Things to do in 2016

5. Go to the Beach

We started off trying to find a few free and easy things to do in 2016 and, so far, we have previewed four with this being the fifth. From sunsets, to piers, to lighthouses, and harbors, this week we take you to the beach.

Surfboards and Stares:
When I was a teenager I surfed every day in the summer. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s there weren’t that many girl surfers so when I walked out to the waves; I got a lot of stares.   People were curious about this young girl with a towel in one hand and a surfboard in the other. I am sure they were wondering if I was actually going to surf or if I was carrying it to someone.   Little did they know that at that time, surfing and going to the beach was a big part of my life.  It wasn’t until many, many years later that the old bones didn’t feel like working that hard and as a result, just swimming in the water would now become my preferred activity.  However, I was still at the beach!!

The Beach does Wonders for Your Soul:
California’s whole west side is home to the Pacific Ocean. Every type of beach adorns the coastline, from rocky shores, to cliffs, to sandy beaches, and national reserves.

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Coronado Beach was named in the top 10 of California beaches.

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A crispy fall day in southern California.

With one side of California graced by the Pacific Ocean, going to the beach is a daily activity for some.

I tried to get to the coast every chance I could get in my surfing days and still do.   For others it could be a fifteen minute drive, or an hour, or even more if you live deep into the inland of California.  Even at that, a weekend at the beach can do wonders for your soul.

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Hundreds of thousands of people visit these Los Angeles Beaches in the South Bay in the summer.  No crowds on  this fall day right after a rain.

The Sounds and Smells:
When you visit the beach, get those sweaty shoes off and dip your feet in the water and feel the sand between your toes. Even if you don’t go fully into the water, at least do that.  Although it can get quite chilly in the winter, it still feels good to let the salty water soothe those tired feet.

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There are no waves here in Long Beach because of the breakwater.

The first thing you notice about the beach is the wonderful scent of the ocean itself. Even from a few miles away, you can get your first hint of that fresh salty air if the wind is blowing just right.

Besides the aroma of the salt air, the fragrance of sunscreen is everywhere from Bain De Soleil to Coppertone.   In the distance you can hear seagulls calling out and there is nothing like the calming sound of the waves rolling on to the shore. Bring a book, a chair, a towel, then simply sit back and relax.

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The view from your beach chair.

The activities at the beach are also endless, from football on the sand, to Frisbee throwing, surfing, bodyboarding, stand up paddling, bodysurfing, kite surfing, and even sand castle building.

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Kite Surfing

The Sights:
Bring your camera for photo ops because pods of dolphins are frequent guests along the shore. On special occasions you can see them riding the waves or jumping out of the water.  Once instead of a dolphin riding a wave, I was amazed to see a seal actually bodysurfing.   You will see whales, flocks of pelicans, boats, waves, and much, much more.

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A bodysurfing seal

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On any given day, dolphins play in the surf.

The beach has it all, and except for parking and gas, it is all free!!!!

Huntingtn Beach
Surf City, Huntington Beach.

If you stay long enough, your day will end with a vibrant and colorful California sunset.

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Trying to get some last minute waves before the sun sets

You can’t beat the beach; in fact I am going there right now. This time the towel is still in one hand but the surfboard has long been replaced by an oversized colorful umbrella and a beach chair.    I think I am safe from the stares.  I couldn’t be happier.

Photos and story: Debbie Colwell


Parting Shots:

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Don’t forget the tide pools. Here they are at the Ocean Beach Pier.

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An empty beach in Fort Bragg, California.

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The view from the Wyland Gallery in Laguna Beach.

Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach on the “Seventeen Mile Drive”

Camp Pendleton
A beautiful empty beach at Del Mar Beach, Camp Pendleton. Don’t let it fool you, just beyond is restricted military land.


Things to do in 2016

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Explore a Bay or a Harbor.

4. (Of 5 easy and free things to do for 2016)
I am a water person and grew up around boats so, naturally, I love bays and harbors. I have always wanted to live directly on a harbor; I am talking about looking out my window to an unencumbered view of the boats and water. I live near Oceanside Harbor which unfortunately has no residences bayside unless you want to count a house boat.

Oceanside Harbor

It is unlike where I grew up near Newport Harbor where homes sit right at water’s edge; however, THOSE homes are way out of my price range. It is too bad because I could easily live in Newport Harbor.

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Newport Harbor. The Sidewalk goes all around Balboa Island.

For now I will settle for visiting one once in a while. Whenever traveling up and down the coast, I always like to stop at a harbor or marina just to explore the area. Usually there are restaurants and shops to investigate or rental places for boats, kayaks, and SUP’s.

Some have quaint village areas that appeal to visitors while others are just a serene little marina, allowing you to lazily stroll around and enjoy the peacefulness of the water. You go there to enjoy the sounds of lapping boats, the gentle clang of riggings, bell buoys in the distance, or seagulls calling out in the background. Pelicans often will fly by in their ‘V’ formation while seals can be heard barking from far away.

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Coronado bridge in San Diego Harbor

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Dana Point Harbor Entrance

These are nature’s ambient sounds and you don’t have to buy a CD or go to Itunes to hear them.

These sounds are free for all. You just need to have an open ear, and of course be there.

What you don’t hear, you see. Seals, pelicans, seagulls, and other sea birds all make a bay or a harbor their home.   On occasion, a pod of dolphins can even be seen exploring the harbor themselves. I saw a pod of about six enter the small harbor of Oceanside one time and as soon as they reached the end they turned around and headed back to open sea.

In certain areas like Morro Bay and Monterey Wharf, otter sightings are quite frequent.

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Morro Bay

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An otter in Monterey

If it isn’t the sounds of nature, it could be the fun that is associated with harbors. There is a reason why so many boats, kayaks, and SUP’s are sold every year.

By foot or by boat, it is fun to stroll the marina and it is always amusing to read the clever boat names, such as, “Deeper In Debt,” “To Sea Oar Not to Sea,” or my favorite, “Grounds for Divorce.”

Boaters can make fun of themselves but, why do they care, they have a boat!!!!

If your local harbor doesn’t have any eating establishments, take your own lunch and park yourself on a bench or a grassy area.

I had only been to Marina Del Rey once in my life so I decided to take a Sunday drive up on a gray and cloudy day in winter. The quaint little village at first glance was dead with hardly a soul around. From the distance there was a faint sound of a live funk band playing dance hits from the eighties? As we turned the corner it was alive with people dancing, drinking, and having a grand old time. They didn’t care that it was an ugly day; they were enjoying the music and of course being at the harbor! Towards the end of the village, a wonderful bayside restaurant was buzzing with people enjoying what I am sure was a great meal. Even though it wasn’t a perfect day and summer was long gone, it goes to show that a harbor can be enjoyed all year in California.

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Marina Del Rey on that gray and ugly day.

If you don’t mind crowds, there is a little marina area near Redondo Beach Pier that has tons of seafood restaurants, shops, and arcades for the kids. I have been there at many different times of the year and each time it is crammed full of people eating, flying kites, fishing, renting boats, or listening to live music that is also provided on weekend afternoons.

Redondo Beach
Redondo Pier Marina. Plenty of seafood

Kings Harbor
Kings Harbor near the pier

Another great area is, Shoreline Village in Long Beach. It is situated across the bay from the iconic Queen Mary and is a fun place to eat, drink, shop, or people and boat watch.

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Shoreline Village and the Queen Mary

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Panoramic of Shoreline Village


If quietude is your goal, it doesn’t get much quainter than Noyo Harbor which is a couple hours north of San Francisco in Fort Bragg.   This is a harbor that takes you back in time.   It is an active fishing port that also features an area for tourists.

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Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg

From the enormous San Francisco Bay to the small and charming village of Oceanside Harbor, you can never go wrong visiting a harbor. They aren’t restricted to the ocean either, lakes have them too!   Try to visit one the next chance you have.

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Like a beacon for all to enter San Francisco Bay, The Golden Gate bridge stands tall.

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Even lakes have marinas, Big Bear Lake.


Oh, and if you see a little cottage for sale right on the water for under $300K , be sure and let me know.

Photos and Story: Debbie Colwell



Parting Shots:

Mission Bay
Mission Bay with the roller coaster of Belmont Shores in the background.

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Moss Landing in Northern California on a early gray morning.

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Sleepy Oxnard Harbor

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Ventura Harbor

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San Diego Bay and skyline

Alamitos Bay near Long Beach.

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San Diego Bay across from Coronado

Things to do in 2016

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3. Watch a Sunset

 A Sunset is the one thing in life that is absolutely free. You may have to pay for parking if you are at the beach or pay a little gas to get to the coast, mountains, or desert. But the show itself is free!!

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A pier always gives such a nice backdrop.

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I love silhouettes against the orange sunset sky

Every sunset photo I have taken brings back a memory or tells a story. I have frequently sat at the beach to see the sun take its last breath for the day with the orange, red, and yellow light-show continuing on for at least an half an hour or more.

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Sunset pond near harbor
The sun is long gone in these two photos but the colors still hang on.

I can be many miles away from the coast and still enjoy the after show as colorful clouds shine brightly in the distance. The coast isn’t the only place to see a brilliant sunset; some of the best I have seen have been in the desert.

I have been lucky to have seen the illustrious green flash once in my life and later captured a tiny part of it on camera. One really gray night in Ventura I wasn’t going to take any photos but changed my mind. I was rewarded with a super cool sequence of odd shapes of the sun including a eerie looking mushroom cloud shape.

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Mushroon sunset 800
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A lone person appears from the fog during a Central California sunset.


Wherever you live, take the time to enjoy the gift that was given to us to enjoy for eternity.

Sunset Doheny


I know that wherever I am, and whatever I do, I will always try to watch a sunset at least once a week even if it is only a small glimpse in the distance.

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The orange against the twilight sky and the sliver of a moon in the distance is still a beautiful sight no matter where you are.

Every sunset tells a story, here are some more of mine:

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Military ships pass by where I live all the time with Camp Pendleton nearby. This looked more like a cargo ship.

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Speaking of Camp Pendleton, on its Del Mar Beach, you can enjoy one while sitting in your own Palapa.

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Even on a ugly and gray evening, the sun still managed to poke out for brief 20 seconds before disappearing again.

Fire sunset 800
I never published this sunset until now. At the time, fires were raging in San Diego County, destroying many homes. The smoke from the fire made the sky look super red that night.

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Malibu Beach. The sad part is, after this was taken, I drove off and the sky actually got brighter and more colorful!!  This could have been a way better photo 10 minutes later.   I never leave now for at least 30 minutes.

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With a 300 telephoto you can make the sun look really big. In this photo you can barely make out the sun behind the pier but I like that effect.

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I wanted to take this photo with nobody in front of the pier but this kid kept running into my shot. Then I watched him for awhile and he was having so much fun running in an out of the water and laughing and giggling like he had never seen the ocean.

It was fun to watch and made this sunset memorable to me.

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A serene harbor is a great pace to watch the sun go down.

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When I surfed, I saw a sunset almost everyday.

Things to do for 2016

San Clemente Pier G

2. Walk on a Pier.

As I sifted through my photos of piers, I suddenly realized how many piers there actually are in California. Although I haven’t seen them all, I have seen quite a few.

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The pier in the quaint town of Capitola, Central California.

I love piers.   Other than a boat, it is the only place you can walk over water and enjoy a 360 degree view of the ocean as well as the land.

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Surf Town USA, Huntington Beach Pier on an uncrowded week day.

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The next city over from Huntington, Newport Beach Pier.

There are so many different types of piers in California. Go back in time while exploring the Veterans Memorial Pier at Belmont Shores in Long Beach, ride a roller coaster on the Santa Monica Pier, feed a pelican on the Oceanside Pier, shop and enjoy your favorite seafood at Redondo Pier, hear and see the sea lions on Santa Cruz Wharf, or enjoy a peaceful stroll on San Simeon Pier with only a handful of people.

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The old school, Veterans Memorial Pier in Long Beach.

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Ride a roller coaster on Santa Monica Pier. This is just one angle, there is more pier around the corner.

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Oceanside Pier, one of the longest piers in California.

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Redondo Beach Pier is another bustling and busy piers.

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Get away from it all on San Simeon Pier near Hearst Castle. Love this part of the coast.

Every size and shape pier can be found in California and other than parking, they are free to visit!

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Technically a wharf, Monterey.

From wood to concrete, each pier has its unique feature and shape.  The Santa Monica Pier is by far the busiest with a full amusement park operating on the structure whereas up the road a few hours, not a building can be found on the Port Hueneme Pier near Oxnard.

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Port Hueneme Pier

The Ocean Beach Pier in San Diego County is unique as one of only a few concrete piers. This T-shaped pier has a café in the middle and has low spots where you actually feel like you can touch the water. Unfortunately these low spots cause the pier to be closed in high surf.

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The T-Shaped Ocean Beach Pier.

Down the road a few miles you can spend your vacation renting one of many cottages that sit right on top of the Crystal Beach Pier. You can walk out the door to your own private patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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The cottages at Crystal Pier, San Diego.

Stroll on a pier at least once this year and enjoy the salt air, the ocean, the beach, the sounds, the food, or the high thrill of a roller coaster.

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Seal Beach Pier

Whatever the pier offers, there is no better place to take a leisurely walk.

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The last pier in California until you hit Mexico. Imperial Beach Pier.