Driving the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway between San Clemente and San Diego last week brought back a lot of memories. It was a warm, breezy day. People were out enjoying the beaches and parks connected by old towns, which—despite growth—have been able to retain their charm.
Snatches of Surfin’ Safari made famous by the The Beach Boys flitted through my head as I saw brightly colored surfboards stuck out the back seat of convertibles or carried by surfers clad in board shorts or bikinis. My eagle-eyed spouse actually spotted an old “woody.” He also ogled the girls heading for the beach. (He’s driving. He’s supposed to have his eyes on the road.)
As expected, traffic was bumper to bumper through the downtowns and if they were within a few blocks of the beach, not a parking place was to be found. Where PCH parallels the ocean through undeveloped areas, cars lined both sides of the highway. Families with picnic baskets and beach chairs waited to cross to get to the sand.
It’s been a few years since I walked barefoot through the hot sand, making a beeline for the water’s edge to cool my burning soles. Splashing in the waves and watching children just above the water line making sand castles is something I miss. While beaches are within an hour’s drive in Northern California where I live, the water is just too cold for swimming. Not so, in Southern California, where I grew up.
Back on the road we passed old landmarks I remembered from family trips to Del Mar. An enormous Victorian mansion in Carlsbad that once held a busy chicken dinner restaurant now seems to be the home of several businesses. At least it has survived. I looked for giant chickens on the corners of the lot, but didn’t see any. Did they once exist or was my mind playing tricks on me?
In another town, we passed an arch with a gold painted dome that was alongside the road. I never knew what it was for, but it still exists, as did the train depots, some of which are still used for ticketing.
As we passed through Camp Pendleton, once the vast Rancho Santa Margarita y Los Flores, we saw San Onofre, another surfing place mentioned in the Beach Boys’ song. My Dad lived there as a child when it had a cluster of houses, now gone. He said the house—his grandmother’s—was haunted. Maybe it was an old surfer “catching a wave.”
Most of my trips to San Diego have been by boat. Driving the old PCH was fun. But as we crawled through traffic back onto the crowded freeway that is sorely in need of more lanes I was also reminded why we chose not to live there anymore.