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Southland Diaries: Laguna Beach

Photo Illustration by Ellinor Rundhovde

A Walk on Ocean Avenue

By Danielle Jaquez

Growing up, my family had this Sunday morning ritual. Rain or shine, we’d wake up at the crack of dawn, and my parents would coax me into the car as I muttered about the ungodly hour, while I clutched a stale protein bar.

A short drive down a windy one-lane highway landed us in Laguna Beach. The first stop was Zinc Cafe, the neighborhood meeting spot for cliquey locals and their designer dogs. At the counter, I would demand a chocolate chip muffin and instead get handed a currant scone, courtesy of my father’s views on sugar and processed foods.

After paying an absurd amount for their lattes and my disappointing breakfast, we would take a hard right out of Zinc and walk Laguna’s main street until we hit the ocean.

Emerging from the arts district, we would cross Pacific Coast Highway and make our way onto the sand. Some days were lucky, and the marine layer would let up just enough to see the sunrise from the water. Along the beach sat a small boardwalk, just big enough for three people across to walk down.

I always walked behind my parents so I could crumble up my scone and drop it for the seagulls. To this day, my mom still holds a grudge against seagulls, claiming they are pushy and rude birds, too loud for their own good.

On the sand next to the boardwalk, homeless folks would spend the night in sleeping bags draped with ratted clothes and seaweed. Most would still be sleeping peacefully as we strode by with our $7 coffees, but every so often, one would be awake.

I would always make eye contact, first with them, and then my parents, wondering why they didn’t nod and say hello like they did to the other pedestrians we passed by. I later learned in life that most days the Laguna Beach police department would dispatch a patrol to remove them before the tourists started to trickle in.

The boardwalk dead-ended at steep stairs overlooking the ocean. My method of choice to conquer the stairs was to hang on to my parent’s sleeves and try to get them to pull me up. This never went well.

Eventually, we would make it to Heisler, a long oceanfront park that overlooks Laguna’s coves.  The park is known for its views and art installations, but at the time I wasn’t interested.

Growing up on the coast of Southern California, I took these privileges for granted and never appreciated what I was exposed to.

There was, however, one thing about these beach trips I always looked forward to. Our final destination was a small set of stairs at the end of Heisler Park that descended into a hidden cove. We would walk up and down the cove’s shores, picking up sea glass. I would fill my pockets with all different shapes and colors, and we would take them home to clean and display in flower vases.

As I got older, the sea glass became harder and harder to find. Watching something I loved so much about the place I grew up in disappear over the years broke my heart. I was convinced that too many people were taking the glass, my glass, and not appreciating it, and that’s why it was gone.

A little research showed me that sea glass was actually broken down bottles tossed into the ocean. My glass was disappearing along our beaches because Californians were becoming more aware and had started recycling bottles. While today in Laguna Beach, a latte is still $7, at least it is served in a reusable cup.

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