It's probably fitting that this picture of downtown Los Angeles (the best daytime picture we have of it) is so smoggy. Los Angeles is generally a smoggy place during the day. Really it's quite alarming, particularly when driving down into one of the valleys from the mountains and you can see the smog layer visibly approaching. We intended to spend some time downtown, particularly in the various ethnic neighborhoods but we ran out of time. We did spend an evening in the Little Saigon area of Westminster (in the southern suburbs) though. We're pretty sure we had authentic Vietnamese food there, although it's sort of hard to tell really since we still aren't sure what we had. It was good though.
Hollywood. There are very few places you can drive around for the first time and recognize everything. Every building, every street name, it's really quite amazing, especially since we don't consider ourselves to be exactly connossieurs of pop culture. Nevertheless Hollywood geography has somehow insinuated its way into our heads and probably everyone else's too.
Before we get to this seal, we should mention traffic. There is a lot of traffic. It's really quite alarming, even at 2 AM on a Thursday. One thing we definitely learned - never ever go anywhere on a Friday evening. Now, back to this seal: This is a seal. He lives at the Long Beach Aquarium which is absolutely the best place to see them because most LA - area beaches are dotted with oil platforms so you can't really expect much in the way of pristine marine life.
You definitely won't see sea otters, although that's because they don't generally come this far south. The Long Beach aquarium not only features them, it features them eating out of pumpkins. Oh, and also the leafy sea dragons. If you don't know what a leafy sea dragon is (and by all rights, not many people should), you should look them up sometime. They're quite amazing. If you can't get to Long Beach, the Tampa aquarium in Florida has a fine exhibit on them as well.
There you have the Queen Mary. This is as close as we got to it because, well, we really had no interest in visiting it. Apparently it can be toured though by people who are more interested in touring large retired cruise ships.
Long Beach was probably our favorite area in Los Angeles county. It's relatively clean (for Los Angeles), it doesn't seem to get smoggy, and it has lovely pedestrian areas. To the north, Venice Beach and Santa Monica are definitely more interesting in terms of people watching. The beaches to the south, in Orange County are much more dramatic in terms of natural scenery.
We spent most of our time in Orange County which is well, mostly populated with shopping malls, or alternative concepts of shopping malls. There's the occassional public beach with limited or expensive parking, and some very nice wilderness areas that never seem to be open to the public. On the plus side, the air is much cleaner, you can tell if the sun is out or not (normally) and they've showed remarkable foresight in traffic planning (unlike Los Angeles).
Our best pictures of Orange County are all here, at the southern end of it in San Juan Capistrano. This is the mission San Juan Capistrano which was founded when southern California was an inhospitable barren wasteland. Now that they pipe in all their water from the Sierra Nevada mountains, it's just seasonally inhospitable and definitely not barren.
The mission is famous for its swallows which traditionally leave for Argentina every autumn and return in March. Apparently there's been a decline in the returning part of that equation in the past few years but there's still plenty of swallow memoribilia around if you're in the market for it. It is an extremely picturesque mission though. There were four (count 'em 4) weddings in progress in the mission when we visited.