How is a lake different than a beach? Part One: The Beach

One of my favorite parts of having friends who didn’t grow up in Southern California is that, through them, I get a new perspective on the things I take for granted. Unwritten rules and unspoken assumptions permeate everyday life, but we don’t always realize it until we move or meet someone from out of state. For example…

POP QUIZ: (1) Who has the right of way when you’re backing out of a parking space? (2) What do you call the machine that spurts water for drinking? (3) What do you do with your feet when you go in the ocean in the morning?

Answers: (1) The person NOT backing up has the right of way. The person backing up has to wait, just like a person pulling out of a driveway into a street has to wait. (2) In So Cal, it’s a “drinking fountain”. (3) You have to shuffle your feet so the sting rays know you’re coming.

I’ve been to the beach at least 100 times in my life, and that’s not an exaggeration. Growing up, my mom would take us to the beach at least ten times per year. And it wasn’t always during summer. My mom took my softball team to the beach so we could learn how to slide in the sand. I’ve done beach clean-ups in February. I’ve thrown beach parties in October (and I wasn’t the only one there).

I’ve never lived near a lake before, but I’m moving to a place in Wisconsin where a huge lake is 10 minutes away. I know what to expect at the beach, but I don’t know what to expect at the lake. For comparison, let’s consider a typical day at a So Cal* beach:

*Disclaimer: I have not been to every single beach in So Cal, but the following observations are typical of beaches in Huntington, Newport, Bolsa Chica, Seal Beach, La Jolla, and Mission Beach.

  • If you want to get parking before the lot gets full and closes, you have to get there before noon, Expect to pay $15 for the day, and do not park under the light posts unless you want your car white with bird poop.
  • The beach gets jam-packed during the summer months and there are a few events, like the annual sand castle competitions, which make the crowds worse
  • If you want a fire pit during the months of June and July, you’d better send someone in your party to grab one before 10 am. You can buy a little bundle firewood at the grocery store, and people aren’t supposed to bring wooden pallets or lighter fluid, but they do anyway.
  • If go you in the water before noon, you need to shuffle your feet so the sting rays know you’re coming and move.


Lessons for the So Cal Beach, from Mike’s Hard Lemonade


  • The water is going to be so frigid you’re going to want to shriek and go back to dry land, but if you can push past that chill, eventually you’ll get used to it, and you’ll feel colder coming out of the water than staying in it. 
  • Seagulls at the beach are like bears in the woods. If you don’t cover or seal your food while you’re away from your spot, you’re inviting a disaster.
  • Surfing is hard, and expensive, but anyone can boogie-board. Boogie-boarders will be everywhere at the beach. If you walk along the shore you have to watch out for boogie-boarders who ride their waves all the way in.
  • If you hear ear-piercing screaming, it’s probably someone who’s spotted a fish or someone whose sand castle masterpiece has just been destroyed.
  • As you walk along the sand, watch out for frisbee players, kite flyers, and people who let their friends bury their legs and torso in the sand.
  • You have to keep an eye on your belongings. Not just because of thieves disguised as metal detector enthusiasts, but also because the safe, dry location you laid your towel may not stay safe and dry as the tide comes in.
  • Some days are going to be less fun than others because sometimes a big storm will wash up a seaweed, driftwood, or trash.

  • Some days are going to be more thrilling because a storm or the moon or something like that will make the waves bigger, almost meaner, in the way they crash. These can be the most adrenaline-packed boogie-board rides you can take
  • Riptides are a real thing and parents teach their kids how to swim with it instead of against it
  • Sandcrabs are also a thing. If you’d rather stick to the shallows you can build a sand castle, dig giant holes, or grab sand crabs as the receding waves expose their air bubbles in the sand. You’ll find dozens of people doing all the above.


I will always love the beach, but I’m looking forward to living near a lake! What are YOUR favorite parts about the beach or the lake?


One comment

  1. So many “Seaside Rendezvous” and great memories. Thanks for the opportunity to recall them again. You have learned a lot from a tradition that started with Nana. Your lake adventures began at two years old strapped to the mast of a catamaran. I am excited to see how they continue.

    Liked by 1 person

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