We've all heard the expression "Nothing is sure but death and taxes." To that, I'll add: for non-Californians, driving in Southern California is sure to be a harrowing experience. With its spiderweb of freeways and drivers who appear to be in qualifying heats for the Indy 500, even the stoutest of us can turn into cringing, white-knuckled cowards.
What if I told you that you can experience three SoCal cities without having to rent a car, and worse, getting behind the wheel of it. The trio -- San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara -- are linked by Amtrak, and once you're in each, through use of public transport, the occasional Uber and your own two feet, you can get pretty much everywhere you need to go.
SAN DIEGO -- WHERE CALIFORNIA BEGAN
I began my odyssey in San Diego, the Golden State's southernmost city where history and good weather reign supreme. I checked into the Guild, a luxury boutique hotel just a block from the city's Spanish-style train station.
Long on charm (it occupies a 100-year-old building), it's short on hassle. I was able to walk to both the Gaslamp and Little Italy districts where a slew of restaurants and bars offer a smorgasbord of entertainment options (absolutely do not miss dinner at Born and Raised, a movie-set gorgeous space, and then after-dinner cocktails at its rooftop bar.)
It's also a quick walk from the Guild to the waterfront where a ferry provides transportation to iconic Coronado Island and its even more iconic Del Coronado Hotel.
The "Del" as the locals refer to it, opened in 1888 and is a National Historic Landmark. Described as a cross between "a luxury cruise ship and a wedding cake," its red-domed cupola is instantly recognizable, and the stretch of sandy beach is sure to inspire California dreamin,' especially if you are overlooking it during lunch on the patio at the hotel's Sheerwater Restaurant.
I did need an Uber to get to beautiful Balboa Park, the upscale enclave of La Jolla and the Cabrillo National Monument.
Balboa Park covers 1,200 lush acres and its distinctive Spanish mission-style architecture houses 17 cultural institutions ranging from the Spanish Village Arts Center to the Elizabethan-inspired Old Globe Theater. Since I was here at lunch time, I found Panama 66, situated in the Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden, an ideal spot.
La Jolla, with its beautiful coves and rocky cliffs, is calendar-worthy. A walk along the cliffs is an essential experience, as is stopping in for a drink at the seaside La Valencia Hotel and dinner at the legendary Marine Room.