If you harbor any doubts as to the international draw of Laguna Beach, just spend a Saturday or Sunday in Heisler Park.
An open house at my home “forced” me out for the afternoon. I hadn’t made any real plans and wasn’t interested in a shopping expedition. I thought about the beach, but that was a no-go. Buster was with me, and no dogs on the beach after 8 a.m. kept us from lounging on the sand. Next choice? Heisler Park. It’s his favorite walk, it’s close to the sea, and so I packed a beach chair, art supplies, book and iPad and headed for the lawn.
Finding a spot was easy. I set up beach chair and towel under a spreading tree between the picnic area and the lawn bowling greens. It was a foggy afternoon — a clinging sense of June gloom — but that didn’t stop the masses of picnicker, partiers, and wanderers from fully utilizing our town’s lovely spaces.
A Quinceanera party — a celebration of a Mexican girl’s 15th birthday — certainly attracted the most attention. The young girl, dressed in a flaming hot pink dress with a full length with hoop skirt, was accompanied by an entourage of family, friends, photographers, a videographer, and of course, her “court.”
Fifteen young men dressed in black suits with pink cummerbunds followed her from tree to lawn to beach and back posing for untold numbers of photographs. The “coming of age” girl carried a bouquet of white chenille and pink fabric flowers. Several young girls dressed in shorter dresses of the same shimmering pink fabric cavorted on spiked heels. When they’d exhausted every possible photo location, the entire group piled into a monster long white limousine and headed to parts unknown.
In the picnic area, a group of Chinese youth had commandeered the entire section of benches and tables. They laid out tablecloths, carried in box after box of food, fired up the charcoal barbecues and hunkered down for the afternoon. A boom boxes blared dance music, and the air was filled with lively conversations – all in Chinese. The scent of cooked meats permeated the area.
Dog walkers meandered the beach path, but not the local crowd. Heisler is one of Buster’s favorite walks. He has several dog friends with whom he stops to exchange sniffs, and occasional takes an offered treat from one of their owners.
This Saturday, however, not one of his buddies came down the trail. But he saw lots of dogs — both big and small — jeweled and plain collars, hurried and strolling leisurely. The park offers a kind of paradise for dog walking. There are no cars to contend with, lots of flowers and “message boards” to read and respond to, seagulls to ponder, doggy drinking fountains, poop-bag dispensers, and the trail is basically flat with a few sloping spots.
Three Japanese girls stopped to coo over Buster (yes, he is cute). They were dressed for a beach kind of party in shorts and T-shirts, but upscale, and carried heavy boxes laden with food and drinks. They wanted to know the location of the tennis courts. When I gave them directions to, a) the high school, b) Alta Laguna Park, or c) Moulton Meadows, they looked at me as if I hadn’t understood their question. After some jabbering back and forth in their native tongue, they decided to head south toward Main Beach.
On the grass around us, visitors spread blankets and towels over large areas. Fathers with silver hair, brown hair, no hair snoozed while mom looked after (or yelled at) children rolling head over heels down the green slopes. Couples snuggled arm in arm, enjoying the intermittent sunshine and the sea breezes. The atmosphere was mixed with partygoers, afternoon readers, a few plein air artists, and those who simply wanted to nap.
The babble of languages that caught my ear included Vietnamese, Farsi, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, French and Spanish. The paucity of English was noteworthy. I was certainly a minority in this hub of green grasses and trees.
Buster had kept watch over me — not quite at ease enough to sleep with all the foot traffic and dogs. I read a bit, wrote a few words, sketched a couple of pictures and pondered the beauty of an afternoon at our park. I wondered why I hadn’t spent more time in such a relaxed fashion. Certainly, the rest of the world, as I heard that afternoon, understood the tonic of an afternoon in the open air next to the sea.