Riley and I spent 9 months in California while Daniel was overseas. It was a wonderful chance to explore nature that just doesn’t quite compare to anywhere else in the country. We fell in love with the redwoods and sequoias, the golden sunsets over rolling hills dotted with vineyards, and the wild pacific that was oh so tempting, but oh so cold. These are listed in no particular order as it’s pretty hard to pick a favorite!
The most fascinating jelly fish displays I’ve ever seen. I’m a big fan of the Atlanta Aquarium, but this place is something special. Not to mention that you hear the sea lions barking when out on the decks or walking down the historic cannery row. Such a unique experience if you aren’t used to that.
Nothing is so humbling than standing next to those soaring granite cliffs. The fresh, clean, woodsy scent just calms me like nothing else. The drive there may be long, windy, and make everyone car sick… But its worth it!
I HATED the drive through San Fran and driving over the Golden Gate Bridge was ruined by hoards of people walking along the sidewalk and blocking our view. The drive up to muir woods was yet another crazy, stomach twisting experience I don’t know I want to relive. Let’s just say the switchbacks are so tight you could high five oncoming traffic… After an hour of that I was begging for a stretch of straight road. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though! You need to pay in advance for parking here and I recommend taking a screen shot of your bar code as there likely wont be any signal to load it once you arrive at the park. I drive a crew cab F350 Dually and let me tell you, the parking lots are NOT big truck friendly. I actually called the parking company beforehand to see if we would fit and they said yes, but upon arrival the guys on the ground said good luck… Luck was in my favor and I found a corner spot that didn’t impede traffic if we were sticking out. The redwoods at Muir Woods are not as large as up in northern CA but enchanting none the less. We especially loved the giant clovers. Some areas of CA are certainly other worldly. Riley loved it here as there were paths off the main trail you could hike on so he felt like he was trail blazing. Afterwords we had some time and stopped at Stinson Beach north of Muir woods. Found some kids to play a little baseball with and walked the shoreline a bit before heading back down the twisty, crazy road again and through the nightmare of San Fransisco. (I’m not a city girl). Despite the drive and small parking lot, we really enjoyed our time there and the cafe has great sandwiches.
I’m a ghost fan. My husband thinks I’m nuts watching Ghost Hunters and Kindred Spirits, but I love it. History and haunting, it’s just me. My kid has never been too interested but he heard about the Winchester Mystery House and we had to go. In the end, we went twice. They house was built by Sarah and William Winchester, founder of Winchester Rifles. Sarah went a little crazy and thought that to appease the spirits of the people killed by Winchester Rifles, she had to continue adding onto the house. Today it is a maze of stairways and oddly placed rooms and said to still be haunted. I do recommend the longer tour (Explore More) that goes through the basement, and catch the Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures episodes of the house for prep, if you are into that kind of thing. By the way, the cafe has AMAZING salads!
This little park is off the beaten path and you would probably miss it if you didn’t know to look for it. To get through to the entrance is odd as you go through a small Swedish summer camp on a one lane road. You kinda feel like you aren’t going to the right place, but keep driving and you’ll get to the gate. Once in and parked, follow the waterfall loop. It’s a 1mile loop and you’ll past most of the waterfalls. It is a bit steep in areas as you climb the canyon. We really enjoyed it though, definitely worth it if you have a half a day to spare.
Half Moon Bay State Beach is a gorgeous stop if traveling up scenic Hwy 1. Walk along the cliffs for amazing views and admire the succulents blooming along the paths. The beach itself has nice sand for the kids to play in. Always dreamed of riding horses along the surf? Seahorse Ranch offers horseback riding packages to do just that at Half Moon Bay.
Best to follow the directions on the website for this one. You’ll find some parking off the side of hwy 9 for the trailhead but it is not well marked, we found it by accident. This was a fantastic hike. You walk down through the redwoods to the creek and follow along to a swimming hole. We found our first banana slug here. Though the redwoods may not be the biggest in the area (those are further up the street) they are still amazing to walk through!
Very cool place to spend a day. It has an “old west” town to explore, BBQ, gift shop, museum, and of course, the steam engine! You can choose from two routes. One goes up into Henry Cowell Redwood State Park through the redwoods and the other goes down into Santa Cruz to the beach. We chose the redwoods. Very interesting to hear the history of the area and how tourism created this train route. You ride in open cars so keep your eyes peeled for banana slugs hiding out on the sides of the mountain as you pass along! We counted 12!
If you want to get up close to the whales, a whale watching tour is a must. It’s almost a guarantee you’ll see some variety of whale in Monterey Bay as they love how deep the water is here. We saw humpback whales on our trip out. Take a jacket, even if it’s summer! It can be pretty windy and chilly out on the pacific. Allow yourself some time to walk around on the pier as there are several restaurants and gift shops. Our favorite was the candy store.
Wonderful state park that offers amazing trails through a grove of Monterey Cypress, along seaside cliffs, tide pools, and beautiful white sand beaches! See my post about this magical little park here.
If looking for a place to stay or camp, I highly recommend Morgan Hill Thousand Trails campground. They offer RV sites to accommodate any size rig, tent sites, and cabin rentals. It is a membership park but they do allow non-members with reservations. There are several turkeys and deer, a pretty creek (that is federally protected so unfortunately you can’t play in the water), and if it rains head up to their trail behind the family lodge as you might see the water coming down the mountain, makes a nice little waterfall. They also have recreation activities all weekend (and during the week in the summer) to keep the kids entertained if you just need a day to relax!