Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park has only been a national park since 2013. Dan visited back when it was a national monument when we lived in California years ago. 

It's important to know that the park has no through roads, and there are two entrances. The west entrance is obviously closer to Monterey, and has a couple of good hiking trails, but the camping and most of the services are on the east side of the park.  We decided to go on a Sunday afternoon with some of Dan's friends. 

If you don't have a National Parks pass, there is a fee of $15/vehicle to enter the park. We stopped at the visitor's center to get our passport stamps and pick up a map and some hiking suggestions from the rangers.You can find a map of the park online here to plan out your day. 

We debated whether to take the popular but short Balconies Cave trail, or the longer High Peaks hike. Since we arrived late in the day, I convinced the men we should take the easy but interesting Balconies Cave trail and save the longer hike for a day when we had more time and cooler weather. Here are some of the views from the trail.

Just so you know, they aren't kidding when they say you will need a flashlight for the cave. Headlamps are the best because you have to do some climbing with your hands through the cave as well. 

The weather was about 20 degrees warmer than on the coast, so it was a nice break from the fog and chilly "summer" weather in Monterey. We will be back again to do a longer hike next time or some camping.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Point Pinos Lighthouse

The Point Pinos Lighthouse is in our town of Pacific Grove, CA. While we were there visiting, we heard a lot of people saying that they had living or been coming to PG for years and had never stopped in to visit. Don't be that person. 

The lighthouse is set up much like it would have been before it was automated, and has some nice historical artifacts and explanations of how the lighthouse works. It also discusses what it was like to live and work in the light house. You can climb the stairs to the top and get a look at the lens from inside. There is a small room at the top of the stairs with the most amazing ocean view, but I for some reason, did not get a picture! The area around the lighthouse is mostly golf courses, so it feels very remote. It is the longest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast, and worth a quick visit!


Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Our first California camping trip was to Big Basin Redwoods State Park which is about 1.5 hours north of Monterey, just about 40 minutes north of Santa Cruz. We made reservations on reserveamerica.com as soon as they became available 7 months in advance, and it looked like all the campgrounds were full when we were there. We were in the Wastahi Campground, which is walk in, but our site was right by the car and bathrooms. One of the trails through the park also ran along the back of our campsite, so it was by no means the most private site. However, we were camping among redwoods and it really didn't bother us. 

We left after school on Friday and got there in plenty of time to set up camp before it got dark. We started a fire first thing and had nice hot coals cooking our Sausage and Veggies tin foil meals while we set up. They were delicious, and we ate by citronella candle-light. The site includes a fire ring and bear box, and they ask that you keep crumbs to a minimum because of some invasive bird species that thrive on unwatched and dropped food. It is also very buggy, but we covered ourselves in bug spray and barely got bit. If you have a screened in dining canopy, I would bring it!

The next day we packed a lunch and headed out for a hike. There are lots of trails of varying difficulty, so get advice from the park rangers. We headed out on a trail to see a waterfall, which could have been a full day loop trail, but I was not feeling well and we decided to turn around once we saw the waterfall. Be forewarned, you are hiking into a basin, not up a mountain, so the way back with be harder! The walk was beautiful with lots of big trees.

Dan needed to do some studying, so we headed back to our campsite in the afternoon and just hung out, reading and playing some games. If we had been looking for more to do, we could have done one of the many other easy trails around the park, or visited the small museum.

The following day we planned to stop and do a little exploring on the way home, so we packed up early and went for one last walk on the level, accessible path by the park headquarters, which takes you past the Mother and Father of the forest, and many other trees that are great for photos. We were up early, so we had the whole path to ourselves.

On the way home we had planned to stop in Santa Cruz to explore, but there was a race going on, and the streets were crowded and parking non-existent. So instead, we went to Capitola and had lunch in a place overlooking the water called the Paradise Beach Grill, which had a beautiful view, but the food was overpriced and mediocre. 

I think we will go back again to Big Basin Redwoods. They have some tent cabins for the less adventurous, or for colder weather, and more trails we did not explore. If we were to go back, I think I would also like to take the Roaring Camp Railroads tour either into Santa Cruz, or maybe on a moonlight dinner party. 

This is a great place to go that is not too far from Monterey, but has some great sights!


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Friday, August 19, 2016

Berkeley Kite Festival

As I was planning things for us to do here in California, I came across a website called Everfest that lets you look up the festivals in your area and will even send you reminders when those events are coming up. I had fond memories of attending the Avodcado Festival with the Newcamps years ago and thought we could check some out.

Dan has recently received a kite as a gift, and has been wanting to better learn how to use it (it's fancy, don't ask me), so I thought he might like this kite festival in Berkeley. It turns out everyone likes the kite festival in Berkeley, and it's FREE (except for parking). It was seriously crowded. I wish we could have ridden bikes from near-by because the parking was far away and the lines for the shuttle were long!

We didn't arrive until about 3pm on Sunday but the events were in full swing. There were tons of kites in the sky, from a little kid's plastic CVS kite, to giant squid kites. The event is in a big field overlooking the city with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from some directions. I unfortunately, brought a camera with no memory card (face-palm) so iPhone photos is all we've got. We brought our folding Mayfly chairs which were perfect, but a blanket would have been good too. There was plenty of space to plop down and watch the main events, and eat some festival food. The did have a tent that sold mangos and other fruit that was cut up right in front of you. It was a nice change from the usual fried food.

We only stayed for about two hours, but honestly, it was enough for us to enjoy it. This is a great event for kids, make sure you bring them a kite to fly. You can bring an all-terrain stroller, but you might be happier with backpacks for little kiddos.

Next year,  I would be there when it opens on Saturday and leave around lunch time, head to Berkeley Bowl to get lunch and check out their famously large produce section, and then combine with one of the museums on the Blue Star Museums pass this summer (there are three, go here to check it out) or a walk around the UC Berkeley campus which I hear is very nice.
P. S. It's hard to communicate the number of kites with a simple iPhone photo, so don't be turned off by these pictures. The sky was literally full of kites. It was very cool. We watched some kite dancing which was also impressive.

Happy Exploring!


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Point Lobos

Whew! Moving is exhausting. We are finally in California! This weekend we finally felt ready to go do some more exploring (other than Ikea). We didn't have to go far - Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is only 15 minutes from our house in Pacific Grove. Here are some stats on our trip:

Point Lobos SNR
Fees: $10/vehicle (Or California State Park Pass)
Parking: limited (especially later in the day, and in summer)
Activities: Hiking/Walking, History, Wildlife viewing
Recommended time: 3-5 hours
Bring: Picnic, Layers (including for wind), sunscreen, water, good shoes, camera, binoculars

Point Lobos is right off Route 1 and easy to get to. We read somewhere that especially on summer weekends, parking inside the park is limited and may require walking in from the road if you arrive after 10am. We arrived shortly before 10am and still found a few spots left at the southern end of the park, but much later and I think we would have been out of luck. When we left the park at 1:30pm, there were cars probably a half mile down Route 1. So get there early if you are lazy. I'm not sure if the cost is free if you walk in.

The admission cost is $10/vehicle to drive in, but if I had planned ahead I would have bought the California State Parks Annual Pass. They sell the "California Explorer" pass at the gate, but not the "Golden Poppy." The "Golden Poppy" pass is $70 less, because it does not include all the cool southern California beaches, which for us, are kind if a far drive anyway. At $125/year, the Golden Poppy pass should easily pay for itself even if we only go to a park once a month. I've bought the pass online now and I will try to keep a tally of how many parks we use it for and how quickly it pays for itself.

A map is not included in the cost of admission (saving paper?), so print one off before you leave here, or buy one for $2.  We started from a parking spot near Weston Beach, and headed north. There was no information here, so we just walked and enjoyed the view until we got to the main parking area where there were park rangers and a map. From there we made a plan and headed out around the rest of the point. I'm including a super high tech photo of what we did, so you can see how much ground you can cover in 2.5 hours.  We took our time, took pictures, and the walk is easy. I don't feel like this should need to be said, but I saw a few frustrated families with strollers. This hike is family friendly, and even toddlers should be able to handle at least a portion of the walk, but bring a backpack, not a stroller if you want to explore the whole place.

Highlights of the walk were sea lions at Sea Lion Point, the cyprus grove, and the whaling museum. The best place for a picnic lunch is at the southern end of the road, at Hidden beach, with many picnic tables in shade or sun, overlooking the ocean. By the time we reached this area the clouds had started to roll in. If we went back, I would drive all the way to the end and park in the circle, then walk the South Plateau trail to Whaler's Cove, then make my way around the point and back to the car for a picnic. If you want to spend the whole day, you could do some tide pooling or playing on some of the rocky beaches. For a sandy beach, combine this day trip with Carmel River Beach just under a mile away.

Okay, enough words, picture time.

Happy exploring!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Coming Soon!

I learned the last time around in California that the state parks are beautiful, but if you want to camp, you had better be on your game making reservations.  The Newcamps were always good at planning ahead with reservations with flexible cancellation policies, but we won't be able to just tag along on their pre-arranged trips anymore, so I am doing my best to plan ahead. I'm making a wishlist and already scheduling trips.

My goal is to do one "big" (further away, multiple sites to see) weekend per month, one small local trip (maybe just overnight) and then have two weekends for exploring our local area and day trips.  I'm definitely hoping to find some adventurous friends who are up for a morning hike or bike ride once a week as well!

* A note on camping in California state parks *
Reservations if available, are made primarily through the Reserve America website. Parks open a whole month block of dates at the beginning of each month, seven months in advance. So all of August became available February 1st. The website has a feature that sends you a reminder when a site is available for your chosen date, but for some reason by the time I got a notification, the sites were all gone for Big Sur state parks. I set my own alarm for March 1st and was able to snag a site in Limekiln State Park for September, but within a few days every weekend spot for September was gone.  The cancellation policy is pretty good, I think you lose an $8 reservation fee, but I believe you could also pass on your reservation to another person, so it's worth just grabbing a site or two when they become available. 

Here are my plans so far:

August 2016

Big Basin Redwoods State Park - about and hour and 30 minutes north of Monterey around the bay this state park is close to Santa Cruz and a little town called Capitola that I've read is worth seeing. The park has tent cabins with wood stoves that we might try in the colder months, but in August I have reserved us a tent site.

September 2016

Mendocino, CA - This location is about 4 hours from Monterey, so we needed a long weekend to make it worth the drive. I've heard amazing things about the area and I'm still doing some research into what to see and do. I've found probably the prettiest Airbnb ever to stay in, so stay tuned for photos!

Big Sur, CA - Limekiln State Park has beach sites as well as creek views and redwood groves. It is about an hour south of the town of Big Sur, and an hour north of San Simeon.  I think it will be a great location for exploring the area.

October 2016

Mount Tam - All over the internet and pinterest I find rave reviews about the cabins at Steep Ravine on Mount Tamalpais. If I can get us a reservation on April 1st I will feel like a reserveamerica.com ninja! I have heard they are very difficult to book, but that the campsites are also nice.  So don't ask me to do anything at 10am central time on April first, because I have plans!

So that's what I am planning for my first fall in California! Any readers with suggestions on what we should add to the list?  I'm working on an Ultimate Bucket List, and would love suggestions!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Travel Gear: My Five Favorites

Confession: I am a total gear junkie.  I love to have the right gear for every activity.  When it comes to travel, the right gear can make you more comfortable and can greatly influence your enjoyment of your trip.  No one wants to be cold or wet, have sore feet, a sore back or a numb arm from dragging a rolling suitcase over miles of cobblestones.  Here are some of my favorite items I've accumulated over the years.

1. Fjallraven Totepack No. 1 - $110 - I had never heard of this brand until I wandered into their store in Jackson Hole, WY (useful souvenir score!), and I fell in love! I wanted to buy everything in the store, in every color available, especially their completely adorable mini kanken! This pack is great because it is a tote or one of the handles can be pulled through to make two backpack straps. Its a great carry on because it slides easy under an airplane seat and zips at the top so your stuff won't fall out and roll to the back of the plane on take-off (am I the only one who worries about this?). It isn't so big that it is overwhelming, but not too small either.  I fit my DSLR camera, two jackets and some reading material no problem.

2. Columbia Women's Mighty Lite III - $110 - I bought an older version of this jacket at the Columbia outlet store for a much better price and it is a great jacket!  It has the "Omni-Heat" interior, which is like a space blanket on the inside and I think makes this jacket really warm. It is so light an pack-able compared to a regular winter jacket. I brought this jacket to the Netherlands and layered it with a raincoat and was comfortable all the time. On warmer days biking I was too warm and had to unzip! I could see myself even bringing this jacket on a winter/ski type vaca as a nice, light alternative to wearing a heavy winter coat the whole time.  

3. Osprey Ozone Convertible  50L/22"- $300 - Again, I bought this on sale! But it still would have been worth it, in my opinion.  I bought this bag for a 16 day Europe trip, and it was great!  I was undecided on this trip whether I wanted a backpack style bag for all the train travel, uneven European village roads, or if I wanted a rolling bag.  This was one of the few bags on the market that can do both.  WARNING - it is not very big!!  You must be a master packer to make this work!  I usually plan to do laundry at least once.  But packing light is a whole different topic... One thing I love about this bag is the zip off day pack.  You can attach it when you are wearing the bag as a backpack, or take it off to hold just the necessities when you are out sightseeing for the day.  Be aware that with the day pack attached, the bag will no longer be carry on size, but I usually just use the smaller bag as one of our "personal items" or zip it on mostly empty.  Also be careful you don't knock people/ things over while wearing the bag with it attached and you might want to make beeping noises when you back up.  As a rolling bag this bag is also amazing- it is small but has wide set wheels, so unlike other bags we own it doesn't tip over, and is super easy to just pick up for stairs, etc.  I love this bag!

4. Vans Classic Slip-on - $60 - If you like to walk everywhere like we do, a good shoe makes so much difference.  I am weirdly obsessed with these Vans I bought recently.  I know I am late to the party, but they are my first pair of Vans and I would buy them in other colors too! The black leather looks a little dressier for a sneaker and they look great with everything.  I want to wear them every day.  Just make sure you buy a few pairs of the little slip on socks.  They vans brand says on really well.

5. Paradox Women's Raincoat - $30-40 - I've never even heard of this brand but I was looking for a cheap raincoat in a dark neutral color to take to the Netherlands in February to wear over my Columbia down jacket (above).  This jacket is stylish looking and kept me nice and dry at half the price of a fancy brand name raincoat.  It was great! I loved the "Napoleon pocket" for keeping my transportation card in a safe place where it wouldn't fall out!  Combining this jacket with my lightweight down and some good layering was perfect for the cold and occasionally drizzly weather of the Netherlands.  The hood is generous enough that I didn't really need an umbrella either, which was great!

One last thing, a note on colors for those who like to match. If you are a free-spirit, skip this part!

For European travel - most Europeans in general don't wear bright colors. My Columbia down jacket is actually a bright red and if I could go back I would get black, because it blends much better!  The reason I needed a new raincoat was that my other raincoat is a lovely shade of light teal, which combined with fire engine red might burn some retinas.

So if you are spending lots of money on an investment piece, although black, grey or another neutral might sound boring to you, you will be thankful when you can walk around Europe without feeling like you have a "rob me, I'm American!" sign on your back.  If the idea of all black sucks out your soul, consider Olive or Plum?

When it comes to clothes, jackets, shoes, and even bags, stick to one color family.  Pick black or brown shoes and make sure everything matches with those.  You will save space and you will be less likely to buy things twice. Also consider colors that look good with both, like red or purples.

I hope you have found some great new ideas!

P.S. I did not receive any money or free stuff to review these items, I'm not that cool.  The opinions in this post are entirely my own.