College Road Trip, Last Installment: Cal Poly, UCSB, and UCSD

In the last few days we hit the last batch of colleges, from Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara to Pepperdine, ending with UC San Diego. The journey’s been quite fun – California has a beautiful coast and I love the beach communities – and it’s been enhanced by the C-MAX Hybrid that Ford loaned us for the drive. In fact, I turned that back in to them yesterday and we were both sad to see it go. I’ve previously owned a Toyota Prius and the C-MAX was nicer, more zippy and sufficiently tricked out with gadgets and tech to keep us amused and entertained both. And with our actual fuel milage at just a smidge under 40mpg, no complaints in the efficiency and running cost department either. Of course, the sticker price on the car as we had it was $31,085, so it wasn’t exactly a bargain vehicle, but my experience is that all hybrids have at least a $7500 surcharge to cover the additional tech, batteries, more complex engine design etc.

Our first college post-UC Santa Cruz was the popular and highly rated California State University at San Luis Obispo, better known as Cal Poly. I’d never been either to the town or the campus and was quite impressed with both. The school’s very tech and engineering oriented – as you’d expect from a polytechnic – so I don’t know that it’s a good fit for my gal. But she liked the idea of meeting cute, socially adept engineers. Probably because she doesn’t have any experience with ’em. 🙂

Cal Poly

I was impressed with the beautiful campus at Cal Poly. Very nice, very low key, and a slower feel to it than many of the big UC’s, something suitable for a town that proudly says they’re “SLO” paced too. Our timing was perfect too: the evening we arrived was the local farmer’s market and it sprawled over five blocks of downtown, food stands, artists, crafts, and even a few produce stands. We bought peaches. Yum.

Next stop was UC Santa Barbara. I love Santa Barbara as a town, it’s a gem of a place just 90min north of Los Angeles, but I have to say that I didn’t remember so many scroungy panhandlers and homeless people. It was rather a drag walking around the main area – State Street – because of the weirdos jumping, running, yelling at each other and generally being loud and obnoxious. Yeah, I know, it’s their town too, but do they have to be so much in your face with their antics? Ugh.

UCSB was big. We mostly checked out the sports and recreation facilities and A- was quite impressed, but for all its grandeur, much of the school feels like it was designed 40-50 years ago. The student recreation facility, for example, had a big basketball court and nice racquetball courts, but individual cardio machines were clearly an afterthought and were just lined up in the hallways for use. Same with the library. Big, comfortable, but not much modern tech, especially when compared to the other schools we visited.

The next day we continued down the Pacific Coast Highway and drove through Malibu, my old stomping ground.

Malibu, Ca

Though I know it’s the secret enclave of so many Hollywood celebrities, it felt rather more urban than I remembered, with too much traffic, too many people, and not much of the slower pace I associate with beach communities. Maybe it’s the zillion dollar price tag on everything that causes that, I don’t know.

Nestled in the hills above Malibu is Pepperdine. I never actually expected A- to want to go there, but I figured our college road trip needed at least one expensive private school and the contrast was amusing. Unfortunately, it was also a weekend and there was no-one at all on campus and the visitor facilities were all closed, so the “visit” was a bit of a bust. But it was enough to tell that wasn’t likely to be a top choice for her.

I’d never been on campus before (though I have some very vague memories of going there for the PSAT when I was in high school oh those many years ago) and was struck with its architecture.


Then again, it’s a Christian school and that was immediately obvious when we stepped into the library and found shelves upon shelves of scholarly work on the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, religious history, etc. Not the direction A- wants to head as an adult, so unsurprisingly she wasn’t too inspired by our short visit.

We made it to my Dad’s place in the Laguna Beach area and had a nice visit with him, then yesterday headed down to San Diego to visit my alma mater, UC San Diego. I was there 1980-1984, got a BA in Computer Science (with a minor in philosophy, as it happens) and hadn’t stepped foot on campus since graduation. And wow, had it changed!

UCSD Library

The library’s been there forever, of course, but I remember a small wooden student center with a couple of pool tables that consumed much of my free time between classes and that’s been replaced by a huge, gorgeous student union area complete with the biggest bookstore we saw and a dozen or more different eating areas. Lovely, but as a mirror of San Diego itself, the campus has grown quite a bit. Indeed, when I left, they were just introducing a Greek system (unfortunately) and we had four colleges that comprised UCSD in total. Now there are six and more new buildings than I can even track. Congrats on the school growing, but it seems less mellow than when I was a student, for sure.

A- was impressed but overwhelmed and understandably. It’s a big school on a lot of land and there’s always a lot of walking required. We tried to sneak into a dorm room where I was in the freshman dorms in Muir College, Tioga Hall, but while we could take photos, the rooms themselves were all locked up:

UCSD Muir College

I remember my freshman year mostly because the first few months of it sucked. I had some muscle-bound git as a roommate, the guy was in the same CS program I was but never talked to anyone, and my immediate dorm-mates were druggies who would get completely wasted and swear at me. Fortunately the housing folk let me transfer into a different room and that was a ton better, with a cool roomie and a group of suitemates that made the rest of freshman year quite fun. Yes, those were the days of epic Risk games, with all the post-game tension it always creates. 🙂

Ah well, it was still fun to explore the university all these years later and marvel at how few memories I had of a place that was the center of my universe for four years so, so long ago.

As for A-, she liked UCSD and said that it’s “#2 on the list” after UC Santa Cruz, which she still likes the best. Now she’ll need to figure out exactly what she wants to study so we can compare schools and majors. In the running currently are nutrition and pre-med for getting a doctorate in naturopathy. We’ll see how that plays out when she faces the years and years of grad work required to make a name for yourself in the field, but I’m supportive of whatever path she travels down, and I’m thankful that we had this halcyon week to spend together traveling down the Pacific Coast Highway and really enjoying each other’s company with nary an issue the entire time.

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