Spring Break in Surf City

Huntington Beach view from hotel
“Yes, yes I think that will do.” Those were my first thoughts on seeing this very nice view from our hotel balcony in Huntington Beach, aka ‘Surf City’, on our trip there during Spring Break. Palm trees, orange rooftops, a deep blue ocean, blue sky with a bit of fog, very sandy sand, big waves and even the view of Highway 1, which (along with Highway 101) runs along the whole Pacific coast of America (as the ‘Pacific Coast Highway’). Yeah, I can’t really go wrong with a view like that. My wife certainly knows how to pick the hotels with the good views. We had expected rain – in northern California, huge whopping storms were beating down while I splashed about in the pool, getting out to read my travel stories book and sip a refreshing mango beer. Yes, mango beer, that’s right, it was from a local brewer, the poolside barstaff told me. I like mango flavoured things. Oh is it raining in Davis? Well never mind. We had glorious sunshine, and we used it wisely, at the beach and at the pool. It’s at times like this when I think, yeah, actually it was a good idea to leave London and live in California.
Huntington Beach Naugles
I did a little bit of sketching. The building above is Naugles, some sort of eatery by the beach. It wasn’t open, though the building next door was renting those surreys and bikes to people. I think I imagined Spring Break to be a bit more Spring Break-like, if you know what I mean, Florida style, but warm as it was, it’s still too cold in California for that sort of thing. For which I was very grateful, I do love places without big crowds. I even went into the ocean myself (which was fairly freezing), my son and his friend out there splashing about in the waves. I can’t surf, but we had one of those boogy-boards and so I floated about on that, on my belly, riding the waves like a dead whale. I’m not sure if dead whales ride the waves, but ‘dead whale’ was the only thing that came to my mind when the tides flopped me back onto the shore. I was a dead whale enjoying myself though. We even built sandcastles and dug tunnels. These sketches though were done while they were back at the hotel pool, which was heated and had water slides. Below is one of the many lifeguard lookouts that stand along the beach like the watchers on the wall. At this point it’s obligatory to mention ‘Baywatch’, but I never watched that show, so I wont. The beach was clean, and well trimmed like a suburban lawn. There are firepits for people to use when barbecuing in the warm summer evenings (like in pretty much every teen LA-based movie or TV show), but there’s a curfew on this beach, nobody is allowed after 10pm. In the distance, Huntington Beach pier, and further behind still are off-shore oil rigs, which maybe adjust the perfection of the view a bit (but offer something a bit different to look at). The waves get pretty big; you can see a surfer making their way in. Huntington Beach is nicknamed Surf City: there is a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, legendary Hawaiian surfer and olympic sportsman, standing outside one of the big surf shops downtown. I popped in, and discovered that surfboards cost a lot more than I though they did. There goes that dream!
Huntington Beach Lifeguard Hut
Speaking of ‘The Duke’, we had a very filling and quite delicious dinner at Duke’s restaurant, on the beach next to the pier. We went to the Duke’s restaurant in Waikiki a couple of years ago, and had our very first Lava Flow drinks. They were delicious. The ones we had here were just as nice, but served in those great tiki glasses. I only had the one – they are pretty filling! So are the enormous Hula Pies. We got one to share between the four of us, and I’m glad – we barely finished it. I bought a Hula Pie plate as a souvenir. I did get to tell a great pun when the waiter was giving us the list of specials. My wife wondered if she should have the fish special, and I said, “why not, just for the halibut!” The waiter didn’t get it though. I thought it was good. One of the fish specials was halibut. Now I have to engineer some other situation where I can use the “just for the halibut” line.
Lava Flow at Duke's
It was a long walk back to the hotel, but since I had eaten so much I was rolled along the seafront like one of those massive snowballs. I was still basking in the glory of my “just for the halibut” line. It was not yet ten o’clock, so the beach was dotted with the glow of numerous firepits. In the parking lots, travelers were sat outside immense RVs enjoying the spring evening’s cool ocean breeze.
Ruby's Choc Mint Shake

On the second evening in Huntington Beach, after an incredibly fresh tasting dinner at a place called Lemonade (which as you might expect made delicious multi-flavoured hand-made lemonades – I had ‘Cucumber Mint’. So refreshing. Everyone was tired, and so the rest of the family went back to the hotel, but I still wanted to walk to the end of that long pier, so I talked my sore feet into making the trek up over the boardwalk into the Pacific Ocean. There are lots of people fishing from that pier. It’s not full of amusements like Santa Monica or Walton-on-the-Naze, but right at the very end in the red-roofed building is one of my favourite places in California, Ruby’s Diner. I have a lot of favourite places in California, I can’t really choose; ok this is in the top 100. It’s a classic American diner at the end of a pier, there’s a great classic American atmosphere, and when I say classic American I mean ‘like in the movies’, probably. It doesn’t feel themed or kitschy though. There is a tiki bar upstairs, which I passed through to use the bathrooms, that was a distinctive change of look. All I wanted was a milkshake. A bit of history here, the very first time I came to the United States was in 2002, to visit my still-new Californian girlfriend whom I had met while living in France, and she took me on a road trip down California and to the Grand Canyon. Oh by the way my then-new Californian girlfriend is now my Californian wife of course! Back then though America was completely new to me, I was a fresh-faced twenty-something, and on this road trip we visited our friend Erin (whom we had met in France; actually it was Erin who introduced us to each other) and she lived in Huntington Beach. She took us to Ruby’s Diner at the end of the pier, and I had what up to that point in my life was perhaps the best milkshake I had ever tasted. It was a butterfinger milkshake, it was huge, it made every milkshake I grew up with seem like Nesquik. By the way every milkshake I ever grew up with was Nesquik. I’ll never forget the taste of Nesquik gone BAD. Never leave banana Nesquik in a flask out of the fridge for a couple of days in summer and then try to drink it. I was six. Anyway, all I had on my mind was coming back to Ruby’s and having a milkshake, and I was not disappointed. They had the same menu of shakes, but they were also doing a special Mint Chocolate shake made with Girl Scout Cookies. It was delicious. The long walk down the pier and the long walk back to the hotel were good exercise, and I’m now still dieting to get over all the big foods I had on that trip, but it was worth it. Huntington Beach is cool. And below, for those who really need a gumball, they have them in a gas pump. Classic American.
Ruby's Candy Pump

Ok after Huntington Beach we went to Great Wolf Lodge for one night, which had some fun water slides but overall was a bit of a disappointment after Huntington Beach, and so we ended up going to see Captain Marvel instead (loved it!). We got back to Davis to hear that there had been even more heavy rain (this is the rainiest I’ve ever known Davis, except maybe that first winter here).

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pacifica

Pacifica hydrant
Hey folks! Another slight pause in posting; I’ve been away on vacation, no spoilers about where I went but it rhymes with “bitterly”, specifically “dome” and “menace”, as I say you will have to wait to find out where from my many many sketches. But in the unforgettable words of Jar-Jar Binks, “meesa back!” I can’t remember where I was with my sketches, oh yes, Pacifica. So a week after my son’s soccer team’s tournament in Nevada we had another one down in the beach town of Pacifica. The waves were high and the air was salty, and our team did excellently, only missing out on qualifying for the final on goal difference. I did of course get a good bit of sketching in, and here it is. Above, a hydrant near the Ocean. Below, two views either side of the same rocky outcrop, from two different beaches. The top one was Rockaway Beach, right outside our hotel, and sketched on a super windy morning. Those waves were incredible, and the beach was covered in fluffy sea-foam blown in from the Pacific.
PAcifica beachPAcifica beach
PAcifica beachgoers
And don’t forget the beachgoers. With the waves so big there were a lot of extra surfers out. I used to want to be a surfer, when I was young. It was mostly because it was as far away as something people in Burnt Oak would do that I could think of, so therefore it was what I wanted to do. I always imagined I would live in Australia, surfing every week, walking about town in my wetsuit, but that never happened. Instead I live in California (not near the beach) and seriously, I ain’t getting in no wetsuit now. That’s ok, I’m fine with that. I just sketch the surfers now.
Pacifica milkshake at Rock'n'Robbies
Possibly one reason why is my love for delicious milkshakes, and this one was partaken at the local Rockaway Beach diner “Rock’n’Robs”. Cookies and cream flavour. Yeah, no surfing for me now. Another reason may be the found in the image below. “Nick’s” is a 90-year-old bar and lounge in splashing distance of the Pacific waves, and a few steps from our hotel, so I popped by to sketch their bar and try a few beers. That slanted mirror let me sketch the patrons to my right, and on the other side of the bar a band played and local couples danced. It was a fun place to spend the evening.

PAcifica Nicks sm

And here is a sketch of the small town itself, the Rockaway Beach part of Pacifica. Pretty nice down here. It’s really close to San Francisco by the way, surprisingly near, yet it feels a million miles away. I liked it; I think we’ll be back.

Pacifica Rockaway Beach

lovers gonna love

monterey peninsula coastline
I love the sea. I love the land even more, because I tend not to sink when I stand on it, but the ocean is definitely nice to look at. The Monterey Peninsula has some dramatic coastline, and on our recent trip we were blessed with fog-free weather. The fog would hang out in the distance and occasionally wander in, but mostly it was very sunny. Above is a sketch I did while we were hanging out and hopping around rock pools at one of the beaches just west of Monterey itself.
lovers point, pacific grove
Later that day, we spent a few hours at our favourite little beach, Lover’s Point. Lovers gonna love. We really do love this spot, a very short walk from where we stay in Pacific Grove. We’ve been coming here since our son was about two, making sandcastles, paddling in the water, getting sandwiches stolen by seagulls (out of my hand! My actual hand!). This time we saw a whale! It was pretty majestic, what looked like a humpback whale, its tale coming out of the waters of the bay. There were a couple of them but I only saw the one. I’ve never seen a whale before.
Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you want sea-life though, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the place. It’s a brilliant aquarium (the large red octopus is my favourite, and it spread its tentacles across the glass) and I took the opportunity to sketch some of the fish and other creatures. Sketching fish, you need to be fast.

to the shouting sea

monterey peninsula beach

It gets pretty foggy down at the Pacific Ocean’s edge. On our last morning in Monterey we took advantage of the cry of the sea one last time before we’d head inland to the hot Valley again. I painted the above pretty quickly; I was out of clean water for my paints so I used water from the Pacific Ocean itself to paint with. Seemed appropriate. This was still Pacific Grove, but further out, on the way to 17-Mile Drive.

luke's painting, Pacific Grove

My two-year-old son decided he’d like to help me with a bit of painting, so I gave him my paints and my brush, and even my nearly-complete brown sketchbook, and he painted the above. I think it’s just brilliant! He has a much better eye for colour than me. I can see us doing joint sketchbook projects in the future!

hula's, monterey

This last one is from the day before, when we had lunch at an interesting little place called Hula’s, where there was a lot to draw. And that was our short trip to Monterey. At some point soon I might start posting all the drawings I’ve done in Davis since the Symposium…

sand between the toes

goat rock beach

The Sonoma coastline of California is utterly spectactular. Today was a lovely warm sunny March day. This naturally equals going to the beach for a fun family day out, and it was fun. We went to Goat Rock Beach, at the mouth of the Russian River, where harbor seal pups were enjoying the balmy weather. We had sand in the hair and sand between the toes; soft, warm sand, a gentle breeze, perfect sun. The waves were loud and dangerous. We skimmed flat stones on the river. I sat on a log and drew some of the rocky coastline, before turning about on the same log to draw the Russian River snaking towards the Pacific Ocean. I thought how so very different this is to the seasides I grew up with, the windy English seasides with pebbles and candy floss and buckets-and-spades, and those amusement arcades with the bingo machines (“maggie’s den, number ten”). Not that there’s anything wrong with that (far from it, I love those places!), it’s just that this spot is so spectacular, so incredibly breathtaking that I can’t believe it’s real.  

the mouth of the russian river