The day we were supposed to leave LA for our camping trip in Joshua Tree National Park, my brother woke up feeling cruddy. He’s usually a font of undying energy, but he wanted to take it easy. So I said: “Not to leave you here alone in your misery, but what if I take the car and go to the beach today, and you hang out here with blankets and hot tea. Then tomorrow, either I or we can do a day hike at Joshua Tree.” He agreed. Then he called his friend Steve to ask about un-crowded beaches near LA. Steve told me to go to Point Dume, off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.
“You hike over this hill, it’s really beautiful, and then you’ll see the beach. There’ll be, like, hardly anyone there. Maybe some surfers, maybe some lady walking a little dog.” Sounded great. I packed up lunch, a book, my camera, and my brother’s unwieldy beach blanket, borrowed some CDs for the drive, and headed west to the coast.
I followed Steve’s vague directions and found a trailhead down a side street with a little turnoff. All the parking spots at the turnoff were full, and the rest of the street was posted with No Parking signs. So much for it being deserted. So I kept going and found my way to the main entrance for Zuma Beach, a mile or so down crazy-twisting roads. I parallel-parked just before the pay parking kicked in, walked down the beach back toward Point Dume, and found a quiet spot to plop down. Flocks of surfers bobbed in the ocean. A photographer was shooting a guy fishing, or pretending to fish. Retirees and students on spring break sauntered along the beach, but most of them didn’t come this far down. And then I saw a fin.
Dolphins! Groups of two and three dolphins were playing in the waves, close to the surfers. I’d catch sight of a dorsal fin, or a tail, and then the sea would be blank again. And then I’d see more fins. They played there for a long time.
Towards the end of the afternoon, as the beach started to empty out, I decided to check out that trailhead again. I headed back up the hill and, sure enough, there was a parking space by the trailhead. A surfer was peeling off his wetsuit and loading up his car. The trail cut through green plants and yellow wildflowers. I love spring in the desert, how everything is suddenly bright and colorful. I passed several people, mostly in pairs, on the trail. At a lookout spot, I could look back and see the curl of the beach and the next point south.
I heard a sound like a rush of air – it was the beating of pelican wings. The pelicans circled low and were joined by more. I watched them for a long time. Then I continued out to the point, where a climber was making her way down and a group of people took pictures of themselves with their tiny dog. After they left, I had the point almost to myself: the craggy reddish rock, streaked white with salt; the bursts of yellow wildflowers; the greenery spilling over the side and clinging to the cliff edge; the greenish blue water that turned frothy white when it crashed against the rocks.
As a friend of my sister-in-law said on a nearby hike a couple of days later: the best hiking spots in LA are the ones where you can’t tell you’re in LA.