From: Vol. 1, Issue 14, June 22-28, 2006
By Karin Gallagher
San Clemente Times
A famous beach celebrates its 75th birthday as a state park
Campers seem to come in two distinct gastronomical types: those who like their s’mores with marshmallows lightly toasted, golden tinged and slightly gooey in the center, and those who like them burned to a charred crisp.
If it’s been too long since you’ve camped and even longer since you’ve eaten a s’more-a classic camping treat made of fire-roasted marshmallows and chocolate melted between two graham crackers-to know which group you belong to, be sure to stop by Doheny this Saturday, where an official s’mores demonstration will take place. Campfire songs included.
It’s all part of Doheny State Beach’s 75th birthday party, a free daylong event celebrating the park’s history and highlighting its recreational uses. Opening ceremonies will begin at 9 a.m. and festivities will continue throughout the day, culminating in a time-capsule ceremony at 4 p.m.
“We’re going to have an exhibit featuring 30 vintage trailers,” says Supervising Ranger Jim Serpa. “One from as far back as the 1930s, and others from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, surrounded by a collection of vintage Woodies.” In addition, 29 specialty booths will be open to the public, providing information on the park’s geology, fishing, wildlife, lifeguards, rangers and 3,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, as well as displays and photographs from local historical societies and plein air artists.
Campers flocked to Doheny long before it officially became California’s first state beach-and even before it became known as “Doho.” On May 31, 1931, Edward L. Doheny, the father of the modern petroleum industry in California, donated 41 acres of pristine, oceanfront land to the State of California to be used perpetually for public use.
“Edward Doheny was an oil baron, basically, and one of the richest people in the United States at that time,” says Serpa. “He got most of the railroad industry and the navy [to transition] from coal to oil, and he had the oil. He made a lot of money out of that.”
After subsequently acquiring an additional 21 acres of land from the Santa Fe Railroad, University of California Regents and Union Oil Company, Doheny State Beach grew to encompass 62 acres and, with its overnight camping and day-use facilities, today remains one of California’s most popular camping destinations.
“In 1944 Doheny was the most successful state park in terms of money generated and attendance, so this isn’t anything new,” says Serpa. “We are not the number one in attendance or money making anymore, but we are still in the top 10, which for such a small park is darn busy.” Today Doheny’s 122 camping spaces-many of them oceanfront-sometimes book up to seven months in advance.
Want to try to get one? Call Reserve America at 800.444.PARK or go to www.reserveamerica.com. Don’t dismay if you’re not successful; park administrators report that during the busy summer season, for every one person who makes a reservation, approximately 400 are turned away. “We have a campground that’s beach level, and there’s really isn’t anything else like that around,” explains Serpa. “Most other sites have bluffs where you have to hike down to the beach.”
But it’s not just the outstanding camping locale that made Doheny famous; in fact, no party there-let alone the largest one its ever thrown itself-would be complete without celebrating its surfing history and contributions to California’s surf culture.
Many people feel that the Beach Boys really put Doheny on the map in the spring of 1963, when they mentioned it in their hit song “Surfin’ USA”-All over Manhattan, and down Doheny way-which climbed to number three on the pop charts. And to some extent that’s true; teenagers in Des Moines, Detroit, Dallas and Denver, spinning their vinyl 45s in their basements, may have never heard of Doheny without the Beach Boys’ lyrical nod. But by then Doheny had already become a local favorite-and grommet grooming ground-for years.
“During the summer of 1960, just before my 13th birthday, I learned to surf at Doheny Beach in Southern California with my two closest girlfriends,” writes Andrea Gabbard, author of “Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women’s Surfing” in the introduction to her compendium of female surfers. Many famous surfers (and even some famous authors) were introduced to the sport at Doheny’s gentle break, including Bob “The Greek” Bolen, Jericho Poppler Bartlow, John Severson and Wayne Cochran.
To kick off the day, the Doheny Longboard Association will host its 10th Annual Menehune Surf Contest for boys and girls aged six to 16. Although contestant applications were due on June 19, surfers interested in competing can sign up at 7:30 a.m. the morning of the contest, if space permits. Registration costs $50, which includes a T-shirt, lunch, a goodie bag and, hopefully, the chance to catch some fun rides.
Slated to perform at the bash is local surf band The Knotty Knees, which includes San Clemente state lifeguards Adam Wright on drums, Tom Barnett on guitar and former chief Steve Long on keyboard, among others.
“We’re called The Knotty Knees, as in surf knots,” explains Long, who says the band has always been composed of at least two or three state lifeguards. Performing later in the day will be Ken Watson, who teaches marine education through song and sings classic campfire songs. In between eating s’mores, that is.
Admission is free to cyclists and pedestrians; cars must have either a valid California State Parks pass or pay a $10 day-use fee. Food, beer and wine will be available for purchase. Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point. Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Surf contest begins at 8 a.m.; check-in at 7:30 a.m.
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