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California City Signs Seen on the Road Side

As you travel through California along its long & winding roads, you'll see thousands of signs. Some entertain, some engage, some need paint and others have been bombarded with spray paint from graffiti artists. What we love the most are the city signs announcing where you are. Their placement, color, fonts, and words all are critical in the message they send to tourists passing by. In most cases, you'll keep driving and won't stop to explore.


With just a name or a slogan, there's usually not enough information to cause you to slow your speed from 70 to zero. But sometimes the signs actually work in a city's favor, and do get people to explore. The ultimate goal for any town is to get your money out of your pocket and into that city's coffers. Each city gets a percentage from your spending there through the taxes you pay at the point of purchase.


Above are four signs we've noticed in our travel. The Estates at Trump National Golf Club sign sits on a lush green lawn overlooking the ocean. It is one of several signs on the Trump property that is lined with public walkways. The signs contain gold lettering, and are intended to evoke impressions of gold and wealth.  While the grounds are immaculate and more money was spent on this golf course than any in the U.S., if the designers had used signs subject to peeling paint and caricatures such as the Buellton sign shown above, tourists and locals visiting the public beach trails would not have the feeling of luxury, nor the desire to spend several hundred dollars on a round of golf or a luncheon meal.


Other signs above include: Huntington Beach - Surf City USA, that contains some birds flying with cut-outs of grasses in the background, all set to the real life view of RV campers, a lifeguard tower, and sand. The sign is posted with three rustic looking wood poles, while the Trump sign is posted on a huge stone monument structure. 


An Encinitas road sign which is painted in a color similar to the official California highway road signs contains ornamental white lettering on an arch structure above Coastal Highway 1. Ornate accents and iron work provide a look and feel of another time. Indeed, the sign was created to match an earlier sign that once arched over this portion of road. There is absolutely no missing this sign as you drive under it on the highway. As an attraction unto itself, it doesn't disappoint. When you park your car and wander over to the sidewalk posts that hold the sign in place, there are plaques describing the history of the sign and telling all about it. In addition, you'll find tile work on the sidewalks that represents colorful scenes of Encinitas surfing culture. If you didn't stop your car, you would not see those.


Buellton, Home of Split Pea Soup at the Next Exit, announces that it has everything for the traveler. The signs are scattered along Interstate Highway 101 for miles before you arrive at the Buellton road exits. The signs that are subject to wear are set in fields of grasses where cows sometimes can be seen grazing. Rustic in look & feel, their placement between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria and a long stretch without gas stations and restaurants provide one of Buellton's best opportunities to capture tourists before they discover Solvang along the same road exits. The Split Pea Soup business does extremely well, thanks to the road signs.


These four signs must have taken time, energy, imagination and money to create. On a functional level, each tells you what place you are in or entering. Compared to the regulation Caltrans road signs that you must read fast and will miss if you blink, the signs above show four approaches to branding a city or place. These signs are all enjoyable to look at, though not all signs are. Their simplicity and lack of high-tech electronics offer the traditional approach to California sign placement. Many cities in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco regions that have managed to purchase private property next to freeways where tall electronic billboards scroll a variety of messages. Those signs are more difficult to photograph, and their messages contain time sensitive information that expires.






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