Hsi Lai Temple feels like an oasis in the middle of white-hot urban sprawl of Southern California. The dry “Santa Ana” winds were blowing at the time of our visit, adding an invigorating charge to the air. On our way there, Matthew and I paused at Sycamore Canyon to go for a leisurely hike and listen to the dry brush speak with its rustling. The air is usually so still in Southern California that the plants never otherwise have a voice. It is wonderful to feel everything come alive when these winds visit every autumn.
Upon arrival, we meandered through the gardens and gazed upon the faces of statues with expressions ranging from serene to crazed and comical. Since I lean more toward Zen Buddhism than Mahayana Buddhism (the former being more minimalistic and the latter being more ceremonial), it was peculiar for me to see a “forest of faces” in those gardens. I was further awe-struck by the extravagance of the meditation temple, featuring three giant gold statues of the Buddha and so many tiny golden lights to entrance and humble the observer that it was easy to let go of extraneous thoughts and be still, if only for a few moments in the day.
Gloomy autumnal weather settled on the coast yesterday, making it the perfect time to rise above the clouds of Santa Barbara County and explore the back country. Our first stop was Painted Cave State Park, right off San Marcos Pass on Highway 154.
It’s times like these when I feel compelled to praise my little car, “Sally”; she can climb mountain passes, zip past other cars on the highway and get great gas mileage. Since our furthest destination of the day was sixty-six miles away and Matthew and I are college students on a budget, the mileage rate is something I feel very thankful for.
“Sally” wound up a narrow, curvy road where we pulled off to the side near a sign marking the location of the cave. The paintings were made by the Chumash Native Americans and date back from the 1600’s or earlier but the meaning has supposedly been lost, according to the State Parks website. The Chumash have lived in Santa Barbara County for 13,000 years. The Spanish missionaries arrived in the 18th century and the United States acquired the area in 1848, meaning these paintings were created shortly before the land and its people experienced a major shift. A grate has been placed at the mouth of the cave to protect the paintings from vandalism.
After appreciating the paintings, Matthew and I continued along San Marcos Pass until we reached Lake Cachuma, where we went for a nice hike through the oak trees along the edge of the water.
After an inspiring visit to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, we headed down a section of Land’s End Trail, where we alternately climbed up worn wooden stairs and down a winding dirt path while hugging the side of a cliff that overlooked the bay with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. All the while, Phoebe stayed safely in my back carrier.
After visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium (see Vibrant Jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium), Matthew and I checked into a modest yet very comfortable motel called The Beachway Inn located in Santa Cruz where I was nothing short of thrilled to discover that they had a large, comfortable, steaming hot jacuzzi. There was also a full-sized indoor pool heated to a comfortable temperature where Phoebe dipped her toes and Matthew and I stretched our muscles after the long car ride from Ojai.
The next morning, we ventured out to explore Santa Cruz starting with Natural Bridges State Beach.
Afterward, we ventured to the Beach Boardwalk which seemed to contain every colorful carnival amusement imaginable.
Our next stop was Wilder Ranch State Beach where Phoebe promptly fell asleep in Matthew’s arms. We explored the bluffs and marveled at the precipitous drop below. Phoebe was wearing her harness and tether to keep her safe when she woke up. Seagulls rested peacefully at the edge and pelicans soared through the air below us. Dolphins grazed the surface of the water in the distance, making the experience even more beautiful.
Three destinations in one day simply would not suffice in this beautiful city so we headed to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where we took a leisurely walk on the soft, padded ground through an ancient forest.
Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps
Before returning to the motel, we went to a great mostly-vegetarian restaurant called the Saturn Café in the downtown area where we saw several interesting street performers lighting up the night. Phoebe had an understandably tired and grumpy moment in the restaurant. When I took her outside to calm down, a sweet older woman wearing metallic glitter on her cheeks and colorful scarves chatted with me about how she likes to add licorice flavor to her coffee at a local café. Her chatter distracted and calmed Phoebe while charming me completely, making me curious about what other interesting surprises this town has to offer.
My first visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium inspired me to become a biologist someday. My mother and I ventured there on a road trip together when I was 16 years old; we camped in the area and visited the aquarium and the nearby university in Santa Cruz. Soon I plan on moving there so that I may actualize that dream.
This visit to the aquarium was Phoebe’s first. While she gasped at the organisms found in the kelp forest tank, a kind older man commented: “It’s so nice to experience the aquarium from a child’s perspective.” Neither Matthew or I could manage to pause very long to take photos because she was on the run viewing the many exhibits, weaving through the crowd in the dark hallways. Her enthusiasm was infectious, though , so we didn’t mind exploring the aquarium as if it were a labyrinth, visiting many exhibits more than once.