Get Out of Town!
A New Family Favorite
April, 2021 - Issue #198
courtesy of shutterstock
courtesy of shutterstock

We have four teenagers in the house now, so travel plans generate scrutiny and prompt unasked-for opinions.
Last-minute weekend camping trips once were a source of excitement, but now generate questions - if not objections - about everything from the destination, to potential activities, to the availability of
Wi-Fi, to the possibility of bringing friends, to the schedule for arrivals and departures. So much so that trips are now announced and planned months in advance.
"When a friend texted on a Wednesday with the offer to take his CAMPING RESERVATIONS at Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu that weekend, it was too good to pass up."
But when a friend texted on a Wednesday with the offer to take his camping reservations at Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu that weekend, it was too good to pass up. Granted, it required at least three phone calls between my wife and I to brainstorm all the anticipated objections, and their accompanying solutions, but we ultimately decided yes.
The park is at the north end of Malibu, seemingly closer to Ventura County than the pier, Zuma Beach and the area's other much loved, but always congested, destinations further south. Our camping experience there was limited to one weekend trip when our oldest was a toddler, so when we rolled in Friday after sundown, I wasn't sure what to expect.
We couldn't see much, until we looked up. The campground stretches along a canyon on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, shielding it from light pollution on both sides. Stars popped in the inky blackness above us and usually obscure constellations shone bright.
The next morning was a lazy one. We lingered over pancakes, bacon and coffee while watching hikers head into the Santa Monica Mountains behind us on the steep trail leading from the campground.
I wandered over to the campground store both to explore the park a bit and to replenish our firewood stock. In addition to serving as the park's sole source of Wi-Fi, the store offers the usual assortment of goods most likely to be needed, but forgotten, by campers, plus an impressive collection of t-shirts and hoodies.
Unlike a lot of beach campgrounds, Leo Carrillo offers room to spread out. The sites on the outside of the loop are particularly roomy, giving you welcome distance from your neighbors. Those on the interior are spacious too, with many shaded by towering old sycamores.
Eventually, we made our way down to the beach, accessible by a walkway running under Pacific Coast Highway. We timed our visit with low tide. The kids fanned out to poke around the extensive tide pools, calling out their discoveries of flowering anemones, skittering crabs and bulbous sea hares. But, curiously, no sea stars.
We continued north past the promontory that divides the beach to investigate the rocks standing in the surf line. Here we found the seemingly reclusive sea stars, clumped together with their fat orange, pink and purple arms intertwined. It was odd to find so many concentrated in one location.
The bright, sunny sky belied the reality of the water's temperature enough to tempt Amber. She waded confidently into the surf, but within a couple minutes, waded right back out. It may have looked summery, but the cold Pacific said otherwise.
As the sun dipped behind the ridgeline above the canyon, a cool evening slipped in to replace the warm day. A hearty pot roast made the perfect dinner, and after eating, we layered on jackets and beanies to huddle around the campfire and make s'mores.
Although our schedule required us to be up first thing Sunday morning for an early departure, no complaints were muttered. Instead, what we heard from more than one teenager as we made our way back to Santa Clarita was downright surprising. "That was really cool. We should go there again."
Now there's something we can all agree on.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.

Leo Carrillo Campground Reservations
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