A Familiar Tale

When UCSD grad Rex Pickett set out to pen his recent murder-mystery book, The Archivist, he was determined to keep things as real as possible. The result is a surprisingly familiar tale that features this Del Mar resident’s favorite haunts.


While Pickett has written more than 25 screenplays, he is best known for his novel,  Sideways, adapted for the screen in 2004, and becoming one of the most popular films ever. Pickett lived in Del Mar for several years during and after his years at the university, and has a special fondness for the beaches and bluffs of La Jolla and Del Mar. The Archivist’s protagonist, Emily Snow, lives near the Del Mar bluffs, surfs at Black’s Beach, and—like Pickett— sips her cappuccinos at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters on Carmel Valley Road. Snow also works as an archivist at Memorial Library at Regents University, a stand-in for Geisel and UCSD.

Photo illustration Dolores Davies Johnson

“It’s been said that writers write best when they stick to what they know,” said Pickett, who grew up in San Diego. “These are all my favorite spots and I know them and value them immensely.”


“When I was young we used to surf Black’s Beach when no one knew about it,” he recalled. “One morning, before the sun had come up—in the saturnine dawn—four of us were bobbing in the water waiting on the next set of waves.  Suddenly, there was a Polaris-like explosion no more than fifty yards from us.  Seawater rained from the sky.  A whale had spouted.  At Black’s, the cliffs shield you from the world and it was like going back in time.  Throw in a breaching whale and it was positively primeval.”


After returning to Del Mar many years later, Pickett says he’s come to appreciate the bluffs more than he did in his youth.  


“It boggles my mind that train tracks run so close to a collapsing bluff. I walk on them every day.  There’s the upper bluff with its stunning views of the ocean and the peninsula of La Jolla in the distance.  The lower bluff brings you down to those train tracks that fortunately are not going to be there forever.  With their vertically fissured faces, the cliffs are magisterial— they look like some ancient civilization immortalized in amber. I feel fortunate every day I walk the bluffs/beach and marvel at how they unwittingly keep out the encroachment of the world. The Archivist features so much of the bluffs, the ocean, their majesty, their sounds … I can hear the waves crashing at night and the occasional clanging of a train’s horn, and it haunts me in an ineffable way,” said Pickett.