Beach Towns and More Beach Towns

Long Beach. Huntington Beach. Venice Beach. Hermosa Beach. Manhattan Beach. Redondo Beach. Newport Beach. Laguna Beach. Capistrano Beach. Seal Beach.

In Santa Monica we started to notice abandoned electric scooters lying about, discarded, seemingly flung aside at random on sidewalks, in parks, and along the beach. Imagine our surprise when we found that these were “scooter share” devices, that could be rented by the hour or day, and collected by the next user where they were left, or presumably gathered at night by municipal workers, or robots.

They must not be difficult to operate, because all kinds of people were buzzing along the sidewalks and bike paths, describing modest little S-turns which may have been a less-graceful-than-it-looked attempt to keep upright. But this scooter-craze disappeared almost as quickly as it sprung up: after leaving Santa Monica, we’ve seen only one, and that not a rental, since it was painted in day-glo colors and twined with some kind of elaborate floral decoration, like an “art scooter.”

So it goes with the Southern California beach towns. They’re sure not all the same. Some less pretentious, some full of luxury automobiles, some with houses crowded together close to the beach, some surrounded by gated and guarded communities (a few of these exclusive enclaves self-identifying as “colonies”), some lined with rows of parked RVs, some with broad beaches traversed by paved pathways and volleyball nets, a few with piers, several with beach-shack bars and burger joints close at hand, and a few (including the adorable Hermosa Beach) posted “No Smoking.”

We were enjoying our ride south on the bike paths that stayed down flat along the sand, but every so often our route took us up into the towns along Hwy 1 or an arterial paralleling it. It was from those stretches that the true character of the beach town became evident.

We loved Hermosa Beach for its wide sand fronted with homey rentals (we hope, for we wish to return soon for a longer visit). Huntington Beach sported a walkable and interesting Main Street, but is–we were happy to discover–a little tamer and less crowded than Santa Monica.

Huntington Beach Pier

Santa Monica is so urban, so bustling and crowded and almost obnoxiously, desperately hip, that we left it worried about what was to come.

Sixteen miles in on Monday, we rendezvous’d with David’s old radio pal John Apicella in Redondo Beach for lunch. He was kind enough to drive over from NoHo for a long seafood lunch of reminiscing and European travel talk. Redondo Beach was unassuming, a yacht harbor with shops and seafood but hardly overwhelmingly urban. We ate at a joint called (as though named by Ron Swanson) Quality Seafood; outdoor seating, decent squid, paella, poke. (And “no tacos for you!”)

From here John had to rush back to Hollywood for a rehearsal of Tesla: The Musical, opening July 6th at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre

From there it was another 34 miles or so to our stop for Monday night, Huntington Beach. We didn’t know what to expect, but what we found was charming, still lively but without the sidewalk crush we’d found in Santa Monica. Another beach town, this one the home of a major surfing museum. Locals call it “surf city,” and that seems fair. Unlike Santa Monica or preppy Santa Barbara, Huntington Beach feels delightfully casual, blue collar, more comfortable in every way. We walked along the ocean road to the local brewery and felt at ease, despite our scrubby bike-tourist attire.

Huntington Beach by evening.

On Tuesday morning, we got a late start, accidentally sleeping in. Had brunch at Sessions West Coast Deli (no association with the racist dirtbag currently running the department of injustice). A breakfast sandwich and avocado toast–but despite the latter it was not an oppressively hipster joint. Got going around 10:30, bound for Oceanside.

Our route map offered a warning about the Orange County beach towns, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Dana Point, to the effect that aggressive drivers had been reported creating risky conditions for bicyclists. Back in Hermosa Beach we’d asked a local biker to whom we’d lent the use of our pump if these warnings were true. Nah, he said. He thought Venice Beach was bad, where he’d been yelled at not just by motorists but by cops as well. We had kept to the beach path through there and hadn’t had a problem.

Newport Beach was surprisingly urban, insofar as it had a towering skyline, a Ferrari dealership, and a lot of sprawl. But the bike lane was generous, drivers were friendly, and we had no trouble.

Laguna Beach–a whole other story. It was prefaced by beautiful rolling hills, the road lined with purple flowering jacaranda trees and blossoming bushes of many kinds, but the town itself proved a nightmare, far more anxiety-inducing than the 16 miles we had ridden inland along busy 4-lane boulevards through the LA industrial centers and downscale commercial districts of Torrance and Carson, which culminated in a lovely Los Angeles River bike path to Long Beach.

The LA River Path to Long Beach and the sea.

No, in supposedly much more upscale and idyllic Laguna Beach, the shoulder was mostly occupied by parked cars, which forces bicyclists into the right lane, and usually locals and tourists alike understand and respond well. Not here, despite the enormous electric sign entering town asking motorists to share the road with bicyclists and give them 3 feet of clearance. We were crowded, brushed into the shoulder, deliberately frightened, yelled at (nothing printable).

Many of the offending vehicles were worth well over $50K. (Why?) Some hills were steep but there was no slowing, definitely no stopping. Our heart rates were up and our tempers flaring for the duration of our stay. Ashley got cut off by a tourist trolley; a little red hatchback with a megaphone on its exhaust startled us both by brushing past very fast and too closely. And when we reached south Laguna, and the parked cars disappeared, the shoulder was occupied by overgrown flowers and bushes.

We passed into rather cute Dana Point, and immediately felt safer. The drivers heeded the ubiquitous roadside signage (same “share the road” sign we’ve seen since Washington). The difference was stark.

Ahhhh, Dana Point!

Ashley feels safe enough to mail some postcards.

From there we took to the hilly residential side streets through San Clemente, Tricky Dick Nixon’s hometown. (We missed his Presidential Library.)

After that, somewhat to our sprawl-addled surprise, the path turned into a remote-feeling scrubby-desert frontage road paralleling I-5, passing SONGS (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) and the strangest state park ever, basically a mile-long rest area parking lot with water, restrooms, paths through the bushes to the beach, and even a few tents pitched on the asphalt. We’d assumed there’d be something for lunch, but somehow our route kept us away from everything commercial, so once again we were rationing our water.


Having pre-registered with the USMC online a few days ago, our Nevada driver’s licenses sufficed to pass us through the main gate at Camp Pendleton, which saved us 10 miles or so of shoulder riding on I-5. The base itself is sprawling, like a whole city unto itself with housing developments, a shopping mall, office parks, an elementary school, and installations marked only with incomprehensible acronyms and numbers. Single-file riding was mandated, and no stopping. Passing out of the base we were quickly dropped into Oceanside, and after a few miles along its bustling beach scene we powered up a short but steep hill into town and our boutique hotel, one of the finest on a trip that, sadly, has only two riding days remaining. We had dinner at the Local Tap House (highly recommended) and then a nightcap at the Breakpoint Brewery (definitely not recommended: okay wine but the beer tasted like dishwater). And so to bed, less than 65 miles from the border.

The Fin Boutique Hotel: Recently remodeled, open only a month, and wayyyy nicer than the 1927 building looks from the outside.

Monday stats: 50.2 miles, 696 (!) feet of climbing, 4 hours and two minutes.

Tuesday: 56.7 miles; 2286′; 4:40.

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