The California Myth Lives On

From a distance, California’s mythology may seem too good to be true, like a hoax concocted on Hollywood backlots, pieced together out of Beach Boy tunes and Bruce Brown surf films. But even as its fabled cities evolve, there’s something that continues to draw us in, that pulls us, the lost and lonely, the ambitious and hungry, towards the paradisal coast. Once you’ve been there, and California steps out of its mythology, you start to understand why the hyperbolic lore endures.

On any given street in Los Angeles, Palm trees frame the horizon. They line the boulevards and tower over the freeways and bypasses. Along Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, lanterns hang from Sycamore branches, illuminating the pedestrian path, the street performers and wine bars. The ocean is only a couple of blocks away. In other cities, nature is a destination, someplace to escape to, but in California urban sprawl and nature intermingle effortlessly.

In San Francisco, just past Outer Richmond and its sea of pastel bungalows, Geary Boulevard ends with a spectacular vista — not an uncommon occurrence in this city, but this one is particularly scenic. A path runs down to the shore, to Land’s End and Sutro Baths, the brick ruins of a 19th century swimming pool. People linger here, listen to the tide, and of course, watch the sunset. There’s almost always a rainbow-colored sky at dusk.

It’s sometimes not easy to describe why we find a place so alluring. We play around with words and images to try and make sense of our geographical affections. The most genuine summary of California’s character would be to simply say that being there puts you at ease. Whether you’re drinking Genmaicha tea under a pagoda shelter in a Japanese garden, or watching surfers pounce and cruise through the surf, it’s entirely possible from this vantage point for the whole world — California and beyond — to look uncomplicated and promising.

Photos taken using Hasselblad 500CM and Kodak Portra 400

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