Saturday, May 19, 2012

Road Food in Southern California

The surf’s up and the convertible top’s down on Highway 101, southern California’s famous coast road. Along with its cross-country counterpart, Route 66, it helped make the road trip a classic American experience. The endless miles soon became dotted with neon beacons, beckoning hungry, weary travelers into a pit stop that became a fast-food icon – the American diner.

Diners have their roots in the horse-drawn lunch wagons that set up on street corners in the late 1880s to feed hungry shift workers, newspapermen, and theater-goers, looking for food after the restaurants closed.
They evolved into rolling restaurants with a few seats inside, known as “dining cars” and then simply “diners.” By the late 1920s, companies – most famously O’Mahony’s of New Jersey – were manufacturing prefabricated diners built to look like railroad dining cars, in Art Deco designs, which were then shipped to their locations. By the 1930s they had acquired all their trademark characteristics: gleaming stainless-steel bodies, shiny chrome counters with swivel stools, tile floors, Formica tables in deep leather booths, and flashy jukeboxes full of dance records.
Today, as always, diners serve inexpensive homemade fare. Daily “blue-plate specials” might feature chicken and dumplings or Mom’s meatloaf, with a hearty helping of potatoes and vegetables.
All-day breakfasts range from sunny-side-up eggs and biscuits to whopper stacks of buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup. The soda fountain churns out thick, creamy chocolate malts and strawberry milk shakes to accompany juicy burgers, fries, and chili dogs hot off the grill. There’s hot fudge sundae or a fat slice of banana cream pie topped with a tower of whipped cream to finish, and all the coffee you can drink.
By the 1950s there were over 6,000 diners across the country, and car culture came into its own. In the balmy nights of southern California, teenagers cruised “the strip” looking for fun (or trouble) and diners became drive-ins, where you placed your order over a speakerphone and ponytailed carhops brought it to your car, often on roller skates. Though the cars and hairstyles have changed, the fascination with the California lifestyle continues. Highway 101 has it all: the surfing hotspots of Oceanside and Huntingdon Beach, the swanky yachts of Newport Beach, and the bright lights of Hollywood – and along the way, flashes of neon and gleaming steel that promise bottomless cups of coffee and homemade pie.

Large, comfortable cars and Art Deco–style diners are classic symbols of 1950s Americ

Three Days in Southern California
Southern California offers a great range of sights, activities, and environments.
You can go from big, bustling theme parks to quiet coves, or small, exotic cactus gardens to huge wetland bird preserves and even old mission churches to modern art galleries, all within a couple of hours’ drive of each other. December to March is whale-watching season, with excursion boats leaving from several locations. Whether you’re a surfer, a beachcomber, or a sunset-watcher, the coast is a highlight all year round.
DAY ONE : Spend the day at SeaWorld San Diego for a close encounter with dolphins, sharks, sea lions, penguins, and other aquatic creatures. The impressive shows feature performances with dolphins and orcas.
DAY TWO : Visit Mission San Luis Rey, the largest of California’s 18th-century Spanish missions, at Oceanside. Then head for Oceanside’s Buccaneer Beach to watch the surfers. In the afternoon, browse the art galleries at Laguna Beach, or admire the yachts at Newport Beach.
DAY THREE : Take a morning stroll along the pier at Huntington Beach, another top surf city. Then head into Los Angeles and don a pair of roller skates to watch the wilder characters on the boardwalk at Venice Beach.

Generous helpings of pancakes, syrup, and blueberries are a staple of California’s diners

Getting to California
Fly into an international airport at either San Diego or Los Angeles and rent a car – this is absolutely essential for exploring.
Where to stay in California
The Dana (inexpensive) in Mission Bay is a short walk from SeaWorld and the beach.
Casa Laguna Inn (moderate) in Laguna Beach has charming rooms with ocean views in a mission-style inn.
Oceanside Marina Suites (expensive) has spacious rooms with balconies looking over the ocean or harbor.
California Welcome Center, 928 North Coast Highway, Oceanside;

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