Salt Air

I drove out to Malibu early Sunday evening, timed to miss the heat of the day and the snarl of traffic. My destination was Carbon Beach, aka Billionaire’s Beach – because you need that many zeroes in your checking account to live there. But there’s no such thing as a private beach in California. All 800+ miles of coastline, from Mexico to Oregon, are public access. So there I was. Shoes in one hand, camera in the other, on a meandering stroll along this one-and-a-half-mile stretch of uncrowded, unhurried paradise.

Shadow Selfie.CarbonBeachI’d be lying if I didn’t admit to coveting one or two of those beachfront pleasure domes. There are some truly spectacular modern structures, though my tastes run more to the older, traditional architecture… the white-washed, red-tiled Mediterraneans and the gray-shingled ramblers reminiscent of Cape Cod. But the happy truth is, none of the super shacks can compete with the extravagant beauty of the beach. The warm sun, the salt in the breeze, the glowing sky, the rolling surf, the infinite horizon. The tableau is so familiar, yet utterly unique from one moment to the next, ever changing. A dog romps happily in the surf. A squadron of pelicans swoops down low, skimming the waves. Two dolphins glide by just offshore, in no hurry. Every once in awhile a helicopter zooms by, low and fast. A lone surfer takes his board out to catch a few more waves before dark. And as the sun sinks its rays lengthen, shadows stretch out, colors deepen, the hills dissolve to silhouette and lights begin to twinkle.

On the way back, the tide was coming in a little faster than I was moving, and the beach disappears entirely here and there. I had to clamber over some boulders to avoid getting soaked by the unforgiving waves. I wasn’t entirely successful in that bid to stay dry, but that’s what shorts and old boat shoes are for. I left my sodden, sand-filled shoes at the car (having scored a parking space right where I wanted it on PCH), and continued barefoot to catch the last of the light from the end of Malibu Pier. I even waited until after 9 o’clock for the moonrise, as it was the night after the “super moon” – and I was rewarded with a beautiful sight as the big red moon came up over Santa Monica Bay. But no reward for you, unfortunately, as my trusty smartphone camera just can’t handle celestial events. Here, though, are a few snapshots from one of my favorite places. Enjoy!

breaking wave


Carbon Beach, Malibu 13 July 2014

Bleached Seawall

A bit of weather-beaten seawall

foamy gloamy

blue malibu

Malibu in the blue night, from the pier

Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier


Perfect end to the day.

The End (so far)


Magic In The Air

There are days when I wake up and my first thought is: the beach. And that pretty much settles it. Sometime before dark, I’ll be walking the sand. Feet in the water. Looking for rocks. The rhythmic crash of the surf in my ears. Warm sun and a cool breeze on my face. The only decision to be made is which beach to hit.

Well, it’s all just one endless beach, really. From border to border: Mexico to Canada. But each stretch of LA sand has its own vibe, creatures and scenery. There’s Dockweiler State Beach which spreads out under the end of the LAX runways (here’s an earlier post on Dockweiler)… or Venice Beach with its skaters, tourists and muscle boys + girls (Just Add Water)… there’s Santa Monica with its pier and a ribbon of concrete “boardwalk” winding through the sand, past the beach volleyball courts (where that game was invented)… and there’s Malibu, which is fun to do when friends visit: lunch on the seaside deck at the Malibu Beach Inn, and then a stroll along the platinum sands of Carbon Beach. Massive postcode envy.

Yesterday, it was Santa Monica. I was aiming for Will Rogers State Beach (see Essential Ingredients), on the northern end of SaMo – but I was daydreaming and missed the turnoff for that parking area. Continuing on PCH, I pulled in to one of the next lots, at the Annenberg Beach House (–which needs its own future post). As I stepped onto the sand, I saw a sign celebrating the Beach House’s 5th anniversary. Fun was being had. There were colorful flags and banners flapping in the constant sea breeze.


And then, I looked up.



Wow! KITES! But not just any old kites. These were amazingly creative… unique… and huge! They formed an airborne armada, flying in formation above the Beach House, the boardwalk and the beach volleyball courts. I started snapping pictures wildly, but a bit blindly. It was one of those days with bright sunshine behind me, with high wispy clouds overhead, when trying to see the camera screen through my (non-prescription) sunglasses is a constant struggle. So all I’ve got to share here are some not-so-great photos of these truly great kites.

I put more distance between myself and the kites, trying to capture the spectacle of all these ghosts and birds and ribbons and animals in the sky… and eventually I was drawn away, down the beach, by the gravitational pull of the water.

A couple of hours later I made my way back to the Beach House. There was a sudden lull in the onshore breeze, like a power failure. And the kites began losing altitude, especially the bigger ones.


That was the first time I realized that people weren’t flying these kites – each one was tethered to a heavy sand bag on the beach. A giant insect was falling out of the sky right in front of me, so I did what I haven’t done in a very, very long time: I grabbed the kite’s string and pulled on it until it had regained some loft. And let me tell you: a kite’s string is a time machine that takes you straight back to your childhood!

I was doing pretty well with it, too. But then the giant insect got tangled up with a giant something else, and they crashed to the sand. I tried freeing the kites from this indignity, but they were too big for one person to maneuver. I wondered, Who do these kites belong to, and where are they?! The answer to my question appeared in the form of a woman with a great gray scarf tied around her neck, who let me know in the nicest way that while she appreciated my help–she would not mind at all if I stepped away from her kites.

I struck up a conversation with the kite lady, who is Melanie Walker from Colorado. She and her partner-in-kites, George Peters, made many of the flying artworks gracing the skies of Santa Monica yesterday. (I think it was an ‘invitational regatta’ as part of the Beach House’s 5th anniversary celebration.) While we were talking, some kids came up and asked if they could fly some kites. Melanie let them down easy. Honestly, I had completely forgotten the kids-and-kites link. It’s powerful. Anyhoo… turns out that Melanie and George are artists of some renown and partners in Airworks Studio – which creates sculpture, architecture and other public art installations in addition to these spectacular kites. I learned all of this only after I got home and Googled “Melanie Walker”. I borrowed their photo of the kites against the blue sky (above), because I wasn’t able to get a very good shot of ‘the whole enchilada’. (A click on that photo will take you to the Airworks Studio website.)

Here are the snaps I shot of these kites. Melanie told me a few of the names… others I found on the website… and the ones marked with an asterisk I just made up.

KatMan.DotMan.UnknownMan^ Top-to-bottom: Kat Man, Grinning Man* and Dot Man


^ Kat Man


^ Dot Man.
Or, as Melanie referred to him in yesterday’s failing winds, Crash Man.


^ Sky Birds and Bee*


^ Dress Kite – High Fashion
Melanie Walker’s creation and the loveliest kite in the sky.

^ Sea Turtle* and Eel*


^ Sky Birds soaring with High Fashion


^ And here’s Bug Man*, who fell to earth on my watch – but he introduced me to Melanie. To give you an idea of scale, those people on the volleyball court at lower right are not far away. And my photos only hint at the vibrant colors and absolute magic of these kites!


^ Kites flying in formation above these banners in the sand
– part of a colorful, fluttering installation that is aptly called Wind Garden.

What a great afternoon. I left the beach and took the Incline, which gets you from the sea-level PCH up to Santa Monica at the top of the Palisades. As I waited for the light to change at the top, I glanced in my side mirror and was reminded for the millionth time that day what I love about living here.

mirror image

The End (so far)

[084] Dockweiler

planeWhen I was a kid, I was fascinated with planes, airports and everything to do with aviation. Along with most other little boys of my generation, and undoubtedly quite a few of the little girls. A big jet launching into the air presents a heady mix of science, engineering, magic and romance. How does it fly?! Where is it going? Who’s on it?

Fast forward, decades. Wide-eyed little boys and girls become bleary-eyed passengers. Science and engineering are now in the service of shoehorning ever more butts into ever-shrinking seats. Magic is required to jam giant carry-ons into overhead bins. As for the romance of air travel… that phrase just reads like a punchline.

But there’s one place that even the most jaded traveler can summon his inner kid: at the end of a runway.

I dropped Eileen at LAX this afternoon, reluctantly sending her back to the last vestiges of Boston’s never-ending winter. Instead of hopping back on the freeway, I decided to take a quick detour down the Imperial Highway, which runs along the southern edge of LAX. It parallels the runways, and like all westbound routes, it ends at the big blue Pacific.

Dockweiler State Beach sits under the bluffs at the end of the airport’s runways. You’d never know there is a massive intercontinental transportation hub behind that hillside covered with ice plants, because you can’t hear or see the jets until they have launched themselves right above your head, out over the ocean. Doesn’t matter the destination: north, south, east or west. Transcon or transpacific. All flights jump off headed west, into the wind. Some will turn left or right. Some will just keep going, into the wild blue yonder. Next stop: Hawaii. Tokyo. Sydney. Hong Kong. Singapore…

So the little kid in me got to relive some long-forgotten thrills today, watching big planes climb up into the bigger sky. How does it fly? Where is it going? Who’s on it? And between launches, I was drawn – as I always am – to that zone between land and sea. Where the relentless blue-green surf throws itself upon indifferent sands. It is somehow violent and peaceful all at once. An unending war, fought to an inevitable draw, over and over and over again. The sound of it is comforting, like a lullaby. The sea breeze is constant. There goes another jet. Down the beach, a few kites take to the sky. And the great flocks of gulls gathered on the beach to breed are a little more skittish than usual. They take wing en masse if someone approaches too close, settling again just 50 feet down the beach.

That was a busy stretch of sand there at the end of the LAX runways this afternoon.
And one very happy little boy.

Day 084 #100happydays (And here’s a few more pics from today.)


view to santa monica

Santa Monica’s gleaming white skyline follows the sweep of the coast just north of LAX.


Hillsides covered in fire-resistant succulents called ice plants explode with vibrant colors in the Southern California spring.

If you squint you can just make out a jet headed west over the ocean. The smudge along the horizon is the marine layer – dense fog banks a thousand feet high or more – that is California’s natural air conditioning. As the inland areas heat up, the marine layer is drawn closer in, giving us a nice cool hug. In June, it might not burn off until early afternoon, earning the meteorological moniker “the June gloom”. Some folks find it depressing. But as a veteran of many a sweaty summer in New York, Boston and Washington DC – not to mention six consecutive summers in the skillet of the Palm Springs desert – I’m a big fan of the marine layer. It’s cool.



[082] Essential Ingredients

We are not as complicated as we make ourselves out to be.

The recipe for a successful day has few essential ingredients:

(serves 2)

Sun. Sky. Sand. Sea.

Throw in a siesta.

And finish with a celebratory cocktail.

Repeat as often as necessary possible.



fine line



Eileen expertly demonstrates the beach siesta…



…and the celebratory cocktail.


(She had help.)

Day 082 #100happydays


[081] Just Add Water

Today I watched three refugees from winter begin to thaw. It was beautiful.


Mario, Jim & Eileen on the Venice Beach boardwalk.


Los hermosos… patrolling the sand.


Just as we’ve long suspected:
She walks on water.


Mario & Eileen, deep in reflection.

Jim… footloose and fancy-free.

Sun, sand, water + friends.

Day 081 #100happydays

[043] An Unmet Sunset

Yesterday, I tormented a friend (who is soldiering through the frozen misery of winter in New England) by mentioning my plans for a late-afternoon stroll on the beach to catch the sunset. I promised photos. (Note to self: Never torment a witch.) It was sunny and bright when I left West Hollywood, only to turn grayer and darker as I cruised down Sunset Blvd toward the sea, until this:

samo clouds

I was hoping for a last-minute save by Mother Nature. It would have been awesome if the sun dropped down into the ocean and set the underside of the clouds on fire! But this was not to be. Instead, it looked like someone kicked a leg out from under the cloud cover, sending its northern edge crashing down into Malibu. Run! beach celebs! Run!

moody sky

It was at this point I decided a walk on the sand was probably not mandatory. That would have required scampering down the steps 100 feet to the beach and (the main deterrent) 100 feet back up. Plus, it was already 60 degrees and threatening to plummet into the 50s. Suddenly seemed like the perfect evening to wander the park that runs the length of these palisades along Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue. (There was a little splash of muted pinks and purples in the clouds out to sea, but that lasted about a minute. Then, fade to black…)


Funny thing. The cloud bank that lowered the curtain on the setting sun also draped the palisades in a premature darkness. I realized I’d never walked along here in the dark, and there was an interesting play of light and shadow going on in every direction. I meandered, camera in hand.

park lamp

The old-fashioned lamp posts are set far apart, letting stretches of the park stay deeper in shadow, here and there interrupted by pools of yellow light. The lamps, though, assault a camera lens like a solar flare. When I got between the lamp and the tree, the leafless ficus branches seemed more like coral than wood.


Then I began to stalk my photographic prey by letting the trunk of a palm tree eclipse the glaring light. Click. The spreading white limbs of a massive ficus took on the warm glow of a bonfire – with inky black silhouettes of towering palms standing sentry high above.

lit ficus under dark palms

Tilting the camera angle slightly up and away from glowing ficus branches… the willowy palms against the night sky took on a more sinister attitude, all black and blue and collars-turned-up cool. Like a gang of bad ass Gullivers surrounding Lilliputian me. Or those nasty aliens from War of the Worlds – fitted with giant Phyllis Diller fright wigs.

dark palms.samo

For one last look out before heading home, I walked over to the fence that keeps people like me from tumbling down the cliffs to an unhappy end on Pacific Coast Highway. Ocean and sky were now swallowed up completely in the impenetrable void. Only the lights on PCH gave away the curve of the coast north from Santa Monica, then west out to Malibu.

pch to malibu

Pushing my little camera/phone’s zoom to its limits, the distant lights of Malibu reveal the border between sea and sky, but the colorful blur looks to me like DNA test results. The ones lawyers show to juries to dis/prove paternity and other kinds of guilt.

malibu lights from samo

I didn’t get the sunset I wanted yesterday. But they seem to happen almost every day, so I’m not too concerned. And I got to discover a different side of a familiar place: after the lights went out. Nice way to end Day 043 of #100happydays.

[009] I bought a scarf

It was just last month, early December. I went for a stroll through the neighborhood one evening. Sunset Plaza was all done up in its signature holiday style, with tiny multi-color lights strung along the retail and restaurant facades. Makes for a festive, yet understated, holiday streetscape. (I also love that they tear it all down the day after xmas.)

I stopped into a shop and, though I wasn’t really looking for anything, left with a new scarf. I thought, this’ll get me through the coming LA winter, which can be wet but is never really cold. A lightweight coat and scarf is all you’ll need. For about three weeks.

2014-01-15_12-51-49Or not. The temps have been in the 70s and 80s ever since I bought that damn scarf. You didn’t really think I was writing a #100happydays post about a scarf, did you?

No. I just thought it might be hateful to lead off with the real theme of this post, which is:

Walking the beach… in January… barefoot… makes me happy.

Oh god. I know. But you’ve come this far, you might as well enjoy the ride.

I live 9 miles from the beach. Two blocks down the hill, turn right on Sunset Blvd, and nine lovely, curvy miles later I’m at the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). It’s a left to Santa Monica or a right to Malibu. Today, I samo.montana stepsheaded to Santa Monica. I wound my way back up to Ocean Ave, which runs along the top of the palisades facing the ocean, and found a parking space right by the Montana Ave steps.

There are only three pedestrian bridges across PCH in Santa Monica. Very convenient, but it does involve 100-foot change in elevation from atop the palisades to the sand. And back.

The steps by Montana Ave are the oldest, I think, as they are built entirely of wood. The two-by-fours and railroad ties are so charmingly yesteryear… notably in their utter disregard for anything approaching level. I nearly broke my ankle, several times, as I gazed out across the sea to Malibu’s Point Dume or watched the transpacific jets launching from LAX. Once I learned to look down at samo.view toward pac palisadesmy feet, it was much smoother sailing. And then, I was on the sand. Tranquility Base.

It’s a w-i-d-e beach, at least 100 yards to the surf. I’m always amazed at the people who stop and plant themselves on the hot, dry sand. For me, paydirt is the zone of flat wet sand where the surf can wash over your ankles. It’s easier walking on that wet sand – and isn’t walking what a beach is really for? And for picking up stones. That was also part of my mission today (but that’s another post).

It was a glorious afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica. And so many of you will feel such joy as I tell you it took nearly two hours in rush hour traffic to cover those nine miles home. Bumper-to-bumper. But I wasn’t in a hurry. And you know, there’s something about begin forced to a crawl along Sunset Blvd on a beautiful winter’s day. Windows down. Music up. Meandering through leafy Brentwood, along the UCLA campus in Westwood, past the gates of Bel Air and then winding through the Hills of Beverly… not so bad, after all. Sure, it screwed up my evening swim. But I did scamper back up those steps from the beach. That counts for something.

The beach in winter makes me happy.
Day 009 #100happydays

Snow on the Sand

One of the prerogatives of life in Southern California is being able to torment friends in northern climes with sunny beach photos in winter. It is especially gratifying for those of us who originally hail from those arctic latitudes. Pictorial nyah-nyah-nyah-NYAH-nyah. Call it Schadenfroid.

I just got a merry email from my friend Maria, who is spending this xmas with her sister’s family in Connecticut. She attached several pics from a wintry walk they took around the beach at Tod’s Point. It’s cold. The pale sun hangs low in the gray sky. There’s snow on the sand.

It’s 72 and sunny here in Los Angeles this Christmas. But if I were going to take a walk on the beach today, I’d choose somewhere warm and cozy… like a cold, snowy beach in Old Greenwich.


In memorium

In memorium

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is
to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came. –JFK