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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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