The second half of our California trip was a bit more nature-oriented. I wanted to take the time to immerse myself in the west coast landscape. When I first moved to my town, I didn’t know anyone there. In the summer I spent days exploring by bike and foot and found that I got to know the landscape so much better. When I used to run, I would bring running shoes not so much for training purposes, but just to get a better feel for a new place.
Wednesday – Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Wednesday we took an Uber south from our hotel in Monterey down to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. It’s free to walk in, so I made sure to bring cash to donate. I planned out the hike, and wanted to stick to the coastline, so we went left after the entrance onto South Plateau Trail. There were several signs at the entrance warning about poison oak, and you could see it all over the sides of the trail. It was a short walk through a forested area down to Bird Island Trail and the coast. A steep set of stairs leads you down to Gibson Beach. Gibson Beach smelled like seaweed, which was piled up along the shore. It was a sandy beach, different from other beaches in the park that were more rocky. We got to climb up some of the sea stacks without getting our feet wet. As typical in Northern California in August, the sun was still covered by clouds and it was a little chilly. We climbed back up the stairs and continued our loop.
Walking along Bird Island Trail, we quickly saw why it’s named that. Bird Island itself was adorned with all types of birds. We saw Brant’s cormorants, Western Gulls and Pelicans flying overhead throughout our hike. Not far from Bird Island is China Cove. It is stunning but like the McWay Falls, you cannot access it, only see it from the trail. The water was green and beautiful, despite not getting any extra sparkle from the sun. Drones are prohibited in the reserve, but on Bird Island Loop I saw 3 different people either setting up drones, or talking about where to “hide” so they could fly their drones. From the footage we were able to get from our GoPros, I could see why someone would want to get aerial footage of the coastline there.
Continuing back onto the South Plateau Trail we headed up towards Sea Lion Point Trail. From my limited Spanish knowledge, I knew that lobos means wolves, but I didn’t realize why the part was named this until I came across this, “Called Punta de los Lobos Marinos, or Point of the Sea Wolves, by the Spanish explorers that came to this spot a few centuries ago, Point Lobos is named for the sea lions that love to laze on its many rocky outcrops.” (source) As we made our way along the trail, that varied from some incline on rock, to flat and sandy, we went towards the water a few times, as permitted, and inspected the creatures in the tidepools, mostly crabs and hermit crabs hiding in the divots of the rocks. The sandy shores of the Atlantic in Maryland offer limited tide pools. We could hear the sea lions as we neared Sand Hill Trail and Sea Lion Point Trail off in the distance. My kids had been imitating their sounds since they saw their first ones on our first day in Monterey. We stopped at a rest stop and parking area where a Reserve employee or volunteer was posted with specimens of local flora and fauna. She gave us a guide to the birds of Point Lobos, another guide to the plants and then an observation checklist. When the kids were little, one thing I would do to make hiking more appealing was to create a “scavenger hunt.” Both boys were tired at this point, and wanted to walk from where we were back to the entrance and go back to the hotel. I’m very thankful for that woman, because not only did the checklist pique their interests, she also warned us about the poison oak that was growing all along the trail. As we left that area to close the loop via the Northern Plateau Trail, we quickly realized that we did indeed have to walk in the center of the trail in order to avoid the poison oak.
The Northern Plateau Trail was different from the Southern one, more wooded and had more elevation. We got to see the Ancient Monterey Cypresses, which can only be found at Point Lobos and Pebble Beach. We witnessed two quail squawking at each other in a bush, and also spotted tons of birds and a deer as we switched into a forested area, and then back out closer to the coast. We were getting hungry by this point, I didn’t anticipate that we would be in the park that long, but it is so worth taking the time to stop, photograph, soak in the views and let the kids explore on their terms. We came off the Northern Shore Trail and passed the Whalers Cabin and Whaling Station Museum. It was about to close for the day, and being so close to dinner time, I decided we would skip going inside in favor of getting back to the hotel sooner. We didn’t cover the entire loop, and there are a lot of other trails that zigzagged between the loop trails but we walked the Carmelo Meadow Trail back to the entrance and luckily I got enough of a signal to order an Uber back to Monterey.
Thursday – Whale Watching
Thursday morning Ken returned from Fresno and we went out to have crepes with him, since we enjoyed the Crepes of Brittany so much. We enjoyed lots of pool time and some more shopping during the day, coupled with some work on the adults part. I had gone whale watching as a kid in Nantucket and Cape Cod, so I wanted to take the boys on a whale watching tour so they could experience it.
We chose to do a sunset whale watching trip. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Abalonetti Bar and Grill on Old Fisherman’s Wharf, we boarded the Atlas Monterey and headed upstairs. We purchased VIP tickets, which allowed us to access the top floor of the ship, with open views. It was chilly in the evening, so I am glad that we wore close toed shoes and hoodies. The first half an hour or so it was very foggy, and as we headed off shore I got a little nervous that we weren’t going to see anything. The crew was nice, and the narrator of the tour was a marine specialist. She explained that the whale watching tour boats all work together, and communicate about where the whales are. We were able to view a Humpback whale thanks to information from a nearby ship. The whale came up a few times to breathe, and then we watched the tail flip up and out of the water as it dove back down into the ocean. We learned that baby whales drink about 100 gallons of milk per day and gain about 100 pounds per day in order to be able to keep up with their mothers as they travel north!
As we continued north-west from the coast, the fog cleared up a bit. We saw lots of krill, which is often a sign that a whale may be in proximity, and again, the humpback made a few more appearances before it went down and we moved on once again. We were able to see large, bright orange jellyfish from the boat, as well as many pelicans. We went to the first floor to grab some hot chocolate, since the wind from the open air was chilly. We got back up onto the second floor just in time to see a group of porpoises bow-riding the boat. The guide explained that these were a rare type and I wish I could remember which kind. She said normally they travel individually or in pairs, but we saw at least 10 swimming together, and watched as they rode alongside the boat, and zigzagged in front of our vessel impressively fast. A little bit later we saw another small group swimming next to the boat. They were black and white, but looked too small to be Killer Whales, so I think they must have been Dall’s Porpoises, but we let the kids think they saw Killer Whales since the guide did not see them to help us identify them. By the time we returned the sun had set and we were ready to go buy some Monterey sweatpants at a local gift shop!
Friday – Carmel By The Sea
We left Monterey Friday to head inland for the remainder of our California stay. I wanted to see the Redwoods, and we were able to book an AirBnb in a redwood grove near Santa Cruz. On our way out of town, we decided to stop at Carmel By The Sea to check out a new town. The intention was to grab a late lunch and then see Pebble Beach and John Steinbeck’s house, but our lunch was so amazing that we ended up staying there for hours.
On a whim I stopped in at Promesa restaurant in Carmel. It has been a few weeks since we were there, and trying to find the name I stumbled upon “Casanova restaurant” that is next door which is “TikTok famous.” Although Casanova looks incredible, I am glad we ate at Promesa. It is a tapas restaurant and has a very European feel to it. We sat outside on a lovely terrace and our waiter was very knowledgeable and an excellent salesman. As we sat down, I recognized a Bossa Nova song I recognized and a sense of nostalgia for a place I’d never been to set in. I had been reading the book The Time In Between, set in Spain and Portugal and sitting in a Spanish-style restaurant fit perfectly. We ordered the Zanahorias, Spanish Caesar, Croquetas de Jamon and Gambas Al Ajillo to start. All the food was superb and the kids even enjoyed new flavor profiles and textures.
Our waiter talked us into trying the Paella de la Tierra with the Iberico Secreto which was marvelous. The menu states that the dish is for two, but with all the small plates, one serving was enough for the four of us. We continued to eat leisurely and enjoyed the outdoor setting. Ken and I enjoy eating slowly and when we aren’t rushed at a restaurant. The waiter once again talked us into one last purchase, a dessert, which we all again split. From there we had to stop at a Trader Joes to pick up food that would get us through the rest of the weekend. Going from fine Spanish tapas plates to frozen Trader Joes dinners was a little sad, but we had a beautiful location in store for us.
Saturday – Enchanted Forest Hike
Our last full day in California we woke up in our AirBnB in the “Enchanted Forest,” a spot with 40+ acres of hiking trails and several camping sites in a Redwood Grove. It is located near Santa Cruz and Los Gatos, and the main house is divided into 3 rental properties. We got in later than expected, but on the drive into the property, the boys’ mouths dropped as they saw how tall the Redwoods grow, dwarfing our East Coast trees. Ken and I grabbed some coffee at Casalegno’s Country Store, a cool spot with good coffee, bakery items and a clerk with a Californian accent. We talked to him a bit about local hiking and some of the differences between the coasts.
We decided that instead of spending more time in the car to hike nearby trails with ocean views, we would stay in our grove and maximize the time at the AirBnb. We left the main house and headed down the hill towards some hiking trails. We passed the largest tree any of us had ever seen. It was wider than the rental car and hundreds of feet tall. We found a marker that said “TRL” and followed it further downhill. At one point, we decided to veer right where a small path entered onto an abandoned camping site. From there, it seemed like a skinnier path would take us to the bottom of the valley, so we walked along it. Pretty quickly I realized that this path was probably not actually meant to be a hiking trail, but we were doing ok bushwhacking, so along we went making our way down towards a small waterfall. As we were walking, I was going along a narrow ridge, not high, but high enough that when my right leg fell into a soft spot on the path, my left leg slid off the side of the trail and I did an awkward split and then proceeded to fall down on my butt and then back right next to a stream. Luckily I was not hurt too much, just very sore in the hips. We hung out by the water for a bit, listening to the creek rushing past, and then we turned around and headed back up the hill.
We figured out that had we not taken the small trail to the right, we would have stayed on the actual hiking trail. As we walked along that one, wider, gentler and infinitely less slippery, we again marveled at the Redwoods. Several butterflies flew across our path, and we stopped to take some pictures at hollowed remains of ancient trees. This trail led us down to the valley floor, this time with no falls or scrambling under and over trees. We ate lunch by the water. Ken and I were doing our best to take the time to lower our blood pressure, meditate, soak in the zen. The kids were ready to go back to the cabin and play games. There was a bit of friction between us all because we knew how valuable that time in the woods can be. I don’t think my kids have the full comprehension of the fact that this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. They might never go back to a Redwood grove again. We didn’t want them to rush it, but in their heads, they go hiking all the time so what’s the big deal?
All in all our trip to California was fantastic. We were able to do so many things in 7 days. We had tours, nature, hiking, relaxing, fine dining and a lot of “Bananagram shenanigans.” The boys and Ken created a version of Banagrams where they could only use words that Ken from the Barbie movie would have used. I would do this trip again in a heartbeat, minus the trip to InNOut Burger. Although next time I’m in Northern California I am going to make it my mission to see a Sequoia Redwood.