The summer after my freshman year of college, I paid my first visit to San Diego. Flying alone for the very first time, I hopped from Detroit Metro to St. Louis to LAX to San Diego - on a series of red eyes, no less - to visit my high school bestie, Lisa. After completing this nerve-wracking voyage and sending my host off to work for the day, I decided to entertain myself by sunbathing at Pacific Beach.
This was a terrible idea.
Because almost immediately after laying out my towel and settling down on the sand, I fell fast asleep.
Did I mention that the year was 1977, when a SPF of 4 was considered a high degree of protection?
I got the worst sunburn of my life.
For the next three days, I lay in Lisa's darkened apartment - I could not tolerate even a slice of sunshine sliding in between the curtains - with cold wet washcloths draped over every inch of my agonizingly red skin. My face was the worst; blisters swelled my eyes shut and for several days, I peered out from tiny slits.
Sadly, I lost about half of my vacation to recovery.
But once I was able to stand and submit to some sunshine on my poor battered body, Lisa took me to La Jolla. All the years from then till now, I've carried a highly specific memory of that place - high cliffs of stratified rock with a deep inlet where waves crash and tumble in sound and fury.
Though honestly, I've often wondered how accurate those decades-old impressions might be, considering the state of my poor fried brain. Every memory I made after the sunburn lives in a haze of unreality, and I wouldn't doubt that reality is a far cry from my singed perceptions.
So it is with great excitement that I greet my third-born's decision to make La Jolla the first stop on our San Diego sight-seeing itinerary, and with great curiosity that I set out to resolve the mystery of my La Jolla memories.
^ Stashing our car and heading toward the water, we come across the cozy, quaint beach of La Jolla Cove. Human swimmers are out in full force on this gentle June day, as are a variety of kooky looking sea birds - pelicans are truly freakish - and of course, the charming and ineffable California sea lions.
^ With a quick pivot from our viewpoint toward the swimming beach, we find sweeping vistas of the rocky coast running north. Beautiful scenes on either side, for sure, but nothing looks familiar.
^ Round about the 1990s, marine mammals discovered (reclaimed?) these idyllic waters and ideal beaches for themselves, and quickly established their communal lives here. Thanks to my daughters' pinniped-loving science teacher, I'd had prior knowledge of these amusing immigrants so even though I don't recall them from my first visit, I'm not surprised to find them here.
^ Side note: I'm always a sucker for wildflowers in portrait mode.
^We wander along the bluff for several hours, stopping for long pauses to watch the sea lions' antics:
listening to the males bellow nonstop,
delighting in the incredible numbers of newborn pups,
feeling our hearts swell as mothers return from the water and climb back up the rocks to reunite with their precious babes.
We find them to be endlessly entertaining, and somehow reminiscent of our own beloved Gracie.
^ Soon enough, it's time for lunch and we hike up to Prospect Street to seek out some food.
^ Tacos, it is. After a bit of wandering, we stumble upon Raymundo's and judging by the unassuming exterior, orange plastic trays, and genuine Mexican Cokes in the cooler, we know we've come to the right place. My fish tacos are deliciously on point.
* * * * *
Well sated and properly re-energized, we stroll back toward the beach and take in a few hundred more sea lions. As we wind our way back toward the car, we stray a bit farther to the north.
That's when I notice stairs and a walkway that lead out onto a rocky promontory. My daughters have had enough, but something tells me that I need to go out and take in that view.
And I'm so glad that I do.
^ This is it!
This is exactly the view I remember from 1977, as my swollen eyes strained against the sun and my scorched body listened with deep satisfaction as the waves - the cool, wet, soothing waves - crashed against the steadfast rocks.
Every inch of this scene is exactly as I remember from before, and I feel my past La Jolla and my present La Jolla flow together as one wave spends itself and then falls back into the next.
I am at peace.
* * * * *
Come celebrate San Diego with me and my daughters as
we break out into our first post-Covid road trip!