Santa Claus came to town Thursday and in typical Southern California style, he hit the beaches in a shiny red Volkswagen convertible.
"This is the California version of the sleigh," explained Ariel Vapor, 20, from the back seat of an open Cabriolet. In the front seat was Santa--a.k.a. Jerry O'Neill--who mostly sat, sometimes stood, but always waved.
The Costa Mesa resident who became Santa for the day was just cruising past the Balboa Pier, but others arrived at Orange County beaches prepared to spend Christmas Day in sunny 70-degree temperatures.
For these folks, Christmas meant sand castles and surfing; and if there was a fire to be built it would be done outdoors--cookout style.
"We're having a Christmas Day at the beach," said Anaheim resident Jean Jones, 53, as she unpacked crystal champagne glasses and prepared for a barbecue filet mignon. "We always do it in style when we go to the beach--especially at Christmas."
Having a good time also was important, which is why Dee Berg, 53, of Anaheim brought along a metal detector. And someone else pulled out a red-capped musical teddy bear that played Christmas carols when its stuffed paw was pressed. "We have to have toys at the beach," said Barbara Johnson, 46, of Fullerton.
The Santa Claus, O'Neill, 33, had donned his red and white suit to pick up his grandmother, Elizabeth Kaden, and surprise other residents of the Park Superior Convalescent Hospital in Newport Beach.
"I thought it would be nice to greet the older people as Santa," O'Neill said.
Then O'Neill, his cousin Marty Kagey, 21, and friend Vapor drove around town, shouting "Merry Christmas" and tossing out candy canes.
The one-day Santa caused a few minor traffic snarls but no one seemed to mind. Instead, O'Neill was greeted by smiles and squeaky shouts of "Thank you, Santa," from children clutching their candy canes.
For others, the beach was a good place to exercise or simply take a break from all the celebrating.
Jennifer Slattery, 22, and her sister Julie, 18, knew a big dinner awaited them, so they rode their red and white "candy-cane" tandem bicycle from their Huntington Beach home down to the water.
"We're not eating until 4 p.m. so we decided to get some exercise," said Jennifer, a tennis teacher.
Patricia Jay and Bob Olson, both of Santa Barbara, were visiting friends in Anaheim and decided to stop at the beach for a respite before lunch--and for a chance to feed the sea gulls.
"We came out for air between meals," Jay said.