Category Archives: Aliso Beach History

Whales Beat Up On Shark


Whales Battle Shark, Grey Whales Versus White Sharks, Aliso Beach

Two Whales Battle Shark

Two 30 foot whales beat up on a 15 foot shark at Aliso Beach as viewed by lifeguards according to The Hattiesburg American Newspaper Article on March 25, 1951.  The battle was said to have resulted in the shark beached on the sand with a pool of blood.  The exchange left a section of the shore water red and the war of attrition apparently went back out into deeper waters until all combatants were not seen again.

While the shark was not identified, I think it is reasonable to assume that it was a Great White Shark based on the size reported.  The two 30 foot whales I would presume to be Grey Whales that pass through Aliso Beach and the Laguna Coastline each year to and from the Arctic feeding grounds to the north and the nurseries in the lagoons of Baja Sur, Mexico.  Grey Whales with calves typically are the last to leave the lagoons for the Arctic feeding grounds making sure that there babies are strong enough to make the journey.  That happens in late March and early April.  They are said to hug the coast to fend off attacks from predators such as Orcas and Great White Sharks.  This battle was probably over a Great White trying to ambush a Grey Whale Calf.

The last several years there have been many Grey Whale sightings from the shores of Aliso Beach.  This historical battle proves that in the marine ecosystem of the Laguna area, Great White Sharks and Grey Whales mix it up in a battle to prey on calves and preserve life.  Given that the Grey Whales continue to hug the coast with their young as they return to the cooler waters of the north, it is safe to say that momma whales understand the dangers and take paths that give their young the greatest chance of survival.  It is also safe to say that Great White Sharks are a part of Laguna’s healthy marine ecosystem that includes the near shore waters of Aliso Beach.  I suspect that this isn’t the only time that whales beat up on a shark at Aliso Beach and that a certain percentage of the time, the Great White has a successful attack on a baby Grey Whale much to the sadness of the mother who then must fight through the grief of losing her young and returning to the Arctic feeding grounds.

Also posted in Aliso Beach, Aliso Beach Stories Tagged , , , , |

Granny Research


This week I am in full Granny Research mode. On September 14, 2015, I brought you the story titled “Women Saved Aliso“.  The story was the beginning of my investigation after I got a request through the website to assist a woman from out of state to find old newspaper clippings on her grandmother Jessie Haden. She described her grandmother as a large woman with a feisty quality to her personality.  She also said that her grandmother partnered with another old woman to get in the way of a development at Aliso Beach that could have changed the face of this hot spot in unimaginable ways. I am increasingly grateful of their efforts as I dive back into treasured memories at Aliso and wonder how that would have changed my experiences.

From the 14th until last weekend, granny research was a failure to launch. I spent hours searching online, and the investigation really never got off the launch pad.  I felt grounded and a little defeated.  Online searches didn’t yield anything and I was left scratching my head.  How could there be nothing online about a couple of old women that gave developers fits when they tried to privatize Aliso Beach in the mid 1960’s?  With the powerful search engine Google and works like Wikipedia surely I would find what I was looking for.  It just wasn’t working out. There is also an amazing short history of South Laguna Beach from Karen Turnbull that is a great reference that made no mention of this pair of blue hair activists. Karen’s work is tremendous and she is a historical expert on South Laguna.  She details the history of her family of pioneers settling in South Laguna and tells amazing stories on daily life in an area considered part of Aliso Beach. If I had to guess, Karen knows of Jessie Haden and her partner in activism, but I decided I would do the granny research.  It seemed like something fun to do and helping a stranger reconnect to her grandmother’s past in South Laguna Beach was worth the time.

Last Saturday, I intended to visit the Laguna Beach Library on Glenneyre but noticed on the website the instruction to call to make sure it had reopened.  I don’t know what the story with that was, but when I called, I found out it was closed.  The only thing I could think of was to visit the Dana Point Library across from Salt Creek where I spent the morning body boarding with friends.  The two ladies upfront were very knowledgeable but even they had their struggles finding anything. My eyes perked up when the younger of the two ladies said she found something.  It was my first article on these grannies noted above called “Women Saved Aliso”.  We all got a laugh out of that and the two gals kept at it.  All we could really find was census info on Jessie Haden and her husband Frank that proved they were here in Southern California.  I parted with a couple of Laguna Beach websites written down on a small piece of paper knowing that I had much work left to do.

When I got home, I had nothing to do so I kept at it online. I found a newspaper archiving portal that had coverage of the Santa Ana Register in the 1960’s. The portal had a search feature that allowed me to look for keywords and names in the context of the articles.  While it wasn’t easy to find the information, this tool was incredibly helpful.  Everything we archive in preserving our history should have a tool like that. To my surprise, I did find articles detailing the fight that Jessie Haden and her accomplice put up as it related to private development at Aliso Beach.  To be honest, Jessie L Haden was a badass and she had an undeniable impact on the property ending up in the hands of the County of Orange.  Her courage and her belief in the idea that South Laguna Beaches should be available to everyone inspired a fight that probably changed the course of history for Aliso Beach.  That is a good thing!  

Granny Research continues and I hope to elaborate on this political activist and South Laguna Beach hero in a couple of weeks after I  scour the Laguna Beach public library for any information I can find.  I have enough to tell the story right now, but when I release the story, I am hoping and praying that I can do that with a newspaper clipping accompanied by a picture of this granny. I have not confirmed this with the granddaughter but I feel like maybe all the pictures, keepsakes and heirlooms tied to her grandmother may have been lost.  While I can paint a nice picture of what the two women did and how their efforts helped change Aliso Beach for the good, I intend to find additional articles that contain her picture. My next strategy for granny research is the microfiche at the Laguna Library.  Helpful tips from members of this Laguna Beach Facebook Group and a gentleman by the name of Anders of the Laguna Beach firm of Anders Lasater Architects have me pointed the direction of the library.  Anders firm did a nice historical piece on the La Casa Del Camino Hotel in Laguna using clippings from newspapers I believe I need to look through to complete my work.  The company has a portfolio of some amazing upscale architectural projects, and I am sure he has better things to do than to field my questions.  I very much appreciate his willingness to help as this project has become important to me.

So, wish me luck.  I am told by both Laguna beach community folks and Anders that the microfiche will be quite the adventure, which I take to mean it will be a long, drawn out and exhausting process.  So be it!  I want to tell a story I believe is important to South Laguna History and I want to make sure I do it right.  If I do it the way I believe it should be I will do it having found the clipping that Jessie Haden’s granddaughter references with a picture of the large, feisty woman that made her mark on Aliso Beach.




Also posted in Aliso Beach, Aliso Beach Stories, Aliso Creek, Aliso Creek Beach, South Laguna Beach Tagged , , |

Women Saved Aliso


I get some pretty interesting requests on this website. Most of the time, it is really easy to answer questions about the beach.  With a recent inquiry and request on this website, I have been notified that there was a pair of women who may have saved Aliso Beach from private interests and development in the 1960’s.  Have women saved Aliso?  According to the website comments of Shandy, her grandmother Jessie Haden, and another woman passionately advocated for keeping Aliso Beach a public access beach.  Given all the time I have spent at Aliso Beach body boarding with friends and creating special memories, and all the people who enjoy Aliso Beach Park yearly, this seems like an investigation that I have to do.

I have read quite a bit about Laguna and Aliso Beach.  I have not come across any mention of Jessie Haden or the mystery woman who teamed up with her to play an alleged role in keeping Aliso Beach public. I have no reason to believe that what I have been told is untrue.  Part of the inquiry informed me that there used to be newspaper clippings on the pair of women in the family and somehow they have been misplaced or lost.  Shandy is looking for our help and says that she can’t find any information on her grandmother anywhere online.  For the moment, that makes two of us, but I am determined to see if we can find those clippings and get copies to her.

I had to think for a moment what we would have missed had Aliso Beach become a private development. Here are 5 things that we may have missed had private development groups wrestled control of this Laguna Beach from the public:

  1. The Aliso Beach pier which was built in the 1970’s may not have ever been built.
  2. Laguna Beach would not have a single beach with metered parking on the coastal side of South Pacific Coast Highway.
  3. There would be no family beach with a shower, restrooms, snack bar and children’s playground.
  4. Skim Boarding as a sport might be radically different and the VIC might not be hosted at Aliso Beach every year.
  5. The housing on the beach on the north side of Aliso Beach may not even exist.

I have been body boarding Aliso Beach since the mid 1980’s.  All of the incredible waves and memories with friends would not have occurred at this beach and the Aliso Beach website would not be what it is today all because those women saved Aliso.  They must have been feisty.  The opportunities for women to voice themselves in the 1960’s pales in comparison to what those opportunities look like in 2015.  If in fact I find info on Jessie Haden and her mystery gal pal had a role in saving Aliso Beach, I will retroactively thank her for the effort to keep the beach accessible to future generations that included me and beyond.  This will be an interesting story and it won’t be easy.  I have a strategy on how to research this and I will get back to everyone on what I find about how women saved Aliso.

Also posted in Aliso Beach, Aliso Beach Park, Laguna, Laguna Beach, South Laguna Beach Tagged , , , |

Aliso Beach Native Americans Would Cry Today


Aliso Beach Native Americans resided along the coast as well as the fresh water banks of Aliso Creek.  As you might expect they depended upon nature to give them the food and fresh water needed for survival.  They used acorns from live oak trees to create a mash that was cooked into a cake that was said to have the consistency of a pancake.  They used bones to create hooks used for fishing.  They ate shell fish like mussels and abalone in addition to locally caught fish.  They also have been said to eat deer, rabbits and snakes.  Over and beyond the fact that we have made the coastline a concrete jungle with paved roads loaded with cars and hillsides lined with lavish homes, Spanish Colonization, Mexican Rule and modern American life have contributed to a land today that would present some serious problems for Native Americans trying to live off the land in the Aliso Beach area.  Much like the commercial I remember vividly from my childhood of the Native American crying while in the canoe while looking at a trash riddled water way, Aliso Beach Native Americans would cry today.

While there are still live oak trees in Laguna Beach, today they have a fungus that is attributed to the Western Oak Beetle.  At one point it was scarring trees by burrowing into the bark and laying their eggs.  Now they are carrying a fungus that kills the trees.  This problem in Laguna would have made scavenging for the acorns used to make their mash cakes would have put a dent in their food supply.

Native Americans in the Aliso Beach area were also said to eat shell fish including abalone, limpets and mussels.  Abalone was nearly fished out in the 70’s and 80’s.  For the first time in nearly 30 years I saw one in a tide pool in North Laguna Beach.  Biologist and Laguna Beach advocate Nancy Caruso, is using Laguna Beach elementary schools to farm raise kelp and abalone for reintroduction to Laguna Beach.  It will be a long battle but her work and the interest of future generations may help re-establish abalone in the Laguna Beach area.  It is important to note that shell fish absorb the pollutants of the ocean and we humans haven’t been kind to our oceans.  In the Aliso Beach area, Aliso Creek has periodically been on the wrong end of the stick as it relates to sewage spills that discharge into Aliso Creek, urban runoff and pesticides that are carried to the ocean which creates the possibility that Native Americans would get sick from their consumption.  With an unexplained sea star waste disease affecting our coastline in the last 6-8 months, mussels will continue to proliferate along the Aliso Beach and Laguna Coastlines.  This would have been a good food supply for Native Americans in the Aliso Beach area but would come with the risk of making them sick.

Local fish today are probably in no better shape.  Despite the fact that the area is a protected Marine Reserve, I wouldn’t eat locally caught fish from the Aliso Beach area and would imagine it wouldn’t have been good for the Aliso Beach Native Americans.  Aliso Creek runoff and oh no we did it again accidental sewage spills discharged into the creek would have made for some tainted fish.  This includes the Steelhead Trout which was at one point plentiful in Aliso Creek.  I should also point out that Aliso Creek was a fresh water source for Native Americans and I would not drink and/or bathe in water that funky.  This is another prime example of how the environmental conditions today would make Aliso Beach Native Americans cry.

Rabbits and snakes are found in the area although they are probably not as readily available as a food source as they were in Native American times.  The golf course of the Ranch At Laguna Inn is regularly visited by deer so there are a few of those still around but pale in comparison to historical populations pre-concrete jungle.  The entire way of life of Aliso Beach Native Americans was turned upside down by Spanish and American Colonists. If Native Americans from that time period saw the Aliso Beach we love today, they would cry.  It would not sustain their natural and organic way of life.  As much as we praise development and the modern world in which we live on cell phones, pass the time on social media and get in the car every day, the development of this natural wonder through time made Aliso Beach uninhabitable whether or not Spanish and then American settlers wanted them here or not.


Also posted in Aliso Beach, Aliso Beach Stories, Aliso Creek, Aliso River Tagged , , , , |

Native American Fast Food Diets

Native American Fast Food Diets were anything but McDonald’s, Jack In the Box, Burger King, Wendys, Taco Bell, Del Taco or any other number of giant corporations slinging greasy, unhealthy food to meet a need to eat quick and prepare meals.  Native Americans that called the Aliso Beach area home were self-reliant hunter and gatherers that relied on plants, seeds, fruits, vegetables, insects, shellfish, fish, deer, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, hawks, blackbirds and insects.  As fast as they could hunt or gather their food they ate!  They didn’t worry about cholesterol, saturated fats, calories, gluten, gmo’s and nutrition labels.  They ate what the land gave them, something that we should be returning to in today’s world with the global discussion of genetically modified seeds, fruits, vegetables and nuts.  They ate organically and pesticides were not a part of the natural environment.

One of the interesting food uses that the Native Americans had was with acorns.  Acorns were said to have a super bitter flavor as a result of tanins.  This industrious hunting and gathering society beat the acorns in to a mush that was rinsed to remove the tanins that contributed to a bitter flavor.  So what you say!  This is the good part.  They created a batter that they cooked into flat cakes that are said to be similar to pancakes.  While they didn’t have bottles of Aunt Jemima’s Maple Syrup or glass jars of Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly, this was a good source of food for Native American Peoples living in the Aliso Beach area.

Another interesting food in the context of Native Americans in the coastal environment of Aliso and South Laguna Beach was the abalone.  Abalone used to be plentiful in the Aliso Beach and Laguna area and were a part of the Tongvan diet.  In that respect, Native American fast food was as fast as they could pull them out of tide pools.  Just as I have discovered visiting Bahia Tortugas in Mexico along the southern section of the peninsula, I am sure local Indian Tribes knew how great raw abalone could be. I remember as a kid in the 70’s you could still find abalone in the tide pools in Laguna.  Now they are protected south of San Francisco waters and are being re-introduced by Marine Biologist Nancy Caruso simultaneously with re-introduced kelp beds.  In the 1950’s, air giving diving equipment allowed divers to stay under the water for extended periods of time.  More than 5 million pounds were taken in the late 1950’s and by the 70’s, the abalone, which many people in the world considered a delicacy, was considered fished out.  Today, the existence of abalone depends upon federal protection and reintroduction by marine biologists like Nancy.  Even under protection, poaching is still an issue.  Abalone, along with Limpets and California Mussels were a part of the fast food diets of Native Americans living off the land in the Aliso Beach area, and their populations did not put the pressure on abalone as a food source like we do today with urban runoff, ocean pollution, and over-fishing.

Their drive thru’s were the land and the sea.  And if they wanted fast food, all they had to do was collect it.  They didn’t have a food supply problem and the nature of their consumption wasn’t so injurious and depleting the local fish, shellfish, game, nuts, fruits and vegetables readily available in the Aliso Beach environment they called home!  Native American Fast Food Diets did not require a decision to supersize fries and a coke, and nor did they come in a Happy Meal with a toy to inspire parents to cave to the need of an American child to get the least nutritious menu item just so they could get a prize.  I remember as a kid the famous commercial of a Native American in a canoe paddling down a fresh water tributary with tears in his eyes as he saw the water fouled by human trash and waste.  Native Americans fast food diets were the way it is supposed to be today, and I can imagine that their ancestors wouldn’t be happy with how poorly we have taken care of their land and seas.

Also posted in Aliso Beach Tagged , , , , |

Aliso Beach Golf


“What? I didn’t know there was Aliso Beach Golf.”  Technically speaking, there isn’t golf at Aliso Beach and there aren’t any avid golfers practicing with sand wedges down at the ocean’s edge. That doesn’t mean, however, that a discussion about golf and Aliso Beach aren’t called for. With Aliso Canyon opening up to the Pacific Ocean with Aliso Creek running through it, what you have is a coastal ecosystem in South Laguna Beach that includes the canyon, the creek and the Pacific Ocean at Aliso Beach.  The entrance to the property that houses the 9 hole golf course is right across from our favorite beach and provides an amazing golf experience in a natural environment that is both surreal and peaceful.  If you look at the Aliso Creek website, they show the sign at the entrance to the property with a big wave at Aliso Beach breaking in the background.

The 9-hole course at the Aliso Creek Inn and Lodge has an interesting history of development, remodels, vision changes, ownership changing hands and business model shifts that date back to the 1870’s and the original homesteaders in Laguna Beach. Originally, George and Sarah Thurson had a claim to a parcel at the southern end of Aliso Canyon.  They grew plants and vegetables some of which they used for themselves and the rest they took to markets in Los Angeles that were several days travel by horse and buggy.  In the modern world, that is difficult to fathom the isolation, lack of traffic, paved roads and lives without the amenities found in South Laguna Beach today.  They had the property for around half a century.

In the 1940’s the site that is now the Aliso Creek Inn, was purchased by William Bryant and he made history when he built a nine hole public golf course that was opened to the public in 1950.  This was the first golf course in the city of Laguna Beach.  To the best of my knowledge, assuming you exclude the golf course across from Salt Creek Beach Park part of the Monarch St. Regis Hotel and El Niguel Country Club, it has been the only golf course in  theLaguna Beach area and I hope that future ownership groups preserve this special place for all time.  It’s a jewel! In the mid 50’s, golf at Aliso Beach survived an ownership change. Ben Brown, the new owner, whom the 1oth Hole Cafe was named after, had visions of grandeur for this property.  He wanted it to be a luxury resort and hotel with amenities beyond golf that included a fancy clubhouse, swimming pools, tennis courts, and a 10 story hotel. With today’s environmental protection measures, I could never see something like that approved on that parcel of land.  I say that and the Aliso Beach parking lot on the inland side of S. Coast Highway is being considered as a location for a 9000-12000 square foot skate park.

As has happened throughout history, economic decline tends to throw water on that fire in the belly to invest in ambitious projects as Ben Brown had approved through the County of Orange.  He settled for a property called Laguna Beach Country Club and Village which included a 64 unit apartment complex with a front desk and a penthouse that the Brown family resided in.  Subsequent build outs included a golf shop and Ben Brown’s Restaurant. There were more changes to come.  Mr. Brown died around 1970 and management of the property was taken over by his wife.  Although it is hard to imagine a motel on such an exquisite property, she changed the name to Ben Brown’s Motel and Golf .  It makes me wonder if this name change had Ben Brown turning in his grave, unless of course a motel came with a different perception in times before I was old enough to experience the difference.    There were more changes to come: In 1978 the name was changed to Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course. In 1998 Ben Brown’s Restaurant was remodeled and given the name Canyon Lodge American Grill. In 2003 Aliso Creek Inn was purchased by Aliso Creek Properties and in 2010 The Canyon Lodge American Grill was converted to a venue exclusively for catered special events including weddings, business conferences and more.

The property was purchased once again by investment group Laguna Beach Golf and Bungalow Village, LLC in 2013.  Led by lifelong Laguna Beach resident Mark Christy and comprised of investors with local ties and a deep respect for the property, The Ranch At Laguna Beach property would come together. This new ownership group is said to have strong personal ties to Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course with memories of golfing with their dads.  Their intention is to preserve this wonderful place, and that is something that those who love the Aliso Beach area and this property with its historical significance to Laguna Beach, encourage, applaud and celebrate. It is true you can golf at Aliso Beach.  While it does not have the coastal proximity of a golf course like Pebble Beach or ocean view courses found in Hawaii, it is a golf course tied to the coastal ecosystem that is connected to Aliso Beach and the Pacific Ocean.  This place is a gem and any move or ownership change that seeks to preserve this little slice of Laguna Beach History, gets our approval and appreciation.  We can’t wait to see what they do with the property.

The Ranch At Laguna Beach 9 hole golf course is a Gary Roger Baird design that provides a unique opportunity to connect with the amazing natural landscape and wildlife.  The vibe is said to be laid back and golf is open to kids, families, novices and pros.  They offer barefoot 3 club tournaments, junior leagues, women’s leagues private lessons and group lessons.  They even offer local membership awards.  Link Masters interact with golfers answering questions, offering tips and bringing waters, sunscreen and snacks to golfers.  Every hour they get out into a car and patrol to make sure course etiquette and the speed of play is being respected by all.  The website talks about some exciting new features to their golf offering and they are as follows:

1) A 5th Tee Halfway House that offers specialty beers and nuts.  They have me at craft beers!

2) A Starter Station at the 1st Tee that offers warm or cold towels depending on the season!

3) Complimentary club cleaning and storage after play.


This incredible and charming 9 hole course allows golfers to play early and then enjoy the rest of the day in Laguna Beach.  Sounds like an amazing day to me!


Tagged , , , , , , , |

President Lincoln


It turns out that President Abraham Lincoln wasn’t just the Great Emancipator and he did something very specific that helped lead to the early settling of South Laguna Beach, some of which included the Aliso Beach area.  In 1862, President Lincoln with the support of Congress, enacted a law that gave American Citizens, those that intended to become American Citizens, and freed slaves that became citizens with an amendment to the Constitution in 1868, the ability to claim government lands so long as they could show that they had improved it.  The only caveat to this law was that you could have never taken up a gun or arms against the United States.  Until this law, government lands were reserved for those with the bank accounts to pay for the land.  This government policy led to worry that the powerful and elite would monopolize land in the the United States.  This act was called the Homestead Act.  Those that applied for claims were given up to 160 acres with the agreement that the land would be built upon and improved.  Twenty five percent of those that applied were able to keep their land based on planting, building out and developing their claims.

In Laguna Beach, California and in the Aliso Beach area, land plots of 160 acres were given to citizens that required planting 40 acres of their plot.  This movement evolved out west here along the cost with the Timber Culture Act of 1873 where you could get 160 acres of land from the government out west if you planted 10 acres of trees on your claim.  Because this area  was experiencing growth and lumber for building was in demand, Australian eucalyptus trees were planted in Laguna Beach due to their ability to provide shade. The fact that the wood from the trees lacked suitability for building made it the tree of choice.  Without question, the eucalyptus tree is a part of the unique landscape and charm of Laguna Beach!  A Homestead Claim was made by the Thurston Family in Aliso Canyon on land that is now the Ranch At Laguna Beach.  By the way, this property featured the first golf course in Laguna Beach.  Although only nine holes and once a part of a move to have it be an exclusive country club, this short course is said to be challenging, teeming with wild life, natural and serene.  Who knew President Lincoln had such an influence in the development of Laguna, California and the west?

Tagged , , , , |