Balboa Island & Crystal Cove State Park

So I have this book called "California Hiking," circa '94-'95. I recently told myself that I would complete every hike in the book. By a date, a certain time? Nothing that concrete, just that I would finish it. 1000 hikes at my fingertips, all about as current as the Clinton administration.

My days off are different than my wife's, so I usually have to find ways to entertain myself. Since I haven't been to the beach yet this summer, I decide on a local hike at Pelican Point in Crystal Cove State Park. The sun isn't fully out and the temperature is a mild 78. I jump in the General and head off down the highway. Since I'm an idiot with directions, I tell Siri to take me to Crystal Cove, and realize that I'm in a different place altogether as I arrive at my destination.

Newport Beach is not a place I usually hang out, especially not in a 38 year old pickup. I'm not a class warrior, but I usually feel slightly out of place so close to Tesla's and million dollar summer homes. As I try to re-navigate, the speaker in my dash tells me to head toward Balboa Island, so I follow it blindly. Like I said, an idiot with directions.

As I cross over a bridge I'm hit with flashbacks of Arrested Development and the Bluth Original Banana Stand. Not to be disappointed, I pass two on my left side. I haven't been to Balboa Island before so I say "What the hey," park the General, sling the camera on my back, and take a walk down the main street.

Balboa is certainly for an older generation. Most of the shops cater to women in their golden years and men who like Tommy Bahama and Panama Jack. I snap a few pictures of the local architecture and head off toward the boardwalk.

I've been to the beach dozens of time since I was a kid, but never to something like the Balboa Marina. Kids are swimming right next to medium to large sized yachts. Two dozen or so small schooners sail around in the middle and I can hear children's laughter as they play sailors. Old beach houses that have been rebuilt and modernized line the boardwalk and reveal lavish decorations and sunning seniors. I snap a photo of a red dinghy and a shirtless gentleman in his twilight years says "That will be a good one." "I hope so" as I smile back.

I find a dock and sit cross-legged on it for a few minutes watching as the ferry mingles with a super yacht, a few paddle boarders go by, and smaller transportation boats scoot about. It's lively for a Wednesday, but most of these people are vacationers and retirees, with nothing to do but relax. A part of me is envious, but another part of me says "for another day."


 Back to the General, I snap a picture of her against the Balboa cityscape. I fire her up and point her to where I really want to go. When I get to Crystal Cove and pay the $15 day pass, I realize I that I had turned off the road too soon for my intended hike. Oh well, nothing I can do now. I park at the farthest parking lot and scurry on down to the beach.

 I immediately feel better. As soon as the ocean laps up at my bare feet and the salt hits my mouth, I feel calmed. The overcast lets up slightly and the wind picks up. A few people are surfing and sunbathing in the overcast, not seeming to mind that its mostly grey. I find a gathering of large rocks that some kids are scurrying and screaming on and I sit down and watch a lone surfer. The lifeguard rushes down the beach, through the tide pool waters, to tell the kids not to play so close to the break point. I ask to take her picture before she runs back to her stand. Her name is Sierra and it makes me wish that I had been a lifeguard when I was her age.

 The parents hurry their kids off and away from the rocks, and I am left alone. Nothing but the sound of the waves breaking on the rocks and then rolling back into other endless waves. I could do this all day, and I almost do.