Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/saechang/8121234982

1. Figuring out which bay you’re in

Growing up in a place filled with fame leads a young mind to believe their hometown is cooler than the average suburb. Los Angeles’s South Bay has set the scene for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 90210, and The OC in addition to being the home of many famous residents like Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova, and Shaquille O’neal. Although us natives have likely never met a celebrity or watched the taping of a show, we know there must be something special about this place.

And yet upon leaving Southern California, we learn that no one north of Santa Barbara or east of San Bernadino has ever heard of our coastal community. When mentioning the South Bay, they confuse it with the San Francisco Bay Area or its south bay subset, Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz. At first we think them ignorant, but as we venture farther from our Southern California bubble, our disbelief turns to realization that we are not from the center of the universe.

2. Eating churros at the Redondo Beach Pier

An afternoon at the pier is a perfect moment of salty and sweet. My sister and I would bike there on summer afternoons, happy to mingle amongst the other beach bums. We pooled our allowance and spent it on classic pier food: mexican churros, three for $5. The lady rolls the foot long doughnuts in parchment paper and slips them into a paper bag, both of us kept a sharp eye on the one with the most cinnamon and sugar. We brought our treat to the pier’s edge and looked out on the horizon. Misted by the sea and licking sugar off our fingers, these moments would become the glue of our sisterhood and create the gold standard for all future churros.

3. Waiting to see Johnny Depp

In 2006, we dropped whatever we were doing and ran to the beach — they were filming Pirates of the Caribbean in South Bay waters. White tents for the cast and crew spotted the coastline for weeks, we flocked there hoping to catch a glimpse of Johnny Depp or Keira Knightley, but security guards kept us so far away, we needed binoculars to see. Most of us failed to sneak a preview and had to wait for it in theaters like everyone else. However, just knowing that Keira Knightley had been in our backyard was our consolation prize.

4. Strolling through Sleepy Hollow

We may not have snow, but we get serious about Christmas. Torrance’s Sleepy Hollow neighborhood puts on a holiday display that could probably be seen from outer space. People from all over the South Bay come to marvel at the elaborate lawn ornaments, mechanized Christmas sculptures, and spectacular light displays. Some sit in their cars for hours just to drive through the neighborhood.

Those brave enough to face the 50-degree weather bundle up in down jackets, scarves, and mittens to wander around on foot. Kids sell chocolate and hot dogs on the sidewalks and sing carols in the streets. We’ve all been there, whether on a date or with our families. It’s one of the few moments during the year when we get out of our cars, meet our neighbors, and feel like we’re part of a community.

5. Sitting in traffic on the PCH

Highway 1 connects the entire length of California to Baja in the south and the Olympic Peninsula in the north. This road built in the 1920s pre-dates the national highway system with the most well-known section winding through Central California from Morro Bay to Monterey. Outsiders picture the Pacific Coast Highway lined with restaurants and inns along a rugged coast, but that doesn’t apply to the majority of the route. We from the South Bay know it better as the traffic-clogged artery of our hometown.

Replace quaint tourist sites with car dealerships and strip malls and we’ll recognize our section of PCH that runs from Torrance through Manhattan Beach. It’s often crowded and it ain’t pretty. Hours of our lives are spent sitting in traffic during rush hour trying to get to school or go to work. We forget that our 8-mile stretch is part of something larger and more beautiful than what we tend to see. We forget that we’re a piece of California’s magnificent coastline.

6. Remembering there’s no place like home

As kids we climbed to the top of Rocketship Park, and it felt like we could see the whole world. We counted all the piers down the coast to Santa Monica and sometimes we could just make out the buildings of downtown LA through the smog. Excited hands pointed out our house, our school, our favorite park, and where our best friends lived— all the things that matter to a child.

Now climbing back up the hill that overlooks the sea and out on to Southern California, reminiscent hands point out where we had our first date, the 24-hour doughnut shop we hung out at late night, and the beach where we first learned to surf. We breath in the salty air and realize that at some point our bay began to feel small, too many memories per square foot. And yet whether we call it home or simply that place we grew up, in some way the South Bay will always be the center of our universe.

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