Friday, December 17, 2021

Wedged Between Armageddon and L.A. - Seal Beach, California

When those temperatures soar well over 100 degrees, Southern Californians head to the beach, often en masse. 

We usually wait until school starts back up so we can avoid the crowds but, when we do head to the beach, we usually head to the closest one to our house which is either Seal Beach or Long Beach.

These days, it's Seal Beach that wins the tug of war most of the time.

Originally called Anaheim Landing, the city incorporated a little over a century ago. In 1916, a popular trolley park called The Joy Zone opened on the beach with roller coasters and other attractions served by the region's red cars of the Pacific Electric line.

A few of the stores along Main Street...running from Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to the pier...have old pictures of the amusement park hanging on their walls.

An old red car serves as a museum in a city park located on Electric Avenue...the former right-of-way for the railroad.

Strawberry farmers gather their crops next to bunkers that may or may not hold nuclear weapons (the Navy's not saying one way or the other). It's part of the massive Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, the primary loading depot for arming Navy ships on the West Coast. 

The massive Navy base stretches from the other side of the 405 freeway to the ocean, where the big Navy ships can just fit into the dock to load up on munitions.

Adjacent to the Navy base on Seal Beach Boulevard are the massive buildings where the second stage of the Saturn V rocket was built before pushing astronauts towards the Moon.

The San Gabriel River, on the other side of town, serves as a boundary between Seal Beach and it's neighbor, Long Beach. It's also the dividing line between Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

For us, it's a 35 mile drive down the length of the 605 freeway to get there. On the rare days when there's good traffic, we can make it from our driveway to parking spot in 40 minutes. Most days, it's a little over an hour.

There's no real good public transportation to Seal Beach anymore...even after the trolley's were destroyed, we could take an RTD bus down Rosemead/Lakewood Boulevard to get here cheap...but if you were dedicated, you could take Metro's Blue Line light rail line to downtown Long Beach, transfer to the water taxi, which would take you to the county line in Alamitos Bay, then you could walk across a short bridge to the city.

It's better to drive and, if you have a handicapped placard, there are two spots in front of the pier, several more in the beachfront parking lots, and a couple on the street at City Hall, two blocks inland from the pier.

We don't spend a lot of time on the sand anymore but you can easily park next to it or take a ramp down from the pier to set up your temporary beach empire. It's not far to get to the water if you'd like to take a dip (call the lifeguard office at (562) 430-2613 if you'd like to arrange a free beach wheelchair). 

If you like to watch the surfers, though, you might want to head out on the pier for a better look. Seal Beach has long been known as a beach for beginners to learn the sport, if you want to see more expert surfers, you might want to head south to the next pier at Huntington Beach to watch.

It's a pleasant walk out to the end of the pier. There used to be a Ruby's Diner here but that burned down a few years ago. Now, it's just a place to take in the ocean sights, see the skyscrapers of Long Beach to the north, chat with the fishermen (or drop a line yourself, no license required on California's piers), and sometimes see the oil workers board their boat to take them to the oil rigs you see offshore.

After taking in the sights and smells of the sea, we'll retreat along Main Street to get something to eat or maybe drink. There are four Irish pubs along this short stretch of downtown...The Irisher, Clancy's, O'Malleys, and Hennesey's. I'm told (but have no official confirmation) that the Irish influence is because of all the Irish smugglers that used to use the beach as a way to get contraband alcohol onshore during Prohibition.

We find that we usually end up at O'Malleys, which serves solid food in a happy Irish atmosphere. 

The best time is in winter on a chilly day when you can set up in front of their warm and cozy fireplace.

After dinner, we'll head across the street and a half block towards the ocean to cap it off with one of the delicious desserts of Sweet Jill's Bakery. Their specialty is fresh from the oven cinnamon rolls which they'll ice with glaze to your specifications on the spot.

Fresh air, ocean breezes, and the feeling that comes over you from spending the day at the beach. It's all good and after satiating our hunger, it's time to go back to the reality of the heavy 605 traffic to make our way home.

Darryl Musick
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