No beach, no problem

Don’t ask Ra to meet you Halfway—get out and soak up those rays

Is there anything quite as depressing as searching for sweaters one chilly October morning and finding this year’s new bathing suit with the tags still attached? You consoled yourself all last winter with thoughts of warmth and light, only to waste your whole summer in a beach-less city, where sunbathing mostly means doffing your cardigan during a restaurant patio lunch. It’s enough to make you grab that virgin swimsuit and move to the equator.

The plight of the urban sun worshipper is particularly challenging. Unless you happen to have a summer home, a private backyard or a yacht—three things city apartment dwellers tend to lack—it might seem damn near impossible to find a place in downtown Sacramento to lie out in a bathing suit. Oh, sure, there are community pools with admission fees, regimented lap times and fenced-in concrete atmospheres. Health clubs offer the same bleakness, with greater expense. And when you take time off to trek to one of downtown’s closest river parks, the constant buzz of Jet Skis and boats only rattles your peace of mind.

In the most cosmopolitan cities on Earth—Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, Toronto, Portland, etc.—city planners have recognized the persistent human need for sun-touched skin. Their response? The urban beach—as defined by Wikipedia as “a playful place in the inner city where people can wear beach attire and splash around without being in violation of the laws and standards of appropriateness that otherwise exist in the formal downtown setting.” The Paris Plage, a strip of sand laid along the Seine, is reconfigured every year to represent a different theme, complete with foliage, music and cultural events. In 2002, New York’s P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center installed an urban beach in its courtyard, which allowed for sunbathing and water play in a modern, sandless landscape.

Sacramento has room for urban beaches, too: on the rooftops of government buildings, in a courtyard of the Crocker Art Museum, in one of many vacant lots or in city parks. But the approval, design and implementation of such a scheme might take years to achieve—and summer is already upon us.

Photo By Larry Dalton

That’s where our brave sun worshippers come in. Water features, sand and cultural acceptance are nice, but all we really need is a place in the sun. If all that holds us back from public sunbathing are those pesky “standards of appropriateness that otherwise exist in a formal downtown setting,” then it’s time for them to go.

In San Francisco, where fog and chilly Bay breezes prohibit sunbathing for most of the summer, residents don’t waste their sunny days on modesty. Whenever temperatures manage to rise above 70 degrees, men in Speedos spread towels throughout the city, stretching out their sun-starved bodies right in the midst of ultimate-Frisbee players, dog walkers and gawking tourists. They’ve got no time for chastity, nor for worries about wrinkles; the sun is out, and so are their bodies, and it is good.

In Sacramento, seemingly endless sunny days lure us into a false sense of security. It’s only May, we reason, and surely someone will invite us to a pool party or someplace where we can finally put on that suit, bask in the solar glow and remind ourselves that childhood’s summer sweetness still exists. But before we know it, the season will be gone.

It’s time to stop waiting for that pool party or that big backyard or that lover who will buy you a modish maillot and sweep you off to the French Riviera. Sacramentans need to start enjoying themselves, in their bathing suits, in the sun, in their neighborhoods.

Cast off your sarongs! Unfold your portable lounge chairs and take back the city’s sunny spots! Who cares if people stare? Propriety is relative, and you only have so many summers. Let your skin breathe. Let yourself be happy. Let summer begin, right where you are.

—Becca Costello

Public sunbathing for the shy

The key to successful urban sunning is confidence. Act as if you own your spot, and no one will question whether you belong there. If you’re not sure you can pull it off, mask your nervousness behind glamorously large sunglasses. Cheap Thrills (1207 21st Street) and Prevues (2417 K Street) stock rhinestone and novelty-shaped glasses in colors to match every suit. Olipom (1306 19th Street) sells vintage movie-star shades à la Sophia Loren.

True sun worshippers know their faith has nothing to do with being tan. That’s all vanity, and risky dermatological behavior besides. Stop by your local pharmacy (or department-store cosmetics counter, if you have that kind of budget) and pick up some SPF in the double digits. Apply one ounce, about a shot glass’s worth, 15 minutes before you go out—and don’t forget sunscreen lip balm.

For women, vintage bathing suits (available at Cheap Thrills) offer more coverage and therefore more courage. If you need to cover up quickly, a sarong (available at Aquarius, 513 Second Street in Davis) is indispensable. Use it as a towel or tie it easily into a dress or skirt.

The daring will immediately head to the generous expanses of Capitol or McKinley parks to reclaim their share of solar energy. For someplace a little less busy—and invisible from the street—we recommend the Employment Development Department’s rooftop park at 750 N Street. Or you can get creative and try the top floor of a vacant parking garage, a rooftop, a cemetery—the possibilities are as endless as the sun’s rays.

Luxury is in the details. A portable lounge chair, a mini-cooler stocked with chilled tea and fresh fruit, rich reading material, the perfect soundtrack on your MP3 player and a spray bottle for cooling off make the difference between basking in the sun and lying on the ground. The world is your backyard. Make yourself at home!

—Becca Costello