Monday, Aug. 27, 2007 | Warm sunshine lingers from dawn till dusk, day after gorgeous day. Temperatures hover in the 70s and sometimes kiss the 80s, but a persistent breeze filters in every evening to cool things off. You practically can’t turn around without taking in a panorama of the sapphire sea, beset with shorebirds and pleasure boats and lined by soft, sandy beaches. The surf is clean and powerful, the sea life rich and dazzling.

World-class golf courses — about 10 of them, only minutes from the coast — offer countless hours of pleasure to links fans. Shops with boutique clothing, elegant antiques and unique jewelry cluster in cute plazas at every turn.

For more daytime activity there is, of course, the ocean. But if cycling, hiking or horseback riding is more your fancy, there are acres of trail-wrapped hillsides to explore, and gorgeous vistas from winding two-lanes that feel miles from anywhere. If you’re a spectator, take ’em out to a baseball game. Or, for an old-school thrill, head to the racetrack — again with ocean view — and bet on the horses.

In the evenings, dozens of renowned restaurants offer dining options from sushi to steak, traditional Mexican to innovative Italian. After your meal, why not take in a live theater performance or a classic rock ‘n’ roll concert from a bluff overlooking the ocean?

It is one of the nation’s most picturesque vacation destinations. The sun doesn’t stop until it dips into the cobalt sea late each evening. The golf, shopping and fun are limited only by your stamina (and cash flow). The food is diverse and fantastic — just the kind of place to seek respite from the grind of the everyday.

That is, unless you live there.

♦♦♦

The weirdness of it first occurred to me in about the middle of this month, when, staring at an e-mail inbox full of out-of-office replies, I began to wonder where the heck everybody was.

Not only did it seem that legions of city and county employees were on vacation, set to return eons after my next deadline. But zillions of Merge-land residents were out of town, too. And — as we learned above — they pretty much live in paradise.

So why were they all gone?

Summertime sources were generous enough to forfeit some of their vacation hours, which helped me survey the travel habits of the upper class while simultaneously learning about time zones. The Hawaii-bound golfers preferred to chat after a morning stroll on the sand (that’s about noon for San Diego), while the Hampton-dwelling businessmen of Rancho Santa Fe tended to call back between afternoon tennis and martini hour. (They’ve got a second home back there, I imagine, on some body of water with a porch and a private dock and an old wooden speedboat …)

The ones that wouldn’t call back immediately were some place really far away, like a private hideaway in Jamaica or a dude ranch in Colorado. Del Mar resident Bob Gans told me about his week as a wrangler in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains:

“I’m like walking around with a cowboy hat on, I’ve got my boots on, I can barely walk from the three-hour horseback ride,” the former New York City stress case recalled with a hearty chuckle. He even warmed up to line dancing: “It’s the corniest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it was great!”

Now, there’s something different — and altogether more justifiable — about residents of gloomy, non-SoCal burgs seeking a Piña Colada and a suntan on some far-off beach. (And Gans had his first summer of freedom after hanging up the corporate lawyer hat, so if he wants to eat dust and wrestle cattle in the heat, well, fine.)

But look around! Where could Merge residents go that could possibly be nicer than here? If I lived in Del Mar and wanted a vacation, I’d just look out the window.

Turns out there are more than a few beach-townies who see my point. Home-spent vacations appear to be a burgeoning fad among those who could afford the Hilton, but not the headache.

“We have five kids, so getting seven people organized to go on an airplane is not my idea of a vacation,” Laura DeMarco, a Merge-land politico and Del Mar resident, told me. DeMarco says that, instead of arranging trips to various locales every year, her family simply purchased a vacation hangout — in their hometown.

“We bought a beach house in Del Mar, so we spend two weeks in June down there. And then once every three years — it usually takes about that long for us to recover — we’ll go do something like go to Mexico or go to Europe.”

Even in Rancho Santa Fe, where the summertime temperatures are less idyllic than the storybook portrait I painted earlier, some residents are hard-pressed to find a reason to leave.

“We live in the most fantastic place to be in August,” RSF mother and retired businesswoman Carlie Headapohl explained. “Why would I go anywhere?”

I’ve heard that a person’s summer retreat spot says much about their ideals and ambitions: President Bush went to the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. French President Nicholas Sarkozy kicked back with friends in New Hampshire. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s holiday loyalties lay with Scotland.

But if it’s true that hangout spots speak volumes, the non-venturing, home-vacationing citizens of Merge-land have a big, bright message for the world (and one that won’t surprise anyone):

We got it made.

The Merge vacationed in Mexican dunes, San Francisco bars and the Trinity river, because working in “paradise” just ain’t the same as living there. Send postcards, palm wine and plane tickets to iansmithport@gmail.com. Or send a letter to the editor. In between trips, Ian S. Port is assistant editor of the Rancho Santa Fe Review, Carmel Valley News and Del Mar Village Voice.

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