Now, we had visited him (and this area) before, but it was quite a long time ago, when the girls were relatively young, and I must confess that I don’t have strong, clear memories of too much of that trip, although I do remember going to Disneyland, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo. Anyway, this trip gave me a chance to get some impressions of the parts of southern California which we got to see (nowhere near all of it) and they seemed worth writing about.
We arrived in the rather late afternoon on a Sunday (although it seemed two hours later to us, local time being 2 hours earlier than Omaha.). So, in spite of having a flight time about a full hour shorter than we had planned (was scheduled), about all we did that evening was go out to dinner in Old Town San Diego and drive around the city a bit. We ate at an interesting place called Berta’s Latin Cuisine, which features a wide variety of Central and South American dishes, not just the “Mexican,” or “Baja” stuff which is all over the place (logically enough) in this part of the world.
On Monday, we went to visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, which is located on the coast adjacent to the UCSD campus and is a part of UCSD. Quite a nice aquarium, if you go for that sort of thing (I sort of do), but not really more impressive than the one at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. Scripps is, after all, primarily a research facility, but it was nice to know that our Omaha aquarium seems to compete pretty well. Then we had a very nice lunch at the UCSD Faculty Club. I presume that membership is restricted to faculty (perhaps including staff?), which was frowned upon in NC as “unfair competition” to local restaurants, so what passed for a “Faculty/Staff Club” at Western was just a bunch of folks who got together at the end of the day on Fridays for a drink, or two, and an occasional party. Not the same thing at all.
Tuesday, we started our excursion to Los Angeles. Since Bonnie (and her brother, of course), were raised by a mother who was a high school art teacher, our first real stop was the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This museum is HUGE (with apologies to DJT), several buildings and lots to see. We walked a lot and saw a lot of stuff, much of it (like a David Hockney exhibit) quite interesting. The museum is located next to the La Brea Tar Pits (which we did not explore), and I was amused by the large building across the tar pits with SAG/AFTRA plastered all over it. Somehow, having a big actor’s union building next to the tar pits, just struck me as funny. (I know, I’m weird!) After seeing a good deal of the museum (not all, but a lot), we drove around downtown LA for a bit and finally figured out how to find LA’s Chinatown, for a Chinese food supper. It was good, perhaps somewhat more authentic than the “Chinese food” we get at the grocery store, in local restaurants or cook for ourselves, but similar enough to be a sort of “comfort food,” at least for me (I like Chinese food!). The day ended with our finding our way up to the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clarita, way north of town, but not a bad location for the plans we had.
Wednesday was the BIG day, at least for me. We went to Universal Studios Hollywood, which really means that we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Yes, we did go on the Studio Tour, which I do recommend, but it had few real surprises for folks who know something about stage/movie scenery, etc. The tour does take one around actual, working scenic “streets” as well as including some special effects stuff like watching a “flash flood” develop and experiencing an “earthquake” and seeing “Jaws” attack a fueling dock on Amity Island. It was fun, but maybe I know too much to have had much in the way of any real surprises. I confess that I found the “Wizarding World” to be a bit of a disappointment, as well. Don’t get me wrong, I had a thoroughly good time and would not have missed it for the world, but I don’t find myself holding my breath until I get to go again. I had seen a YouTube video of the experience at Olivander’s where one person per group is selected to be the “wand seeker” by the Wand Master, so that wasn’t a surprise, but it was fun, nonetheless. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait longer, however. The “Forbidden Journey” ride was quite disappointing to me. I felt it was unnecessarily rough (to make it “thrilling,” I guess) and not all that well executed. On at least one occasion, as I was being rolled onto my back, I saw a group of ellipsoidal spotlights providing some of the light for the scene. (Such things are guaranteed not to please people who have spent their lives trying to accomplish theatrical “magic” by making sure that people DON’T see how it works.) The queue for this ride took one through a number of locations in Hogwarts Castle, but were, I felt, so dimly lit as to make it hard to enjoy them. None of us really being “roller coaster people,” we didn’t ride The Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, although it didn’t look too extreme and might have been fun. Lots of places to shop, of course, so we spent a lot of money (should have spent more, there’s stuff we didn’t get that we now wish we had) and we did have lunch at The Three Broomsticks (The Hogs Head is a separate section for “adult” beverages). I got Fish and Chips (I’m very fond of fish and chips) and a frozen Butterbeer as it was getting warm that day. I’ve had better fish and chips, but they were not bad and the Butterbeer was good, although I sort of wish I’d not gotten a “frozen” one, as it was a little hard to be sure one really got the flavor because it was like a snow cone, very icy. We wandered around much of the rest of the Upper Lot, which was fun, but didn’t have a strong inclination to ride any other rides. On the way through the “Universal CityWalk” back to our car, I couldn’t resist sticking my head in the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (‘cause I like the movie) and the Voodoo Doughnut shop because I was intrigued by the Voodoo doll doughnut with a pretzel stake through it (although I resisted buying one, sigh). See below:
The next day, Thursday, we visited both the Getty Villa and the Getty Center, two variations on art museums. The Villa is a reconstruction of a Roman villa (located very near Getty’s actual home) and is interesting just as an architectural piece, but it does house a nice collection of Greek and Roman art works of various types. I was, of course, most intrigued with the pottery, etc., showing actors and the like, but I was also intrigued by the semi-classical theatre structure (which is used for concerts, etc.), both because of its resemblance to real period structures and by its differences. Here’s an overview picture of how the Villa is laid out. Note the theatresque structure on the lower left side of the picture.
On Friday, we checked out of the hotel and drove to the Huntington Gardens & Museum, the home of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, and lesser-known Pinkie. I enjoyed this a good deal, probably because there is one building which focuses on 18th and 19th Century British painting, of which I am, generally, fond, although other buildings have a good deal of other sorts of works, and the library exhibits were quite enjoyable. It’s also not so huge that one doesn’t feel too rushed unless you really try to do and see “everything,” which usually results in not really seeing much of anything. I particularly enjoyed the Joshua Reynolds painting of Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse, probably due to the theatre connection, but I liked it in any event. The library exhibits (including a First Folio) were also of special interest to me. After a pleasant walk through some of the museum buildings and some of the gardens (my knee was bothering me some, so David and Bonnie did more of the extensive [and beautiful] gardens than I did), we continued on to Pasadena to visit the Norton Simon Museum which I was familiar with primarily as some buildings in the background of Rose Bowl Parade coverage. It’s quite a nice museum, with a not huge collection and a good variety of works. I was interested to see one of the bronze castings of Degas’ La Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans, as we have the plaster from which the better-known bronzes (seen in a number of museums)were made at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha. The statue is, of course, superficially the same, but there are slight differences and it was interesting to consider them. Supper was at El Maguey, a place in San Juan Capistrano on the way back to La Jolla. (Finally, real “Mexican” type food!)
Saturday was relatively quiet, but we did take a walk along the La Jolla waterfront to visit the seals and sea lions (and the tourists). Ran some errands, etc. Not an exciting day, but pleasant enough.
Sunday, we had tickets to see the matinee performance of American Mariachiat the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. This is a new play which started at the Denver Center earlier this year and was currently playing at the Old Globe. A nice space, drastically altered and updated from the original “Globe” built as a copy of the Globe at the Century of Progress in Chicago in 1935. Anyway, the play was well presented and I enjoyed it a lot. We had gotten to the park before it got too hot, and so had killed some time visiting the San Diego Museum of Art which was featuring its “Art Alive” exhibit. This is quite an intriguing exhibit. Local florists pick a piece from the works in the collection, then create a floral arrangement inspired by that work. I confess that I didn’t “get” the connection in most cases, but the works (floral AND artistic) were worth seeing and the museum wasn’t so big that we felt rushed to see it before lunch at The Prado; then, on to the play….
On Monday, we did a bit more exploring of the San Diego area including another walk on a different beach. We also walked around a “yacht” harbor and saw a lot of boats, followed by a visit to Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first Franciscan mission in what is now California. It still functions as a church (apparently) and was worth seeing. After some packing, we had supper in a student eatery on campus, followed by an evening concert of chamber music on the UCSD Campus. A nice, relaxing way to spend our last evening.
Our flight was early on Tuesday, so we had to get out early and grab a bite of breakfast at the airport before our 8 am flight, which got to Omaha over an hour early. (Do airlines just add time to the schedule to make people happy when they are early? It sure seems like that could be the case.) Anyway, we got home tired, but having had a busy, but very enjoyable trip.
After some reflection on the trip and the amount of time we spent in art museums (not a bad thing to do), I have to acknowledge that I am probably not as fascinated by art museums as my wife (or brother-in-law), nor am I really up for the amount of walking which they seem to take in stride. Having spent some time looking at the comments which are typically posted near art works describing why they are of importance, I was reminded of my lack of real interest in the opinions of art critics, most of the time (See post #110 in the archives). Sure, they have a right to their opinions, as well as the right to express them, but the Non Sequitur strip in the paper shortly after we got home just struck me as dead on.