Christmas on the beach in Southern California, as rest of country copes with monster winter storm

HERMOSA BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 25: Alex Filipchik (cq), of Redondo Beach, pushes his dauther Veronica Filipchik, five, down a hill of sand on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022 in Hermosa Beach, CA. What it's like to spend Christmas Day on the beach. Temperatures are supposed to hit low '80s on Sunday, while rest of country copes with winter storm. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Filipchik of Redondo Beach pushes his 5-year-old daughter Veronica down a hill of sand on Christmas Day in Hermosa Beach. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Sun, surf and a touch of schadenfreude drew throngs of holiday merrymakers to Los Angeles-area beaches for Christmas, with temperatures touching 80 across Southern California as bitter cold and brutal storms battered most of the country.

"This is the most perfect weather," said Jayanthi Krishna, 47, of Boston, who spent Sunday morning strolling the Santa Monica Pier with her husband and their two teenagers. "At home it's 17 degrees, there's a blizzard. We took pictures [intending to share them] and we thought, 'Is it kind of rubbing it in?'"

Robert sings and plays the guitar on the pier in Santa Monica.
A man sings and plays the guitar on the Santa Monica Pier on Christmas Day. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Indeed, the weather is superlatively bad almost everywhere outside of California. Ice storms gripped Seattle. Parts of Michigan were buried under more than 3 feet of snow. The "bomb cyclone" menacing much of the continental U.S. this weekend has already stranded thousands of travelers and left tens of thousands more without power. As of Sunday, at least a dozen people have died in Buffalo, N.Y.

“This is really a very serious weather alert here, and it goes from Oklahoma all the way to Wyoming, and Wyoming to Maine, and it’s of real consequence,” President Biden said in an address Thursday morning.

Amid the dismal forecast, some saw L.A. as a refuge.

"We didn't have any plans for Christmas so we came on a last-minute road trip," said Wendy Lopez, 22, of New Mexico as she pushed her long sleeves up over her elbows and waded into the surf. "In Albuquerque it's like 40 degrees right now."

For others, the sunshine was a surprise.

"I'm wearing my jeans right now," laughed Serafin Magaña,17, of Santa Rosa, his hair still wet from swimming in his clothes as his cousins buried him in the sand.

Even some locals were caught off guard.

"I was expecting it to be cold," said Hila Almony, 37, of Sherman Oaks, who brought her children to the pier for the seventh day of Hanukkah. "We saw the sunshine, the beautiful weather, and we said, 'Why not?'"

By noon, the pier was bustling, the sand below was mobbed with impromptu picnics and the shoreline dotted with children splashing in their underwear.

On the boardwalk, thrill seekers raced to the roller coaster. Lines snaked for the iconic Ferris wheel. The Ladino Hanukkah classic "Ocho Kandelikas" blared from the speakers while the Ahmed sisters of Houston hunted in vain for a clear spot to pose in their matching hijabs.

People along the waterfront at the Santa Monica beach on Christmas Day.
Beachgoers enjoyed the water in Santa Monica on Sunday as much of the rest of the country coped with storms and frigid temperatures. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

For Zarin Bell, 25, the bustling crowds were a distraction from the toddler he'd left back home in Enid, Okla.,when he moved to L.A. to get sober.

"My baby mama didn’t let me watch my son open his presents," he said as he waited outside the Pacific Park amusement district. On the other hand, "it's cold as hell back there."

Others came to the beach to mark a new chapter in their lives.

"It’s our first Christmas without our kid," said James Scruggs, 52, of Indio, whose teenage son was in Ohio visiting relatives. "We’ve got to get used to it, because after my son graduates, we’ll be empty nesters."

But many, maybe most, were just looking for a place to pass a holiday that wasn't theirs.

"We were looking for places that were open," said Dan Zaksas, 45, of Philadelphia, who is Jewish.

Indeed, hijabs far outnumbered Santa hats among visitors. Likewise, tzitzit and saris were more common than Fair Isle sweaters and red-and-green garb.

"He’s planning to look for a California girl now," Sukhjinder Singh of Orange County teased Hardy Singh of England as they ate together outside Beach Burger.

For the Singhs and many others, the iconic boardwalk would have been on the itinerary even if it was raining, as meteorologists expect starting Tuesday and continuing through the New Year.

For some locals, the beach has become a kind of non-Christmas tradition. They would have come even if it wasn't balmy, just for something to do on a day when almost everything is closed.

"I usually go to Manhattan Beach every Christmas, but we decided to come here [to Santa Monica] because they’re visiting," said Almondo Greer, 45, whose Jewish daughters Jazz, 19, and Nyli, 17, were in town from Bakersfield.

"We're going later to the movies," Jazz added, another time-honored tradition. "We're going to see 'Avatar.'"

Maybe afterward, they'd go for Chinese food.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.