San Clemente: Why isn’t choosing paradise over Jersey easy?

For two years, Mike, your typical Jersey guy through-and-through – loves a good slice of pie, isn’t afraid to tell a stranger that he’s wrong, curses way too much in traffic – was stationed in San Diego.

It was a long time ago – nearly 20 years – so he doesn’t mention it all that much. But I know he loved it, because when he does mention it, it’s as if it was heaven on earth. He loved the year-round perfect weather, the kind where here in Jersey, you say to a stranger, “What a beautiful day.” He loved the laid-back attitude that only seems to come with being near water. Oh, and the tacos. He really loved those.

But through our weeklong SoCal trip, he’s not especially nostalgic about any of the places we go or the activities we do. I think of when I went back to Florence, Italy two years ago, about a decade after a semester abroad, and how I nearly kissed my old apartment door. But Mike seems content to cruise by, not saying much, maybe mentioning a bar he had been to once on this block. 

Stopping in San Clemente, though, is different. 

For once, he drives the muscle car rental we splurged on slow. He hops out to try going into an old deli he would go to every Sunday morning (it’s closed today.) He gazes quietly at the palm trees that line the winding streets, like a yellow brick road straight to the blue waters of the Pacific. He still doesn’t say much (a man of few words) but I can tell this strikes differently. The small streets are friendly, and seem much the same as when he was here. He knows all the pizzerias, the bars, the stores. I can’t believe its all still here, and I can’t believe a place that is so welcoming can also be so beautiful, like when you meet a pretty girl whose also the funniest person in the room.

Pandemic travels: A New York City Christmas during COVID-19

It strikes differently for me, too. Mike has been pitching for us to move to California for seemingly forever. Although he despises change — I’ve told him, in semi-seriousness, I could get a job in Hawaii taste-testing sushi for six figures and he still wouldn’t want to move – I think this is a move he would actually make. But I was born and raised in Jersey, and my whole family and every person I’ve ever known is from here. I love to travel, and I do a lot of it (hence this blog.) But I always come home. 

But here in San Clemente, I don’t see a big, enveloping city, where I would be a face in the crowd and would simply walk block to walk to the grocery store, the post office, the corner bar. I see houses of every shape, size and style nestled on these roads. I imagine walking down the pier, stopping at this coffee shop where the barista seems to be the owner. I can feel the endless summer days and maybe going to that deli where Mike has gone so many times. I like how it feels like people really live here, personalities, familiar faces with lives that I would see at dinner, on the shore or on the block if I lived here, too. 

Earlier on our trip: Los Angeles – A tale of two cities

I’m full of it, and we will likely never move here, much less return (there are lots of other places I would like to go in the world.) But it does make me think – what is holding us all back here, me included? Why would you ever choose to live somewhere nameless, somewhere no one will ever choose to visit, somewhere already ridiculously expensive, when you could live in one of the most beautiful places in the world? 

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