If two Laguna Beach residents meet, they will ask, "What part of Laguna do you live in?"
North or south? Emerald Bay or Three Arch Bay? The Village or Woods Cove?
It's not enough that we live in Laguna Beach — we have to know where. It's the way we define our lives and express a quality of life without having to explain it.
It's in our DNA.
Since the beginning of time, we've been tribal. We call ourselves "the people of the mountains" or "the brave people" or, in the case of Laguna, "the people who can't fish."
In the old days, we had a more common ancestry. Tribes formed primarily through families. Now, we claim surf spots.
Surfers have known for years that some beaches are more desirable than others. There are daily examples of turf squabbles. Laguna native, surfer and Realtor Cam Hamil says he still sees lines in the sand.
"Growing up as a surfer here in town, I spent a lot of time at different beaches," he said. "If you're one of the Thalia crew and you show up at Agate to go and surf, guys would be like, 'Thalia's over there,' almost as if you were invading their space. It's territorial. You live in Laguna Beach, but they are territorial about the different surf spots."
Realtor Kelly Brennan also knows about the value of location, saying that she is seeing subtle changes in the way people approach where they want to live.
"There are a lot of people who want me to narrow a search down to one certain area," she said. "It is interesting why people have a certain idea of what they want and where it is and defining their lives."
She said it's not always about the view.
"As far as popularity, Woods Cove and the Village — by far," she said. "People don't want to be in the downtown, hectic area, but they want to be able to walk to coffee, walk to the beach, walk to a restaurant or shopping without having to get in their car. It's resoundingly much more appealing than having an ocean view."
Every neighborhood has its unique appeal, said Brennan.
North Laguna is more convenient for people who commute. South Laguna is a more relaxed, tight-knit community. The same goes for the canyon, with its strong artistic history.
Eclectic Woods Cove is the midpoint of everything, far enough from the hustle of downtown but close enough to walk.
"The owners (in Woods Cove) really take pride in maintaining their property," said Brennan. "The care that they give their property really shows. You don't always get that in the Village. It's just a nice neighborhood. People are really comfortable in that area."
For Hamil, there was not always an egalitarian ease among different neighborhoods. He grew up in the canyon, where he sometimes felt slighted.
"I did feel a stigma growing up that I lived in the canyon and I was less than," he said. "Of course, now I'm grown up and realize how fortunate I was. We got to catch snakes that a lot of the kids in town didn't get to do."
Whether it's being closer to nature or hearing the waves, there are particular characteristics that rank high for everyone.
"There are certain things people are drawn to, and they are searching for that," said Brennan. "Everyone has a lot of pride wherever they are. I can always understand why people want to be within walking distance to the beach as opposed to having a view up on a hill but still having to get in their car whenever they want to go somewhere."
Hamil probably sums it up best when he said it's not about the street, if all those streets are in Laguna.
"It isn't that one place is better than the other. It's that one place is not better than the other," he said. "And whether you live in the canyon or you live in Emerald Bay, nobody is better than anybody else. We're all from here in Laguna, and we should all just be in gratitude that we're so fortunate we get to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world."
So if we are all the tribe of Laguna, the next time someone asks, "What part of Laguna?", I will answer "the best part."
Will that work? Probably not — unless they live in Woods Cove and agree with me.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.