Originally, Los Angeles was supposed to be in San Diego. But it didn't happen, and that's a good thing, because it preserved the pristine character of a spectacular Socal destination for cruising around in a Corvette.
By way of explanation, San Diego was initially eyed for its potential to become the main commercial seaport for California, thanks to its large natural harbor. But Los Angeles won out, in part by building a two-mile-long breakwater back in the early 1900s. The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach eventually passed San Francisco as the busiest port in the United States. But what was good for commerce was bad for tourism, turning those cities' waterfronts into an eyesore, with extensive arrays of dock cranes for unloading container ships.
In contrast, while San Diego is still a major port, it hasn't been sullied by excessive waterfront industrialization. Which makes it a much more pleasant place for touring in a Vette, with clearer skies and cleaner water, better beaches and far less traffic congestion.
San Diego also doesn't have the same urban sprawl. Instead, it features more tightly knit, defined neighborhoods, such Little Italy, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Old Town. The latter is regarded as the birthplace of California, at least from the standpoint of the first European settlers in 1769. (The indigenous peoples likely had a different perspective.) Today, this historic site recreates the feel of California in the mid-1800s, with scores of restaurants, galleries, museums, artisans, and other attractions located in a tree-shaded area near the intersection of the 5 and 8 freeways, a couple miles north of the harbor.
Our tour, however, started well north of San Diego in the tony area of La Jolla (pronounced "la-hoya," possibly a mistranslation from Spanish for "the Jewel"). We then wound our way south to downtown in a trio of cool Corvettes, with George Marks, Robert White, and Robert's brother, Dave. All three of these guys are San Diego residents, and they were quite accommodating for our drive.
Owned for 25 years and showing less than 60,000 on the odometer, Marks' '63 roadster is a numbers-matching San Diego car with classic black-and-yellow California plates. This long-time runner has a 300hp 327 with a four-speed, along with a Wonderbar radio and clock that both still work. Although not restored, the car was repainted five years ago with the original color, and the bumpers were just re-chromed as well.
As for the White brothers, the immaculate '65 red coupe was purchased by Robert and wife Kim for their 30th wedding anniversary. (To be precise, he bought it from a military officer deployed in the Middle East and kept it in storage for three months until their anniversary party).
After purchasing the coupe, Robert upgraded it quite a bit with Steeroids power steering, a Tremec TKO-500 five-speed, Baer disc brakes with drilled rotors, Vintage Air HVAC, and an intake manifold, carb, valve covers, and shocks from Edelbrock. American Racing Wheels and a Custom Auto Sound stereo system provide the finishing touches. The non-original engine is a 350hp 350 SBC, while a "stinger" hood makes room for the tall Edelbrock manifold.
Robert and brother Dave (who joined us in his C6 convertible) recently attended the Detroit International Auto Show to see the unveiling of the new Z06 and C7.R race car. At the time of our shoot, they also planned to head to Sebring for this year's TUDOR race, as well as to Bowling Green in mid-2015 to pick up C7s together.
"We still have the '78 coupe that was my father-in-law's [and which] has been passed on to my older son, Ryan," Robert adds. "My younger son, Matt, has an '03 Z06 that he and I track together with my '10 ZR1. As you can tell, there are loyal Corvette lovers throughout the family."
After meeting up, our first stop was at Torrey Pines Bluffs, a popular paragliding area overlooking Black's Beach, known for its nude sunbathers and surfers. While we didn't spot any clothing-optional denizens, we were parked way high up on a cliff, and we didn't have an extra-long telephoto lens with us, either.
From there, we rolled into downtown La Jolla, overlooking the famous La Jolla Cove. Unlike Black's, the bare skin of sea lions sunning on the rocks was clearly visible. No shame there, plus nearby there's a manmade tunnel dating back to the early 1900s at the Sunny Jim Cave Store, in case you want to explore the rocky shoreline from a different vantage point.
Cruising a little further south on La Jolla Boulevard, we turned right on Nautilus street to Wind 'N' Sea beach, a famous surf spot. On a personal note, your author misspent his youth on a longboard here for several years, dropping off the steep wave peaks of this primo shore break. (He now gets his jollies by dropping the hammer in a primo Corvette.)
Heading inland on Nautilus, the road ascends in a winding fashion up to Mount Soledad, the site of a park dedicated to war veterans. This monument is now the nexus of some controversy, as the status of the large white cross there has been in litigation. So consider this feature as a visual documentation of a religious landmark that might disappear at some point.
After paying our respects to the images of fallen warriors at the monument, and taking in the expansive views of the seacoast to north, we headed south again, down the aptly named La Jolla Scenic Drive overlooking Pacific Beach. This part of town has more accessible beaches, such as at Tourmaline Canyon, plus lots of trendy hangouts and an amusement arcade in Belmont Park at the south end. Just east of this park is Mission Bay, a pleasant area for boating and water sports, and the site of Sea World.
Heading farther south you can take a leisurely drive past Shelter Island's yacht and charter-fishing marina to the tip of Point Loma, where there's a commanding view of San Diego Harbor. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a reminder of simpler times, of sailing ships and oil lamps, and the men and women who day after day faithfully tended the coastal lights that guided mariners.
But we chose a more direct route toward the harbor, stopping along the way to get a bite at the Corvette Diner, located near the intersection of Rosecrans and Lytton, on Historic Decatur Road. This '50s diner has some good grub and libations, plus waitresses singing and dancing amid the nostalgic automotive decor.
Once refreshed, we made our way along Harbor Drive to take in the view of the Coronado Island Bridge, along with the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Berthed there are some world-class vessels, including the Star of India (an old square-rigger sailing ship) and an authentic Russian sub, among other intriguing historical attractions.
A little farther south is the USS Midway aircraft carrier and museum, outside of which stands a statue rendering of "The Kiss," the famous Life magazine photo taken on V-J Day in Times Square. The urethane and foam-core statue pictured here has since been replaced with a bronze version, after a car jumped the curb and knocked a hole in the sailor's foot (and no, we had nothing to do with that incident).
When it comes to dining, the nearby Seaport Village, along with as the aforementioned Little Italy and Gaslamp Quarter, are all great areas for fresh seafood and other exotic cuisine. And if you want an exotic destination as well, but don't want to take your Corvette south of the border, you can take the Tijuana Trolley from downtown for a day trip to Mexico.
Overall, San Diego has more than enough to keep you occupied for several days of sightseeing, seaside strolling, or even beach bumming. And all because the city's harbor lost out to Los Angeles—yet really won out in the end.