Southern California cover story
Condé Nast Traveler China
Cover Photographer: Xiaoliang Li // Feature Photographer: Douglas Merriam
We round Seal Rock in Crescent Bay, a popular dive spot, and spy on sea lions sharing the rock with some pelicans and cormorants. Ali says I’m free to jump out of the kayak into the open ocean if I want to. Knowing these are the most pristine waters in the area, we both take a quick (and cold) dip. In all of Orange County, Laguna maintains possibly the most robust underwater ecosystems, making it one of the best areas in SoCal for snorkeling. (As a side note—May through November is supposed to be prime time for whale watching.)
After kayaking, I test the waters at the next beach over, Shaw’s Cove. Unusually rough waves thrash me while trying to swim past the break. An older gentleman named Elmer, a more experienced snorkeler, comes to my rescue and offers to guide me around the reefs, but the visibility just isn’t the best on this day. Instead we ditch our fins and walk along the tidepools. Retired now, he and his wife, Sandy—who’s cozy reading a book on the beach under an umbrella—have been coming to this quiet cove for years and years, he says as he cracks open a mussel and feeds the meat to a sea anemone.
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As night falls over Surf City, USA on a Friday, the scent of smoke wafts through the air. Teenagers trudge toward the beach with arms full of blankets, firewood, and s’mores fixings. Bonfire pits start blazing—just the beginning of one of those nostalgic California nights that linger in your memory forever.
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