Gaviota State Beach in April

I love to stop in Gaviota when I’m traveling between Southern and Northern California.  The beach is located right where highway 101 curves inland to traverse the mountains after running parallel to the ocean for fifty miles.

There are some nice cliffs where you can sit and watch the waves and several trails that lead up into the mountains.  It hasn’t been very crowded when I’ve visited because it’s too far from the major cities to attract crowds but there is a small campground at the park that seems to be popular with travelers.  The atmosphere is restful and idyllic to me.

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Carpinteria Bluffs in November

This is my idea of how to spend a chilly November morning: in the company of curious seals, exploring interesting, fragile rock formations while the wind whips the surface of the sea into white caps.  Dry sand snaked across the slick wet sand like wisps of incense smoke.  A sign said that the beach is closed during seal mating season around the beginning of December but Matthew and I observed nearly a dozen of them peeking their heads out of the surf to peer at us as we were leaving.  It seems best not to disturb them in November, either!

A seal peers at us from the waves.

Oil bubbles up from underground. This is what is referred to as “tar sands”… To extract the oil for commercial use, people steam the sand in order to separate it from the oil. This is very damaging to the environment because it tears up the beach and uses massive amounts of fresh water for steaming, a limited resource, and the yield of oil is relatively small at great cost.

“Painted Cave”, Lake Cachuma and Solvang

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.

 

Land’s End Trail, San Francisco

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.

Lovably Eccentric Santa Cruz!

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.

Vibrant Jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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.