By Fred Swegles
A recent article I wrote, “PCH: A Tale of Two Highways,” struck a chord with readers. They told me they learned a lot and were captivated by the heritage of two storied roads that converge in Dana Point.
A beautifully designed monument celebrating Highway 1 in Dana Point inspired me to write about not just California Highway 1, but also U.S. Highway 101. They both share a “Pacific Coast Highway” heritage. My theme was that Highway 101, which intersects Highway 1, also deserves recognition by our local communities.
“Both 1 and 101 are celebrated roads,” San Clemente reader Bill Hart wrote in response to my article. “Perhaps we as a city should resurrect our Hwy 101 heritage. Just a thought.”
The simplest way would be to obtain a few Caltrans “Historic Highway 101” signs. You can see these brown highway badges, at intervals, along old 101 through Oceanside and other San Diego County beach towns that take pride in their 101 heritage.
Along surviving segments of America’s most iconic bygone road, Route 66, you may have seen identically designed signs: “Historic Route 66.”
SAN CLEMENTE LOCATIONS
A Historic Highway 101 sign could go at each entrance into San Clemente. Northbound, a sign perhaps just past Rip Curl could inform motorists who just exited Interstate 5 at Cristianitos Road that they’re now on Historic Highway 101.
Southbound, Camino San Clemente would be a nice location to alert drivers on El Camino Real that they’ve just entered San Clemente on old 101. (A city limits sign would actually be nice, too, directly opposite the Arco station.)
DANA POINT AND SAN JUAN
Both cities could likewise install Historic Highway 101 signs.
A sign northbound on PCH, somewhere around Olamendi’s, would be a highly visible location. On Doheny Park Road, how about outside the post office, just before drivers turn right onto historic Highway 1, formerly known as 101A?
San Juan could put Historic Highway 101 signs along Camino Capistrano, along a straightaway paralleling I-5. Tourists riding the summer trolley might stammer, “OMG, this road is historic!”
Trolley riders in Dana Point and in San Clemente might likewise want selfies with the 101 signs. Another good spot might be Camino Capistrano, north of Mission San Juan Capistrano.
I hesitate to suggest any Historic Highway 101 signs in the very core of downtown San Clemente or San Juan. There’s already a plethora of signs there. Then again, a historic one might be worthy.
And just for fun, maybe plant a Historic Highway 101 sign along Camino Capistrano, outside In-N-Out Burger. Fans waiting in line for a “double-double” deserve to know their elite place in history.
REPLICA MISSION BELLS
San Clemente and San Juan both display replica mission bells that were part of an early 20th Century statewide program to commemorate the path taken by California’s first overland Spanish explorers. Their explorers’ route eventually became the 1926 general alignment of Historic Highway 101.
They mapped out locations for a chain of Spanish missions. Each mission would be a day’s horse ride from the next, along a trail known as the King’s Highway, El Camino Real.
WHERE ARE THEY?
Replica mission bells are easiest to notice along rural stretches of the 101 Freeway between Los Angeles and San Jose. They hang from atop a “shepherd’s staff” style pole. A few of the poles include a crossbar that says “Historic El Camino Real.”
San Juan has a replica bell along old 101 beside Capistrano Trading Post. There’s also one across the street, inside Mission SJC.
A third one is on mission grounds at the corner of Ortega Highway and El Camino Real, a block from old 101. That bell threw me off, because it’s painted brown, unlike the other bells you see in the statewide network. If you look closely, the brown bell has authentic inscriptions.
I spotted two other authentic bells along San Juan’s ECR, which parallels Camino Capistrano (old 101). One bell is outside Basilica SJC, one outside Blas Aguilar Adobe.
San Clemente has replica bells along its El Camino Real, which is old 101, near Tommy’s Restaurant and outside Sit ’n Sleep.
Visitors and locals would likely appreciate having “Historic El Camino Real” added to a few of these locations.
“Look, Ma, this road is older than you!”
THE ROAD FROM T.J.
During my highway research—which included purchasing four books, exploring decades of old news archives, obtaining early maps from the Auto Club and driving more than 2,000 miles—I spent a day driving to the Mexican border and back, to replicate Highway 101’s original 1926 route from San Ysidro through Chula Vista into San Diego and La Jolla. You can do it. Just don’t expect to see any 101 signs.
My research also took me to the northern reaches of Highway 1, including a visit to a re-created Russian fort that dates back to 1812. Don’t miss Fort Ross State Historic Park.
At Leggett, where Highway 1 terminates with a sign that says END, I guiltily took a touristy photo of my car inside a tunnel carved into a 2,000-year-old giant redwood tree.
AN IDEA FOR DANA POINT
Dana Point could create its own bookend at our end of Highway 1 by adding a BEGIN sign. The existing Highway 1 entry sign from Doheny Park Road has an arrow at the bottom that you could ditch without confusing anyone, replacing it with the word BEGIN.
Just a humble suggestion.
Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with nearly five decades of reporting experience in the city. Fred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.