May182010

So Long, So Cal

My headache subsided as we reached the sea air of the city of Ventura around noon Sunday. The morning coastal fog was a little less brown traveling out of Los Angeles County.

SoCal is so crowded. Truly.

It is a fact that the SoCal area is densely populated. 17-million-plus people according to the 2000 census live in an area of about 3,000 square miles of urban sprawl. Development stretches solidly from Los Angeles County south to San Diego and east past Riverside. There are lots of mountain ridges surrounding the LA basin and Orange County valleys and there are views all over of the barren hillsides too unstable for development, and even some desert tracts without houses or businesses or freeways, but travel north or south on the I-5 or I-405 San Diego freeways and you drive for hours through a solid mass of tract homes, shopping malls, industry—light and heavy, surface roads and infrastructure to support the largest and most densely populated metropolitan sprawl in the USA outside of urban New York City.

Kelley asked where downtown LA is located as she looked out the car window for the tallest skyscraper on the West Coast. I pointed my finger in the direction where I thought the downtown skyscrapers were located relative to our position on the 405, but we couldn’t really see it through the coastal fog-smog.

In comparison to SoCal, the San Francisco-East Bay-San Jose corridor is around 5 million people living in a city on the peninsula that ends with the Golden Gate Bridge and under 1,000 square miles spreading primarily east and south of the San Francisco Bay and extending through the valleys. The primary difference between the two densely populated areas of northern and southern California is an abundance of natural space left around San Francisco’s dense urban development.

The San Francisco Bay area has plenty of access to the undeveloped seashore or just a short drive allows you to hang out in the forests of trees to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge or south along the eighty mile stretch of peaks and valleys in the Santa Cruz Mountains separating the Santa Clara Valley (San Jose area) from the sea. Kelley and I drove along Skyline Drive ten days ago where the road runs the ridge top and views of both the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean provide a breathtaking vista on a clear day.

The Santa Cruz Mountains is the location for the Tour of California cycling race today from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Kelley is a Lance Armstrong fan. My cheers go out for Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck. We can’t wait for the Tour de France.

Back to the OC

There were some beautiful moments and remembrances throughout the weekend. The view out the 16th floor windows of the Hyatt Long Beach to what is a truly long strip of sandy beach is a Southern California dream. Kelley liked the water fountains on the coastal islands. I explained to her the islands a few hundreds yards out in the water are actually decorated oil wells. She had a clue after an hour walk on the sandy beach in the lapping water and five minutes scrubbing her blackened feet back in the hotel room.

Oil Drilling with Flair

I hadn’t been in Long Beach for nearly twenty years and I was impressed by the downtown and waterfront development. The area has appeal with brewpubs, restaurants, the Aquarium, the beach, the Queen Mary, walking paths, light rail, and entertainment spots.

Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor

Hyatt Long Beach is attached to the Long Beach Convention Center. The hotel was perfectly situated for the festivities of the weekend.

California dreaming in Long Beach

Long Beach was preparing for a gay day with 80,000 attendees projected for the Long Beach Pride Festival. I love a good party. Unfortunately, Kelley and I were both sick with a flu-type cold. I was so sick that I hardly took any photos of the Hyatt Long Beach hotel.

Hyatt Long Beach

On a foggy Saturday morning, a ray of light shone through a bright spot to illuminate a center portion of a bridge with a radiant white glow while everything else remained a subdued foggy grey. The day was not a day for me and Kelley to party anyway as my family gathered on the hillside of San Pedro above the sparkling Pacific in the cool afternoon sun of Saturday. We came to SoCal to memorialize my sister’s husband who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the young age of 52 in Seattle two weeks before.

Dana, my brother-in-law was a brilliant man and loving husband originally from the OC; a Renaissance literature scholar, www.Shakespeare.com founder, and computer science engineer educated at UC Santa Cruz and a doctorate from Yale University. He had a preference for quality over value in travel and fine dining while maintaining a progressively friendly sensibility to politics and the environment.

The artist's reflection

He and my sister help me maintain some sort of connection to the current pulse of the finer arts in terms of music, literature, theater and film. They never asked me for hotel advice. They were more focused on experiential travel rather than value travel. We generally met up in Las Vegas these past few years where I would visit them in their room at the Wynn or Bellagio and they would visit me in my suite at Planet Hollywood. I often had the bigger room but they generally had the more upscale room. They are the kind of guests hoteliers love.

“Ain’t it funny how you are walking through life and it turns on a dime.” – Vonda Shephard.

Enough of the personal remembrances and on to the hotels and my NoCal biased platitudes on SoCal life.

Hyatt Regency Irvine had us looking out over the 405 freeway where I surveyed freeway lights, wide streets, and the glow of office buildings.  The Marriott Hotel and Crowne Plaza in the distance, past the large low rise industrial warehouses next to the freeway are pretty to see at night. In the daylight Sunday I couldn’t help but feel I had the Orange County Blues again.

Hyatt Regency Irvine

For me, hotel stays in the OC are like a bad gambling run whether playing at the Hyatt, Starwood, or Hilton table. I keep thinking my luck will change, but I haven’t had a decent upgrade in an Orange County hotel in years. We really should just save our money and sleep on my sister’s couch.

This SoCal climate of six lane freeways and foggy morning skies that burn and meld into smoggy afternoon hazes kind of turns our NoCal  (Northern California) sensibilities rancid. We saw a bloodied man Saturday afternoon on the 405 in the center lanes of the six lane freeway and drivers were haphazardly accelerating across four lanes to cut me off as they sped around the injured man lying in the center of the freeway.

By Sunday morning I needed the northern California sea again so I could see again.

Driving 101 home I decided that San Luis Obispo County, 200 miles north of LA County is where northern California starts — at the point on the road where Highway 101 posts bear crossings. Yeah, real bear crossing signs are posted beside the freeway just south and north of San Luis Obispo. This felt like home again when we were back in a place where black bears can still survive in the wild in the large Los Padres National Forest and Ventana Wilderness region stretching from Los Angeles to Monterey.

I can complain about the Hyatt Irvine hotel view, but the hotel stay worked out okay. Kelley and I had a free breakfast on our AAA rate and 6,158 points with the 1,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond amenity points + 2,500 points for a closed Regency Club on the weekend + 2,000 points for a G2 Bonus, and 658 points for the $101 room rate.

The Hyatt Regency Irvine had a prepaid rate of $83 per night for Saturday night, but I paid the $101.15 AAA rate to enable the use of my Costco certificates and the AAA rate includes breakfast in case you aren’t a Gold Passport Diamond member.

Hyatt Irvine and other places like Hyatt Santa Clara have some incredible value opportunities for the traveler with flexibility. The Hyatt Irvine rates during mid-week were $200 per night and the Regency Club bonus would be deducted from the total points. But a cheap weekend night and 6,000 points on a $100 room night and a two stays for one free night promotion period makes Hyatt quite the deal for May and June travel.

How long will Hyatt Gold Passport retain these lucrative high value incentives for Gold Passport members?

Live and stay for today while loyalty living is good.

Tomorrow is unpredictable.

Santa Cruz seashore looking south to Monterey

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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