A Day of Fog

Oh, the joy and sorrow of road tripping. There are aspects you can control, like your route, the timing, what to stop and see, and there are things you just have to go with. It felt like we could have spent longer in cute little Cambria, a town off the Pacific Coast Highway, but after we woke up I felt like I was ready to take on the day! Baby J and I spent a bit of time playing in the yard while Tyler us packed and played the piano a bit more, and then we said goodbye to the Music House.

house

We wandered down the streets for a bit, and I wished it wasn’t so early on a Sunday – none of the neat looking shops purporting to sell antiques were open for business. But we fuelled up on coffee and breakfast, and walked back to our car to drive off and make a stop for gas…then off we went up the coast! The only thing?

california road sign in fog

There was so much fog that it was hard to see much beyond the road. It was a little disappointing at first – the stretch of road from here to San Franciso – the ocean-hugging, rocky roads – were supposedly breathtaking. But there was still tons to see, as we found out when we decided to go ahead and stop as planned at the Elephant Seal Rookery – a quick pull off the road with a fenced in lookout over tons of these weirdly majestic and goofy looking animals. We saw seals flopping around towards the water, wapping each other, tossing dirt up onto their own back, baby seals nursing. And the sounds? Incredible! Grunting, yapping, barking – it was really interesting to watch the seals interact with each other. I loved how close we were but that we were still plenty far so that they weren’t bothered by us (I hope).

seals

san simeon seals

elephant seals

We pressed on, stopping at a few of the vista points but for the most part everything was still shrouded on fog: I could hear the faint rumble and crush of the ocean against the rocks below but rather than seeing the sparkling blue expanse, it felt like we were on top of the clouds. There was nothing but fluffy white mist as far as the eye could see on the ocean side.

fog

pacific coast

As the day went on, I kept checking my list of places to potentially stop (I made a big list with options so we could gauge everything) and one thing I thought sounded fun was to stop at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and take a small hike to check out the cove, and waterfalls. I knew we were getting close when we started seeing lines of cars on either side of the road. It was completely jam packed and I guess that should come as no surprise on a Sunday of a long weekend, so we decided to pass. We did make a few stops here and there – Tyler took a look around in the Henry Miller Memorial Library and I took some pictures at more pullouts.

library

foggy

Driving through the California wilderness was really awe inspiring, trees and rock and the smell of campfire, shooting out through a tunnel of tall trees to cows grazing on fields of downy green grass. There was one spot with a huge rock in the ocean and the mist clung to it, moving fast to show the outline of a lighthouse nestled on the top.

fog house

Finally the fog started to lift into giant white clouds, rolling off the water and revealing the turquoise depths below. The timing was good as we were still in Big Sur (which is supposedly the most beautifully dramatic landscape of the drive) and we caught a few glimpses of rock and shore, plus the 1932 built Bixby bridge.

clear view

bixby bridge

More to be said for good timing: this was our backseat passenger for most of the trip.

napping

He woke up just in time to look at the bridge, have a late lunch and backseat diaper change, and then we had maybe 20 minutes to go before we reached our final destination for the day: Pacific Grove. After all the sitting in the car and waiting I thought he deserved a treat, so we headed right to the Dennis the Menace park in Monterey. Although it’s known for the extensive play structures, baby J loved the lion watering fountain the best, pressing and sipping and sharing with us, too. He also enjoyed playing with a bell you could clang with a chain, running over a bridge again and again and again, and a bumpy slide made of red slats that had a steady lineup due to its popularity.

dennis the menace park

park watering fountain

park

slides

We stayed there until late afternoon and then headed back to Pacific Grove to find our B&B – the Centrella Inn. It was pretty tough to find a place to stay, but this lovely place rented cottages as well as room, provided a happy hour with a glass of wine and snacks, and freshly baked cookies as a bedtime snack. We headed out to get dinner, Baby J happy in his stroller while we wandered and tried to pick something. Luckily we chose two different meals to split as a way of sampling more food – I was waiting for one while Tyler waiting for another down the road. Once we got back and settled, we realized the Thai dish didn’t include cutlery and we had nothing at all to use in it’s place. The moral? Always carry a fork or at least a spoon with you. And in any case – the view from our back porch door was pretty lovely.

sunset

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Well, we’re back home in the snow and cold, the car’s rear view mirror reflecting frost rather than the sun and sand, but we left some great adventures in our wake. I’m still working on compiling these posts, these little snapshots of our trip that I jotted down in notes here and there and am reliving now with all the photos I couldn’t help taking!

After we left our easy, peaceful existence in Santa Barbara, we took a few days to drive up the coast towards San Francisco. The Pacific Coast Highway is kind of similar to the Apache Trail drive we did last year, although the PCH is paved the whole way, has the ocean to the left side, and our starting point was quite far away from our ending point. The twisty turns and breathtaking scenery though make it a must-do on a trip to California, so I put it on our list early on in the planning process and then mapped out a few potential stop right before we left from Santa Barbara.

hitting the road

First thing in the morning, we drove into Solvang, a little town with cute buildings once you passed an ostrich farm and winery. I had read about a raved-over pancake place, but being a Saturday morning it was a complete zoo, so we went next door and picked up pastries to go at Olsens – I got a bear claw with almond paste and J thoroughly enjoyed a sticky sweet lemon boat. We walked around a bit and enjoyed the Danish inspired buildings, the fun window displays, and the flowers.

windmill Solvang

Solvang sunglasses

Solvang

We drove on, seeing rolling hills streaked with yellow wildflowers, the dazzling blue ocean to the left so close I imagined I could smell the salty air. Our second top of the day was Pismo Beach, and we drove right through the tiny downtown area to park, get out and walk awhile until we got to…the Butterfly Grove!

butterflies

I’d recently read and enjoyed Flight Behavior and so I felt intrigued to see a real life version of an area where thousands of butterflies clung and climbed the tree branches. There was a small area to walk around, and gaze at the estimated 20,000 butterflies nestled in the trees.A volunteer with greying hair and a gentle smile gave Baby J a couple of butterfly stickers, and we took another look at the butterflies, their delicate little shapes glowing orange in the sunshine. It was an amazing sight to see.

drawings

butterflies

We went a bit farther along the coast, talking about everything and nothing, singing songs and making up stories to keep our little fella awake until a late lunchtime. We stopped in Morro Bay, home to a large rock, which sounds boring but was actually quite scenic as it sat calmly looking out over the boats lined up in the harbour area.

Rock Morro Bay

Morro Bay was a really great little town and one that I could have spent longer in. There wasn’t a massive crush of tourists, the midday weather was perfect, and we got a seat at a local eatery quickly. I’m still thinking about the incredible lobster bisque in a bread bowl that I had. Best soup I’ve ever had, I think.

lobster bisque

soup

We walked a bit more, checking out the tiny art galleries, shops, listened to some live music, watched the boats, climbed on tree roots, and let Baby J drum away on this two pronged structure that was sitting outside. He would still be there now, banging away on it and laughing, if we hadn’t made him leave – that’s how much he enjoyed himself.

art

morro bay

houses morro bay

We drove farther this time, to our final destination of the day – Cambria. Because of the long weekend/ Valentine’s day madness, I’d search far and wide but hadn’t had any luck booking a night at a hotel. Either you had to stay the entire weekend, or the price was just way out of our budget. I wanted to take our time driving up the coast, making stops and seeing as much as we could, and in the end I found a historic house through AirBNB once again, called the Music House. A singer/ songwriter lives there now, but rented her house to us while she was out of town.

We ventured in and checked it out – clow footed bathtubs, black and white images from years past, capturing childhoods passing in large, ornate frames on every wall. There was a former little girls room upstairs and I lingered over the books, recognizing many of my own favourites from my childhood like A Little Princess. There was a treehouse outside, covered in dust and cobwebs, with broken china and sea shells littering the wood floor and a chalkboard written on in messy, child-like scrawl. There was also, to Baby J’s utter delight, a small piano that dinged when the keys were pressed, much like his very own at home. His Dad was pretty happy to spend some time at the living room version, too.

piano

Nearby is a gorgeous little beach called Moonstone beach, featuring a boardwalk with a great view. We headed over, walked around a bit, went down the crumbling dirt steps to the beach itself and made our way across the pebbly sand. The sun was getting into it’s golden hour before settings and the landscape and rushing waves all seemed too perfect a place to hang out and play until the sunset.

moonstone beach

pebbles

moonstone beach

moonstone beach

It was all lovely, Lord of the Rings-ish beautiful, and I could go on it about more, but in reality? The day had caught up with Baby J and he was not in a good mood. He did like running on the boardwalk, and climbing onto a giant log, but he was determined to go in the water and just melting down when we wouldn’t let him. That’s sometimes how it goes though, Valentine’s day or not: the real romance is one of you scooping up and consoling your crying little kid, brushing the sand off his small feet to jam on his shoes, while the other gathers all the bags and clothes and toys and things, just getting him home and settled, happily sandwiched between us on a futon, for an early night’s sleep.

A stop in Santa Barbara

To break up our journey from San Diego to San Francisco a bit, I decided we would spend a few days in sunny Santa Barbara, recommended by a few folks, and just an idyllic, pleasant town to hang around in. We did AirBNB again and were happy that the place was just as nice as it looked in the photos, with a backyard full of kids toys, a sandbox and slide which Baby J was super excited to get out and play with FIRST thing in the morning. We also met our host, Ty, and his two kids.

playing

Our first stop of the day was Alameda Park, a huge park that occupies 2 city blocks in the heart of Santa Barbara. We found a nice little area called the Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens filled with plants, and there were paths to stroll along, ducks to look at, little steps here and there, trees with long gnarled roots, plus, a pretty pond that was filled with turtles! I noticed a couple of turtles on a rock and thought, isn’t that neat? and snapped a photo.

ducks

turtles

Then I looked up and realized there were tons of them on the other side of the pond! We made our way over for a closer look, being careful not to get too close (and I’m happy to report that Baby J was very ‘gentle’ and quiet, and looked, and didn’t cause any little wizened turtle heads to pop back into their shells. Not even a slow scuffle towards the water was initiated) although I’m sure they must be used to people gawkers like us.

gazebo

turtles

turtles

We took our time strolling the walkways, poking sticks into the streams, before taking Baby J across the street to show him Kid’s World – a huge castle shaped play structure with lots of climbing platforms and slides. He also liked climbing on the big whale and shark sculptures on the sand.

park

shark at the park

We made it home for a snooze and then ventured out to the harbour to watch the golden sunset along the boats. It was beautiful, and we spent some time walking the ledge around the boats, and watching older kids play in the sand.

boats

harbour

sunset SB harbour

We decided to try out the Santa Barbara public market for dinner after seeing a brochure advertising the Empty Bowl Noodle Bar. We grabbed a few dishes – the duck buns and dumplings, and while delicious, were not super filling. So we split an order of amazing Pad Thai as well, Baby J happily slurping up the sauce sweet noodles, I took the tofu pieces and Tyler had most of the chicken. The market has lots of little places to eat, with sort of a small food court style seating. We also eyeballed some treats on the way out, like ice cream and cookie dough bites, that looked pretty good.

Tyler’s been on a bit of a BeeGees kick lately, and one thing I’ll remember about Santa Barbara was the dance party Julian had on the fireplace, grooving, nodding, and arm-swinging to Stayin’ Alive. That kid is just getting into dancing and he was so smiley and happy, just doing his own thing and busting a move without a care in the world in the comfort of his little family bubble.

We decided our second day in Santa Barbara would be a Beach Day. I read about a few options and chose East Beach, with the idea that we might walk down the to wharf if we had time. The beach itself was glorious, deep blue sky setting off the tall palm trees, first a grassy area filled with little yellow flowers we had to stop and sniff, then sand dunes and ocean as far as the eye could see.

flowers east beach

east beach

I took J with me for a splash and a walk down the ocean, him running away as the tide came in but squealing with delight if the cool water reached his toes. We found a pile of rocks to squeeze through and carefully climb, and slide down on the sand ridges formed at the ocean’s edge for a few good laughs. We drove his little yellow truck around in the wet sand, and scooped and patted little hills.

east beach

After we rejoined Tyler, we played in the sand for a bit and sat and enjoyed the weather and just being there. More running and splashing as a little boy got bolder with the incoming rush of bubbly water, but we kept a good firm grip on him the whole time. After he’d ran and chased birds some more, we had lunch – sandwiches of any kind are a new favorite thing – and relaxed on our beach towels for a bit. I’d half hoped J would fall asleep, but after a bit of resting he was raring to go again. So we spent a bit more time racing around on the sand, and headed home for a short nap instead, following by more playing in the backyard.

sand

playing in the sand

beach

For dinner we thought we’d head out to California Pizza Kitchen but it (and every restaurant around it was just jam packed and lined up out the door). I was puzzled but then spotted a few families dressed in fancy pink and red outfits, and realized it was the day before Valentine’s day and a Friday night. So we just got 2 pizzas to go and ate them at home, before packing up for another day of driving up the coast!