When we first planned this trip, our final destination was the Grand Canyon, with maybe a side trip to Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam before heading back home.
Then we did the math and realized that it was “only” another 450 miles to go visit Nan’s brother Ed and his family in Hermosa Beach, CA.
Hermosa Beach is a community in Los Angeles County, and the prospect of seeing the L.A. area, and dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean, was too good to pass up. Not to mention the prospect of seeing Ed and his family, who might be called “outliers” among Nan’s family and my family. All ten siblings in my family and Nan’s family — Nan and her five brothers and sisters, and me and my three siblings — reside on the East Coast, in the states of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
Except for Ed and his wife Regina, who packed up a few years back and headed to Hermosa Beach, where they have settled in, and more than once, I’ve wondered what their lives are like out there. Seeing them required driving 350 miles from Williams, AZ to Victorville, CA, setting up camp with the RV in Victorville, then renting a car and driving the last 100 miles to Hermosa Beach for a two-night visit.
The route goes down I-40 West, intersects with I-15, and goes via I-15 South into Hermosa Beach. That means a drive through the Mojave Desert in Southern California, where we encountered yet more spectacular scenery. We have seen a ton of great scenery on this visit, but when we hit Barstow, CA, where I-40 and I-15 meet, we encountered something we hadn’t seen in a while: traffic.
So much of the middle of the country is so vast, and so empty, that when the Interstate turned from two lanes into three around Barstow, and stayed that way, it took a little bit to realize that we were encountering large population centers again.
The good news is that after parking the RV in Victorville, CA, we were driving a rented Ford Escape into L.A./Hermosa Beach. As the traffic built up and the road got wider and wider, growing from two lanes into four or five, the maneuverability of the Escape was a welcome change from the RV.
We encountered just one traffic jam on our way into Hermosa Beach, so the famed L.A. traffic didn’t get us too badly. Our route took us right past LAX, though we did not go past the Hollywood sign.
We arrived at Ed and Regina’s around noon on Friday, and we left there Sunday morning, so that gave us about one and a half days and two nights to enjoy their company and visit the beach.
Ed and Regina have a beautiful three-story house about five blocks from the beach, and the upper level has a view of the Pacific where they watch the sunset every night. The homes in Hermosa Beach are like the Outer Banks homes we have visited so often in the past: the bottom level is functional (laundry and garage, for example), the middle level contains the bedrooms, and the upper level is the living area (kitchen and family room). This is backwards from what so much of us know, where the upper level is for the bedrooms, and the middle level is living area. This is so you can see the water from the living area throughout the day.
To me, Hermosa Beach is classic Southern California, but without too much glitz and glam. It’s a very nice community, affluent, with some great shops and of course the beach, but it’s not overdone. If you put things in terms of automobiles, Hermosa Beach is a Mercedes-Porsche-Lexus community, but there are almost no Ferraris and Lamborghinis. That’s just the way it ought to be; nice, but not over the top.
(Having said that, we did visit a used car lot where we looked at a Ferrari, a Lambo, and a Bentley, in addition to some great BMWs and Mercedes.)
The people are attractive and young, and yes, tan, without being ridiculously glamorous. While a visit to an East Coast beach will include some people-watching that can be, um, cringe-worthy, the residents and beach-goers at Hermosa Beach are easy on the eyes. Ed told us that Hermosa Beach was rated one of the best places in America to be young and single. I believe it.
But Ed says there’s a price that comes with all that affluence and attractiveness: “They tax the heck out of you.” Indeed, when I bought a bottle of Mountain Dew at a convenience store, it was taxed at a 12% rate. Yikes. But you get what you pay for, I think. It’s a beautiful area, with lots of other beautiful areas close by, and Ed and Regina have carved out a very nice life way out there on the West Coast, where no other Hoffman or Stewart has dared to tread.
When we arrived on Friday, we were early, so Regina took us to a local light house and aquatic museum. A big part of the museum was an homage to a Marineland that used to be located nearby. For some reason, I found that fascinating. Regina said that a lot of the old-school locals really miss the Marineland, which was located on a site that is now a luxurious resort. I get that. While touring the museum, I was struck by how big the old Marineland was, with its huge parking lot and multiple stadium-like settings for observing the marine life hosted there. It used to be a huge attraction, back in the day. Sadly, in today’s world, I don’t think an attraction like Marineland would draw much traffic, at least not compared to what it used to draw.
Regina also took us to the Wayfarer’s Chapel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, the cleverly-named Lloyd Wright. The pics speak for themselves. It was beautiful, and as we shot pictures, a wedding rehearsal was taking place.
After a nice dinner prepared by Ed and Regina Friday night, we spent most of Saturday on the beach. The kids rode boogie boards in the Pacific — yes, the Pacific, and we got there by driving — and we hung out on the beach. We went to church that Saturday evening, a very nice service that featured Regina as cantor, and I can report that she’s very talented. Back at Ed and Regina’s, we ate pizza that night and watched Return of the Pink Panther on television. I didn’t “get” the humor back when I saw it as an 11-year-old in the theatre in 1975, but my kids — 11, 13, and 14 — “got it” on this viewing.
We left pretty early the next morning, and all in all, it was a great job hosting by Ed and Regina. We all got to shower in real bathrooms for the first time in almost two weeks, which is not an experience to be undervalued. Regina did an incredible job preparing meals and serving as hostess for us, despite facing the task of preparing for a trip to the Grand Canyon herself, for which they were departing on Monday.
It was a great visit, but it marked the halfway point time-wise of our trip, and it also marked the western-most point of our vacation. We still had a few places to visit on our way back, but the sad truth is that most of the high points of our visit were behind us at this point.
But then again … Vegas was next.