Camp California! The Guide for Camping and RVing in California

Global California

by Brad Herzog

san francisco's ChinatownEvery year, United Nations Day falls on October 24, the anniversary of the charter of that global organization. So last year, I offered up an itinerary for a world tour, American-style, to places like China (Texas), Peru (Indiana) and Egypt (Pennsylvania). This year, I thought I’d keep it to California. But still, you can get a taste of world travel there via a handful of neighborhoods. Call them cultural communities or ethnic enclaves—microcosms that can temporarily transport you.

All you have to do is hop into an RV and make your way from San Francisco to L.A. Your road trip will include a taste of Delhi and Da Nang, Copenhagen and Kabul, Annhui and Addis Ababa. Just follow these directions:

BerkeleyStart in perhaps the most famous such neighborhood—San Francisco’s Chinatown. About a square mile (24 square blocks in area), it is billed as the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Step through the Gateway Arch on Grant Avenue at Bush Street, and you’ll discover a taste of the Orient everywhere you look—dim sum and dragon lampposts, pagoda roofs and salt-and-pepper prawns, herbal shops and a historical society, restaurants with names like Hing Lung and House of Nanking, a memorial to Chinese veterans and a mid-September Moon Festival.

Then drive across the Bay Bridge and follow I-80 into Berkeley, a distance of about 12 miles. And you’ll be in India—well, Little India, on University Avenue, east of San Pablo Avenue. You can buy Hindu figurines at Bazaar of India, browse the colorful options at Roopam Sarees, savor the taste of a masala dosa at Udupi Palace, or take a yoga class at Niroga Center.

Then meditate on this: You can drive about 30 miles south and visit Afghanistan. In Fremont, California, just north of San Jose, the Little Kabul neighborhood is home to the largest Afghan population in the U.S. Along a stretch of Fremont Boulevard, stop into Maiwand Market, known for its naan bread, its music (traditional Afghan tunes) and its décor (including images of the nation’s sport of buzkashi). Maybe you’ve read the bestselling novel The Kite Runner. Well, it’s set in Afghanistan. And Fremont.

Danish Solvang. CAOkay, intermission time. Let yourself digest for a while. Because you’ll have to drive 266 miles south on Highway 101 to the town of Solvang, founded by a group of Danish educators more than a century ago. This is California’s Copenhagen. It is evident in the eating (the pastry-like aebleskiver), the reading (scour Scandinavian books at The Book Loft), and the browsing (there’s a tiny Hans Christian Andersen Museum).

And then you can opt for something completely different. Cruise another 127 miles south into Los Angeles, to South Fairfax Avenue, where (for a half-mile or so) you’ll find Little Ethiopia. It was officially branded as such by the city’s mayor nearly a decade ago. There you can immerse yourself in eastern Africa. Scoop up stew with injera bread (no utensils necessary) at Meals by Genet. Attend a traditional coffee ceremony little Ethiopia(beans boiled in a decorative pot) at Messob. Listen for the Amharic language.

Now, head south (in terms of California geography) while culturally moving due east. In L.A. speak, you’ll take the 10 to the 410 to the 405. You’ll weave your way into Orange County, to the town of Westminster, not far from Anaheim. Here, where the nation’s largest concentration of Vietnamese immigrants (nearly 200,000 people) resides, you’ll find Little Saigon. In the Bolsa Avenue area, shop at the Asian Garden Mall or the Shun Fat Supermarket. Read the Vien Dong Daily News. Stop by the U.S. headquarters of the Vietnamese music company Thuy Nga. And if you visit in January or February, you might catch the annual celebration of Tet—the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Little SaigonI’m sure more than a few readers have a totally different reaction upon hearing Tet. They think of a war four decades ago, the Tet Offensive in 1968, a conflict on the other side of the globe. But that’s the thing about traveling: Conflict is often the product of cultural ignorance. The passage of time and the proliferation of ethnic enclaves has made it possible to peek into other places—affordably and (in a manner of speaking) just around the corner.

About Brad Herzog
As an acclaimed author of more than 30 books and an avid RVer who has covered more than 100,000 miles, Brad Herzog has written a trilogy of travel memoirs – States of Mind, Small World and Turn Left at the Trojan Horse – about his journeys into America's nooks and crannies. Each year, he and his family embark on a summer-long excursion across the country by RV. In his blog, "You Are Here," Brad celebrates the joys of the open road, the flexibility of RV travel, quirky and overlooked destinations and the many ways to make the most of the RV experience.