I grew up a beach kid. I didn’t actually live close to a beach, but my family made a beach trip every summer, driving down to South Padre Island from DFW.
Around wintertime, I tend to start having beach dreams. Some of them are bizarre, like I open the condo door to find that the tide has risen all the way up to our porch, or I’m walking down the beach wearing glitter bell-bottoms. Others are more stressful, like being there and realizing the week is almost over and–gasp–somehow I haven’t done any shopping or had gelato yet! (Yeah, my brain has an interesting idea of stress.)
But for me, those weird dreams make sense. A forever beach kid turned “grown-up” mermaid, there are several slightly odd things that make the beach THE BEACH as far as I’m concerned. I’m not the person laying out getting a tan, throwing balls, or building sandcastles–not to knock those activities; they just aren’t really my thing.
This collection of weird shit I love about going to the beach goes out to all the other beach nerds, regardless of what makes your beach special to you.
There’s nothing like that ocean breeze. We’ve all heard that scents have the most staying power of any memories we create (I think we’ve all heard that? Common knowledge, right?), and by imagining that beach smell, I can mentally place myself there in an instant. It’s so specific and unyieldingly pleasant. (Just, you know, make sure you aren’t standing near some sun-baked seaweed…ew.)
I happen to have an extremely sensitive nose, so it’s doubly true that smells stay with me. As soon as I arrive at the beach, the smell washes over me like a wave of comfort. It may just be that the smell is familiar and nostalgic for me, and others don’t always quite get why I love it so much. But the beach always calls to me, and that smell is a big reason why.
When I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy during college, I was awed to find that the beach smelled exactly like beaches in Texas! Other people were like “Duh, it’s the same ocean,” but I still choose to regard it as a humbling “small world” experience–millions of miles away from home, and I could still find my beach smell.
I’m a gift shop fiend. Souvenir shopping is some of my favorite shopping, and beach shops are fun as fuck.
Or, well, they used to be. Lots of the stores at my regular beach were privately owned in my childhood years, so we could find unique trinkets wherever we looked. When I was little, my family called one shop “The Alicia Store” because, without fail, I always wanted something there. In later childhood years, I fell in love with a cat-themed store called Texas Cat House, where I’d pick up something new every trip, be it a stuffed animal, jewelry, or a figurine for my cat shelf (still going strong!). Some of my favorite finds at our regular shops were “jelly balls” that stuck to the wall, T-shirts with cats on them (a new one every year), and a painted cat figurine MADE OUT OF SAND (mind-blowing).
More recently, handfuls of the shops have been scooped up by the same corporate owners, so that cute sand dollar bracelet you’re picking up in one spot is probably available in 8 consecutive stores. But that doesn’t mean souvenir shopping is a fruitless endeavor! In fact, I thrive on the hunt for the perfect present for myself, and it’s always fun to hit the best stores and discover new favorites. These days, I usually have an eye out for anything mermaid-related, and I even discovered Robert Klein’s art at a beach gift shop one year. I may or may not also secretly fantasize about opening a mermaid-themed beach gift shop someday. Ahem.
Being in the Ocean
This one could really be at the top of the list. When I’m stressed out–like, in panic mode–I like to mentally place myself in the ocean, water up to my shoulders, and imagine theat swell and pull of the undertow. I totally get why some people find it unsettling (I feel that way about lakes and ponds), but I love swimming in general, and ocean swimming/playing especially.
Also? Waves. Remember that hit Keri Hilson song from 2009: Sometimes love comes around / And it knocks you down / Just get back up when it knocks you down? That extremely catchy tune is about waves in my beach brain, because that is literally what they do! I don’t need a boogie board, noodle, or floatie of any kind. I want to dive into the waves or just fall over as they break and get that clothes-in-a-spin-cycle experience, because it is one of nature’s true delights.
One year, I noticed two young women coming out to the beach in cute bikinis and perfect makeup, with their hair curled. Nothing wrong with any of those choices, of course, but they seemed so bored. A few hours later I saw them again, laughing out loud as they played in the waves, hair drenched and makeup long gone. I couldn’t help but smile with them. That is exactly how to beach in my book!
I think most people can relate to how listening to a song on a trip can cause you to forever associate it with that place, but I find it’s even more powerful with songs that become my “beach songs.”
I found a new appreciation for the beauty of the beginning of Sigur Rós’s song Hoppipolla until I listened to it as I walked down to the beach and that first bridge synced up with me stepping into the sand and seeing a clear view of the water.
This year, a few songs on my beach playlist are Lana Del Rey’s High By The Beach, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Run Away With Me, and Sia’s Footprints. I should probably also include Cat Powers’s Sea of Love, since it’s weird that it only just occurred to me in the space of writing this article. I’m also taking suggestions, so sound off below!
The beach will always be special to me. I can’t imagine there being a time when it doesn’t “call” me to return, even if my trips become less frequent. I didn’t make it to the beach last summer, so I’m excited to go back later this month. I’ll come home with about a million freckles, a few sunburns, great memories . . . and some rad souvenirs, of course!