Capistrano Beach, Capo Beach

Capistrano Beach, Capo Beach

The air conditioner is blasting as I am driving along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway on a super hot summer day in California.  The ocean to my right is a vibrant sparkly blue and is producing waves no more than two feet high.

Way out to sea there is a subtle outline of a gray marine layer making its way inland.    Will the dark gloom hold off so we can see one of California’s glorious color-splashed sunsets?  Only time will tell, as there were still two hours remaining of daylight.

In the meantime, I suddenly noticed that there were no other vehicles on the road.   I am the only car heading south and once in a while one passes by traveling north.  There is always traffic on PCH.  How could this little stretch of road, only about a block from the ocean be so deserted on this warm afternoon?

Still scratching my head in wonderment,  a group of palm trees caught my eye as their fronds were  swaying  from the gentle ocean breeze.   Looking west now, I was admiring the rows of multi-million dollar seaside homes lucky enough to have the  sand and sea as their front yards.

The beach front homes start after the parking lot

It almost looked like the more crowded Malibu up north…almost.

However, here, you felt like it was old California, back in a day when Woodies cruised the roads stacked high with surfboards and the beaches weren’t packed as they are today.

So where is this mysterious un-crowded spot on PCH?

This is the small stretch of the coast called Capistrano Beach, otherwise known as Capo Beach.

As mentioned,  PCH is THE road in coastal California.  On any given Southern California day in summer it is packed with cars filled with beachgoers.  PCH or Highway 1 winds and curves all along the coastline from Southern California to Northern.   In certain places it runs right along the coast where you are so close, you can almost touch the sand and water with your finger tips.

So why is it so un-crowded in Capo Beach?

Here are my theories:
One,  Capo Beach isn’t a large area and actually skirts the very edge of Dana Point and Doheny State Park.   In fact, part of Dohenys day parking borders Capo and Dana Point.

Along the stretch at Capo, there is one small pay lot that can be used for accessing the beach and a few parking spaces along the road itself.  So it doesn’t have massive parking lots like you will see in cities such as Huntington Beach.  That alone keeps the crowds away.

Two, there is a railroad track that divides the road to the beach.  You can only get across it in a few select areas.  One is at the said parking lot where you just step over the tracks and you are on the sand.  The other is a multi level walkway that takes you high over the tracks and brings you back down to the day parking area of the state park.

This pedestrian bridge is a real test of endurance, especially if you have kids, chairs, or surf toys in tow.  It’s a treat that I tried once and it felt like I was climbing Mount Everest.   I was ready to call out for my Sherpa but realized I was just in an oxygen deprived state.

The pedestrian bridge, also know as Mt Everett

Catering to visitors along this section of PCH and close to this bridge, there are a few hotels and restaurants with amazing ocean views.

A few hotels in Capo Beach

Also, if you don’t feel like taking that trek, north is Dana Point with the popular Doheny Beach and State Park. This is where the crowds congregate.   This well known surfing beach is the perfect place for families as it has plenty of sand,  parking lots, bathrooms, lifeguards, etc.  The waves are great for every type of surf vehicle,  including long boards, short boards, and SUP’s.

Dana Point Harbor is nearby and offers up all that you want for a vacation, including restaurants, shops, boat rentals, fishing trips, tours, etc.  The same can be said for San Clemente which is situated south of Capo Beach.

Looking north towards Dana Point

Theory three,  the shoreline itself has sand but is intermixed with rocks in certain areas.   So sometimes walking into the water is a little tough on the feet.   It isn’t bad for a family beach except for one dangerous factor…the waves break right on shore!

A rocky area and a wave breaking on shore

There is a drop off that slopes down and even on small wave days, the breakers can pull you right up off your feet.

It makes it hard to allow small children to go anywhere close unless you are tightly holding on to their hand.

On this day, I sat briefly to watch the few swimmers braving the waves.

Three grown men were only knee high when a nice roller was making its way to shore.  These were not small men yet they were swooped up and slammed to the sand as if a rope was tied to their ankles.   I suppressed a small giggle and nonchalantly looked the other way only because the same has happened to me.

I was thinking that if these three got pushed around, what would the waves do to a child?   So this is part of my theory on why there are not that many people on Capistrano Beach.  You want to be able to go in the water on hot days and not risk life and limp. Slight exaggeration I know but it is one of the reasons I feel the crowds go north to the mellower Doheny State Beach.

Theory four on why the road was so empty on a bright summer day, it’s because most of Capo Beach is filled with the aforementioned million dollar homes.  Built steps from the sand, these grandiose abodes are in a gated community, so there is no public access to the shore.

Looking south, you can see where the seaside homes start

Theories aside, Capistrano is one of a few what I call mellow beaches in Southern California. It has a great bike and pedestrian trail and is an extremely picturesque area.

If you want to get away for the day, weekend or even week, this is a place to relax and enjoy a pure California experience.

I will be making this drive many more times as this is one of my favorite areas.   Because of the lack of cars, you can, for a brief instant imagine what it was like to cruise the coast fifty or sixty years ago…but only for a moment.   Soon you will be reaching a street light and all will be back to normal.

Thanks to Capo Beach for that few minutes of going back in time.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell




Living Coast Discovery Center

The sign

Living Coast Discovery Center

Recently a bunch of friends went to Maui for vacation. I couldn’t go because of work but I was way jealous when they told me that they swimming with sea turtles on a snorkeling expedition.   It sounded so awesome!

As it turned out, a week later I was able to go to the Living Coast Discovery Center to view sea turtles myself.  So ha ha ha!  Well, actually it was only one turtle and never mind that it was behind a thick, smudged  piece of Plexiglas.   Also, too bad I was just sitting on a bench instead of swimming next to them in the warm crystal clear Hawaiian waters.   I guess I need to take back that ha ha ha.   However, we did have one thing in common, it WAS a sea turtle and I had never seen one up close before.

Turtle front view

The sea turtle as well as many other animals can be seen at the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista, California. The center sits next to the San Diego Bay and is situated on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. This nonprofit zoo and aquarium is home to many sea animals, birds, snakes, and much more.

A leopard shark in the main aquarium

Some of the animals are rescued because of injuries and other issues. As an example, the beautiful bald eagle we saw had an injured wing and couldn’t fly.   A cute little owl had eyesight only in one eye so it could now only survive with the help of the center.

The cute little half blind owl

Eagle smiling
Eagle side view
Franklin the bald eagle, now I know why it is our national symbol

The facility is a great place for field trips or any educational programs. Volunteers walk around and show you some of the birds up close and give you information about them. We also were able to see Franklin the bald eagle being fed as well as the sharks and the turtle.

The bald eagle is normally a fish eater but they soon discovered he only likes dead rats. So watching him feed is not for the squeamish. At every exhibit there were crayons and paper for kids to draw and there was a scavenger hunt asking for participants to find certain species. There were kid’s crafts and interactive exhibits, making this a great family activity.

The facility isn’t huge and it won’t take up your whole day, so keep this in mind if you are ever looking for something to do.

I personally found the birds the most interesting. I have seen a bald eagle from afar but never that close and I was in awe of the massive sized owls.

Owl 800
A beautiful barn owl.

The center also features day camps, overnight adventures, kayaking, nature discovery tours, field trips, and walking trails through the wildlife refuge.

View 2
View 1
The view from the center

Here is an update from their website on the upcoming Turtle Lagoon:

*UPDATE* We are excited to announce we are enhancing Turtle Lagoon! The project will give the turtles more room to swim freely and add interactive elements to better educate visitors about these endangered sea turtles in the wild. The turtles are currently off exhibit, but they will be splashing into their new home in March 2016, upon project completion. 

So more turtles!!! Instead of going to Maui, I can save my money and just see them here.  Well, maybe not, there is that warm water thing and swimming next to them in their natural environment just can’t be duplicated.   I guess I’ll save my pennies for the next Hawaii trip.

For now… I’ll just go visit them at the Living Coast Discovery Center…and so can you!

Terminal Island Japanese Fishing Village Memorial

Terminal Island Japanese Fishing Village Memorial

On one of our trips to San Pedro, we were traveling across the expansive Vicente Thomas Bridge when we noticed an exit sign that said “Japanese Fishing Village Memorial.”   With time on our hands and our usual curiosity, we turned our sedan onto the exit ramp to explore further.

Through the maze of streets we drove, marveling at the old abandoned buildings sitting dormant against the backdrop of the dynamic port of Los Angeles.  Across the bay you can see the massive cargo ships stacked many stories high with containers from all over the world.  The enormous vessels remain motionless while the towering cranes work furiously either loading or unloading the shipping crates.

The sheer magnitude of the commerce that is accomplished at this port every day is amazing.

Yet on this side, the buildings were empty, worn down, and decrepit.  At water’s edge, rusty old cranes were discarded and left in place, leaving you to only imagine what they were like in their heyday.   Nearby would have been functioning canneries with conveyor belts unloading the catches of the day.

The canneries of course, are no longer there.  They are now empty shells of buildings filled with cobwebs and ghosts.

When we reached the memorial, It was very quiet…a slight gust of wind provided the only sound in a place that was once full of activity, once full of life.

This was home to the Terminal Island Japanese Fishing Village.

Abandoned buildings and cranes. In the distance you can see the blue tops of the newer cranes.

The History
To understand the memorial, we must go back in time.

It was the early 1940’s where a vibrant community of over 3,000 Japanese and Japanese-American residents settled this area.   The neighborhood was filled with energy from a booming industry of tuna fishing and canning.

This fishing and canning district actually started in 1907 when there were over 600 Japanese fisherman working the boats, while wives providing some of the labor at the canneries.

Life was simple; everything was in such close proximity.  You could hear the whistles blowing, signaling the arrival of a fishing boat making its way from the open sea.

The boats and cannery circa 1938

At its peak over 3,000 Japanese residents owned homes, stores, restaurants.  There were billiard rooms, churches, candy stores, banks, shrines, and even a judo hall.  A school was built in 1924 to accommodate the hundreds of children living here.

The families lived close together so there was a strong sense of community. This was especially noticeable when the families were left behind while the men were on the fishing boats for long stretches.

This was their life, they were a tight knit group who helped each other out if needed.

December 7th
Sadly, life changed on December 7th, 1941.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a newly formed committee was stirring up anti-Japanese sentiment with the idea that the fisherman and villagers were spies.  Since they were located near a U.S. Navy facility, the village was the first to feel the effects of this campaign.

The government took the entire non-native Japanese fisherman into custody. The women and children were left behind to fend for themselves.  This obviously put them in dire straits not having the working fisherman in the family.  Some of the men were released and some were later reunited with their families at detention centers.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, sending 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps.

The residents were told that they had 72 hours to prepare for relocation, leaving only a short period to sell all of their possessions. Obviously they had to sell for pennies on the dollar as they weren’t given much of a choice.

All had to say goodbye to their way of life, their Fursato, as they called it, their “Home Sweet Home.”

Three years later, on January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded.  Not much of a consolation as most returnees came back only to find their beloved homes or property demolished and bulldozed over by the Navy.  Only the canneries were still open and some went back to work there.

Others left the area, saddened by the memory of their once thriving community and to find jobs elsewhere.

In 1971,  the Terminal Islanders Club was formed as a way for these former residents to keep in touch and preserve the history of their neighborhood.   They still meet for annual picnics and gatherings to this day. Over 1,000 people get together at these happenings which includes many generations and descendants.

The club dedicated the Terminal Island Japanese Memorial in 2002 in remembrance.  There is a statue of two Issei fisherman, a gateway of a Shinto Shrine, and panels giving the history of Terminal Island.

Today, fishing boats still line the docks

For me the statue and memorial here serves as a reminder to never let this happen again. It is heartbreaking to read stories of what they had to go through.

If you are ever in the San Pedro, take a short trip over to the Japanese Fishing Village Memorial.

Take time to imagine this area as a flourishing village with bustling activity.  A place with active canneries, boats full of tuna, kids playing, neighbors chatting, and the delicious aroma of food escaping from the kitchens.   I am told the former residents come to visit from time to time and I am sure these are the exact memories they try to conjure up in their head… and their heart.

However, let’s not forget the history and the dark time they had to endure.

We have to embrace history in all its good or bad, so we can learn from it. I was definitely moved when researching this story.

Thanks to this memorial, everyone can gain knowledge of this period. This is a place and time that they have obviously not forgotten, and now…we won’t either.

Parting shots:
Not from that era but still almost 40 years old, the culture can still be seen along the streets of this area.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Except from shot for 1938: Courtesy Google Images

Santa Monica Pier

SM-Lit up pier 2 FB
Santa Monica Pier

People, people, and more people.  A few weeks back I did a story on the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial Pier.  In that story I mentioned that when I was strolling on that pier, it was if I had gone back in time.   The design of the pier seemed reminiscent of a time long ago with old lanterns that subtly lit the walkway and an unusual lack of crowds.    It felt like something from the 1950’s.

SM-Sign FB

Two weeks later it was feeling more like the  21st century as we stepped on to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County, California.  Unlike the Belmont Pier, we were now sharing it not with a handful of people, but with thousands!!    It was bumper to bumper people as far as you can see.

SM-Pier activity FB

So what attracts so many to the Santa Monica Pier and not the Belmont Pier?

The Belmont Pier has a snack bar, fishing, plenty of bathrooms and a great view, what more could you ask?   In comparison, the Santa Monica Pier also has those features but with a few wee minor additions, such as,  a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel,  a carousel, a two story restaurant, a flying trapeze,  shops,  carnival games and rides,  vendors, music,  and much more.  It is an amusement park sitting on top of a pier and that is why it is so crowded!

SM-Long distance roller coaster ferris wheel FB

The Santa Monica pier is where you go to play, eat, drink, and have fun.   We went on the Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday so I am sure it was more crowded than normal, although I can’t be sure of that fact.  Summer is probably even more crowded and I also overheard someone say it was busier at night.   So with that in mind, plan to to spend the day here as you would any amusement park or fair.

SM-Looking towards it from parking lot 2 FB SM-Looking towards it where we parked FB

The Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909 and strangely its purpose at the time was to carry sewage out to sea,via pipes.  Obviously through the years it has been re-built to house and to hold the weight of the amusement park type rides and structures.     I stood in awe as I watched the waves crash against the pilings wondering how they could possibly hold up all of those rides.

SM-Waves crashing on Pier 2 FB SM-Waves crashing on pier FB

Looking north you can see Malibu in the distance and Venice Beach to the south. With its close proximity to Hollywood, the pier has been used in many films and TV shows.   Some scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed at the pier and not surprisingly a Bubba Gump’s restaurant still sits at the entrance.  I’m  told it is owned by some of the producers of the film.

SM looking at Santa Monica FB
Standing tall like a beacon for Margarita lovers, the two stories of the Marisol Mexican restaurant are positioned at the end of the pier for your dining and drinking pleasure.    Directly behind it you will find a set of bleachers perfect for relaxing and viewing the stunning Pacific Ocean to the west.   At the absolute end of the pier there is a second level for anglers to reel in their prizes without contending with the crowds.

SM-Restaurant FB

Scattered about are small street vendors as well as the sweet sounds of performing local musicians.   Bathrooms are aplenty much to my relief after guzzling two large iced teas.

Santa Monica Pier is a floating party, a carnival, a street fair, and an amusement park all wrapped up in one.    Staycations California recommends it as a fun place to visit for the day and enjoy the rides, games, food, and shops.   Or people watch, there are plenty of them.

SM-Rides at sunset FB
However, if you want mellow there is always the San Simeon Pier some 200 miles up the coast or the peace and quiet of above mentioned Belmont Pier.

Wherever your mood takes you, nothing beats taking a stroll on a pier, even if it means sharing it with a thousand of your closest friends.

Carlsbad Lagoon

Snug-Snug Harbor
Carlsbad Lagoon

Aqua Hedionda Lagoon is one of 3 lagoons in Carlsbad.   Known just as the lagoon by locals,  this lagoon spans on either side of the I-5.   The inland side of the lagoon is home to the small marina aptly named Snug Harbor.    Snug Harbor is located between Tamarack and Cannon road off  Interstate 5.

The inland part of the lagoon is where you can boat, water ski, wake board, use your personal watercraft, sail, windsurf or fish.   In order to operate any vessel on the lagoon, visitorsand residents must meet certain requirements and purchase either an annual or daily permit. Read about lagoon rules.

Snug Speed boat with beach in the background

The Snug Harbor Marina features a boat ramp, dock, snack bar, and a beach.   The privately owned California Water Sports rents water sports equipment and vehicles at the harbor. As far as I can tell the back part of the lagoon has a cut off area where the speed boats have to stay away from allowing a calmer area for stand up paddle boards and kayaks.

Snug kayakers Snug dog beach view

Snug- view over house

Continue reading “Carlsbad Lagoon”