Down the 101

Scenic highway becomes an icon in San Diego North

By: R. Scott Macintosh

John Daley refers to Highway 101 as “Route 66 with a view” and “our Mother Road.”

The Highway that runs the length of California, winding alongside the beautiful Pacific Coast, through beach towns and metropolitan cities, across the Golden Gate Bridge and into giant redwood groves is going through a renaissance in San Diego County.

Where Route 66, the original “mother road,” served as the artery that brought migrant families westward during the Great Depression, Highway 101 opened up the west coast for development.

In Southern California, it is where the California Dream was born spawning a vision of endless sunshine, surf and fantasy. It helped create a surfing and car culture, which defined a unique Californian spirit.

Until recently, this Californian joie de vivre was invisible in many respects. Monuments of the past were paved over by a boom mentality that completely changed the landscape from one generation to the next.

But that’s changing.

As a result of Daley’s efforts in Oceanside, and his counterpart, Peder Norby, in Encinitas, every beach town in San Diego North has joined in an effort to preserve the culture that has sprung from Highway 101.

“It’s interesting because the perspectives that other people have of us are often different than what we have of ourselves,” Daley said. “For decades it was all about being new and building and developing building that strip mall. And the speed of development was so fast that people just didn’t look back. Now people are starting to look back.”

In some respects, Highway 101 mirrors the shtick of Route 66. The “mundane becomes memorable,” as Norby likes to say; and individuality embraced.

The wild, attention-grabbing angles and color of the Star Theatre in Oceanside is a prime example of Southern California’s homegrown “Googie” architecture.

Further south, Encinitas is the home of the Paramahansa Yogananda Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat, and nearby, two homes were built in 1928 from recycled wood - made to resemble boats.

All of the towns in San Diego North, from La Jolla in the south to Oceanside, can now claim their own individual identity and charm. That’s the whole idea.

Norby points to a “topiary Cadillac,” a sculpted mass of bushes and shrubbery modeled on Elvis Presley’s classic car. It was originally designed for the San Diego county fair but now sits in front of a 7-Eleven in downtown Encinitas.

“That’s something you wouldn’t see anywhere else,” he said. “It’s funky and doesn’t really fit into a corporate mold. It’s a little weird. That’s making the mundane memorable. It’s the one-off rather than the sameness of ‘generica.’ ”

In September 1998, Daley and fellow preservationists lobbied the state legislature, and lawmakers granted all of Highway 101 a historical designation.

Daley and Norby recently helped to start a non profit organization called the Highway 101 Association to promote the cities along the highway.

Daley and Norby say that the challenge is to encourage communities in the north to preserve and reuse the relics of California’s history that remain, rather than building anew.

“When you do that, it becomes a community treasure that people love, rather than something that everyone else has,” said Norby.

“If you think about a T-bird that’s in the garage, and it has a tarp over it. We are just at the point of picking up that tarp to take a look at what’s underneath. We’re just now uncovering what it’s about.”

Highway Highlights

A drive along the stretch of Highway 101 running from Oceanside to La Jolla in San Diego North can be a perfect day trip or weekend excursion. It includes museums, shopping and wide expanses of beachfront.

" The Star Theatre. Built in the 1950s, this Oceanside theatre is an example of the Googie “space age” architectural style. The sharp angles, colorful lights and cantilevered roofs are meant to grab attention.

" The California Surf Museum. A small but detailed exhibit in Oceanside, it houses old surfboards, biographies of the surfing pioneers, old photographs and memorabilia. Suggested donation is $1.

" 101 Café. The John Daley-owned 101 Café is a true monument to the highway. With the original 1950s diner preserved, it is the oldest continually operating restaurant along the 101. The diner specializes in “comfort food” hamburgers, breakfasts and a tasty carrot cake.

" Neiman’s. This Carlsbad restaurant is located in a 113-year-old Victorian mansion. The setting is better than the food.

" Carlsbad State Beach. The long stretch of beach runs to Leucadia. Just past the Batiquitos Lagoon, Beacon’s Beach begins.

" 101 Art Café. Several local Encinitas artists have set up shop in the café. Some of the handmade banners, lining the town’s downtown strip, were made by café artisans.

" Topiary Cadillac. Find the 7-Eleven and this testament to Encinitas’ individuality, resting by the sidewalk.

" The Daley Double. One of the oldest businesses in San Diego County, the Encinitas bar was once used for illegal gambling and boxing matches.

" Yogananda Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat. A lush garden and meditation area are perched above the Pacific Ocean on the edge of Encinitas. Below is Swami’s Beach, immortalized in the classic Beach Boys song “Surfing U.S.A.”

" Boat Houses. Just off the 101, on Third Street, sit the two boat houses possibly the most photographed buildings in Encinitas.

" Cardiff-By-The-Sea to Solana Beach. Two areas loaded with beach spots, although most are located off the highway.

" Del Mar Plaza. A classy shopping center in Del Mar with elegant boutiques and a public patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

" Torrey Pines State Park. It cost $3 to park in the lot beside this beautiful beach, but is free just outside of the park. The highway climbs a hillside and goes into the park, which has hiking trails and picnic tables overlooking the ocean.

" Downtown La Jolla. Shopping galore.

" La Valencia Hotel. Also known as the Pink Lady, this gorgeous landmark, perched above La Jolla cove and the Ellen Browning Scripps Park, has been a popular spot with celebrities since it opened in 1926.