Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes Peninsula, California
Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes Peninsula, California
In the two decades that I have lived in Minnesota, I’ve always made it home to southern California for the holidays.
Sometimes I’ve arrived on Christmas Eve. Other times I’ve come on Christmas (not a bad day to fly, by the way). But I’ve never shown up later than December 26, which is my dad’s birthday. We almost always have the Hawaiian Paradise cake from King’s Hawaiian Bakery to celebrate.
A year ago, however, marked a new kind of holiday season for my family. This was our first Christmas without my dad, who had died six weeks earlier, quietly, at home. My go-getter, dapper Dan of a dad was 93.
On that visit and others since then, I’ve thought about the places we went, the things we did, the time we spent together. I’ve revisited many key places, and I’m thankful for the memories of the experiences we shared.
Here are four of my favorites.
Before children, my parents had a boat. The boat was named Dianthus, after the carnations that were core to my family’s nursery business. My dad, uncle, and grandpa would regularly take fishing trips to the Carquinez Strait in the Bay Area. The trip everyone remembers is the one when my mom landed the big one: a 25-pound bass.
But our most memorable fishing trip had nothing to do with fish. We went squid fishing off the Redondo Beach pier. That day, we had the touch. We couldn’t pull up the wriggly creatures fast enough. That day, we felt like fishermen. My dad got a kick out of that.
I went to the Santa Monica Pier this summer. While revisiting those fishing memories, I met a family vacationing from Connecticut. David Bremer was hoping to share some good bonding time with his 8-year-old son Conlan. The Bremers rented poles, bought squid, and lined up with the 15 or so people on the end of the pier, just past the End of the Trail, the famous Route 66 sign. Other signs reminded anglers not to eat contaminated fish like white croaker, black croaker, topsmelt, and barracuda. The fish didn’t bite that day. After a couple of hours, the Bremers had only seen a dolphin. But they had enjoyed time together ocean fishing. “It teaches patience,” Conlan said.
Long before smartphones and satellite TV, my brother and I regularly tuned in to the original Batman television series. Who could resist the dynamic duo in such crime-fighting episodes like “Fine Feathered Finks,” “Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time,” and “Rats Like Cheese”?
My brother was the bigger fan. In kindergarten, he dressed up as—who else?—Batman for our school’s Halloween parade. So when my dad heard that the local car dealer was holding a Batman promotion he dutifully drove my mom, brother, and me to the car lot on the appointed day. He became the dad of all dads and secured my brother’s bragging rights at school. The original Batman television series only ran three seasons, but it still airs in some markets. The Batmobile sold in 2013 for $4.6 million, but the original Batcave is still in the Hollywood Hills.
Even now, fans make their way to the cave located in a residential neighborhood known as Bronson Canyon. It’s off the beaten track, a 10- to 15-minute climb up a short path from the car. You need to go in daylight hours since the gates close at dusk. Locals will tell you that they’ve lived in the area for years but never knew it was there. It’s not really busy, but you may come across people using the trail for exercise, masons on a lunch break under a shady tree, and visitors getting their “Hidden L.A.” tour. Part of an old rock quarry, the cave is actually a tunnel that runs through a hill—something artful camera shots managed to disguise.
When I went back to this old haunt, a Venice, California, resident named Tim Reis was there showing the cave off to his buddy from North Carolina. Reis, 26, was born long after the TV show went off the air, but said his dad introduced him to the Batman series. Inside the cave, he and his friend noticed chalk scribblings on the craggy walls—a sun, the Roman numeral XIIV, stick figures, a fish, and a spaceship. “This is proof that aliens found Earth,” Reis said, laughing.
MORE SITES TO SEE
After visiting the Batcave, check out the Griffith Park Observatory. You can park at the bottom along Fern Dell Drive and hike up to the observatory or drive to the top and park in the observatory’s free lot. People come early and the lot fills fast. If the skies are clear, you’ll get an expansive view of L.A.
Don’t be surprised to see bicyclists whizzing by on Palos Verdes Drive on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. One of the favorite resting spots for locals and tourists is Paseo del Mar, which splits off from Palos Verdes Drive West. On a clear day, you can see the Channel Islands and beach cities from Santa Monica to Point Dume. Walk on the paths or sit on oversized rock benches under shady eucalyptus trees.
A long time ago, I was a state officer for the Future Homemakers of America-Home Economics Related Occupations, a vocational student organization. All officers had an official uniform—the centerpiece was a red blazer with the FHA-HERO patch paired with a navy or white skirt or slacks. My sharp-dressing dad volunteered to take me shopping for a pair of white shoes. He probably figured we could go to one, maybe two stores and find a pair, but our town of 10,000 at the time had only one shopping center. So, I did what any resourceful future homemaker would do. I dragged him through three suburban malls in three counties—Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles—to find the perfect pair in the San Fernando Valley—two and a half hours from home. I think that was the last time we went shopping for shoes together. Had it been around, I wonder if I could have convinced him to check out Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice.
Abbot Kinney is to the 2010s what Melrose Avenue was to the 1990s—the hot, trendy street to shop. GQ once dubbed it the Coolest Block in America, but some longtimers aren’t happy with the gentrification of the area. Abbot Kinney is a couple blocks from the busy pier, tucked into a laid-back neighborhood. It’s the kind of neighborhood where the Fiorentini + Baker shoe store has the “Back in 5 min.!” sign on its door. Or where Bountiful antiques uses old Major League Baseball cards as the base for their business cards. Or Tortoise General Store sells gardeners seeds for shishito pepper, Asian leek, green soybean, and white radish. Or where Urbanic Paper Boutique, founded by a lovestruck, bicoastal couple, encourages people to “Text Less, Write More.”
Jim McClintock, a lifelong Angeleno, is a huge fan of Abbot Kinney. With all the shops, restaurants and bars at Abbot Kinney, he says, you could spend all afternoon there. Unless you’re shoe shopping with your dad.
My dad was a born entrepreneur, a second-generation nurseryman who always had new business ideas percolating. He wasn’t a big fan of lolling around. His work ethic became our motto. “Let’s be productive!” was one of his favorite sayings. That could explain why on one family vacation, we went to Marineland in Rancho Palos Verdes and two other theme parks in one day. Marineland opened in 1954—a year before Disneyland—and was known for its performing killer whales. It closed in the late 1980s. The land, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, is now home to Terranea resort. You can stay there. You can eat there. You can go to the spa or play golf. Or you can follow the trail signs directing you to the water’s edge: Terranea Cove. There you may find a mix of hotel guests and the public. You’ll be close enough to hear waves crash and inhale the salty aroma of the sea. Some people simply sit on the rocks and listen. When I was there, three women and a guide took off in kayaks. Meanwhile, two men tried their hand at fishing, but as more people wandered to the cove, they packed it in.
A few minutes past Terranea is Wayfarers Chapel, the glass church overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where my father gave me away. The grounds are immaculate, making the chapel a popular venue for people seeking quiet. Visitors can wander through a small rose garden, the sound of a water fountain gurgling nearby. Birds of paradise and orange daylilies pop with color. The “Walk of Honor” is a path of inscribed stones.
Last Christmas, my husband and I went to L.A. It is an annual tradition, after all. My dad’s death was still fresh, especially for my mom. They had been married 61 years. So on December 26, we had a small dinner with my mother, brother, and his family. And enjoyed Hawaiian Paradise cake from King’s Hawaiian Bakery.