A road trip from San Diego to Los Angeles will take just a day, but you will be experiencing two cities with very different feels to them. Though this is a simple drive, you will be exposed to spectacular ocean views and drive along a portion of the famed El Camino Real or 'royal road' which stretches for 600 miles. It gained this exotic-sounding name because it was one of the country's first long-distance paved roads.
Just twenty-five minutes from San Diego lies a hidden gem in the form of La Jola Cove. This hilly seaside resort and marine reserve offers superb snorkeling and a plethora of seaside hikes. The cove is enclosed by impressive cliff faces that frame sprawling ocean views.
While there, a ‘must-see’ visit is La Jola Cave Store, which was established in 1902. This man-made tunnel leads to a secret underground cave. You descend a wooden staircase at the bottom of which a walkway leads you to a cave that is open to the sea and in which smugglers once stored their illegal alcohol. There is also substantial evidence that points to the cave being used as a way to smuggle in opium and other illicit products.
If you snorkel in the Scripps Coastal Reserve, which is highly recommended, you will see plenty of unusual sea life. Regular sightings include such creatures as giant sea bass, barracuda, orange Garibaldi, and even turtles.
If snorkeling doesn’t work for you, then try out one of the many trails. An excellent one for a short hike is the Coastal Walk Trail. Along the way, you will see sea lions basking in the sun and pelicans relaxing between fishing trips.
Before getting back on the road you might like to grab a quick breakfast. Brockton Villa Restaurant is an original beach cottage with great views of the ocean.
A further hour’s drive will bring you to Mission Saint Juan Capistrano, the birthplace of Orange County. This former mission was once occupied by self-sufficient missionaries attempting to convert the local native population. It is now two hundred and forty years old and has been converted to a fascinating museum that attempts to explain the multi-cultural and religious heritage of that part of California.
From March onwards, the mission becomes the summer nesting site of thousands of swallows that have migrated from Goya in Argentina. Legend has it that one of the missionaries spotted a local shop owner knocking down the bird’s nests as they were messy. He then invited the birds to set up home in the mission which they immediately did. The day this occurred is St Joseph’s Day on the 19th of March, and there has been a celebration at the mission on that day since the 1930s. People still come from all over the world to witness the return of these swallows.
If you are ready for lunch, the restaurant Ramos House cafe is in the center of Los Rios which is the historical district of San Juan Capistrano. In a now almost forgotten tradition, the owners live in the café and prepare wonderful contemporary cuisine but with a southern twist.
The hand-churned ice cream is definitely worth a taste.
The final leg of the journey to Los Angeles will take just an hour and ten minutes. After your relaxing day trip, you suddenly find yourself in the largest city in California with its diverse ethnic population and a correspondingly diverse array of restaurants and entertainment. Here there is always something to see and do, though you may need a moment or two to readapt to the fast-moving city pace.