Utopia by the Sea: Paradise Found and Lost on the California Coast


Utopia by the Sea is a unique cultural history of the California Coast. It tells the story of the places where dream aspirations have reached fantastic proportions from the time after the Gold Rush to the present. It explores the utopian ideals of many who came to the edge of the sea with dreams for a better world, a new way of living that could make tangible the practice of paradise.

The places are many and varied, and they all share the shape of an aspirational heaven on earth, full of gaudy desires and dreams. The attraction of the California Coast for those adventurers to dream living begins with the seductive features of the seaside resort, exampled by at the Hotel Del Coronado at San Diego an auger for more unexpected experiments in dream living to follow.

Such as the Theosophists at Point Loma, who came to California with their own ideas of perfected living that were in need of only the perfect place to put them into practice. And the Spiritualists at Summerville, who built a community based on mystical transference and faultless hope in a perfect world. So too did the Duneites gather a mystical community at Oceano to further the Art of Living on the dunes.

Perfect living in the perfect place. Full of aspiration, full of hope. Such as Abbot Kinney’s concoction of culture, myth and desire at Venice of America, a dream city of elaborate fictive materials and hopeful ideals. Or the perfect place at San Simeon, where Hearst Castle was built as a utopian homage to the self. And nowhere has utopia stretched its hopeful possibilities more spiritedly than at Big Sur, where its mystical beauty has been the setting for hectic episodes of dream living from the first, where the New Age was born with an erupting energy yet to subside.

The story of Utopia by the Sea is filled with a fascinating collection of characters, such as the writers, artists and literary dreamers gathered at Carmel by the Sea, Laguna Beach, Oceano and Big Sur to seek their muse, to seek satori. Jack London, Mary Austin, George Sterling, Henry Miller, Hunter Thompson. Some of the inhabitants of Utopia by the Sea were shapers of the future: Katherine Tingley, who laid the groundwork for spiritual tenets held commonly in California today; Michael More, who established a light for the Human Potential Movement at Esalen; and a handful of architects whose influence rolled into the future.

Utopia by the Sea reaches beyond the California of “fun in the sun,” by looking at the California Dream from a broad cultural perspective, and it provides a close look at the particulars of hope.