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Back to the Beach


Five months ago, I wrote about a particularly rugged and scenic spot on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in San Pedro called White Point. Here’s the photo from that bright summer morning.

Looking down the hill from Paseo del Mar toward the Ocean in the White Point area of San Pedro. (July 31, 2011)

Unbeknownst to me, just about the time I visited the area, residents and engineers became concerned about some cracks  in the street. They were measuring earth movement in the area.

Then, the week before Thanksgiving, a big section of the hillside came sliding down, taking with it Paseo del Mar, that scenic stretch of highway I’d followed in the summertime. Reporters initially estimated the collapsed roadway as 600 feet, but a closer inspection by the Los Angeles City Engineer put the missing chunk at a little over 400 feet. There was a considerable amount of speculation about what that November weekend’s rainfall may have contributed to the instability.

By the time I’d made my first post-slide visit to the area earlier this month, about six weeks after the big slide, engineers had determined that the area outside the chain-link fences were safe. I discovered that the footpath for the White Point Nature Center and Education Center was maybe a hundred yards inland from the slide. I hiked the trail only to discover that the vantage point on the slide wasn’t that good.

It was a much better view from the east end of the closure.

The section of Paseo del Mar that slipped away the weekend before Thanksgiving, as seen from the eastern end of the road closure.

Most impressive, I think, is the aerial view the City Engineer posted in a December report.

An aerial view of the slide area at White Point. (Photo from Los Angeles City Dept. of Public Works Office of City Engineer.)

Testing continues to determine what caused the landslide, and what possibly there is it could recur again. As noted in my original post, and in the City Engineer’s report, there is a long history of landslides in the general area on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The November slide caused no injuries and no damage to homes, and authorities would like to make sure no possible future slide does, either.

As the City Engineer told a reporter for KTLA, it looks like the ocean wanted a different cliff.


The Journey #5


It was my daughter Rebecca’s idea to do at least a part of the route by bicycle, and the stretch from the Hermosa Beach Pier to the south end of the Santa Monica Bay bike path at Torrance Beach presented the perfect opportunity for it.

It was perfect because we could rent bikes near the Hermosa Beach Pier. The south end of the bike path was a pleasant three-and-a-half mile ride.

Officially, the 22-mile bike path that skirts Santa Monica Bay is named in memory of Marvin Braude, a Los Angeles City Councilmember for many years who was an advocate for the environment. Unofficially, it’s a paved, two-lane bicycle highway that, though it has been there for decades, pedestrians still haven’t quite figured out carries some high-speed traffic. If the spectacle of open ocean isn’t enough, there’s the constant surprise of beach-goers who seem to like stopping right in the middle of it.

In all honesty, there are few civic treasures quite as grand as the bike path. I have been riding it for decades, and each outing is a rediscovery of just how wonderful it is. A few call it a waste of scarce tax money, claiming that it doesn’t make it easier or safer for anyone to navigate the city on two wheels. Somehow, that misses the point. The point is that it lets many—tens of thousands on a bright summer day—enjoy the sweeping arc of Santa Monica Bay and get exercise doing it. Like a park or a museum, the bike path is a recreational arena that many places can’t have.

Hermosa Beach looks much like Manhattan Beach, its neighbor to the north, especially along the coast. But there are some big differences locals can discuss for hours. Hermosa, they’ll tell you, is just a little bit “funkier,” by which they mean that for whatever reason, Hermosa retains a little bit more of the 60s beach feeling than its neighbors. (Rising property values for decades through the whole South Bay have priced out much of that “funk.”) Hermosa is a little smaller than Manhattan by population, but the population density is about the same.

To Hermosa’s south is Redondo Beach, the largest of the South Bay cities by population. It has always had a slightly older feel to it—ocean-front dwellings here are often high-rise condominium complexes which are much less common in Hermosa and Manhattan.

At Hermosa’s south end, the bike path veers off the beach and onto an asphalt street before it hooks through the Redondo Beach Pier parking lot and out the other side. South of the pier, the path continues south along the sand, through a tiny strip of Torrance before it comes to an end near the bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.




I very much enjoyed Daniel Duane’s Caught Inside: A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast, his 1996 book about how he moved from Berkeley to Santa Cruz to surf. But despite his evocative language and transcendental outlook, I’m not sure he ever got around to the central point of explaining why someone would give it all up to roll in the waves.

Oh, he talks about how surfing grabbed him in his youth, and how he’s stayed with it since. But he never quite explains just what it is that keeps him jumping into cold water and waiting for a swell to give him a ride toward shore that might last a minute if he’s lucky. There are lots of passages like this one, on page 31:

If a surf break can be a Walden Pond, a material synecdoche of all one finds mysterious and delightful about the world, then I found mine through a guy who hated it there.

A material synecdoche? I know what it means—synecdoche is verbal shorthand in which a part is understood to represent the whole, like saying “boots on the ground” when you mean having an army in place—but Duane’s sentence takes us around the block to get next-door. I think he means to say that a surf break can contain all that is mysterious and delightful about the world.

Despite Duane’s overwrought words, his tale of getting away for an extended period to be at one with the ocean is an inviting one. Through the course of his stay, his life comes to revolve around how well it’s breaking. And his answer—as the answer for so many of the rest of us in different pursuits—is some days are better than others.

On the days when it wasn’t breaking so well, Duane provides a quick history of surfing, some notable “celebrity” surfers (like the writers Jack London and Mark Twain) and some interesting reviews of classic surf movies, like Gidget, which did a lot to introduce the rest of the world to West Coast surf culture (such as it was).

It appears from online bibliographies that Caught Inside was Duane’s second book. His first, Lighting Out, was published in 1994 and details a year he spent getting in shape and climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan. Today, he seems to content himself with writing magazine articles and making videos about, of all things, cooking.

As much as I enjoyed Duane’s musings on the coast, I can’t help but feel a little shortchanged. The cover promised that he’d chronicle a year, and I count groupings for only Fall, Winter, and Spring. Where’s that other season hiding?




The Pacific Diner in San PedroThe Pacific Diner in San Pedro is the kind of place you’re likely to pass right by without stopping if you weren’t clued in. Something about the rust of the sign out front doesn’t seem all that inviting the first time you see it. It’s a relic, to be sure, of the decades the place has been serving food. The locals all seem to know it has some of the best breakfasts around.

There are parts to the Pacific Diner—new parts, old parts, inside parts, outside parts, tables, counters—but they all add up to one of the most casual, most pleasant, and most filling places around. That’s what’s kept it in business for so long.

The Pacific Diner’s menu tells a meandering tale of the people who built the place and those that have succeeded them in operating it, but the menu is pretty short on specifics, like who did what in what year. Somehow, it doesn’t matter at the Pacific Diner. It’s the food everyone knows about. That’s what keeps bringing them back. It’s what brought me back as I drove around San Pedro and realized I’d worked up quite an appetite.

ABC omelette

The Pacific Diner's ABC omelette—avocado, bacon, and cheddar cheese.

I wrestled with the choices, unable to make up my mind between stacks of pancakes and other carbohydrates and something with fewer carbohydrates and at least a little protein. I finally focused on the ABC omelette—avocado, bacon, and cheddar cheese—and a biscuit on the side to satisfy my taste for starch. I guess the potatoes helped do that as well.

It was a wonderful choice. Of course, at the Pacific Diner, I don’t think I’ve ever made a bad one.

Pacific Diner
3821 S. Pacific Avenue
San Pedro, CA
(310) 831-5334


The Journey #4


View San Pedro – Palos Verdes in a larger map

The Palos Verdes Peninsula was an island millions of years ago, perhaps the Channel Island closest to the mainland. Today, it still has some of the sense of disconnectedness from its surroundings that an island might have. While it’s definitely in southern California—dominates the horizon, in fact, from much of the Los Angeles basin—it’s not entirely of southern California.

Palos Verdes is a little over 20 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles, a green hill (the name translates from the Spanish “green sticks”) that climbs to almost 1,500 feet.

Topographically, the Palos Verdes Peninsula feels like many other foothill areas of southern California. But climatically, it’s usually about 20 degrees cooler, and often under the thick gray clouds of the marine layer. It is, after all, a peninsula, so by definition it sticks out on three sides into the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike many other southern California coastal areas, which slope toward the ocean, the Palos Verdes Peninsula drops—sometimes several hundred feet straight down into the surf. It has cliffs similar to, though smaller than, what you’d find in Big Sur, several hundred miles to the north.

The southeastern side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, near White Point.

Seaside living on the southeastern side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, near White Point.

Historically, the entire peninsula is part of the grant the King of Spain gave to Juan Jose Dominguez in 1784 for his military service with Gaspar de Portola exploring California and later with Father Junipero Serra establishing religious and military outposts. The grant amounted to more than 100 square miles of what is now southern Los Angeles County, used primarily for cattle grazing.

Early in the 20th Century, a syndicate formed by East Coast banker and real-estate investor named Frank Vanderlip purchased the entire peninsula for $1.8 million with the intention of developing it as homes and resorts. Vanderlip enlisted the landscape architects who designed New York’s Central Park, the Olmstead Brothers, to create civilization on The Hill.

View from Palos Verdes Drive South of the Trump National Golf Club, which many think of as the realization of Vanderlip's original intent to build a "millionaire men's club" on Palos Verdes.

Plans for development came and went, through wars and financial crises. Some things, particularly some town centers for the peninsula’s four incorporated cities, got built; other things, many of them recreational, never did.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designed and built Wayfarers Chapel, still one of the peninsula’s architectural highlights. Also known as the Glass Church at Portuguese Bend, the chapel’s all-around transparency is central to the Swedenborgian concept of oneness with nature. The church is one of southern California’s most sought-after wedding sites.

Wayfarers Chapel, in the Portuguese Bend section of Palos Verdes, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula retains its air of exclusivity. Rolling Hills, one of its four incorporated cities, is gated. It boasts the 14th highest median income in America. While locals make class distinctions based on street addresses, the entire peninsula seems very upscale, especially compared to some of the flatland communities a few miles down the hill.

picnic at Bluff Cove

A picnic on the rocks at Bluff Cove, on the west side of Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Soon enough, I meandered around one last curve and found I had left this land of ocean-front opulence, had exited the multi-million-dollar mansions to mere million-dollar beach-front homes on a coastal strip of Torrance called the Hollywood Riviera. I’m still not sure why Palos Verdes seems so different. Maybe it’s the trees. Perhaps the cliffs. Possibly the views. Whichever factors make it what it is, it remains the island it once was.




So what’s with this name already?

When I decided I wanted to blog about the beach, I set about trying to find out something about the beach. Yes, I knew it had sand and salt water and frequently sun. But I needed some hard facts, like how much of it was there.

It seems that answer is a hard one to come by.

The U. S. government has studied the issue multiple times, and the answer that is accepted most widely today is contained in a 1975 pamphlet published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called—what else?—The Coastline of the United States.

It seems that for purposes of public policy, the government doesn’t count every single nook and cranny in the coastline. It measured in 1975, using precise instruments on a variety of nautical charts of the previous 150 years. It does take into account certain islands, inlets, coves, and bays. In 2006, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) adopted the 30-year-old figures as accurate, except the measurement for Connecticut. Its coastal measurement in 1975 was “–“; three decades later it was reprojected by a CRS staffer at 29 miles.

So it works out like this: Alaska has far and away the longest salt-water coastline (6,640 miles of a total national figure of 12,479 miles—more than 53 per cent!). However, it would be difficult in the scope of this blog for me to get there. Same for Hawaii, which has 750 miles of coast (about six per cent of the national total). So here’s how the math works:

12,479 (total U. S. coastline) – 6,640 (Alaska) – 750 (Hawaii) = 5,089 (total coast of the continental U. S.

You can track my progress by clicking on the Progress Map link in the navigation bar at the top of every page, or by clicking here. The posts labeled The Journey detail each leg of the journey (with the number indicating the legs in chronological order).

And don’t hesitate to let me know by Facebook, Twitter, the Comments section below, or email if there are places you think are must-sees. This initial phase of travel will extend from San Diego to Santa Barbara, with more ambitious outings in future phases.

Glad to have you with me for the journey! Don’t be shy about speaking up.

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The Journey #3


View Journey #3: Manhattan Beach in a larger map

I’ve said quite a bit about Manhattan Beach, and shown quite a few pictures. And because it’s a place so central to me and my beach-going experience, I’m confident there are many more details to come in word and picture.

Still, to get on with the journey of seeing the entire coast, I had to get across Manhattan Beach.

It’s only about two miles, north to south, along the beach. The closest street is a road called Ocean Drive, which is not a street, a road, or a drive, except in the broadest definition of those words. It’s really an alley.

A stretch of The Strand, a wide ocean-front walk that runs the two-mile length of Manhattan Beach.

It runs behind a continuous row of beach-front homes, most of them imposingly large and three stories tall, that block at the view at all except the narrow cross-streets. I know this only too well because I lived in a second-story apartment on Ocean Drive for more than a decade, and my view of the ocean was limited to what I could see between the two large homes on the water side of Ocean Drive. A friend nicknamed the place “Fifteen Degrees of Paradise.”

Manhattan Beach was subdivided and started to be settled in 1902, largely as a place city folks could have a weekend cottage that wasn’t too terribly far from the city (meaning what we now call downtown Los Angeles, about 20 miles to the northeast). But the advent of the Pacific Electric Red Cars a few years later cut the commute. The rise of an extensive aerospace presence in World War II in what southern Californians call “the South Bay” provided jobs. A decade later, the freeway system provided a connectedness that had been lacking. It effectively made Manhattan Beach another Los Angeles suburb. By the time aerospace contracted in the 1990s in what the rest of the world called “the peace dividend,” Manhattan Beach was a prosperous community. Economic diversification came in the form of a movie studio and other businesses.

Today, Manhattan Beach’s median annual income is over $100,000, more than 80 per cent above the national figure. Its property is some of the most expensive in the world, estimated at over $35 million an acre on the ocean-front walk known as The Strand.

Ocean-front homes in Manhattan Beach start at over $1 million (clown not included).

I knew my end in Manhattan Beach had come in 2005, when a neighbor told me that Nomar Garciaparra, a star baseball player who had just signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his wife, pro soccer star Mia Hamm, bought the place a few doors from us, a little closer to the beach. Somehow, I figured millionaire star athletes weren’t spending that kind of money to say they lived down the street from me.

In a matter of months, a developer purchased the Postwar-Era building where I lived. I was evicted and the building was razed. About a year later, another mini-mansion sprouted from the Manhattan Beach sand.




West Indian manatees at Three Sisters Springs on the Crystal River in west-central Florida. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

An amendment offered this week to the House Interior Appropriations Bill would keep the federal government from extending the manatee protection area around Crystal River, FL. The mechanics of the proposed amendment may seem a bit convoluted, but the sentiment on Florida’s Gulf Coast certainly isn’t. From the time late in June that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it intended to make an emergency rule permanent that would reduce boat speeds in additional areas, many in the community began shouting that it was an unwarranted federal intrusion of their private-property rights. On the other hand, many said at public meetings that the area’s economic health rests largely on the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit Citrus County each year to see manatees, and that anything endangering the large marine mammals is endangering them.

The West Indian Manatee is an endangered specie. Biologists estimate there are 3,300 of them on both of Florida’s coasts. They’re large—mature adults weigh about 800 pounds each—and slow-moving. They like the same calm, warm waters near shore and in estuaries that boaters favor. And that’s where the problems come in. Several manatees have been killed in recent years after being struck by pleasure-craft. Authorities say the rate of killing is on the increase.

Florida began protecting manatees in 1893. In 1983, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established And in the last few decades, an aggressive program of educating boaters through signs and posters in marinas and enforcing reduced boat speeds has given scientists hope about manatee survival, beginning to hint that perhaps the status should be changed from “endangered” to “threatened.”

The emergency rule the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed making permanent expands protections to additional parts of Crystal River, including Kings Bay, and would allow FWS officials to temporarily close some areas of the shore during manatee mating season.

A two-hour special meeting of the Crystal River City Council late last month reached a unanimous conclusion to oppose the proposed new manatee protections. The area chamber of commerce also came out against the federal rule. Rep. Richard Nugent (R-FL5) made his feelings on the issue known by proposing the appropriations amendment.

Others are just as vocal in arguing for the protections. The Save the Manatee Club, founded by the singer Jimmy Buffett and former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham, has organized a “click-to-email” campaign to add public comments to the record for the next month. The National Resources Defense Council is spreading the word as well. And the quotes in the St. Petersburg Times from one community voice, Edna Mattos, head of the Citrus County Tea Party Patriots, are getting a lot of mileage: “We can’t elevate nature above people,” she said. “That’s against the Bible and the Bill of Rights.”


Homeland Security


The USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier based in Bremerton, WA, as it was pulled this morning through Angel's Gate into the Port of Los Angeles.

I was lucky enough to be on hand this morning as the USS Abraham Lincoln came into the harbor at the Port of Los Angeles. It was quite a sight as harbor tugs pulled it through Angel’s Gate, the northern entrance to the harbor.

I got this great honor not because of some connections, or because so much money deducted from my paychecks every week helped to pay for it, or because my Congressman thought I might enjoy seeing my tax money at work. I got the honor because I heard on the radio yesterday that the Abraham Lincoln was coming and I figured I could hang out on the small observation dock on the harbor channel next to where the port pilots dock their boats.

There were about twenty others on the dock, some with extensive knowledge of naval operations (most likely from years of service aboard ship), some with small knowledge gained from books and articles (that’s the group I’m in), and some with no knowledge at all except that something big seemed to be on its way.

The Abraham Lincoln is one of 11 aircraft carriers now in U. S. Navy service, one of ten Nimitz-class carriers. Its flight deck is nearly 1,100 feet long.

The USS Abraham Lincoln being turned to port to make its berth at the end of 22nd Street in San Pedro.

Every dimension of the Abraham Lincoln is impressive. But perhaps most impressive that it will be open Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday for free, public tours as part of Los Angeles Navy Week.

Three other naval vessels—USS Princeton, a cruiser; USS Chafee, a destoryer; and USS Champion, a mine-countermeasures vessel—will be open as well.

The Abraham Lincoln, seen at its berth from Cabrillo Beach

Navy Week festivities include Navy band performances, tours for many of the ships’ sailors of southern California communities, meetings between the Navy’s top brass and corporate and community leaders, and exhibitions of the Navy “Leap Frogs” parachute team, all for the purpose of “sharing the Navy story with as many people as possible,” the news release says.


The Journey #2


View PDR to El Porto in a larger map

Playa del Rey is not a beach name you often hear in southern California, though the Spanish word playa means beach. It’s a largely forgotten section of coastline that has the advantage of having far less parking capacity than beach capacity, so it’s almost impossible for the sand to be saturated with people. It is quite possible, however, on a warm summer day for the saturation of cars to overwhelm the capacity of Playa del Rey’s narrow streets.

The beaches are pleasant, if you’re lucky enough to find parking on a summer day, but the break doesn’t draw those fascinated by the waves—surfers, boogeyboarders, or others looking for that kind of ride.

PDR, as the locals often refer to it, abuts Ballona Creek, one of the waterways that used to rage some winters through Los Angeles. The creek was tamed decades ago by concrete walls. And then, in the mid-1960s, Los Angeles County turned a wetlands area on the north side of the creek into a boat basin known as Marina del Rey.

For Playa del Rey, it has meant recreational diversity.

An ocean kayaker paddling up Ballona Creek. Note the fishing line in the water off the back of the kayak. (He had some fish on a stringer pulled underwater beneath the kayak.)

Bicyclists on the Santa Monica Bay bike path, a part of which runs along the dike between Ballona Creek and the Marina del Rey channel.

Kids checking to see if there's anything on their line yet in Ballona Creek.


Just south of Playa del Rey, the waterfront road, Vista del Mar, snakes maybe 45 degrees back and forth and rises slightly, unfolding across a four-mile stretch of open beach. Dockweiler State Beach is named for Isidore B. Dockweiler, a prominent Los Angeles attorney of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who descended from one of the city’s founding families.

As phenomenal as the view of Santa Monica Bay is, it obscures some dark chapters in southern California history—a neighborhood called Palisades del Rey that had to be evacuated and then razed in the 1970s, nearly forty years after it was settled, because the expansion of LAX had caused widespread health problems from noise and pollution; the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant, which has intermittently failed over the century since it was built to adequately sanitize the effluent it was pumping into the Bay; and there are others.

But when the sun is shining over Dockweiler, those chapters become easy to overlook.

Dockweiler State Beach, looking northwest with Malibu on the horizon.

Dockweiler is the beach millions of air travelers leaving LAX have looked at as their last low-altitude look of southern California.

Both LAX runway complexes send airliners over Dockweiler State Beach as the planes gain altitude.