• Trading the Suburbs for the Seaside

    by David Lacy

    When I moved to Orange County nearly five years ago I essentially traded my suburban Northern Californian experience for a suburban southern Californian one.

    In 2006, I moved from a college suburb with swaths of tract neighborhoods (can you say Wildhorse? Mace Ranch?) to a college suburb seemingly on STEROIDS with tract neighborhoods abundant. (Ahhh, the myriad shades of beige abound!)

    Irvine, CA = Davis, CA on crack, and I mean that as both a compliment and an insult.

    Both cities are remarkably safe, overgrown with parks and athletics fields, and host schools where students take their L.S.A.T.s before they even take their driver’s license exams. Eating disorders are rampant in both towns and the biggest decision a young person must make occurs on his or her 16th birthday: Mercedes or BMW?

    (Careful now! Your decision will have significant impacts on your identity for years to come!)

    When I was living in Irvine, I frequently drove out toward the neighboring coastal towns and cruised passed the far more uniquely anomalous abodes, the independent shops, the “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants, and I imagined – even if only for brief moments — what it would be like to live in some of these more discrepant communities.

    I envisioned apartments barely larger than refrigerator boxes, furnished with small TVs topped with metal bunny ears resting haphazardly on plastic milk crates, and sand-crusted boogie boards stacked in the closet that doubled as a living room. I dreamt of jogging on the beach every morning and taking naps with the soundtrack of waves in the evenings.

    Who needs a meditative CD of the tides to induce slumber when you have the Pacific Ocean in Dolby Surround Sound?

    Unfortunately, Irvine was prohibitive enough when it came to the cost of living; locales like Laguna Beach or Balboa Peninsula, then, were most certainly far outside the parameters of my economic reality.

    And then a funny thing happened.

    I simply decided to make it within my economic reality.

    By the end of 2010 I was practically climbing up the walls of my Irvine apartment, scratching frantically and furiously to escape the perfectly-landscaped-and-manicured-“Stepfordian-bubble” that had encompassed my existence to date (since sixth grade onward anyway.) I was exhausted by codes, uniformity, homeowners’ association rules, and the rigid boxing-in of nature, even in places where the scenery should have been allowed its free reign. Little things began to nag at me: the streets were too gridded; the stoplights were too long; the restaurants were too “chain-y.”

    Around this time a friend informed me of a small free-standing unit available for rent in Laguna Beach next door to her own place.

    Impulsively – but not regrettably – I leapt on the offer.

    My Laguna residence is admittedly a tad larger than the romanticized studios I had walked past several years prior. I have a bedroom, a fireplace, a garage, hardwood floors, and – best of all – large windows that offer a panoramic view of the neighborhood and a small glimpse of the sea. But it was also built in the 1940s and as a result comes with all of the “charms,” i.e. inconveniences, a 70-year-old home has.

    For the time being however, all that matters to me is that it’s NOT suburban. I needed a reprieve from suburbia, a suburban “detox,” so to speak.

    Whereas I sometimes feel the senses are numbed and muffled in suburbia, the opposite is actually the case on the coast. Here, we’re on stimuli overload. Head out on any given day and you’re almost certain to encounter all of the following (just for fun, make a Scavenger Hunt of the things mentioned below and see how many you can “check off” in a span of two hours):

    Surfers unfazed by inclement weather; beach cruisers sailing past the boardwalk with baseball cards clacking rhythmically in the spokes; pick-up games of volleyball on Main Beach; jam-packed bar patios (this occurs by 10 a.m. typically); hickory and pepper smoke emanating from residential barbecues; fishermen loading up their metal buckets with flapping, scaly captives; pungent wafts of weed fumes fanned outward through open windows; beach bonfires charring either breakfast chorizo or nighttime marshmallows; blues, rock, and reggae pulsating electronically out from downtown taverns; and folksy strums from random street vendors with acoustic six-strings.

    We’ve also got kites, dolphins, whales, clowns, skaters, artisans, bakers, craftsmen, jugglers, gays, straights, surfers, yuppies, hippies, celebrities, starving students, entrepreneurs, activists, musicians, wind chimes, world-class chefs, long boards, khaki-colored tans, potheads, billionaires, Ferraris, and banged-up Honda Civics.

    I suspect many of these things (sans dolphins) exist in suburbia as well but that they’re more hidden and subtle. In the suburbs, the surfer goes home at the end of her day and tucks her car into the garage, closes the door behind her, and shuts the blinds to the world around her.

    On the coast we OPEN things up: The beach is our backyard. Mi Casa es su Casa. This latter phrase has literally been the case between several friends and neighbors and myself.

    And maybe that’s what all of this longing to move to the seaside for so many years was really all about.

    It’s not inherently about stimuli overload. Not on the surface anyway.

    It’s about the need to open up what the suburbs have spent so much time and energy closing.



    • Loved this piece. You are finding your balance by the ocean and it suits you. Check out this diner if you haven’t already. It is great.

      Penguin Cafe

      (949) 494-1353

      Laguna Beach
      981 S Coast Hwy
      Laguna Beach, CA 92651



    • “Who needs a meditative CD of the tides to induce slumber when you have the Pacific Ocean in Dolby Surround Sound?”

      I hate you.


      • David Lacy

      • March 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm
      • Reply

      Hate you too Debra. Hate you too.


      • Judy

      • March 27, 2011 at 4:27 pm
      • Reply

      Ah Laguna. Opening up, yes that is exactly it! Drink an evening margarita for me on the deck of the Hotel Laguna. Look out at the sea.
      Loved the column.


      • Theresa

      • March 28, 2011 at 7:28 am
      • Reply

      Ha! I totally thought of Debra when I read that line about the CD!

      Anyway, David you must be in a constant state of euphoria! I feel euphoric just reading about this place. I love the clear images you create in my mind 🙂 Another brilliant column.



    • Yeah, but your windows get all salty and filmy! I can’t sleep and I’m grouchy. Maybe I need the sound of the waves crashing on the shore to rock me to dreamless sleep. My wife is sleeping the peacefull sleep that only an innocent soul and a pure heart may enjoy. I bet she is dreaming of the sea where her father used to cast a line from the beach, never to bring in a single fish that I know of. I would love to see him there, just one more time so I could tell him how much I love to watch his daughter sleep, curled in the fetal position with wiggiling toes when I tickle them. David, you guys bring out the best of me now that I am old. I have one regret. When I was a young man we had something called “Free Love”. I was away overseas so I missed it. Ain’t that the shits?


      • Sue

      • March 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm
      • Reply

      I also recommend the Penguin (very retro and low-key) and the Hotel Laguna (hosting some great jazz from time to time and outstanding marguaritas sp?). And that’s just scratching the surface of great cuisine opportunities. But you can also love the town without spending much money. Good write, David.


      • Kelvin

      • March 31, 2011 at 1:34 pm
      • Reply

      For some reason I’m suddenly feeling a lot more closed in.


      • Carri

      • July 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm
      • Reply

      Feel the same as you about the (anti)virtues of suburbia. And you made us feel as if we WERE at the beach with you. (The rest of us have to settle with holding a conch shell to our ears to get the effect.) You might like the DVD “Radiant City”–I found it at my library. You might also enjoy Howard James Kunstler (he’s in the documentary); he has a very colorful and sarcastic way of writing about the state of world affairs that blows me away. http://www.kunstler.com/blog/



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