The pirate tower makes its appearance at low tide.
Hidden around a rocky corner at Laguna’s Victoria Beach, the sepia-toned stone structure stands tall and narrow against the surrounding cliff, as if pretending to be a natural part of the landscape. It’s a moody sort of place, a bit foreboding, forlorn and solitary, clinging to the shore like a lighthouse from long ago.
I’d been curious about this beachfront pirate tower, checking the tide schedules the past few weeks for possible travel times. Laguna Beach is about an hour’s drive north of San Diego, and I knew we would need to arrive early if we wanted to avoid the end-of-summer crowds. Saturday’s low tide was estimated to begin around 6 a.m., shortly before sunrise. Herb and I figured that if we arrived by seven, we would have enough time to find parking along Highway 1 and reach the pirate tower within the low tide time frame.
Access to Victoria Beach is through a residential street called Sunset Terrace, where a public stairway winds its way down to the beach. At the bottom, a sandy expanse stretches southward. To the north, a cliff serves as the beach’s boundary. If you didn’t venture past the cliff, you would have no idea what lies around the bend.
Except for a few people walking their dogs, we were the only ones on the beach. The sand was firm, gripping our shoes as we walked around the cliff’s perimeter near the ocean’s edge. We passed what seemed to be the concrete wall of an ocean pool as we navigated the rocky terrain beyond.
The pirate tower is actually an enclosed staircase, built in 1926 by the owner of a clifftop house for easy access to the beach. It was the home’s second owner, a retired naval captain named Harold Kendrick, who gave the tower its pirate-themed panache. As the story is told, the eccentric Kendrick would dress up as a pirate and host treasure hunts, hiding coins in the tower’s crevices for neighborhood children to discover – and keep.
Herb and I walked around the tower’s base, taking in the mercurial setting as well as the structure’s details. The colors and textures of the stones surrounding the entrance looked vibrant and richly hued next to the sandstone cliff. The tree branches at the top of the cliff seemed to be growing downward, like a canopy decorating the tower’s shingled roof. I imagined what it must have been like to glide down those stairs to the water’s edge…and then realize that I had forgotten my towel or beach umbrella!
Waves began to wash over the rocks, signaling that the tide would soon be changing course. We headed back to the other side of the tower and retraced our steps along the rocks, past the ocean pool, around the corner of the cliff, to the Sunset Terrace staircase.
The beach was still empty, but the sun was beginning to find its way through the morning clouds. High tide would be arriving, and the pirate tower once again would disappear from view, standing alone with its memories of long-ago treasure hunters.
Until the next low tide.