Never before have I seen a beach where you get the pleasure of wandering through a redwood forest while listening to a flowing creek before emerging on to a tiny, secluded cove. Phoebe loved playing in the water that flowed over the sand to meet the ocean and I enjoyed resting on the boulders that gave me a nice view below. It was a pleasure to see the wildflowers and greenery of Humboldt in contrast to the dry, golden hillsides of Southern California.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Today I saw Californian culture at its finest. I can’t tell you what the “California Dream” is because I’ve always been a Californian and that’s like asking a fish to tell you about water, but I can describe the moments that make me the most proud and happy to be a native to this state.
When Phoebe and I arrived at San Simeon Beach in Cambria, we were dressed in our usual attire of sun dresses, flip-flops and sunglasses. To beat the chill of the sea breeze, I donned a light sweater and helped Phoebe into a wind-breaker jacket. I noticed others dressed this way, too: sporting shorts and sandals with fleece jackets. The odd mismatch that is sensible to Californians is what differentiates us from tourists sometimes.
As we climbed down the weathered wooden staircase, I saw an idyllic scene: small children, older children and teenagers playing together with driftwood, arranging it into benches, bridges and tee-pee’s… There were kids and adults surfing, boogie-boarding and wake-boarding. People wore rolled-up jeans and wet suits. No one was there to work on their tan or flaunt their progress at the gym. Older couples held hands and leaned on each other as they sat on the driftwood and watched the waves. Kids ran together with their shaggy, feathered hair peeking out of their beanies. Everyone appeared calm, happy and patient. I heard moms calling across the sand to kids with names like “Zooey” and “Cyrus”…as in “Zooey! ZOE-ZOE! Do you have to go POTTY? There’s a POTTY up THERE!” Some of the children scaled the rock formations that lined the beach and the adults nearby looked out for them, letting them know when they might not be safe. One lone adult pulled out a reading book that he’d wrapped in a bag to keep it safe from the sand. A little girl ran to her mother who swung her around joyfully.
Phoebe and I marveled at the monstrously large seaweed and explored the rocks and giant driftwood logs. Then we played hide and seek among the cypress trees. One day, it won’t be as easy as squealing “Oh my gosh, I found you!” to fill Phoebe with glee, but for now she’s just three years old, and we’ll play hide-and-seek as much as she likes.
How would you describe an idyllic scene at the place you call home?
On Phoebe’s bookshelf rests a red box with a flower print lid; inside are her treasures from past outdoor adventures. From time to time, she gently takes out each specimen, arranges them in a row and examines them with her magnifying glass. Today, she asked me sweetly, “Mommy, can we gather more sea shells for my collection?” After an hour of the usual hustle and bustle to get out the door, we were driving up Hwy 101 past Santa Barbara on our way to Gaviota State Beach.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a gregarious park ranger who gladly showered me with pamphlets about the natural history of this beach and a few others nearby. He suggested some hiking trails and told me about a 95-degree hot spring in the area. I listened and visualized his directions for future reference, but today was a day for shells. When I venture out with Phoebe, I strive for simplicity.
The ranger informed me that the beach was named “Gaviota” after a seagull killed by soldiers on an 18th century sailing voyage to find the port of Monterey. I wondered what could be so spectacular about the death of a bird that it would inspire someone to name a place after it. Looking through the pamphlet, I saw a surprising number of habitats listed: oak woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, riparian, freshwater aquatic, freshwater marshes, coastal strand, coastal salt marsh and marine. (1) Sixteen of the wildlife species and six of the plant species that occur in the area are threatened or endangered. (2)
Incidentally, I came across the website of an organization called the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County which states, “Guarding against over-development of this last rural stretch of coastal Southern California is our biggest challenge.” (3)
After changing into our swim suits and slathering on sunscreen, we walked under the railroad trestle and out on to the pier. There, we were treated to a nice view of the beach on one side and rugged rock formations on the other.
The sediment is a part of the active Santa Ynez fault and was uplifted approximately 5 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. (4)
A friendly stranger offered to take our photo before we headed down to the sand.
I became a bit distracted with snapping photos of wildflowers before Phoebe tore me away to fulfill our intended purpose.
There was little variety of shells to be found in the area we settled in, but what we lacked in diversity we made up for in quantity, unearthing dozens of shiny blue abalone shells. One piece featured a spectacular blend of colors and had a natural hole in it, perfect for use as a necklace pendant. I fell in love with it and tucked it away in my beach bag. That was the only shell that ended up coming home with us; Phoebe was happy to use the rest to decorate the sand castles she dreamed would be permanent.
What was is your favorite “treasure” found in nature?