Malaga Cove


I grew up in a spectacularly beautiful place. Today I walked the trails above Malaga Cove and the views were stunning. Growing up, the views did not strike me as they do now. What I remember the most from my youth is the scent of the Hill. Those scents are likely what make my walks around Palos Verdes such a visceral experience. The Hill smells like a combination of eucalyptus, flowers (mock orange was especially prevalent in my youth) and sea air. Some of the undeveloped areas have a scent that I like to call coastal canyon. I smell that scent and I am taken back instantly to my youth. I can recall specific memories of walking through fields, jogging in the early morning fog and hiking down the cliffs to the beach.

When I walk around the Hill these days, those scents pull at me and make me wish for something that no longer exists. When I lived here, there were still open spaces where kids rode dirt bikes and built forts. In one then-undeveloped area, where Paseo La Cresta and Via Coronel met, if you drove through at night, you were likely to disturb a huge owl that liked to sit atop a street sign. There were definitely neighborhoods, generally the Estates and behind the gates in Rolling Hills, where truly wealthy people lived, but back then there were also “normal” areas inhabited by the single-income families of engineers that worked at Hughes, Northrup and TRW. Those days are long over. The empty fields have been filled with wanna-be Tuscan villas and Spanish-style McMansions. Only the 1% can afford to live here. The people are different today than those I grew up around.

Owls were not the only wildlife. Skunks abounded. If you left cat food outdoors, you were likely to attract the little nuisances. Many a night returning home late from work or a date would entail a face-off with a nervous skunk. The Estates and Portuguese Bend had peacocks – magical to me, but terrible pests for many of the residents.

We had one major shopping area on the hill – the Peninsula Center, with a couple of outpost retail centers in Lunada Bay and Malaga Cove. The Peninsula Center was perfect. It had all the basic shops you needed: two grocery stores, stationary stores, a 5 and dime and hardware store, a cheese shop, a bakery, shoe store, shops for clothes, fabric, luggage, jewelry, books and music. There was a Jolly Roger restaurant and my first employer, a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. The shops were connected by outdoor walkways and courtyards. In the summertime they had arts and crafts festivals. During the holidays, groups would go caroling there and there was a house for Santa to visit and take pictures. Out by Portuguese Bend was Marine Land, a little mini-Sea World. It was a major summer employer for high school students.

When I moved to Palos Verdes from the San Fernando Valley, I did not like the coastal weather. We moved there in the early fall. Fog – it has a smell, did you know? –  came rolling in with the afternoon. It was cold and damp. I had to walk through the low clouds on my way to school. By the time I arrived my hair and clothes were covered with a fine mist. It wreaked havoc with my cowlicks. But I learned to love it. Even more so as an adult. I brought my children here in the summers every year. I wanted them to know and love the ocean. It was no longer the place I grew up, but there was enough still here to create good memories.

This year is a particularly good summer. The weather is warm and the fog is sparse. I look now out the bedroom window to a sky glowing orange where the sun has just gone down. The ocean is black and there is a breeze. Planes in the distance take off from LAX. My summers in the place I grew up have been numbered for a while now. I don’t know how much longer my mother will live here. But it will be okay. I find now, when I return to Texas, that I breathe out a sigh of relief. I welcome the space. The sky. The cows. The lone star flag and the people of the South. It wasn’t supposed to be forever, but it has become home too.