Valentine’s Day Love Letters to California

Highway 1 at night in Big Sur.Credit…Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

SAN ARDO — As I drove through the Salinas Valley over the weekend, sunshine broke through huge cotton-ball clouds that had just unleashed a quick bout of rain. The rolling hills on each side of the highway were light green with new growth. The sky became a gradient of blue, darker the more I tilted my head up.

The scene was so picturesque that I stopped in this tiny community in Monterey County to take a few photographs. The expansive sky looked as though it had been plucked from Montana or Wyoming and dropped here in Central California. As I stood on the side of a desolate road, between fields of newly planted crops, I felt grateful for the diversity of beauty that surrounds me in California.

The view from San Ardo.Credit…Soumya Karlamangla/The New York Times

For weeks, in anticipation of Valentine’s Day, you’ve been writing to me about your love for the Golden State, and what makes you stay here, despite the floods, wildfires, earthquakes and high prices. For me, that moment staring at the clouds in San Ardo makes the list.

You’ve sent in letters about why you love Folsom, Agoura Hills, Aptos, St. Helena and many other places. Your tributes were heartfelt, evocative and largely unconcerned with our state’s faults. I adore them.

Here are some of the notes you sent in, lightly edited:

I live in Menifee in Riverside County and despite the staggering growth, there’s always a hint of wilderness in the air. I love going out for a walk and being surrounded by hills, a bright and reassuring green right now, looking up to see the clear blue sky and feeling the towering presence of Double Butte in my peripheral vision. The beautiful wineries of Temecula Valley are a short drive away and the amenities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County and Palm Springs are an easy weekend trip.

I’ve lived in Southern California for over 15 years now and my heart still leaps to my throat with its beauty. It is somehow familiar, dear, and surprising all at the same time. I don’t think I will ever tire of its beauty. — Amy Riley, Menifee

In the last 48 years, I have lived in the Bay Area, gone to college on the Central Coast and spent a few years in L.A. before coming back to my beloved Bay. I savor each moment of living in the Golden State. It’s like being on vacation every day. — Bob Harris, Foster City

My husband and I moved to Palm Springs in April 2020 from Chicago. When we moved, we saw the sun a half a day a week in Illinois, gray clouds hanging over the region the rest of the time. Now we bask in brilliant sunshine every day and live an indoor-outdoor life which nourishes the body and soul. Our daughters live in the North Bay and we are able to enjoy the full scope of all this wonderful state offers. — Carlotta Rinke, Palm Springs

Folsom is where I call home. Outdoor adventures are everywhere. My husband and I ride our bikes around Lake Natoma, through town and to Folsom Lake on the many miles of bike trails. We ride through the oak trees, grasses and pines as well as by streams, ponds and lakes. These rides recharge us. I can also step out my front door to walk trails through neighborhoods, parks and nature areas. How lucky am I? So lucky. — Mary Ann Mitchell, Folsom

More on California

  • A Settlement: San Mateo County has agreed to pay $4.5 million to the family of a Black man who died in 2018 after a deputy used a Taser on him during a struggle that began when officers saw him jaywalking.
  • Covid State of Emergency: The state’s coronavirus emergency declaration, which gave Gov. Gavin Newsom broad powers to slow the spread of the virus, is set to expire on Feb. 28.
  • In the Wake of Tragedy: California is reeling after back-to-back mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay.
  • Medical Misinformation: A federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of a new law allowing regulators to punish doctors for spreading false or misleading information about Covid-19.

Aptos — a name you may know from President Biden’s press conference in January due to the disastrous storms here. Or from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which actually originated near here. And in between, we’ve suffered the effects of massive wildfires and floods.

But, “the price of living in paradise,” as they say, has been worth it to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, with kind people and so much culture from the surrounding Santa Cruz County. Locals flock to the beach for the frequent jaw-dropping sunsets; we have forests and lots of good weather and community spirit and wonderful small businesses. I’m constantly in awe of this place. — Elizabeth Good, Aptos

“San Berdoo, San Berdoo” shouted the conductor as the train approached San Bernardino. My mother turned over in her bunk, lifted the window shade, and was overcome with emotion as she saw palm trees, sunshine and mountains.

It was 1939, and just a few days prior she had left snowy New York, throwing her fur coat to a girlfriend as she boarded the Super Chief.

Clara said to herself, “I am never leaving California.” And she never did.

I am her daughter and so grateful to her. I have traveled to 86 countries and all 50 states. There is no more beautiful and amazing place than California. The four generations of our family thank her every day for that leap of faith to the Golden State. — Jean Petty, Fresno

Wyllow, a weed store in Los Angeles.Credit…Joe Schmelzer for The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Cannabis cafes: A bill proposed this month would legalize the sale of food and beverages at cannabis retailers and lounges in order to help the struggling industry, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Childbirth outcomes: A study, published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, explores how the risks of childbirth vary by both race and parental income and how Black families, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are disproportionately affected.

  • A surfer reflects: Tyler Fox, a professional big wave surfer, writes about his love for the ocean and the devastation following the bomb cyclone storm in Santa Cruz, and considers the impact of climate change along the California coast.


  • Disneyland: The Walt Disney Company is planning to add an Avatar experience to Disneyland, The Associated Press reports.

  • Frieze Los Angeles: For the first time since 2005, the artist Ruben Ochoa is opening the doors of his storied and rusty van to the public, parking it on the tarmac of the Santa Monica airport.


  • Discrimination: The developer Terance Frazier, who is Black, said Mayor Jerry Dyer of Fresno and city officials deliberately swayed organizations from doing business with him — which he claims fits into a larger narrative of racial discrimination within city government, The Fresno Bee reports.


  • Vacancy tax: A consortium of San Francisco landlords and property owners filed a lawsuit this week challenging the city’s new tax on vacant residential buildings as unconstitutional and a violation of state law, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • Tech layoffs: Twilio, a San Francisco cloud software maker, told employees it planned to lay off 17 percent of its work force, around 1,500 of the nearly 9,000 employees the company said it had, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Credit…Andrew Bramasco, Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

What you get

For $2.5 million: A Mediterranean-style house in the Hollywood Hills, a four-bedroom condominium in San Clemente or a Spanish-style home in Tustin.

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times.

What we’re eating

A wintry Bourguignon-style mushroom stew.

The dry farmed vineyard at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles.Credit…Daniel Dreifuss for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Nancy Schneider:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Shuo Chen and Gorick Ng were married in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Dec. 22 in the home of Ms. Chen’s maternal grandfather.Credit…Harriet Chen

And before you go, some good news

I’m going to let the first paragraph of this Vows column from The Times speak for itself:

“Gorick Ng waited nearly a decade for a date with Shuo Chen. When he finally got one, in 2021, circumstances prevented him from sweeping her off her feet like a hero in a romance novel. For the date they had arranged — bathing her grandfather — both needed their feet firmly on the ground.”

Read the love story of Ng and Chen, who teach a class together on entrepreneurism at the University of California, Berkeley, and got married in December.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia and Geordon Wollner contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at


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