If you only have a day or a night to pass while transiting through LA, you could do a lot worse than making the detour to the small city of Manhattan Beach. Though it is located just two miles from the airport, and only a mile or so from Hermosa, you’ll feel as though you’ve somehow stepped back half a century in time.
For this is the part of Los Angeles that inspired Brian Wilson and Mike Love to write all those perennial classics for the Beach Boys; Surfin’ USA, Help Me Rhonda, All Summer Long, and all the rest of those peerless tunes. Here, the sparkling white Pacific surf still rolls and drums the broad, honey coloured dream of a beach, a full four hundred feet wide and more than two miles in length.
The surfers are still there; together with the summer volleyball tournaments. In the centre, a stout wooden pier juts fearlessly out into the ocean, with an eclectic, octagonal shaped aquarium cafe located at the very end.
There are roller bladers, strolling lovers, and little old ladies that walk improbable, yapping dogs that bay frantically at the bare chested, flame haired men whose attachment to jogging is less painful than their devotion to purple spandex. All human life is here, and then some.
The main drag leading down to the beach is lined with clap board houses, wreathed in multi hued clouds of hibiscus, oleander and jasmine. Gaunt, spindly palm trees stand black against the reddening hues of twilight. A long boardwalk promenade meanders along towards nearby Hermosa Beach.
The main thoroughfares are lined with bars, cafes and restaurants, each with a surplus of outdoor seating that has spilled out onto the sidewalks like a class ten roller. There are ditzy little arts, crafts and herbal remedy shops, and more than a few car dealerships. Amazingly, there is not a skyscraper within view anywhere; only the sight of a plane clawing at the sky as it lifts off from nearby LAX even hints at the presence of the vast, seething metropolis just beyond.
The whole vibe is more than a little bit like a fantasy bubble in the middle of a vast, chaotic empire; a sort of Brigadoon by the sea, if you will. But the whole area has a kind of subtle, hypnotic charm that gathers you in, and then draws you back again.
Highlight? For me personally, sitting at a waterfront bar and drinking Zinfandel- preferably Beringer- as the sun sags like a slow moving dream into the blush tinted embrace of the rolling Pacific. This is my touchstone- that magical moment when I know beyond doubt that I have returned. And it’s a moment, and a feeling, every bit is warm and full bodied as that same benevolent sun. Wonderful stuff.