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The beach can be magical (and it’s closer than Banff)

Times Staff Writer

WhY do so many Southern Californians forget about the beach?

All over the world are families that plan an entire year around the three weeks they will spend at the shore while in Beach Central we flip through magazines and think, “What about Banff?” or “Let’s go to Palm Springs.”

Meanwhile, there lies the beach, from La Jolla to Carmel, by turns rocky and golden, blissfully hot or cloaked in sea-salty mist, taken utterly for granted by those closest to it, like a silent canny servant in a BBC miniseries. Except on Labor Day weekend. Labor Day weekend is the annual local equivalent of an Irish wake for the beach -- suddenly all the people who never had a nice thing to say about it are singing and dancing in their sorrow to see it go.

This year, I realized that my family had been snubbing the beach, unintentionally, I swear. My husband and I told ourselves it was because we live in La Crescenta, which is not exactly a beach community, but that’s not it. We’ll drive for an hour to pick apples, three hours to show the kids snow, six hours to a national park, and we’ll fly almost anywhere because I believe that the success of any vacation is mathematically tied to the distance put between yourself and your workplace.

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But still, here we were, staring at the end of summer with something like two measly beach days logged. For a minute or two, we talked about just getting a room at a hotel in Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica, but I can’t bring myself to hand a credit card to a front desk attendant unless I’ve traveled at least 100 miles. So we packed up and headed up the coast, stopping in Santa Barbara and then traveling a little bit farther to a small town above Morro Bay that I won’t identify because we love it so much we don’t want it to change. OK, it’s Cayucos.

We had no plans except to walk on, lie on and play on the beach. No side trips to Morro Bay, no jaunt up to Hearst Castle (we tried this a year or so ago and all I can say is this: If your child is under 7 or 8, don’t), no hikes or bikes or kayak adventures. Just us and the sand and the water for four days.

And you know what? It was fabulous.

Two of the days were a bit overcast, but none of us was tracking down a killer tan. We slept late and went for a long morning walk on the beach, ate lunch and played Frisbee along the shore. We poked around Cambria in search of ice cream and found a playground that opened onto the beach. We walked along the boardwalk of Moonstone Beach, climbed out on the rocks to check out the tide pools and watch the sea lions. We bought squirt guns and ate local food and helped another family dig an enormous sand pit.

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We climbed rocks and yelled at the sky, and looked over the shoulders of night fishermen on the pier to see what was biting. We threw Nerf footballs at the waves, chased sandpipers just to see them fly and watched our footprints dissolve over and over again. No tour books, no admission fees, no petting zoos, no waiting in line except at the candy store, which doesn’t even count.

Day after day we watched the water murmur and sigh, gasp and roar, watched the bulging muscles of the sea, the pounding fists of the sea and the lacy flounces of its petticoats as they trailed along the sand. How do we forget this, we who live so close to the beach, this undeniable constant reminder of the mundane and immortal nature of things?

On the fourth day, we debated staying a fifth, but that’s how it always goes when a trip has been worth taking -- there is no good day to leave. Four hours to get there, four days to spend. There is some symmetry in that and a lesson. There are few places as magical as where land meets water, even when it is -- dissolve to black and white, cue Judy Garland -- in your own backyard.


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