So when I got tapped for this Top Five thing, it was a bit complicated because I was all… what the hell am I going to write about. Asking Naomi produced a few things BUT she was all, tell us about the Top Five things in California. Be our guide, she said. Well, that I can do because I do love California. Mind you, these are the Top Five things for me. And I’m a little off so, let’s just keep that in mind.
This will be controversial because if there’s one thing California is known for, it’s traffic. Driving in California is sometimes a test in patience or a good way to listen to audiobooks because you’re stuck for a good twenty minutes or so moving a few feet at a time.
But see, it’s also a wonderful stretch of concrete and asphalt ribbons leading you through dynamic neighbourhoods, towering redwoods, sweeping forest and desert vistas, past crystalline lakes and curving around a coastline butted up against the glorious Pacific Ocean. It connects us in ways you can’t even imagine and there’s nothing better than driving up the coast and simply drinking in the drive, music on loud and a really good friend or two at your side.
People will also argue about this but I’d fight anyone on this. Mostly because if there’s one thing Californians have held onto when they came here is their cultural foods. Their comfort foods and then they take those foods and twist them, introducing things and flavours to elevate the experience. From the dim sum at Hang Ah tearoom in SF to the ramen at Maruya in Los Angeles, there’s a fine representation of delicate flavours. You’ve got Korean BBQ in Koreatown, LA and carne asada fries in San Diego. Want a burger? In N Out is a hands down favourite but you have to know your way around the menu. Fries should be well done and animal style. A Double Double with onions is fantastic but also toss on grilled onions and some peppers. Tom N Tom will make you a great coffee and not so sweet dessert and BCD Tofu in LA will serve you a whole fish with their panchan… crispy and delicious enough to want more.
We experience one another’s lives in our food. Until you’ve eaten elote (Mexican street corn) from a kiosk while walking through Santee Alley, you’ve not really eaten corn. There are five star restaurants you’ll never want to leave and whiskey bars hidden behind a door of a pub that only serves flights of prime shots. We definitely have it all and you’ll never leave hungry. Like all things, a meal is best enjoyed with friends and over great conversation.
You’d think this would be a part of driving but it’s not. California is a car-mad state. We love our cars. Not just the car but what it looks like, how it handles, and the care people take in maintaining them. I love nothing more than to go to a car show and see what other people have fallen in love with or a quarter mile legal street drag event, just to hear the roar of a V8 hitting its peak.
There’s something about owning a classic car and stopping to talk about someone else’s car. It’s an odd thread we weave through our California culture. An appreciation for the clean lines of steel and paint.
Yeah people are going to fight me on this one but I LOVE Disneyland. I love its retro statement and most of all, I like how I can get from piece to piece without slogging through miles of empty space filled up with shops and odd things. Disneyland and California Adventures is compact but well designed and there’s something truly magical about seeing little kids spot Mickey for the first time in their lives or the shock of seeing the dragon erupt in the air during Fantasmic. The food is great—special shout out to the churros and fritters—and if you can, eat at the restaurant at Pirates because it’s just fun.
Mostly, it’s about the fireworks and the people and everything. It’s a chance to be a kid again without having to have an early bedtime. You can do a lot or do very little and it’s great to people watch. We have other theme parks but this one is… like mac and cheese or mashed potatoes and gravy made exactly as your grandma used to make. It brings us a bit of childhood wrapped up into small bites for you to enjoy at your leisure.
5. Pop Culture
This is going to speak to something in California a lot of us don’t really think about but really is very present. It’s not so much pop culture as it’s…blended culture, a social experience of sharing we all really enjoy. It manifests in things like K-Pop and the blues. We bring you graphic novels and movies, changing the landscape of our society. There’s a lot going on in the art world here but also a historical presence. You can go to a car museum in the morning and go stomp around with the dinosaurs in the afternoon. We have discovered a whale fossil while digging a reservoir for the San Diego zoo and now have in hanging from the ceiling braces in the San Diego Natural History museum. We explore our past and sculpt our future. You can celebrate Chinese New Year with a huge parade in SF and then the next night, hit up a fantastic blues show next to Fisherman’s Wharf. We’ve been instrumental in saving pandas and hopefully, in time, will work to better the lives of others.
We love sharing our interests while at the same time, try to listen. That’s a big part of California. We do try to listen to the world around us and try to do the best we can for the person next to us. Don’t always succeed but we try. People here will be nice to you, even in the larger cities. I think that’s something that’s present in most of the world. I do.
California is a place to explore, not just what’s around you but also what is inside of you. It’s where you find chaos and peace. Where you can run across a whole new kind of tattoo style or discover a hidden treasure at a flea market you’d never seen before. We have an avenue of stars with names on them but we also have observatories to see the ones sparkling above you. We have museums dedicated to cartoons and also to the tragedies of the Holocaust, so we don’t forget the history of either. We preserve the laughter and the tears. It’s important to who we are. Who we will become.
So, that’s my Top Five about California. I actually tried to get a lot of this into the Kai Gracen series because California is as much a part of those books as the characters. It’s a great state and while I do love exploring others, I love coming home just as much.
And not just because my dog lives here.