Coastal Commuter

By the sea: A lifetime of longing and fulfillment on the beach

There’s something about August that evokes lazy days by the sea — even for those of us who are land-locked. Maybe it’s because this month, above all others, is when we often take a break from the grind and seek relaxation at a place where fun is the number-one priority: the beach. It’s when families go on vacation together for the last time before summer gives way to fall. Soon, you’ll be going back to work and back to school.

Farewell to the salt air; the shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops; the volleyball games, shell collecting, and evening bonfires in the sand; and the languid, dreamy hours in repose. Before the moments pass, we drive out to the coast and drink it all in when the sun is high; or after it goes down, we gather in the moonlight with our buddies, a case of beer, and a guitar. And we hold onto the glorious images and remember the easy splendor of a beach getaway when the calendar turns and autumn creeps in.


As a kid spending summers in the South Jersey resort town of Brigantine, I had more than my fill of peeling red shoulders, grit in my swimsuit, and hot feet on hotter dunes — not to mention the potential dangers of a churning undertow whenever I ventured into the water. By the time I hit adolescence, I figured I was done with lounging at the ocean’s edge. I was wrong. I knew there were girls in bikinis who lolled about, working on their tans, or cavorted in the shallow wavelets. Hormones in overdrive, I braved the three-block walk to the beach on most sunny days to see what was what. But I seldom felt a part of the long-running seaside festivities in my time spent on the Atlantic seaboard. Instead, I longed for the carefree beachfront life I knew could be found in California.


My ardor was fueled by one of the local radio stations that played daily blocks of what was and still is known as surf music. There were rockin’ tunes and earnest ballads about surfers, beach bunnies, and drag racers — and their diversions and romances — performed in harmony-laden fashion by the angelic-voiced Beach Boys, plus hits by the Boys’ jocular peers Jan & Dean, and lesser ensembles such as the Rip Chords.

Then there were the surging instrumentals, all twangy guitars and big beats, from the likes of the Ventures and various bands such as the Marketts and the Routers (who were, in fact, different members of the informal cadre of Los Angeles studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew). In my mind, it all added up to a heavenly, carefree place where youth culture reigned supreme.

Was that mental beachscape what originally drew me out to the Pacific when I entered my nomadic 20s? Not primarily. I always had a hankering to live in San Francisco. It was the Bay Area’s rare urban beauty and its Bohemian history (particularly its freebooting artistic side) that truly motivated me. But Southern California — the original surfing capital of the U.S. mainland — has become as important and dear to me as S.F. for a variety of reasons, some previously detailed in this column space. And the beaches of the northern, central, and southern coasts have held me in their thrall since I came west.


I riffle through memories like a collection of “Wish you were here!” postcards: Early Burning Man congregations that continued into the wee hours on Baker Beach then on to dawn (and sizzling days of nude sunbathing at the same locale). Wandering through tangles of driftwood on Muir Beach in the late afternoon. Huddling on a blanket during a warm evening at Stinson Beach while watching the glow of phosphorescent plankton coming in with the tide like a watery aurora. Hiking around the perimeter of a cove at Big Sur as waves crash and foam upon the nearby rock formations. Meeting the gang at some picnic tables by Venice Beach for an impromptu pot-luck birthday brunch to honor one of our number. Sipping a cocktail at the bar on the end of the Malibu Fishing Pier while gazing out at the horizon during sunset.

It hasn’t been a surfin’ safari, to reference a vintage Beach Boys album title. I’ve never been on a surfboard in my life. But I’ve seen Big Kahunas hanging ten from Mavericks to Manhattan Beach, and appreciated bronzed, toned bodies luxuriating in the golden rays of this truly Golden State. And I’ve experienced some very real, very lovely variations of that mythic California summer on the beach that I imagined years ago as music swirled out of tinny little speakers.

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on KPFK/Pacifica Radio's "David Feldman Show" and "Thom Hartmann Show" and on "Michael Snyder's Culture Blast," available online at and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster