of aircraft from a German runway? It’s actually a composite image stitching all of the aircraft together, and we’ve now the same thing in video format.

Over the Black Friday weekend, filmmaker Cy Kuckenbaker captured every single aircraft landing on one runway at San Diego International airport and merged them into one composite piece of film. It’s an impressive task when you consider the moving background and the number of clips involved. Take a look at the impressive shot above.

Surf ‘N Stay: 5 California Hotels Where You Can Learn To Ride The Waves

If you’re looking to try your hand at surfing this summer, there’s no better place to pick up a board than California. For decades, California’s surf beaches have beckoned rookies and professionals alike with their laidback atmosphere and consistent waves. Dozens of surf schools line the coast, offering instruction from beginner to advanced. But if time is limited and research intimidating, look up the following hotels, which offer surf packages on California’s gnarliest beaches to help ease the introduction.

Huntington Beach, Orange County
Huntington Beach Surf Experience at Shorebreak, a Joie de Vivre Hotel
Includes: accommodations, equipment rental, a bar of Organic Surf Wax, an “Endless Summer” DVD, and a two-hour surf lesson.
Available through September 30.

Coronado Island, San Diego
Hang Ten, Then Hang Out at the Hotel Solamar, a Kimpton Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter
Includes: accommodations, equipment rental, transportation to Coronado Island, picnic lunch, surf lessons for two at the Coronado Surfing Academy.
Available September 6 through December 31.

%Gallery-160800%Malibu Beach, Los Angeles
Room and Board Package at The Four Seasons Westlake Village
Includes: accommodations, surf-themed welcome amenity, equipment rental, surf lessons for two at Learn to Surf LA. Option to add on a 2012 Jeep Wrangler car rental.

Salt Creek Beach at Dana Point, Orange County
So Cal Surf Experience at the Ritz Carlton-Laguna Niguel
Includes: accommodations, equipment rental, a two-hour surf lesson for one person per night.
Available through December 31.

Redondo Beach, Los Angeles
Noble Adventures – Surf & Sand at The Portofino Hotel & Marina
Includes: two nights accommodations, $100 dining credit, Beachcomber cruiser bike rentals for two, surf lessons for four at Campsurf.
Available through September 1.

[Flickr image via *~Dawn~*]

Video Of The Day: San Diego Fireworks Fail


Millions of Americans went back to work today after the Independence Day holiday yesterday, and many began tweeting about the July Fourth fireworks display in San Diego. Apparently, due to a malfunction, instead of a 20-minute show, ALL the fireworks went off at one time, lighting up the sky for only a few seconds. YouTube user Andrew92106 uploaded today’s Video of the Day, showing off the short but sweet spectacular.

Hoping for a longer holiday? At least tomorrow is Friday. Keep the holiday mode going and share your favorite holiday travel videos in the comments below.