California – Tourist Towns


WITH the first frosts comes the vanguard of winter tourists to Southern California; and the streets of a dozen little cities that make a bid for tourist trade arouse themselves as a drought-stricken country-side brightens up after rain. Shops deserted during the long, dry days of sum-mer now run up their shades and blossom out into all sorts of allurements for the tourists’ patronage. There are, for instance, windows full of California and Mexican gems—tourmalines, opals, moon-stones, turquoises, and sardonyx; and beside them are trays of Navajo silver bracelets, buckles and rings, and abalone brooches, cuff-buttons, paper cutters and what not, in all colors of the sunset and more. Navajo blankets blaze in doorways and Indian baskets in designs both aboriginal and sophisticated, catch the eye at every turn. The bidders for the cheaper trade sort over their last season’s tarantulas and scorpions, mounting them on clean pasteboards, and dust off their left over trap-door spider’s nests and horned toads. In the book stores, Mission photographs are put nearer the door, and “Ramona”—perennial best seller in Southern California—is stacked up on the counter; while every art-shop with its picture of golden poppies and scarlet pepper-berries, fuzzy eucalyptus blossoms and fiery poinsettias, becomes a sort of Hesperian hortus siccus. Chinese and Japanese shops spring up over night with their punky smell of the Orient, their alluring dress-goods and potteries and carvings, their devils and dragons and bald-beaded old men in bric-à-brac, and their exquisite teacups and squat teapots, world without end. The streets thicken daily with automobiles until well after New Year’s, and the old residenter who knows most of the permanent population by heart, finds rare entertainment in the new faces that each day brings. Pretty girls in the latest Eastern thing in hats; elderly ladies of comfortable embonpoint, with lorgnettes and lapdogs; stout old gentlemen clean-shaven and florid, with Scotch bottoms to their shoes, bespeaking a solid footing in bank directorates ; nervous, dyspeptic-looking “Big Business” presidents grudgingly taking a little relaxation by the doctor’s orders; young bloods, without hats and in white flannels, talking golf, polo and motor-cars—every day you see these types and many another, taking the air and enjoying the sun from November till the lambs of March are skipping again in Eastern fields, when they begin to vanish away.

But the tourist of the motor-car type is by no means the only one. He is, of course, the mainstay of the big hotels whose rates start in at four dollars a day and leave off goodness knows where; but of the scores of thousands who every winter visit California, only a small proportion can afford that style. Far more numerous is quite another sort of tourist—those who after the railroad has de-livered them on the Coast, have mighty little left but their return tickets. Many of these are from the farming districts of the Middle West. They stroll about with poppies and big oranges in their hands, and to their pleased vision the sights are the sights of a foreign land. Now and then you see one unexpectedly meet an old neighbor from home and then it’s a slap on the back and a pump-handle shake, and “Hello, if it ain’t Hi Smith! Where in thunder did you drop from? I thought you was snowed in and froze up back in Ottumway !” This sort may stop at a small hotel or a boarding house, or they may rent a room or two in a private home and do light housekeeping, or they may get their meals out; their sight-seeing is done on electric cars and the “rubberneck” automobiles, and they are steady patrons of the picture post-card stands. Some of them thriftily carry an oil stove in their trunk, get their breakfast on it, and dine at a cafeteria. Do you know what a cafeteria is? It is a waiterless restaurant, where, following the crowd in single file down an aisle, you pick up an empty tray, and arrived before a great table spread with viands cold and hot, you indicate your choice and have it placed on your tray by the attendant disherup behind the table. Then, filing past a desk for your check, you pass into the general room filled with little tables. You take your seat at one and eat your meal in peace and quiet, paying the amount of your check to the cashier at the door as you go out. You pay for every item you get, even the use of the napkin, and there is nothing particularly cheap about the plan. Its popularity, which is great on the Pacific Coast—Los Angeles has scores of cafeterias—is based on wholesome home cooking, the opportunity afforded to see just what you are going to get before ordering it, and the absolute independence of the delays and humors of the professional waiter.

In our gossip about the tourist towns we are not thinking especially of Los Angeles, though in a very important sense it is the tourist city of California par excellence, the very hub of the tourist country, from which radiate in all directions the trips that make up a large part of the visitors’ pleasuring. But if one is going to winter in a big Los Angeles hotel or apartment house in the midst of an ambitious, seething American metropolis of three hundred and fifty thousand people, one might almost as well be in New York or Chicago for all the taste that is had of any life racy of the Californian soil. The city is now so big, so full of business of one sort and another that in a multiplicity of interests the tourist in Los Angeles, while exceedingly esteemed, is not just the noticeable feature that he is in smaller places.

Each of California’s tourist resorts has its marked individuality, though there is one feature common to all that might be eliminated in the interests of seemly brotherly love, and that is a disposition in each to speak slightingly of the others. The tourist who in Santa Barbara, for instance, has a good word to speak of San Diego, is quickly aware of a drop in the local temperature; while to dilate in San Diego upon the fine climate, say of Pasadena, is to defy the lightning. Climate, in fact, is San Diego’s specialty. On that and its bay, San Diego was founded, and by virtue of both it has reached its present eminent station in the sisterhood of California towns. If, by any chance, you are so obtuse as not to notice the climate during the first day of your stay, the San Diegans mention it to you—in fact, din it in your ears ; and it is a fine climate. It is more equable than that of any of the other tourist resorts of the mainland—warmer in winter, cooler in summer, with less difference at all sea-sons between day temperatures and night, and it is claimed that San Diego averages three hundred and fifty-six days in the year on which the sun shines. On many of these same days, to be sure, the sun-shine is sandwiched between substantial slabs of fog; nevertheless it shines enough to squeeze into the records.

“Yes, sir,” your San Diego friend will tell you, “we have the world buffaloed on climate, and as for that bay, do you know its equal?”

“There’s the Bay of Naples,” you venture, heedlessly, “have you seen that?”

“With such a bay as this before my eyes’?” he snorts. “I don’t have to!”

And there is no denying that it is a beautiful harbor. Seen from the city hills with the dreamy mountains of Mexico to the south, and with Point Loma’s ocean-cleaving headland and the Coronado peninsula stretched like protecting arms about its blue, sunlit waters, it forms a lovely foreground to the Pacific’s white-capped expanse and the. marvelous sunset skies when day sinks to China.

In the matter of antiquity, too, San Diego makes somewhat of a specialty. It is, in fact, the cradle of California’s nativity. Into the quiet bay came Cabrillo’s caravels of discovery, in 1542, and here in 1769 the Spanish King planted the first of his California colonies which were to save the territory from the designs of Russia, while at the same time the Franciscan friar, Junipero Serra, hungry for heathen souls to save, founded here the first of his chain of Indian