Tags Posts tagged with "California"


It’s nothing special to look at, the stretch of Interstate 5 that runs between Sacramento and the tiny California town about one and half hours north where my mom lives. Flat fields, often brown, fade away to low foothills, faintly purple in the distance. You pass the occasional almond orchard or cattle ranch, or perhaps a drowned field planted with rice. This is a road I traveled many times as a child, with my mom, when we drove north to visit her parents. Now she lives in the family home, and I come to visit once a year.

By the time I reach the I-5, I’ve been up since 3:30, and taken two flights from my home in Florida. It’s still early, and I’m not tired yet. I’m too excited. While I make this drive, I’m not mother, or wife, or daughter. I’m just me. I crank music from my iPod through the rental car speakers. I think, daydream, sing along with the music—all while keeping my eyes on the road, of course.  I control the music, the speed of the vehicle, the interior temperature, and whether and where I stop along the way. (I always stop at Granzella’s in Williams where I eat a sandwich and some gelato, pick up a loaf of olive sourdough bread, and stretch my legs in their gift shop.)

As a woman, I’ve been socialized to put others first, to be a good girl and do what will please others.  For the most part I love my responsibilities and take them on willingly. But that just makes the hours of freedom I feel while traveling all the sweeter as I become aware of the compromises and accommodations I make every day for those I love. I don’t mind those compromises, but I delight in this taste of personal freedom.

It’s not just driving the I-5 that gives me this feeling of freedom. Any physical act of getting from one place to another, whether I’m driving, flying or taking the train, does the same thing. I feel it when I travel with a companion, but even more so if I’m traveling solo. I feel an agreeable sense of accomplishment: even though I’m not doing much of anything. I’m getting someplace. And there’s nothing else I should be doing in that moment. (Flying is even better than driving, because no one expects me to spell the pilot on a long flight.)

That space between one life and another, who you are at home and who you are when you’re not—that space in between can be a place of peace and freedom, even when you’re coping with cramped seating on an airplane, or a stiff back on a long road trip. You don’t need an exotic destination to feel it. Sometimes just a stretch of empty road will do the trick.

I roll my window down when I get close to Mom’s, even if it’s hot outside. The familiar scent of alfalfa fields washes over me, and I know I’m almost there. When my tires crunch on the gravel of her street, I gladly return to my role of daughter, refreshed by the brief freedom of driving I-5.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

goodlandThe Goodland is a Kimpton Oasis in Santa Barbara! The cool chic karma vibes of this Kimpton property in Goleta permeated my stay. I loved hearing the birds chirping and enjoyed being walking distance from local shops.

The GoodBar has inside and outside spaces as well as a pool table and speciality drinks that complement the record playing vibes and fitness classes with a DJ. The lobby really invites you to lounge and stay awhile. The bicycles have a sign that says: “Take me I’m yours!”

I loved that my closet was stocked with a yoga mat, an umbrella and a robe. The bathroom held my favorite soaps from C&O Bigelow in NYC.

Plan to stay multiple nights here to take advantage of all this property has to offer: from the relaxing pool, to the welcoming fire pits and of course the incredible food at the Outpost by Chef Derek. It is so good–I had to make it a separate video.

VIDEOMy stay at the Goodland Kimpton Santa Barbara, April 2015 

See my other videos about  Visit Santa Barbara and dinner at the Outpost.

What does a record concierge do?
The Goodland has gone one step beyond putting Crosley record players in each guest room. Lea Sindija is the hotel’s on-site Record Concierge and has spent months curating a collection of vinyls for hotel guests to play during their stay (or purchase).
Lea scours local record stores for albums that play to the property’s luxury yet laid back, SoCal surfer-chic vibe, including classics like Ray Charles, Joplin and Hendrix and more modern favorites like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day, along with quintessential SoCal surf and skate culture tunes from No Doubt and Sublime, with some Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Black Sabbath thrown in – something for everyone.”


sb wheelsI loved my visit to Santa Barbara. I highly recommend eating at Kyle’s Kitchen. The burgers were great and walking distance from my hotel, The Goodland in Goleta which is part of the Kimpton Family.

Wondering what to do or where to wander?

  • Have a picnic at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in the sunken garden. It is a beautiful location and they even have movies here.
  • Along historic State Street, visit the Granada theater and see an Opera.
  • At the Painted Cabernet you can take a two hour art class with wine. An artist will lead you step by step to a fantastic painting of your own.
  • From State Street, enjoy views of the mountains and then take a short drive to walk on the beach.
  • Go to Stearn’s Wharf and explore Jellyfish and friends at Santa Barbara Sea Center
    and my favorite–take a surrey ride. Rent one from Wheel Fun and follow their map on your bicycle build for two.
  • Do you prefer to take your picnic in a rose garden? Visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara.
  • See my other videos about The Goodland Hotel and Dinner at the Outpost!

Video: Visit Santa Barbara with Lisa from We Said Go Travel



#ILoveKylesKitchen Helping the #SantaBarbara autism society

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Santa Barbara county courthouse is beautiful and they show movies outdoor in the summer.

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Star Princess at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. Just missed Amy by one week!

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Ready for “wheel fun” on a surrey ride by Sterns Wharf #SantaBarbara

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Pure By Michèle La Porta is located on the popular Beverly Hills street, South Beverly Drive. On a weekday, you can’t miss all of the people on their hurried lunch breaks, grabbing a bite up and down the street. If this is you, look no further than Pure. It’s the perfect spot for fresh, healthy food that’s ready for you to take on the go.

All the food is packages in to go containers, allowing you to grab and go, or eat there. The options are all locally farmed, organic and artisanal. Everything is prepared on site daily.





If you’re in the area, don’t forget to try these can’t miss menu items:

Crispy Tuna


This delicious menu favorite has a bed of brown, red and black rice, topped with seared tuna, and accompanied with a house made truffle soy sauce.

Green Peas and Mint Soup

This soup is the pea’s answer to gazpacho. You can have it served warm or cold. I decided to try cold, and was delighted with the refreshing, creamy flavor!

Signature Salads


The Chicken Thai Salad is the perfect light lunch on the go. If you only go and get one thing as your meal, this is an excellent choice. If you’re looking for something more unique, try the Zucchini Spaghetti. In a house made pesto sauce, shredded zucchini replaces noodles in this classic pasta dish. You’re eating healthy, but feel like you’re getting a pasta treat!


Starlette Cakes


A Pure original, Starlette Cakes are a light greek yogurt mousse, topped with fruit. They are also available in original flavors, like matcha tea. These are all non-fat with no sugar added. They are a simple and refreshing, tart dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Fun fact: If you choose to eat there, Pure’s tables feature herb centerpieces. While they also look pretty, they are there for you to add to your food! Feel free to pick a sprig of mint or rosemary and add it to your dish!

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier

Redondo Beach, just 40 minutes south of Los Angeles, is the perfect escape for a weekend. Far off the freeways, you’ll quickly forget you are anywhere near LA and become immersed in the relaxed beach culture. For your next weekend trip, here are the must-dos for a Redondo Beach vacation:

To Do:

After the Rainstorm
After the Rainstorm

1. Paddleboarding (SUP)

Hit up Tarsan when you want to try out paddleboarding. The instructor Elizabeth is nice and helpful, providing equipment for everyone to check out the marine life under the water. Paddleboarding through the marina offers ample opportunities to see sea lions and spot garibaldi fish.

2. Diving

Visit the Dive n’ Surf shop when you’re ready to get underwater. The Dive Pros there shared how Redondo Beach is unlike any other diving destination: divers spotting whales is a frequent occurrence and you can swim through a handful of different shipwrecks.

3. Whale Watching

The whales aren’t shy in Redondo Beach. They frequently come close to the beach because they follow plankton (their meal of choice) into a deep crevice near the shore. Whale spotting is frequent, even from your hotel room window!

4. Boating

Whether sailing or speed boating is your game, the local marinas offer a selection of opportunities for you to get out there and enjoy the fresh sea air. When I went out, a big rainstorm had just passed. The sky was beautiful as the clouds mixed with the light from the setting sun. Getting out onto the water cannot be missed!


To Eat:

A Sampler Plate at Kincaid's
A Sampler Plate at Kincaid’s

1. Kincaid’s

For a nice dinner out, look to Kincaid’s. The menu is vast and delicious, offering amazing appetizers. The short ribs cannot be missed, and the key lime pie is a must for dessert. The massive windows are perfect for watching the ocean. When I ate there, it was raining. Watching the rain from Kincaid’s was beautiful.

2. Tony’s

If the coconut shrimp from Tony’s crow’s nest bar won’t get you there, the view will. Add their signature mai tai to your tab, and relax. This nautical-themed restaurant is perfect for an afternoon drink and casual lunch.

3. Barney’s Beanery

If you’re ready for pub food, get to Barney’s. The chili fries and wings are perfect for sharing, and the drink list is a beer-lovers dream. For someone looking for a fancier drink, the WeHo is a delicious blended drink. If nothing else convinces you that you’re on vacation, the WeHo, served in a pineapple, will.

4. R10

For the hipper crowd, the R10 is the spot to hang out. With great appetizers and a nice bar, the R10 packs in the deliciousness with their whisky loaf, and my personal favorite, their thai curry mussels. For you oyster fans, their prep is excellent, serving them with a yuzu cream.


To See:

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier
The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier


1. The Whaling Wall

Painted by renowned muralist Robert Wyland in 1991, his Whaling Wall, officially titled “Gray Whale Migration,” is part of his worldwide series of marine life art. He started the 100 piece series in 1981 and completed in 2008.

2. The Pier

The Pier makes for an awesome walk past great restaurants, an arcade, and plenty of surf shops. I even spotted a free yoga class being taught. The real feature of the pier, besides the view, is the engravings of sea life. From whales to sea lions, there’s plenty to see, even if you’re somehow tired of looking at the ocean!

3. The Sea Lions and Other Wildlife

Redondo Beach is not short on amazing wildlife. From beautiful birds to plentiful sea lions, and of course, whales, the marine life is a huge draw to Redondo. There’s always something cool to see, making it the perfect family destination. What child doesn’t want to watch the sea lions play in the water?


To Stay:

The Lobby at the Portofino
The Lobby at the Portofino

1. Redondo Beach Hotel

Recently remodeled, the Redondo Beach Hotel is the perfect family spot. Across the street from the marina, the Redondo is a convenient choice for all of your waterside vacation activities. The breakfast bar in the lobby has both delicious and healthy options, from oatmeal to waffles!

2. The Portofino

For an upscale spot, the Portofino is located on the water, with spectacular ocean views. Sea lions are something of a mascot for the hotel, as they frequently settle themselves right outside the hotel. It’s the perfect waterfront hotel for a luxurious weekend.

When my nine-year-old son, Ben, gets scared, I tell him, “Bravery is about being scared, but doing it anyway.” When it was my turn to try something scary, though, I realized that it’s much easier to tell someone else to be brave than it is to be brave myself.


I’ve always had a fear of heights. When I was Ben’s age, I had to be rescued from the top of a jungle gym. I never learned how to dive, because I was afraid to jump off of the diving board. Yet here I was, at age 42, about to zip line across a seemingly bottomless canyon.


Zip lining across a cactus-filled canyon isn’t one of my usual Sunday afternoon activities. I normally spend my Sundays grocery shopping, doing laundry, and relaxing with a good book. So what led me to zip line across a canyon? Cub Scouts. Ben and his friends were going zip lining as a Cub Scout activity. He will do just about anything to earn a new patch for his uniform. Parents must go along on all of the Cub Scout field trips. “Come with us,” my husband said. “It will be fun.”


My idea of fun is definitely different from his.


Driving to the Boy Scout park in Irvine, California, I tried not to think about the rattlesnakes that probably lived in the canyon, or the cactus I would land on if I fell. I wondered if there was a graceful way to back out without Ben’s friends thinking I was chicken.


After a quick picnic lunch, it was time to go zip lining. While I put on my safety harness, I was told I could go across the canyon four times. Four times? I wasn’t even sure I could to it once!


For me, the hardest part of zip lining was overcoming my fear of heights. Stepping off of the wooden platform at the rim of the canyon and trusting that the rope and harness would sustain me was a huge hurdle to overcome. I couldn’t believe I was entrusting my life to the teenager who hooked me onto the line.  But by now, there was no turning back.

Zip lining is a high-speed, adrenaline-filled adventure. I had visualized soaring triumphantly with the wind in my hair, but the reality was a bit different. I had to braid my long hair so it wouldn’t get caught in the harness, and the safety helmet kept my hair from flying majestically behind me. Looking back on it, the hard hat probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway if the line snapped, hurling me to the canyon floor.


I spent most of my first trip across the canyon with my eyes closed. Zzzzziiiiiiipppppppp! The ride was faster than I thought it would be, and it was over very quickly. I dragged my feet in the gravel to slow down at the far end so I wouldn’t slide back across the canyon, and another teenager unhooked my rope. I caught my breath, then crossed a wooden bridge and walked back to the starting line to try it again.


My second time across wasn’t as scary, because by then I knew I could survive the trip. I kept my eyes open, and took in the spectacular vista. The sky was a bright, cloudless blue, and the sandy-brown rock of the canyon contrasted vividly with its green vegetation. I was fascinated by the rock formations that surrounded the canyon. It was actually quite beautiful, in a rugged sort of way.


By my third trip, I realized that holding onto the rope for dear life didn’t make a difference, since the rope would fall with me if it detached from the line. I tried letting go. It felt better than I thought it would. I was finally conquering my fear of heights.


For my last time crossing the canyon, my zip line partner was the seven-year-old little sister of one of Ben’s friends. She was eager and excited to zip line again, and she encouraged me to go along with her. We made a great team. By then, I was really having fun.


When it was time to go home, I took off my harness and walked back to my car with my family. My son was proud of me. “You were awesome, Mom! You were scared, but you did it anyway.” We all went out for frozen yogurt to celebrate our victory over the canyon. My bravery paid off, and I ended up having a wonderful day.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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On Hold

            It’s nine thirty in the morning. Intrudingly bright sunrays are piercing their way through the curtains, almost peeling them back, forcing me to face the day. Waves crash on the hard-packed sand outside the house, which statuesquely stands alongside Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Malibu, in which I’m staying. Aside from letting Baxter, the dog I’m watching, out to do his business, I have no morning requirements. Baxter is a scruffy little terrier and he’s scratching his crate to get out and greet the day. His beard is untidy, but he neatly combs it on the carpet after I let him out.

After brewing coffee, I let Baxter out into the backyard and he starts panting in the blistering heat. He persists to sniff his way around the confines of the yard to find the perfect spot to do his business. I go to stand in the shaded part of the yard, courtesy of the bone-dry Santa Monica Mountains. I check to see if Baxter’s stool is normal because I found a condom in his ritual morning dump the other day. I don’t know where he ate it, but I’m glad nothing out of the ordinary is in his shit today. Baxter swiftly returns to my feet with his already shredded rope toy between his crooked teeth. His unkempt tail whips back and forth. There’s an eagerness in his onyx eyes, as if the subtlest thing inspires him to attack each waking moment with tenacity. I throw his toy a few times before he drops it and barks at the cawing seagulls gliding above the house. He’s brave and doesn’t know it. I used to feel like that. What happened to that fearlessness? I think it vanished after my aunt, Lyn, died several years ago. It feels like I’ve been on hold ever since, waiting to rediscover it.

Baxter has convinced me to shift myself into gear and apply for jobs to climb out of this self-dug rut. We go back inside, I feed him, cook some breakfast, and turn on my computer to scour the Internet for all the appealing jobs. I have tired of filling out draining job applications. I agree that those double negative questionnaires weed out the people who pay attention to the questions from the people who don’t, but I cannot say that I don’t disagree with most of the questions. While I call previous places I’ve applied and wait on hold, preparing to be boastful in order to dazzle managers, Baxter devours his bone, ripping it to shreds. Perhaps I could learn from Baxter in that he finds joy in the little things that I can’t seem find pleasure in. There’s a pristine beach outside the door and I’m wallowing in a valley of lost hope.

Baxter stands near the counter, on which his treats reside. He scratches the cabinet to get my attention. I get up to grab the treats, he wiggles with excitement, and, without my command, sits, lies down, rolls over, and stands in attempt to earn treats. I can’t leave him hanging because I know the feeling all too well. I toss him a treat and he eagerly awaits something more, just like me. The way Baxter acts reminds me of the vantage point I used to see the world from. It was like I was trekking a mountain range, conquering life as I progressed, but it I’ve lost momentum. With the right inspiration, however, I might find a trail marker to guide me into the next chapter, where I’ll ride the wave rather than watch it ripple into the distance.


Everybody needs a kick-start now and again and Baxter has managed to restart my engine. I grab his leash, clip it to his collar, and we walk out the door to head to the beach. The warm sand between my toes is comforting. Baxter stops every ten feet to dig a hole, determined to find that one grain of sand only he can see. We walk to where the cold, brackish water rushes up the beach and Baxter stops. He’s afraid for the first time, which is shocking to me because the ocean has always empowered me with a sense of bravado and has been a regenerative haven. I look down at Baxter, he’s shaking and there’s a fear in his eyes. I nod to acknowledge his fear and shift my gaze out at the expansive blue mass. Without looking down at Baxter, I walk into the water and Baxter willingly follows. The wet stand sticks to my feet as if to hold me back. Impossible. This is where I’m strongest.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean at sunset

I have had a crazy 18 months. I knew I would (finally) have some free time, so I planned a vacation where I could really get back to myself. I set out on a restorative trip to find some peace. I went to Santa Barbara, and stayed at Four Seasons The Biltmore.

I had been there before as a teenager, but had never experienced the place as an adult. I’ll admit, I wanted a lazy vacation where I never had to get in the car. I wanted good books, poolside drinks, and palm trees. The gorgeous views were expected, but there was no way I could predict how relaxed I’d feel only a few hours into my stay. Here are the highlights of my trip:

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean
Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean

1. Outdoor dining. For three days, I didn’t eat a single meal indoors. Breakfast on the patio, lunch by the pool, dinner across the street on the balcony at Tydes. I never got tired of the spectacular ocean views available from the Bella Vista restaurant at the hotel. It’s quite easy to spot dolphins swimming by every day. Some of the hotel staff told me they have spotted an occasional blue whale, as well. Above, you can see our drinks the first night, over looking the ocean. The poolside lunch menu was clean and delicious, featuring an amazing chicken salad that I couldn’t help pairing with a decadent piña colada.

2. The service. Having stayed in top notch hotels all over the world, the Four Seasons Santa Barbara has some of the best service I’ve ever experienced. By the pool, the wait staff came around with complimentary smoothie shots and fresh fruit. The concierge were always happy to rework a dinner reservation, and even afforded me a luxurious late checkout, so I could squeeze a few more hours by the pool. My book was just too good to stop reading!

Lounging by the pool
Lounging by the pool

3. The incomparable atmosphere. The pueblo-style compound immediately put me in the mindset of warm-weather vacation. The sound of the ocean drifting through the windows while I got a massage was amazing. And the beautiful, colorful decor in the rooms, including some fantastic, artful tiles, made me want to stay in my room almost as much as I wanted to hit the pool.

4. The beach. Santa Barbara is not your standard SoCal destination. It’s on the cooler side (during my visit the weather stayed between 68 and 72 degrees), but the beach is perfect for surfers and taking scenic walks (with a sweater). There is even a very unique graveyard on a cliff overlooking the ocean within easy walking distance. If you want to stay out of the cold, both pools at the hotel are wind protected and it feels way warmer on a sunny day!

Morning coffee on my balcony
Morning coffee on my balcony

After such an intense year and a half, it was amazing to sink back and feel the stress melt away in only a short, three day trip! I highly recommend taking a lazy vacation. Perfect weather, perfect pool days and perfect piña coladas!


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I walk out of the shady, pine-scented woods, and stop, mid-stride, frozen in fear and wonder. I can feel the panic rising up my throat, threatening to choke me. Below me, in all its miniature widescreen glory stretches the Yosemite Valley. Less than twenty-four hours earlier I had stood in that valley, craning my neck to look up at this very spot.

To my right, I can see the sensuous granite mounds of the Yosemite Wilderness, and, far in the hazy distance the jagged snow-crested teeth of the High Sierra beyond. To my left, looming above the tree-line, is the bald, grey pate that is Half Dome. It is my wildest dream and my worst nightmare all rolled into one.

I have travelled thousands of miles to be in this place. I have researched, planned, and trained for months so that I am prepared for the challenge. And yet, now that I stand here, staring in horror at the part-peeled onion layers of sheer rock in front of me, it might all have been in vain.

Since yesterday, I’ve climbed an arduous seven miles, over rocks slick with rainbow-hued waterfall-mist, and through root-tangled woods, still cool with lingering snow-drifts. My aching legs have been forced up sheer slopes that from a distance seemed impossible. There have been minor demons to conquer in the shape of wild camping, composting toilets, and a hungry young bear trying to take the rucksack out of my tent. And now my courage has failed me. I am terrified.

The end of my journey is within sight. A mere mile. The trouble is, I know exactly what that last mile contains. Four hundred yards of vertical ascent and the Half Dome cables, nemesis of the vertigo-sufferer. I will myself to relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly. Stop the panic. Gradually, my pulse returns to something approaching normal, and I try to think rationally.

An iridescent flash of cobalt blue catches my attention as a Steller’s jay swoops from a nearby tree to land a few yards away on a low branch. It watches me for a while, head tilted to one side as if in question, before fluttering to a point a few yards ahead of me. Almost without conscious thought, I follow it. As I get near, he takes flight and, in a graceful arc, moves further along the trail. We continue our dance, moving closer together and further apart in an unconsciously beautiful meeting of species, before the jay, clearly bored by my pedestrian progress, glides effortlessly away from me and out of sight.

I look up, and realise that I am within a stone’s throw of the switchback – the first part of the final ascent. Nearly as steep as the cable ascent, though not as exposed. Suddenly, the decision is made for me, thanks to my feathered friend. I will go on, one step at a time, until I either reach the summit, or get so scared that I have to turn back, but there is no way I am backing out now.

The rest of the climb passes in a daze. The switchback is challenging but not too frightening. I struggle to walk over the narrow shoulder between it and the cable climb, but I surprise myself on the cables by climbing strongly and steadily for most of the way. I have to stop once to let someone pass me on their descent, and I foolishly look at the four thousand foot drop below me. Having briefly, but vividly, considered my mortality, I cling to the metal cables until my head stops swimming, and plod on upwards.

Suddenly, it is all over. I haul myself over the last step, and I am walking across a vast, flat plateau of smooth, sparkling granite. It feels as big, and as safe, as a football pitch. I still don’t care much for the drop below me, but as long as I don’t get too near the edge I can keep the fear at bay. I even manage to shoot a whole roll of film on the awe-inspiring views. I lie on a flat piece of rock and bask in the midday sunshine, along with some creature which I think, bizarrely, might be a marmot.

I let my mind wander back over the journey to here. The long trek up the Mist Trail, past, and through, the mystical beauty of the Vernal Falls, the hard slog up the side of Nevada Falls. The sleepless night, post-bear, in the Little Yosemite Valley. And now I have it all to do in reverse, including the cables.

I haul my weary limbs upright, and with a massive grin, start the descent. After all, I’ve done Half Dome – I can do anything!

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

I’ve watched the Mediterranean Sea lap onto the shore of a tiny Greek island while I swam in the surf at sunset.  And I’ve strolled along a quay on the south coast of England, gazing out across the Channel toward France.  But my favorite place to experience the coast is Atascadero Beach in Morro Bay, California.  It holds a simple magic, and I believe it can help me be brave.

Morro Bay is a mix of old-fashioned fishing village and trendy resort area, sprinkled with a pinch of funky beach town.  Today the harbor sparkles in the winter morning sunshine.  Two elderly women in silver and gold track suits, matching jewelry tinkling, walk along the wharf, paying no notice to the craggy fishermen struggling with the rigging on their boats below.

Atascadero Beach is similarly ignored.  Around the corner from the high school and down the street from a concrete plant, this beach appears to be nothing special.  I can’t even see the water, hidden by lumpy hills of sand, until I reach the path beyond the parking lot.  But then a glimpse of the waves teases me from between the dunes, and I know there is a bounty behind this unremarkable facade.

I’m here hoping to find the same kind of depth inside myself, the guts to transform a dream I have from longing to actual experience.  My feet sink in several inches as I trudge up the sandy hill.  Ice plant supporting a scattering of yellow and purple flowers lines the path, and it feels like the yellow brick road, leading to Oz.

At the top of the dunes, Morro Rock comes into full view, hardened lava rising over 500 feet on the south end of the beach.  The Rock is a dramatic local landmark and a holy place for the Chumash Indians.  It looks rough, with deep crevices and is greying on one end.  I can relate.

My thoughts are buried under the sound of the surf.  I feel the salt on my face and take a deep breath of sea-life freshness as I notice my hair slow dancing around my shoulders in the wind.  The ocean has created geometric patterns in the sand, making it look cozy like a textured blanket.  The sky looks like a blanket too, of white gauze worn through in the grey parts, and with bright streaks of blue like it was put in the wash with the wrong thing.

I watch a Long-billed Curlew hop around the water’s edge and then splay its grey-brown wings before plunging its beak deep into the sand.  A family of smaller birds rides the waves like a bunch of little surfers.  They are wiped out by a big swell, and then one by one they bob back up and float to the shore to ride again.

The waves are the essence of this place.  They collide together and then, folding in, relax.  They collide and relax, over and over.  They’re at least six feet tall now, and my eye follows them from their highest part, almost too white, to where they grey and then turn the color of an aquamarine jewel before blending with the muddy sand.  They never stop, never say “I’m not up to it today, I’m too tired, I’m going to sit this one out.”  They just roll with it, let gravity be their boss.  They work hard, but seem to enjoy it too, the way they bubble up, stretch, and hum.  And with the slight vibration coming up through my feet, I feel their music.

I realize strength and bravery aren’t always about the extraordinary.  They can be about coming back, continuing, like the waves.  Life rises and falls.  There is difficulty, but then there is relief.

This beach is known for sand dollars, and I spot one, perfect, with no holes.  I take it to keep as a symbol:  wholeness.  My hair and face are sticky from the salt, but my thoughts are clear now.  I say thank you to this blessed beach and its simple magic.  As I turn from the water and head back up the hill, the sand feels lighter than when I came.  I step with ease through the deep dunes.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.