Do you ever feel that there are certain places in the world that are more important and meaningful to you than others? Places that you think of and immediately feel some kind of emotion?
For me, one of those important places is the central coast of California, from Pismo Beach all the way up to Big Sur. A couple of weeks ago, I finally took another trip up there, after about 4 years, and I was finally able to understand why I feel such a connection to this region.
Since I was quite young, I’ve been making trips up the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, or PCH for short.
It started with quick “beach days” to Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. We’d almost always get fish n’chips, clam chowder, and cinnamon rolls, three food specialties I held in high regard as a youngster (the clam chowder came later in life, since clams were filed under the “gross” foods category until I was in my teens). I also loved visiting the Shell Shop, which was a wonderland as a kid. Iridescent muscle shells, huge conches, rough coral, jewelery boxes and dream catchers made out of shells. And of course, there was always the good ol’ plastic whale outside of the restaurant “The Whale’s Tail,” which unfortunately no longer exists. I would always sit on that whale or take a picture with him. It always reminded me of a song I would listen to on my favorite Disney mix CD; it’s an old song, so you probably won’t know it:
“Got a whale of a tale to tell you lad, a whale of a tale or two, ’bout the flappin’ fish and the girl I love…”
If this were a video or podcast, I’d be playing you a clip right now, but since this is text-based, here’s a link to the song: Kirk Douglas – A Whale of a Tale.
My next memories of this area of California happened at summer camp when I was about 12. I hiked the green hills, saw the Elephant seals all sprawled out on the beach, learned what poison oak looks like, and was taught about identifying different types of scat (animal droppings) when hiking. That little factoid – that another term for wild animal droppings is scat – has stayed with me for more than a decade. Why do we remember the weirdest things?!
And finally, my fondest memories: camping with my family. The feel of that crisp, salty sea air on my face, and the smell of Eucalyptus trees; how my legs would always get a little too warm by the fire, the smell of the smoke, the crackle of the logs, and the pure joy that is a perfectly roasted marshmallow; the subtle colors and textures of the landscape, the massive Morro Rock, unexpectedly punctuating the skyline, the rolling, warm sand dunes that we’d run down full-speed, and the slippery tide pools filled with starfish, snails and crabs; all of these things combined give me so much comfort.
It’s hard to explain the way this area of Central California makes me feel: It’s not just that I like it, it’s that I feel as if it’s part of who I am. I suspect that this feeling can only really exist when something big, transformative, or emotional happens to you in that place. I grew up taking trips to this place, and they were always happy trips, making some of my best childhood and young adult memories there. Versailles and Paris are other examples of places that mean a lot to me, because I experienced so much personal growth and change there.
Places don’t just exist for you to inhabit them, they really do play a huge role in shaping who you are. It’s like a give-and-take between the environment, people, culture, architecture and activities interacting with your unique personality, likes, experiences, and perception of the world. That’s an incredible insight that I’ve never truly thought of before. It makes me want to travel even more.
What place in the world is important and meaningful to you? Or perhaps, what place makes you feel most like yourself, and how? Let me know in the comments below, or by commenting on one of my social media pages. I’d honestly love to know.
With all of that said, here are some more of the photos I took during this trip, as well as some older ones that I just rediscovered after digging through my hard drive.