Posts Tagged With: beach

Becoming the Fish

Growing up in Southern California, I loved the beach.  My parents used to say I was a fish I spent so much time in the ocean.  I loved the sun and the surf, and as I grew older, that love only grew stronger.  Naturally, I have never lived anywhere as warm since going off to college.

Northern California has beaches.  Some of them even have sand.  But they’re not really what you’d call swimmable.  The water is perfectly all right most places, but it’s cold.  Really cold.  As in “I need a wetsuit” cold.  Sometimes even “I need a dry suit” cold or “let’s call the whole thing off” cold.

So of course I’ve been trying to swim in it ever since arriving in Berkeley at the age of 17 (i.e. a long time ago).  While there, it was basically hopeless.  The only beaches remotely near Berkeley were in San Francisco and Marin, and it was so cold up there I shouldn’t even have bothered.

However, since moving to San Jose, the closest beach has been Santa Cruz, and this is where I pinned my hopes.  It gets sunny in Santa Cruz.  I wouldn’t say it gets warm, but it does at least progress to “not cold” occasionally, and the water is a touch warmer than the surrounding areas.  Thus, I made it my goal to go swimming in these frigid waters if it killed me (which was always a possibility).

Easier said than done.  I could have just donned my wetsuit and gone in that way, but I was determined to swim without it at least once if only to prove it could be done.

I started small, braving the cool air enough to get in a bathing suit and wade in.  It took a whole summer for me to get past my knees, but finally I made it in to the hips.  Alas, there I was stuck.

You see, I could have just plucked up my courage and ran for it, jumped in, then run back out again.  I’ve done that sort of thing before.  Once on a family vacation, my brother and I jumped in a 39 degree hotel pool–in the rain–before running out screaming to the jacuzzi.  This was different.  The most difficult part of my task here was not getting in the ocean, but enjoying it, even if it was just a little bit.

For me, this experiment to see whether I could swim in Northern California became rather a test to see if I could see myself living in Northern California permanently.  That’s not to say I even think that will happen, but it’s certainly possible, and I really just can’t live here forever if I can’t go swimming.  And there is no point to going swimming if you can’t enjoy it.

It took two-and-a-half years for me to get in over my head, but this last Monday, I finally succeeded in actually swimming, sans wetsuit, in the Pacific Ocean off Santa Cruz.  It didn’t last long, but I did get a kind of sick pleasure from finally accomplishing this eight year long goal.

And it actually wasn’t that bad once I was in the water.  It took me a long time to work up to it, going in to my knees, then my thighs, my waist, and finally the whole Nicole.  But once I was under, I managed to swim a bit without wanting to kill myself, and it was all right as long as I kept moving.

Until it wasn’t.  When I got out, I tried to stick around for a bit, but as I huddle in my towel, I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  The cold went bone deep and stayed there until we had driven back to San Jose, and I had spent a long time in a very hot shower.

Still, I did it.  I proved I could swim in Northern California waters and not be completely miserable.  On a day when it’s 90 degrees in San Jose, has been for the past four days, and the ocean has had the entire summer to warm up.  Woot.

Now the real question is can I do it again?

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Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Cruz | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the Warm California Sun”

Santa Cruz is like my Northern California Disneyland but with more hippies and less magic (though probably more magic mushrooms).

In fact, Santa Cruz is in many ways similar to Southern California. It’s kind of a beach town, it has a pier even if the Boardwalk is not actually on a pier, and during the summer you are likely to find scantily-clad beach-goers in large quantities. True, it will likely be at least twenty degrees cooler than the average summer day in SoCal, and you will have to be extra lucky to see the sun, but more than anywhere else north of Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz speaks of Southern California beach towns.

So if you, like me, find yourself yearning for the warm sand and surf of Southern California this summer, Santa Cruz can help you feel a little more at home (or more likely, make you miss SoCal even more, but hey, it’s better than nothing…sort of).

Start your Santa Cruz Beach Day at the Boardwalk.  For me, thinking of Southern California without thinking of amusement parks is just missing the point, and with the ocean mere yards away, you are not going to get better scenery for your screams than at the Boardwalk.  Go ahead, buy an All-Day Wristband.  It will likely pay for itself in a couple of hours, and then you don’t have to worry about tickets.  From roller coasters to haunted houses to log rides, the Boardwalk has enough variety in entertainment to keep you happy.

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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

For lunch, you have some options.  If you want something easy, there are plenty of restaurants by the Boardwalk that are perfectly good, or you can take a walk down the pier (the actual pier) and eat over the water.  Trekking over to Downtown Santa Cruz will give you a larger variety of options that are less overpriced, but personally, I would bring a picnic and eat on the beach.  This will allow you to maximize your beach time and save some money.

By the time your hunger has been sated, hopefully, if you’re really lucky, the fog will have burned off.  In all likelihood, it never will.  In fact, you should probably check the weather to see when the fog is supposed to dissipate, and if you see cloudy skies after about 1pm, just try a different day.

IMG_6849Beach by the Boardwalk

But if you’re lucky, you’ll get some clear skies.  Now, if you are planning this beach day because you are in fact from Southern California, you should probably brace yourself.  It’s going to be cold.  Really fucking cold.  At least compared to what you’re used to.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.  Wear a bathing suit but also bring clothes that you can get dirty.  This is not the time to strut in your bikini unless you’re looking for the fun side of hypothermia.  Bring something to do–a book or a frisbee or sandcastle-making materials–because you’re probably not going to want to go swimming (unless you bring a wetsuit).  And most importantly, wear sunscreen even though it’s cold.  Just because you would be comfortable in a coat, doesn’t mean the sun isn’t out to get you.  It’s just sneakier here.

I like to set up camp on the east side of the bay away from the Boardwalk.  It’s a little less crowded and much more beautiful.  Your path to the beach is paved by trees instead of roller coasters, and your relaxation will not be plagued by screaming teenagers.

When you’ve had enough sun/are so cold you can barely move, it’s time to pack it up for dinner (or more likely, an early happy hour).  There are countless great dining options in Santa Cruz, but I am going to recommend Sabieng Thai Cuisine.  Their food is exceptionally good and very reasonably priced.  Or if you need to stay by the beach just a little bit longer, you can drive down to Capitola and visit Margaritaville.  It is definitely touristy, but it has decent variety in its drinks and eats, and it is literally on the water.  The whole place is ocean-themed all the way down to the bathrooms, so it will give you a taste of home just a little longer without making you freeze your ass off (have I mentioned it’s cold up here?).

It’s hard being a Southern California native in NorCal.  You get made fun of all the time for liking your home town, and finding a decent bathing suit is even harder than finding a decent milkshake.  But at least in Santa Cruz you can pretend that the beach you’re visiting is halfway decent.  That is, if you can find a patch of sun to sit in.

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Hmm, I wonder where you’ve seen this before?

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Cruz | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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