The best description of a Sunday drive that I have heard is: it is a drive in a car that is taken for pleasure or leisure and typically there is no destination or rush.
Most of that narrative applies to our annual ditch day drive except that we DO have a destination and it isn’t on a Sunday.
So for the sake of argument, it will still be added to our “Sunday Drives” section because it still meets all of the other points. Plus, even though we do have a destination, once we get there it, we just go where the car takes us.
As it turned out, this day of hooky was on the same week day as last year and the weather was just as perfect.
Our previous Wednesday excursion began at Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County as we made our way back down the coast to finally finish 17 miles away in San Pedro. This year we decided to make San Pedro our starting point and head south from there.
San Pedro ended up being a good portion of the day as we got lost so often we actually traveled over one large bridge four times and another three times. There was no such thing as a simple U-turn. If you missed your off-ramp, it was back over the bridge again. We didn’t mind though as San Pedro was a very intriguing place.
Why would someone get so lost you are probably wondering? Keep in mind that San Pedro is one of the largest shipping ports in the world. Ships, containers, trucks are everywhere, thousands of them! There is no reference point and there are numbered berths everywhere. There are huge cranes as far as you can see that are working vigorously to load or off-load ships. Each set of cranes has a different color which could have been helpful as a point of reference but we didn’t take notice until later.
We were mesmerized as we watched an enormous ship getting loaded with shipping containers that were stacked many stories high. Fascinated by the crane operation, I was surprised on how quickly they hoist the shipping crates onto the ship. The mechanical arm continually moves back and forth picking up the metal boxes as if they were feathers.
Onward we drove as we followed a road that that took us deep into an area where our little car stood-out in a sea of trucks. The trucks were either picking up or dropping off cargo to moored ships docked nearby. The whole area was flooded with activity and more of the giant cranes were standing tall waiting for their turn to pick up the long containers and transport them to the ship. It became apparent that we were not going to find a scenic little marina in this area. We passed by an open entrance and a camera took our picture and I wondered if I was going to end up on a customs suspect list. We eventually turned around to go explore somewhere else and no security tracked us down, so we were good.
You have to see this port in action, it is so unbelievable to think of how they know where each container goes and how it gets to its final destination. Besides trucks, there are trains and train tracks everywhere. Although I have heard of a few mishaps, it is amazing that those enormous ships trudge across oceans without losing containers, especially during storms or high seas. The whole idea of how many of our products or goods arrive here and then are dispersed all across the country, is enough to keep you fascinated for hours, but there was more to see.
Nearby, yet far away enough from all the hustle bustle of the main port, sits the quaint Cabrillo Marina. Protected by a small jetty and filled with boats, this quiet marina sits in contrast to the larger ships that you can still see in the distance. On the other side there is a small beach that looked like a perfect place to launch your SUP or kayak but we were not sure if it was a public area. However, beyond that, there WAS a public section with a large pay parking lot which we knew was a great place for families as it was filled with kids on spring break.
Down the road our drive continued and soon we passed by the USS Iowa battle ship that now serves as a museum and is open to the public for tours. We choose not to visit it this time and instead headed to the Ports O’ Call Village to have lunch. In the village, we found a little burger joint right on the bay which was perfect to kick back, eat lunch, and enjoy the view.
Across the water, we were intrigued by the old abandoned buildings that sat right at water’s edge. You could feel the history of these buildings and we were amazed that they were never demolished and replaced with more modern structures. A local couple told us that they are now used as locations for movies and TV shows. We also found out that the Ports O’ Call Village would be torn down soon. By 2020 it will be the new San Pedro Public Market with new shops, restaurants, and much more. This would probably be the last time we will see this sleepy little Cape Cod themed village as it is now.
One of the reasons we made a few trips over the bridge is because I saw a sign for a Japanese Fishing Village and wanted to go investigate. Once I missed the exit, I had to U-turn and make the trek over the bridge again! One of the bridges is the Vincent Thomas Bridge, a 4-lane, 2.2 mile bridge which has towers that rise 35 stories above LA’s Harbor and it gives you a spectacular view of the harbor and port below. The total length of the bridge is 6,060 feet so it wasn’t just a hop and a skip to get across it each time.
We finally made the correct turn to the fishing village and as it turned out it was actually a memorial. The memorial sat by a small little marina and it was to honor the more than 3,000 people who called this area home before they were relocated to internment camps in 1942. The statues depicted working fisherman from that time period as this was once a thriving fishing village. The memorial gave you a snippet of their story and you couldn’t help but feel for the people who were displaced in that sad time of our history.
As we returned to our car we noticed that we were now in the back of the buildings that we saw from the Ports O’ Call across the bay. This was clearly a port from a time long gone as the faded letters on the building could barely be read and the old discarded cranes still stood in place as if ready to work again.
Further down the road we came upon even more abandoned buildings including a long structure with shipping bays as far as you could see. The shipping bays were empty and there were no trucks waiting to off load their goods. This was a ghost town. I could see why Hollywood would use this place, it actually looked like one big movie set.
Our next destination was the Queen Mary and once again we missed our turn and ended up on yet another long bridge. At least we could laugh at ourselves as we finally made it to the parking lot in front of the Queen Mary. We decided that neither one of us could do the Amazing Race as our navigation skills were not up to par.
We just stayed a few minutes to admire and shoot a few pics of the legendary ship before us. The ship made its maiden voyage on May 27, 1936 from Southampton, England and was retired in 1967. Now it sits in Long Beach Harbor serving as a floating hotel and is available for tours. The hotel has restaurants cocktail lounges, swimming pools, shopping arcades, and authentic decor which you may or may not like. Only portholes serve as windows so there is not much of an ocean view from your room. That can easily be remedied by heading on the deck for 360-degree views of the harbor and city.
After the Queen Mary, we drove the remainder of the way along Ocean Blvd in Long Beach. Long Beach along the bay is a fascinating city with a wild mix of everything. Modern buildings share space with old and historical hotels, contemporary homes are mixed in with original craftsmen style cottages, and the iconic convention center stands tall with an original mural from the painter Wyland adorning its outside walls.
The city is also home to Shoreline Village, museums, aquariums, and plenty of places to enjoy the harbor. Indy cars still zoom through the streets during the annual Toyota Gran Prix and the old “Pike” has been replaced with an unique 369,000 square-foot waterfront entertainment district featuring an open-air marketplace with restaurants and shops.
Once we hit my favorite Alamitos Bay area, it was time to get back on the freeway but, not before one quick stop for ice cream in Seal Beach.
These Sunday…er…Wednesday drives feel like they last for days as there is so much to see. Some places make you feel like you are in the middle of modern commerce in all its glory while other areas feel like you had gone back in time. The ghosts of yesteryear could almost be seen working in some of the abandoned buildings. I said good bye to the Ports O’ Call Village as it will soon be replaced with a new look and I felt sad and empathetic for the former citizens of the Japanese Fishing Village.
Only a Sunday drive can bring up so many emotions, there is Joy, excitement, reflection, laughter, and the realization that you aren’t that great of a navigator. We have seven trips over long bridges to prove that.
Anyway, if you love Sunday drives like I do, check out San Pedro ports, marinas, beaches, plus all that is nearby. Oh and if you get lost, be sure and say hi to the bridges for us!
Story and photos: Debbie Colwell
A fishing boat area near Cabrillo Marina
For such a busy harbor, the water was super clear showing off some of the beautiful sea life.