OPINION: California Dreamin’ on an Inland Empire day

A drawing of a block in California. Two stores line the street: an In-N-Out and a Pepo Melo.
(Nicole Cepeda • The Student Life)

All I wanted to do was go to college in California. This state was the ticket to success. If I could get to California then all my desires would come true, right? Unlimited access to beaches, tanning, organic foods and sunshine. Not to mention, a pricey education that promised a big payout and a house with an ocean view. 

Staring up at the cinder block facade that is Harvey Mudd College was like a slap in the face to my California Dreams. 

My experience is likely all-too-familiar to the average TSL reader: the California we encountered on move-in day is a wildly different reality than the one we had imagined, or idealized. Claremont is no Santa Monica: we are 45 minutes from the beach, hours in the sun result in sunburns and freckles as opposed to beautifully bronzed skin. Harvey Mudd insists that the hours of homework are worth it, but the fancy job and oceanside house feel too hypothetical to appreciate. All I could do was focus on each chemistry assignment as it hit me like a brick. 

Or was it?

As the semester went on and I spent more and more time surrounded by California locals, I began to find what I came looking for. No, the colleges didn’t suddenly relocate to a beachside town and neither did the number of homework hours change — but my conception of the mythical California and my place within it did. 

So, to my fellow land-locked, middle of the country mountain people who came to California to find some magic: this one’s for you.

To make yourself feel at home, start by grounding yourself in the lingo. If someone’s from California, then they are either from “The Bay” or Irvine, and it’s best to just pretend like you know where both of these places are because any more details will leave you looking at a map that is inevitably still confusing. Note: if you ever go to “The Bay” you spend a lot of time figuring out which body of water actually is “The Bay.” No, it’s not that lake. 

If you want to be cool in California, then you should probably figure out how to ride a skateboard or surf. I, unfortunately, haven’t gotten the hang of either but have gained some cool points for being able to ski. Thank you, Colorado, for giving me something to go off of. 

Next, figure out a way to love the outdoors. The amount of time you will spend outside in this state is unparalleled. And I come from one of the most outdoorsy places in the country. However, the plentitude of sun and good vibes in California leave you doing absolutely every activity outdoors — to the point where you actually miss the snow at home because crying while it’s 15 degrees and sleeting outside is much more satisfying than when it’s 70 and sunny.

By now, you should be on your way to finding an aesthetic. Part of California’s beauty is that it welcomes everyone to build their own brand, whether it’s the Scripps College girl who manages to make every item of clothing look fashionable or the Claremont McKenna College student  who is always dressed to impress. For example, I was quickly branded as the token granola girl. 

I don’t know if it’s the sun or the produce here, but people in California always manage to look good. If you want to incorporate some quintessential California into your budding aesthetic, try bikini tops. You can wear them anywhere. They count as shirts when it reaches above 75 degrees. They are best paired with jean shorts or flower skirts and they are especially acceptable on Saturday afternoons while you pretend to do your homework. Best of all, they don’t require a beach — seaside clothing items can bring a little of that idealized California to the Inland Empire, all while helping you hone your aesthetic. 

Finally, the most important guide-to-California lesson of all: say yes. Perhaps what I have come to value most since venturing west are the people — and their flare for adventure. From runs in the woods to thrifting after class to impromptu beach days to watermelon sunsets to hot tubbing on Tuesdays to dance parties until your feet fall off, you are going to have a good time. Embrace adventure with open arms and don’t let nerves and preconceived notions get in the way of new experiences.  

These tips may read as superficial, but they’re designed to help challenge you to embrace the world — and the California — around you. Remember that where you came from is just as important as where you’re going. After all, California needs granola girls too. 

So, no —  the California you imagined isn’t necessarily what you’ve found. But don’t let it paralyze you. Develop your own flavor of Colorado-California hybrid and longboard adventurously into the Claremont sunset. 

Sara Wexler HM ’26 is from Colorado. She likes running and dance parties and misses Colorado powder days.

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