If you recall in my year-end post, I expected my first county collecting trip of 2017 would be in Hawaii. As it turned out, I was able to sneak in a trip to Southern California this past weekend. Over the years I’ve spent quite a bit of time in and around Los Angeles and Orange County, all of it before I began collecting counties. When I lived in Seattle, I used to fly down almost every year. Since moving back to the Midwest over ten years ago, I hadn’t made a return trip until now.
California was one of only ten states I didn’t visit last year, though I did see a much of the central part of the state in March 2015. Since then, I’ve wanted to get back so I could connect two blue counties along the Mexican border with the blue counties in the central and northern part of the state. Looking at my before and after maps from this trip, I can mark that goal complete (assuming all my postcards arrive ).
While there was a fair bit of driving involved during the weekend (over 1000 miles), I did have time for a little fun as well. It was raining when I arrived at LAX Friday evening, though that didn’t stop me from pursuing my agenda. One fact I discovered before I left home was that two restaurants in downtown L.A. both claim to have created the French dip sandwich. The French dip has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, so I decided I would visit both places. Friday night, Cole’s was my destination.
The restaurant is on 6th Street between Main and Los Angeles Streets in the Historic Core of the city. Half a flight of stairs lead down from the street to the ground floor bar and restaurant. Signs outside proclaim it as the oldest bar in Los Angeles, having opened in 1908. None of that mattered to me. I just wanted to try their signature sandwich.
The verdict? Delicious. A nice sandwich served au jus for dipping, though I could have done with a slightly harder roll. Once dipped, the bread became a bit too soft. Still, the flavor was excellent. Dinner out of the way, I drove from downtown to Courtyard Anaheim/Convention Center for my 2-night stay. No upgrade, but a nice Platinum welcome gift bag which included cookies, a bottle of water, and a handwritten greeting thanking me for my loyalty. This was in addition to the regular PAG of 400 points plus a market item.
With the 3 hour time change, it was nearing midnight back home, but neither that, nor the persistent drizzle, could keep me from visiting Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. It did not disappoint. County collecting began in earnest Saturday morning with a drive to Riverside and San Bernardino. I also dropped by the old Orange County courthouse in Santa Ana. Here's the rather impressive courthouse in Riverside.
No trip to California would be complete without a stop at In-N-Out Burger, so I had lunch there before returning to my hotel. With my county collecting agenda for the day completed by midday, I spent the afternoon and evening at Disneyland. I realized that just three weeks ago to the day, I was at Walt Disney World experiencing some of the same attractions. Despite the impressiveness of the central Florida theme parks, I have a special place in my heart for Disneyland having visited often in the 1970s. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that my fascination with Tiki culture stretches back to a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room 45 (or more) years ago. Back then, the Tiki Room was one of the E-ticket attractions. Come to think of it, I still have an old Disneyland coupon book somewhere, though I'm sure we used all the E-tickets.
Perhaps the highlight of my weekend was the Saturday night dance at the Royal Theatre at Fantasy Faire (formerly the Carnation Plaza Gardens). As is often the case as such dances, women outnumber the men, so I had no trouble finding dance partners. The band, Swing Machine, played music from the swing era (think Glenn Miller and Count Basie) while I joined members of some local swing dance clubs on the dance floor. I was a bit rusty, having not been dancing regularly for the last few years, but it came back quickly. My new friend, Maddie, seemed to have as much fun as I did. FYI, she’s the one in the red dress and black sweater right up front.
Sunday morning found me headed up the coast to Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo, before heading inland to Bakersfield and back to LAX. By this time, the last vestiges of the rain that had lingered into Saturday morning were gone. I couldn’t have asked for a better day to drive along the coast. Like most of my county collecting trips, this was not a sightseeing tour. That doesn’t mean I didn’t see some interesting sights along the way. In San Luis Obispo, where I had lunch (grilled Wahoo tacos, yum! ), I wandered over to the Mission, founded in 1772 (note the perfect blue sky ).
I also dropped by the general store at Blackwell’s Corner, known as the last place James Dean stopped for gas before his fatal car crash about 25 miles west. The gas station/store is virtually a shrine to the late actor. I saw a fair number of bikers and sports car enthusiasts during my brief stop.
Something different I noticed on this trip to California was how green the hills north of L.A. were. I’m used to seeing various shades of brown. Because of all the rain this winter, the usual dun-colored hills were painted emerald. Tan fields were replaced by rolling green meadows, sere grasslands by moss-colored carpets. It looked more like Ireland than California.
Before heading home, I had one more important stop to make. I mentioned earlier that two restaurants in Los Angeles claim to have invented the French dip sandwich. I still needed to visit Philippe’s the Original to try their version. The restaurant is located on Alameda Street, just across from Union Station. I’ve been in the area several times, but for some reason completely missed eating at Philippe’s until now.
Unlike Cole’s, the sandwich at Philippe’s is not served au jus. Rather, the lengthwise-sliced baguette is dipped in the meat drippings as it is being assembled. The top and bottom of the sandwich remain dry, with just the part of the bread touching the meat moistened. While I have always liked being able to dip my sandwich as I eat, I was not disappointed in any way at Philippe’s. In fact, of the two, I preferred theirs. Cole’s offers a more familiar version of the sandwich, and while very good, I just liked Philippe’s better. Also worth noting, both restaurants serve a spicy mustard. Be forewarned, it’s made with horseradish and will clear out your sinuses . As for who invented the French dip, that debate will likely never be settled.
Next on my county collecting agenda is Hawaii. In September 2015, I made it to three of the four county seats. My trip in March will include Lihue in Kauai County, which will complete the state. I will also make it to Kalawao County despite the fact it does not have a county seat. I’ll explain more about that in my next post.