by Nancy Bestor
I was born in California. I’m not ashamed. I spent the first 26 years of my life there. I even owned a red convertible Volkswagen Bug when I was in college. I’ve now lived nearly as many years in Oregon, and no longer consider myself a “California girl.” (Just a thought though… At age 50, can I consider myself a “girl” of anywhere? I digress.) I do, however, have family and friends still living in The Golden State, and am always happy to drive across the border to visit them. And the food, music and scenery of California, from north to south, doesn’t disappoint either.
Thus when my only sibling suggested a long sister weekend in Southern California this past summer, how could I say no? My expectations were for long walks, cocktails, and good ethnic food—not necessarily in that order—all in lovely and smoke-free California sunshine. (August and early September were smoky months in Southern Oregon, due to extreme wildfires throughout the state.) And that is exactly what we achieved.
We knew we wanted to be in a beach city and not too far a drive from LAX. Our first choice was Huntington Beach, but lodging was difficult to find there, so we chose nearby Seal Beach. And that, in my opinion, worked out perfectly. Seal Beach is much quieter than Huntington Beach, our hotel (Pacific Inn at Seal Beach) was reasonably priced, and there were blocks upon blocks of beautiful and unique houses that we could stroll by every day.
On our first afternoon we meandered our way past dozens of these homes before finding ourselves at a bar and restaurant (imagine that?) where we stopped for Moscow Mules. Because we were pretty sure it was five o’clock… somewhere.
On another day we left the car at the hotel and rented beach cruisers at Main Street Cyclery ($5 per hour). We rode our so-cals from Seal Beach down to Huntington, briefly along the Pacific Coast Highway, but mostly on a bike path alongside the beach. It was a lovely expedition, and, in our opinion, earned us more Moscow Mules.
My only complaint with this trip was the traffic. When we drove to visit a longtime friend in Newport Beach, the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway was pretty nasty. What took us 30 minutes in the morning, took two hours returning in the afternoon. I don’t think the traffic was bad specifically because we were in Seal Beach. Traffic in Southern California is just generally bad. Particularly when you are an Oregon woman, and are used to no traffic at all. Never fear, we managed to spend a lovely afternoon with our girlfriend, eating and shopping our way around Newport, and of course, found time to sample a few beverages too.
We also spent a few hours on Balboa Island, a man-made island filled with vacation rentals, boat docks, shops and restaurants, and, most importantly, home of the world famous Balboa Bar at Balboa Beach Treats. My sister had been to Balboa several times before, and wanted to make sure I tried one before we left. My Balboa Bar with toffee crunch did not disappoint.
We walked on the beach a few times, with its quintessential Southern California beach lifeguard stations, and one morning we briefly watched an extremely fit group of people who were doing cross fit exercises with a trainer. We didn’t watch long, as we had more important things to do, like eat food.
On our many strolls through various neighborhoods in the area, I swooned over the wide array in styles of beach cottages and homes. But I can’t see myself returning to live in California, even if given the opportunity to live in one of those great beach locations. My California roots run deep, just not deep enough to fight traffic.