They come from Russia, Japan, China, Iran, India and Pomona.
They are allies, enemies, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics and atheists, but once in Laguna they are all Main Beach tourists.
Like schools of colorful fish, they huddle, pause and swim, randomly moving forward, stopping and pointing at nothing in particular.
They stop at shiny things and talk in foreign tongues, Instagramming their experience, immediately looking at the image, laughing and taking another. And another.
They trade places and take more.
A stranger offers to snap a group photo. Everyone smiles.
The lifeguard tower is like a beacon. It's better that no one is working inside because then it wouldn't be the same. People would feel skittish and interruptive.
Instead, people on vacation are generally polite, bemused, recharging, leaving worries across the water.
They are meandering, wearing sensible shoes, alumni colors and Abercrombie & Fitch.
The older ones still wear fanny packs and thick sweaters.
Boots are much higher now, like riding boots that have never hugged a horse.
The grandkids still scream and have an affinity for sand.
Everyone is drawn to the water. They have to touch it. They roll up their pants and know when they are getting close because the sand sinks. The cold water laps up but it's not enough, so they inch deeper. The surge comes higher and hits them in the shins. Everyone squeals.
Meanwhile, boys throw knock-off Frisbees — the imitation discs that never fly quite right.
Later, the sun starts to set and there are more pictures of people smiling in silhouette. They will fix it later with software. The contrasts of their life will be automatically adjusted.
They will fix the perfect moment because that's how they remember it: a perfect sun on a perfect beach.
It is the middle of winter in half the world but in Laguna Beach, winter is different.
The cold is not as cold, rain is ignored and the water is like a toy.
The tide pools are living toys, slightly trampled, but still they come out to play.
If only the tide pools had the power to charge for their entertainment, they could be like cartoon carnivals, hawking their value.
"See the mussel man lift a thousand pounds … on sale for a dollar."
"Watch the starfish dazzle you with lights … two-for-one special."
"Hear the seal bark your name …."
The tourists hear their own names in Laguna when they are ready.
They hear it slowly but all at once when the wave crashes, then recedes, crashing again. There will be a moment when they finally forget about the past, about all the things that got them here.
You can see it in their faces.
One by one, they separate from the crowd and stand alone, looking at the water.
Their face flattens and you can tell they hear it, a private, undefined sound.
Time stops and nothing else matters.
It's the reason, for the rest of their lives, they will tell people about Laguna Beach.
They will use words like "special" or "magical."
And when they start to miss it, they will pull out the photos and remember who they were.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.