Southern California Summer Travel Plans:

The Big Picture...part 2

Go back to part 1 of Summer Travel Plans: The Big Picture.

Let's Talk San Diego.

Summer Travel in San Diego and Tijuana Mexico

Despite its smaller area, it is safe to suggest that many people consider San Diego attractions to be the best in Southern California, especially when it comes to summer travel plans (although it's a great destination year 'round). Roughly 90 minutes south of Orange County, San Diego is a beautiful and historical locale, with much of the geography within close proximity of the ocean.

Flying into San Diego’s Lindbergh Field is interesting, because of the buildings and harbor that surround the airport. But as you land you get a glimpse of the U.S. Navy fleet, Coronado Island, Mission Bay (home of Sea World) and the widely diverse urban and suburban development throughout this regions of over two million residents. Look to the south as you land in San Diego and you can see Tijuana, Mexico. (This kind of "rubbernecking" is easier if there are no other passengers in your row-- on both sides of the aisle).

There is a lot of back-and-forth traffic between San Diego and the L.A. basin, but the trip is not as quick as between Los Angeles and Orange County. So you do need to think about travel times if your summer travel plans call for visits to San Diego attractions or resorts. Southern California is a big place. We'll be talking a lot more about San Diego in the near future so please stay tuned.

San Diego Tourist Attractions along the harbor

Mutually Symbiotic Relationships

Remember from sixth-grade science class, where Mr. Hacker explained how certain animals live closely with critters of another species because they help each other? The best example that comes to mind is the little bird that cleans the teeth of the hippopotamus; the bird gets dinner and the hippo avoids gingivitis. How does this relate to your summer travel plans?

Well, the lack of a professional football team in the L.A. Metro area has brought its football fans a little closer emotionally to San Diego, home of the Chargers. It is common for fans (including the Guru’s brother-in-law) to drive the 3-hour round trip down to San Diego for a Sunday game. (If you are here in the Fall, a Chargers game might be one San Diego attraction to put on your schedule.)

However, L.A. does have plenty of high-profile college sports not so prevalent in San Diego (notice I did not say S.D. college sports are not high-quality, just not high-profile). The USC/UCLA rivalry is real, although with so many alumni in the area, they have come to coexist in peace most of the time.

There are even legends where one spouse is a UCLA fan and the other a USC alumni, and the resulting offspring grow up to live normal, productive lives. (UCLA is more humble during football season, but comes alive for March Madness on the court. Vice versa for SC. If USC were to play the University of South Carolina it would be USC vs. USC, but we digress…)

But there are many USC and UCLA fans in San Diego county; some of them drive up for college football games in the fall, no-doubt passing on the freeways Orange County Chargers fans who go south for the pro game on Sunday. Do you see any connection between this and the bird/hippo thing?

Getting Around SoCal

Los Angeles freeways

The backbone of Southern California is Interstate 5 (I-5), known as the Golden State Freeway in much of L.A. County, and the

Santa Ana Freeway south of downtown L.A. all the way to San Diego. Everyone hates it and loves it at the same time, kind of a Steinbeck/Route 66 thing. It pretty well connects everything together, and our driving decisions frequently depend on whether we’re feeling lucky about traffic on I-5. Like it or not, this may affect your summer travel plans.

Even driving to San Diego attractions from O.C. requires one to think about whether they want to risk the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5), which can choke up at any of a half-dozen places, or do you drive inland to take the I-15 freeway south.

Traveling from O.C. to L.A. requires the decision to either drive up the diagonal-running I-5 or take a longer but possibly faster route like the “91” to the “605” to the “10.” More on this on a separate page. It’s worthwhile to check Sigalert on the internet for fairly accurate traffic details.

Traffic and the freeway system is, admittedly, a bigger part of our life than it should be (as the subway system is to New Yorkers), but it’s gotten a little better with major freeway widening projects and the growth of the public transit system.

There are two train options between San Diego and the Los Angeles basin. You can take an AMTRAK train to San Diego, with several stops in L.A. and O.C (a short cab ride from a Disneyland-area hotel to the Anaheim AMTRAK station would allow you to get all the way to the downtown San Diego station without having your own car). From there you could arrange for a car rental, or take a cab or bus to many San Diego attractions. San Diego has a good public transit system.

Photo courtesy S. Ginther; stunts by Alex

The regional L.A. Metrolink light-rail commuter train covers a lot of the metro area, but getting down to San Diego requires a transfer in north San Diego County. However Metrolink is cheaper than AMTRAK and runs more often than the national train service. Look for summer travel discounts on the AMTRAK website.

You might wonder why we put up with the traffic complications that come with life in Southern California. Well, for one thing you can go surfing in the morning and then be in the nearby mountains by noon or out at the Colorado River for water skiing or wakeboarding by mid-afternoon (we actually have done this).

Or you can go to any one of many world-class evening entertainment events, after hiking in Joshua Tree National Park or riding waverunners in San Diego’s Mission Bay earlier that morning. The other killer attraction is that the weather is, on the whole, just about the best anywhere in the civilized world. In fact, one of the main Los Angeles, Orange County, Inland Empire and San Diego attractions is the temperate and predictable weather.

It is not very often that you must worry about whether your picnic or trip to the ballpark or other outdoor event will be ruined by weather; it does happen, especially in the winter, but your summer travel plans are likely to be less affected by weather here than just about anywhere else. SoCal is not for everybody, but it does make for a great vacation.

A final word on the weather and seasons.

One cynical writer stated some years back that there are 4 seasons in L.A.—fires, earthquakes, floods and riots. There really are seasons, but they are more subtle than what you’ll find in Omaha. Summer seems to get the most attention; it can be 90+ degrees but the humidity is typically fairly low so you can handle it much better than in more humid areas. It cools down in the evenings, especially when we get an ocean breeze.

Southern California weather is great year 'round

It may be that you are not working on summer travel plans, but expect to visit at another time of year. In the Fall, we can still have some very warm days, but it will tend to cool down much more at night. This is when you hear about the brushfires, because the weather is dry and hot for days at a time, and we haven’t typically had any meaningful rain since April. This can even be a better time to visit Southern California than during the summer travel season, because after Labor Day much of the tourist traffic is gone but the weather is still great.

By November the days and nights are cooler and we may start to get real rain by Thanksgiving. Although a lot of the trees are evergreen, we do see leaves turn color. We don’t usually get the sub-zero cold snap that really fires up the colors.

The rainiest months are January through April. The bare trees, cooler weather, shorter days (sun lower in the sky) and snow visible in the nearby mountains make it a very nice time of year. We actually get some pretty cold winter weather at times, with lows below freezing and highs in the 50s. If you’re from Hawaii that’s really cold. If you’re from Buffalo you’re scoffing at such temperatures being called low.

The main reason we never get snow at sea level is that the air warms up when the sky becomes overcast; the only time it’s cold enough for snow is when it’s very clear. Springtime can give us cool weather, or may result in a heat wave of 100+ degree weather; and we could have both extremes in the course of a week. There’s a lot of spring skiing that goes on in the San Bernardino Mountains.

May is a good month, as the weather is almost always either great or OK, and it’s not yet tourist season. The ocean temperature does not warm up until June or July, but may stay warm well into September. So if you have a choice, and ocean activities are your primary interest, you might want to shoot for early September rather than earlier in the summer travel season. You’re likely to get better prices then also at L.A. basin and San Diego attractions. The bottom line is that SoCal is a great place to visit year ‘round.

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