Harbor Cove Beach, Ventura, California
The lagoons and houses along I-5 north to Los Angeles have an orderliness about them, a rhythm. The freeway skirts sandy beaches and rolling hills, impressing those not jaded by having driven it hundreds of times.
I barely notice them while plotting ill-advised schemes to avoid the inevitable traffic. Camp Pendleton, whose Marines keep Orange County from spreading into San Diego, buys us a little time. So does a quick stop in San Clemente for a soggy, fast-food-chain breakfast sandwich.
One possibility would be to hang a right at San Juan Capistrano. There, the Ortega Highway transports folks across the Santa Ana Mountains to Lake Elsinore and I-15. It's tempting, but it shoots us toward Las Vegas rather than California's central coast. How bad could traffic be?
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Today it is slow but moving. This isn't like trying to get from Azusa to Culver City during the LA Marathon when I-10 is closed. There is no 3-hour slog through the streets of South Central. But that was 20 years ago, let it go already.
This morning the city is a relative blur en route to Ventura, an hour to the northwest. Incorporated in 1866, its full name is San Buenaventura, after 13th-century theologian and philosopher Giovanni di Fidanza–better known to history as Saint Bonaventure.
The pedestrian-friendly downtown, which features a variety of boutique shops, would be an ideal spot to stretch our legs if not for a wrong turn that sends us toward the ocean. Signs for Channel Islands National Park look promising (“Buenaventura” literally translates to “good fortune”), so we follow them past another armada of shops to Harbor Cove Beach.
There is no time to catch a boat out to the actual islands, only for a stroll along the still-sleepy beach. High wispy clouds punctuate a crisp blue sky. A few surfers, birds, and dogs dot the land.
One man catches clams or crabs. Another, a fisherman, is assaulted by a kid running naked in the sand. The fisherman quickly spots the kid's laughing parents, then returns to his business, occasionally tossing scraps of fish to hovering seagulls.
The breezy salt air and endless blue on the horizon are hypnotic. It feels like we could stay forever. If you'd have said we'd leave after 90 minutes to go watch a parade, I'd have called you nuts. But I'm just the driver, what do I know?