I didn’t like Paris, and I was disappointed by the Eiffel Tower (it’s brown?), but I have to say the French have a glorious lifestyle. It’s something we all should strive to create here in America: walking more, languishing in big green parks until after dark, buying fresh groceries daily from tiny corner markets.

The Summer Solstice we spent in Nice sparked something inside me that could never be resolved by a corporate commute or a package of Costco pastries. In my next life, I wanted to navigate crowded cobblestone streets as the light faded over the rocky sea, smelling lavender soaps and selecting my saucisson (as a repentant ex-vegetarian, of course).

When James’ job became fairly location-independent, we wanted to pick a place where we could reminisce about that college graduation trip to France and Italy (thanks to my generous parents) and live a relaxed, European lifestyle. One of my first demands for our new apartment in San Diego was that it had a high Walk Score. I wanted to walk on the beach with Baby J and enjoy the ocean sunsets at a moment’s notice.

We really hit the jackpot with our apartment in Carlsbad, where both the beach and the village are walkable. To be able to walk to the mechanic, the vet and coffee shop is so European. Actually, it would be more European to not walk to the mechanic, as I probably wouldn’t have a car there.

Our townhouse in Santa Clarita that we just sold had low walkability, with the closest thing being a half-deserted strip mall down a giant hill. Unfortunately, that’s the trend now: cities doing their darndest to encroach on natural surroundings with relentless suburban copycat houses miles from any actual service. It takes effort to find somewhere where one house looks different than the next.

Far from the city center, we were close to all kinds of quaint country roads. Roads led to wineries, farms and even a cute roadside French restaurant called Le Chene (which I never ate at, because of my snail-phobia). It was a different world out there in the “sticks,” where you could buy a few apples from a market and see children playing in the street.

In France, however, the French seemed to walk everywhere and picnic in parks where statues stand in for playground equipment. When I am old (and possibly widowed), I want to live on a flowering Mediterranean hillside like the one in Villefranche-sur-Mer and walk down the hill every day to buy vegetables for some wonderful soup.

Villefranche-sur-Mer, France

Our place now does have the feel of that boardwalk on the beach in Nice. We can walk to the twice-weekly Farmer’s Market, window-shop through the village and watch the ocean from the blufftop boardwalk or a communal grass area with benches.

Baby J and I can walk on the beach whenever we want, and play in the sand. We keep sand toys permanently in the stroller. Now, as a toddler, she can chase seagulls and put rocks into her bucket. Our first summer here was best, because all the happy tourists were out in the evening.

When James doesn’t feel like cereal, he asks us to join him for coffee at Café Elysa. On Baby J’s first birthday (a week day), he took time off from his computer and we walked to the village for mimosas and a Cookie Monster donut.

At night, we try to make it out for another walk on the beach and hopefully, a pink-cloud sunset. Sometimes we leave our house just a few minutes before the sunset and join the crowds gathered at the grass on the bluff. Those times I feel like we’ve really stepped out of the suburbs—into a park in Paris where time stands still as you all gaze at something beautiful. Santé!

Photos by HerryLawford, Dragozov