Part Three, Monterey, Sand City

Part Three, Monterey, Sand City

Our home port was Half Moon Bay for the four day holiday weekend but we choose to explore north of there on one day and south on another.

On the third day we head south to our hotel in Santa Maria but first a stop in Monterey and Sand City for some sea glass hunting. Our fourth day we would slowly make our way back home towards San Diego with one quick stop In Ventura, and a little shopping in Camarillo.

Monterey and Sand City
I have driven through Monterey at least five times in my life and twice in the past few years alone. It has always been mostly a drive-by to sightsee or a quick stroll along its wharf. On this occasion we planned on spending a little more time in town and we especially wanted to visit Cannery Row.

Old meets new at Cannery Row

Sand City
Our first stop though, would be nearby Sand City for some sea glassing and beachcombing. This small town overlooks the Monterey Bay and has some of the highest sand dunes along the central coast.

This view from the Monterey wharf shows the bluffs of Sand City in the distance

I was given a tip that there is excellent sea glassing here so for that reason we headed straight for the sandy bluffs along the shoreline.

While there, I was able to speak to a few locals who proceeded to tell me about a trough that is situated just offshore and where a lot of the glass sits dormant.

Dedicated sea glass hunters don themselves in wetsuits and use long sand flea rakes to grab the glass either while it’s in the trough or while it rolls up on the sand by an incoming wave. This way they can grab it before that same wave takes it back out to sea. We witnessed two women standing in almost waist deep water at times, but catching chunks when the wave receded. From where I was it appeared that they were continually picking up pieces.

Since we didn’t have a wetsuit or a sea rake, we choose to stay dry and search further up on the sand, away from the water’s edge.

The beach seemed to go forever and was pretty much empty except for a few people walking their dogs or a handful of fellow sea glass hunters. To the south you could see the city of Monterey and to the north, the sand splashed cliffs stretched out as far as you could see.

Our hunting yielded tons of sea glass in all different shapes, but mostly white and all but a few were flat.
We also found a rare citron color and a piece of old pottery. All in all a good day with the findings frequent enough to keep my non-sea glass hunting crew interested.

Monterey Wharf
After a good two hours combing the sand, we finally made our way back to the car to drive over and check out the city of Monterey.

Our first stop was the waterfront where we were able to drive on top of one of the two piers in the city.

We parked long enough to admire the view of the beach and the section of cliffs where we just were only a few minutes earlier.

Fishermans Wharf is actually two wharves on the waterfront in Monterey. The older wooden pier has numerous shops and restaurants while the newer concrete version is more of a working pier with a few seafood restaurants, plus a fish market.

The multi colored buildings at the wharf and the moored boats floating idly on the bay make it one of the most picturesque cities in Northern California.

Cannery Row
You must go to historical Cannery Row even if it is just to drive through. Helping bring fame to this historical town was John Steinbeck who used Monterey and particularly Cannery Row as a literary inspiration. Steinbeck often uses this place in a lot of his novels and many a movie or TV series has used Monterey as a backdrop. Such is the case for the recent HBO series, ‘Big Little Lies’ starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

Some of the buildings of this old fishing/cannery town have now been updated with stores, restaurants, boutiques, and galleries, while some have kept their historical appearance. In fact there are over 25 restaurants, mostly seafood, and a few where you can dine right at the water’s edge. The iconic and waterside Bubba Gumps’s looked so inviting that I would bypass my aversion to seafood just to enjoy a meal while appreciating the majestic Monterey Bay!

No need for that as I found a place to snap a few shots while relaxing at a sun drenched bench overlooking the water. The cascading sun rays gave warmth on this rather cold November day, well cold by California standards.

Our happy shopping crew spent about an hour perusing the shops that included souvenirs, clothing, art, jewelry, and all sorts of novelty items.

I was content just sitting on my bench people watching. Only a bathroom break sent me looking through a promenade of various little stores and if I was so inclined to shop, this would be the perfect place. No wonder this is one of the foremost tourists spots in Northern California.

Located nearby, be sure and visit the world renowned Monterey Aquarium which has exhibits, programs, daily shows, and feedings.

Only about fifteen minutes away you have to take the scenic 17 mile drive that winds you around some of the prettiest shoreline in California. In addition, you will pass by one of the most prominent golf courses in the world, Pebble Beach.

You have to pay to take this drive but it is a nominal fee and well worth the money.

Monterey isn’t one of the smaller sleepy towns along this part of the coast but it is quaint enough. It is sophisticated with its fine dining and wineries, yet offers plenty of fun activities for the whole family.

Sadly, it was time to leave to head to Santa Maria for the evening.

We didn’t see much of Santa Maria as dark ascended and in the morning we would be hurriedly making our way down the coast to home. However, we saved enough time to appease the interests of our traveling crew by stopping in Camarillo at the outlet mall.

Not much to say about the outlet mall, it was…a mall. With tons of people beginning their Christmas shopping, it was crowded and parking spaces were rare. I have to say though, this was a huge outdoor mall with plenty of name brand stores and everything in between. As mentioned before, If I was a shopper I would have been in heaven, so afterwards we headed toward the beach where I really am in heaven.

I love the beach at Ventura where it is still un-crowded, well at least on this fall day it was. The sparkling blue Pacific Ocean was calm and the pristine sand, just like Sand City, seemed to go on forever. There was an abundance of driftwood on the beach and high tide was rolling in rocks making for some perfect sea glassing.

The beach at Ventura

It was calming taking a stroll along this relatively empty beach. With a three hour drive ahead of us, it was all the RX we needed.

Ventura also has a harbor and an active downtown area with over 50 restaurants, along with bars and shops. It needs to be explored longer than just a few hours, so I plan on staying a full weekend in the near future.

The harbor at Ventura

With a relaxed attitude we all entered the car to head home which meant going through Los Angeles, then Orange County, then San Diego County.

It was time to go back to a more crowded area and busier life, so goodbye “Slow Coast”* until we visit again.

*Slow Coast is a area in California below San Francisco where the smaller coastal towns are known for being quaint and quiet.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell


Part Two, Davenport, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Santa Cruz

Part Two,  Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Davenport, and Santa Cruz

Our home port was Half Moon Bay for the four day holiday weekend, however, our plan was to explore the nearby coastline north on one day and south on the other.

Half Moon Bay and other cities north were visited in part one of a three part story. So for part two of our trip and on the second day, we are headed down the coast towards Santa Cruz. We hadn’t considered going all the way to Santa Cruz even though it was only about an hour away. However, the drive was mellow with virtually no traffic, so we continued all the way to this larger coastal city.

Old Highway 1, north of Santa Cruz, south of Half Moon Bay

During the scenic hour long drive on the iconic Highway 1, we stopped at many beaches and state parks along the way. All we knew at the beginning was that we wanted to stop at the small town of Davenport on a search for some sea glass. The rest of the trip would be open to wherever the wind blew us. At our hotel, the elevator door had a huge photo and map of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse taken against a gorgeous orange sunset, so now this was on the list of places to see too.

I have heard people call this part of California; “the Slow Coast” because it is filled with small sleepy towns and Davenport is certainly one of those.

I wanted to visit Davenport Beach, because I had heard it is known for its sea glass hunting. There are videos on the internet of people using long scoops to grab the incoming sea glass before it gets pulled back out by the receding wave. With the water so cold up in Northern California, the hunters wear wetsuits and brave the incoming waves that can easily drag you out to sea.  I wanted to see this in action although my idea of sea glass hunting isn’t quite that extreme.

We did pull aside to visit a turn off just short of the actual town and combed the sand for sea glass.
Staying higher up on the beach and avoiding any incoming waves, we still managed to find a few pieces. I didn’t see anyone else hunting but it could have been the tide situation or this wasn’t the place I saw on the Youtube clips.

We drove a little further and came up the actual town of Davenport with its population of under 500 and one of those towns where if you blink, you just might miss it. There is another beach right in front of this area that is probably where I have seen the videos of the extreme sea glass hunters. We viewed the shoreline from the bluffs but since we had already tried our luck just a few minutes earlier, we decided not to take the trek down the hill.

The small town of Davenport on old Highway 1.

Continue reading “Part Two, Davenport, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Santa Cruz”

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, Part One

There is a moment when you realize you are no longer in Coastal Southern California and have now crossed the imaginary line into the central part.    It isn’t the road signs that give it away, it is a feeling.

That moment when the traffic has subsided, your jaw relaxes, you are no longer chewing on the side of your mouth, and your body feels less stressed.

Don’t get me wrong there is traffic in the larger cities of the coastal north too.  It is just that there are so many small, quaint, and mellow towns in the central or northern part that makes you feel like you are in a whole different world.

Our destination this time was Half Moon Bay.  It is a town I had passed by a few times on my way up north but one that I have always wanted to visit for a longer period.

So with four and a half days off from work, it was time to take the trek north and visit this town and many others as it turned out.

We took Interstate 5 to get there and were guided by GPS through a series of other freeways that eventually dropped us off in Half Moon Bay. It was a long trip that was not helped by the LA traffic with its stop and go.

We made a plan once we arrived in Half Moon Bay that we would investigate north one day and south the other.  On the third day we would slowly move our way south and visit among other places Monterey and Ventura.  We would spend the night in Santa Maria leaving us only three hours to get home on our last day.

It was a great plan and we never felt rushed.   Now all we had to do was try to avoid the rain that was predicted during our stay.

Part One starts at Half Moon Bay, then Pacifica, and eventually takes us over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to Sausalito.

Part One
The rain held off at least on this first day as we began exploration around Half Moon Bay. First stop was to hit the sand for some beach combing and sea glass hunting.

The bluffs were common place along the beaches in this area, making it very picturesque.  The towering and rugged cliffs contrasted against the pristine sand, while giant breakers came crashing on to the shore.

It looks like the water is going to hit JoJo, but there is about a three foot tall hill right ion front of her.

I was overwhelmed on how large the waves were as they formed huge peaks and then exploded on the beach.   There would be no way I would swim in that ocean or even to wade knee high!   It appeared as if the outgoing waves could pull you off your feet and send you spiraling out to sea only to be tumbled back to shore by another huge roller.     I am not sure if this is how it always is or if the waves were just big this day.

Regardless, it is an awesome beach so we took a leisurely walk for about an hour while alternating between enjoying the coastline and looking down at the sand for sea glass.  The Pacific Ocean was beautiful this day but there was no sea glass to be found. Continue reading “Half Moon Bay”

Harmony, California

Harmony, California

We were listening to a Dean Koontz book on tape that was getting spookier by the minute.  The author spoke of a small tranquil town on the central coast of California called Harmony Center.  However, it wasn’t as peaceful as it seemed as you discover while listening to the book.

Evidently an alien “being” was taking control of the minds of people in the town and getting them to do all sorts of weird stuff.  In some cases he took over the thoughts of people just passing through, but they were able to leave, the few residents couldn’t.

In the authors description of the town he depicts it as a short jaunt off of Highway 1 and just a few miles from the coast.   This small area had a gas station, a café, cottages, and one evil entity that was making residents slit their own faces or commit murder.

As the narrator was reciting the words from the final chapter of this book, we were driving on the central coast of California on Highway 1 near Cambria.  Just ahead was a sign for the upcoming city that read …Harmony, Population 18. Whaaaaaat?

So we just had to pull over and check out this little town.

I have to admit when I got out of the car, the hairs on my neck stood up.   I was thinking of that alien that takes over your mind.

Where we were, could have easily been that place.   This quaint little town was as charming as they get and a lot of it was as he described in the book.  Except this town had the feel of art and creativity!   I did a quick mind check and thankfully no alien was taking over my thoughts so off I went to explore more.

Along with a café, there was a pottery shop and a glass blowing store which gave this town that artisan ambiance.  At times they give glass blowing demonstrations but we weren’t’ there long enough to see this for ourselves.

There was also a welcome center complete with information and fresh coffee for the weary traveler as well as conversation or sitting areas scattered about.

It was a perfect place for a wedding as there was a cute little chapel and nearby there was plenty of space for the reception.   Lights were hung to enjoy the celebration through the night and quirky art statues added to the eclectic scene.

I would have really liked to stay longer and stroll around the shops but we had to leave. We were on a mission to get to our destination.

There is talk of restoring this town to be a must stop for travelers.  For right now, it is a hidden gem with lots of personality and I am glad we decided to stop and visit.

Five minutes later we were back in the car and listening to the last five minutes of that peculiar story.   I won’t tell you how it ends but I will tell you when in the central California area, check out the small stopover of Harmony, you will be glad you did.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell

Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Moonstone Beach, is just north of Cambria on the Central California coast.

Running parallel to Highway 1, Moonstone Beach Drive runs right along the picturesque bluffs of Moonstone Beach.    Since this is a popular area, hotels line the street with most of them featuring a sitting area out front for guests to enjoy the spectacular view.

I know from experience that the hotels are way more costly in the summer months as I tried to get a reservation during this time without much success.   They were booked pretty solidly through the warm months.

Across from the hotels you will find various entrances that lead down to the beach.  I say down, because you start on a bluff and descend from different spots.   Where we parked, it wasn’t that far to get to the sand,  while other areas had longer descents.

Wooden planked trails travel the distance of the bluffs so you can still enjoy the beach without actually being on the sand.   This is what I liked about the central coast, they always provide plenty of walking trails to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The beach itself is full of drift wood and one of the reasons that I feel makes it so spectacular.  From small pieces to large tree stumps, this beach had it all.  You don’t see a lot of drift wood in Southern California.

Continue reading “Moonstone Beach, Cambria”