Bodega Bay

For some reason I always wanted to visit Bodega Bay. I liked the name mostly because it sounds like it should be in a tropical locale.  It’s actually just about an hour up the rugged California coast above San Francisco. So, on a long Thanksgiving weekend, that’s exactly where I am headed!!!

As I was driving around the area, I was surprised on how big it was. Nestled on the 55 mile stretch of Sonoma County, the bay itself spans along the Pacific Ocean. However, beyond two jetties, sits a calm and protected inlet which is home to the Bodega Bay Harbor.  This is where the activity is and most of the city.

As of the 2010 consensus there are about 1,077 residents living in this tiny town.

At one of many marinas in the harbor, Spud Point is home to the small fishing and commercial fleet that has been operating for generations. These brave souls tackle the rough waters off the Pacific to bring home their fare for all to enjoy. Except me that is, yuk on seafood.  Too bad because they say it is top notch in these parts.

This was evidenced in Spud Point Marina where we saw a few lucky restaurants with at least 40 people lined up to either get in or order their food.  

The Scenery:

The road that winds around the harbor allows you views of rustic docks and quaint marinas as well as a clear view way across where all you see is open land.  You can easily find a place to rent Kayaks/SUPS or schedule a whale watching trip.  Private charters can also take you on deep sea fishing trips so you can try your hand angling for salmon, halibut, or rock fish.

There are abundant hiking and biking trails inside or outside of the harbor that offer amazing views.    We drove into the parking lot of one of the coves and were rewarded with a breathtaking scene and a colorful sunset.  It almost looked like a tropical locale!

 

The sun rays stirred up magnificent colors as trees sparkled, the cat-tail grass glistened, and the hills became a dazzling green.

More about Town:

For the more active of you, this protected inlet is a perfect place for windsurfing and kite surfing.

The town itself is about as charming as you get yet has enough to do for your everyday tourist.   Along the harbor are inviting shops, galleries, cafes, fine dining, lodging, etc. 

Colorful kite shops are just a stone’s throw from seaside restaurants where blissful diners are enjoying the panoramic view on shaded patios.

Some of the residents live on the hills above, giving them a bird’s eye view of the water.

Besides the many beaches along the ocean side, the Doran Regional Park provides miles of open sand where you don’t have to hike down a bluff.   You do have to pay to get in but a nominal fee to be that close.   However, there are plenty of cliff areas that provide parking, although you have to actually get out of your car and hike down a trail to the beach. 

We were too lazy for that, but we stopped in to enjoy the picturesque views.

Continue reading “Bodega Bay”

Jenner Beach

From our hotel in Guerneville, we decided to drive about 25 minutes to the coast to Jenner Beach.  It is a scenic drive that takes you through tiny towns, redwoods, tree lined roads, until you reach your final destination at Highway 1.

Whenever you come in from an inland route and reach the coastline up here in Northern California, it is just enough to take your breath away.  The rugged shoreline is filled with rock formations, tiny coves, and beaches overflowing with small to large pieces of driftwood. On this day the sun was shining and illuminating the Pacific Ocean to a beautiful sparkling blue.

Once we reached the end of the road, we decided to head north first.   We were driving higher and higher and soon realized that the only way to touch the sand was to descend a bluff from one of the trails.

However, from this elevated vantage point we could see a few miles south, that there were people on the beach and nearby was a sea level parking lot.  Exactly what we were looking for!    That is where we will be going, but now how to get there?  The Russian River mouth divided us from our destination and there were no signs of a bridge, so we had to back track a little.

Driving away from the shore, we soon passed over the river and came upon a sign that said Goat Rock Beach…this had to be it.  We drove by hiking trails with scenic outlooks and even saw a deer or two along the way. We finally descended to what I had hoped…an easy access to the beach.

We found the parking lot that was seen from a distance and soon made our way onto the sand.

Goat Rock is an enormous flat rock formation that you can see from miles away. On research later, I read that it was named many years ago, when they used it for herding goats because of its flat surface.

Also nearby is Arch rock, a grand formation with the inside weathered away giving it its appropriate name. I looked through my telephoto lens thinking that it would be cool to take a kayak through it.   However, I actually saw waves breaking inside the arch, so I am thinking that’s probably not a good idea.

On this semi warm day in November, we chose to beach-comb along the long stretch of sand just north of the rock.  The sand was a darker color unlike its neighbor beaches in Southern California. The water’s edge on this day was sloped a little with the large waves fiercely crashing on the land. I knew to stay away but lifeguards from time to time had to remind beachgoers of the dangers, via loudspeaker.  You could easily get swept away and the currents here are really bad.

A few surfers were taking advantage of the sizable waves but not much else was happening in or near the water.  Everyone else was just enjoying the day, safe on the sand. 

As we moved closer to the river mouth, I heard the faint sound of a handheld whistle.  I looked up and, on the bluff, I saw that someone was waving their arms. I was not sure if they were waving at me or someone else.  Then I saw about 50 feet ahead of us there were about 10 seals basking in the sun.  I had heard that sometimes seals can be aggressive, so I was grateful for the warning, or they simply wanted us to leave them be.  I waved back and headed in the opposite direction.

Soon after, a man grabbed my arm and started pulling me along.  I was in a low spot where the ocean water actually flows into the river as the tide gets higher.   It wouldn’t have swept me in as it was only less than knee high, but I would have gotten wet. So, I thanked my hero and kept an eye out from then on in.

Beachcombing and sea glass hunting makes you keep your eyes down, but I have to learn to look up once in a while, especially at a new beach.   I read later that the shoreline in Sonoma County has very dangerous rip currents, undertows, and you can easily be swept off your feet as mentioned, especially children.

Jenner is a stunning beach where there is no mistake that you are in the more picturesque and less populated part of California.  There were dozens of rock formations offshore, in fact more than I think I have ever seen before.

We came back the next day because we loved it so much.

I didn’t get any photos of the town, maybe because there isn’t much of one.  With a population of around 150, there is mostly homes and a few cute shops, restaurants, and places to stay.  It is a romantic and quaint get-away location.

With the Russian river so close, you can also, rent Kayaks/Sups or hike on the many spectacular trails.

We drove around and saw some other beaches and actually started to drive north again but this time towards the community of Sea Ranch.  To get there from where we were, you have to drive the anxiety inducing Highway 1.   It twists and turns on super high sheer cliffs and in a lot of places there aren’t any guard rails.

I remember taking this road long ago when I wasn’t the driver.  On the outside rail, I looked down once at one of the higher points. I never looked down again, it was, of course an awe-inspiring sight but scary as heck!!!

 So on this day, even though I was on the inside rail going north, I knew coming back, I would be on the outside with it possibly getting dark… No thanks, I turned around while I could.

Afterall, I was on vacation and wanted to get the stress out, not add to it.

We headed back to our hotel in Guerneville and planned to go north to visit Fort Bragg on one of the next few days. However, it wouldn’t be from Highway 1!!!!!

See the past story on Fort Bragg here: https://staycationscalifornia.com/2018/09/05/fort-bragg-2/

For tomorrow it is on to Bodega Bay, see story here: https://staycationscalifornia.com/2022/01/20/bodega-bay/

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Guerneville

It’s another four day weekend and we are anxious to get away from home yet again. The office is closed down so nothing to worry about for the entire time!

It had been a while since we journeyed up to Northern California above San Francisco, so that was the plan for this trip.

From friends posting photos on Facebook, I become aware of some unknown hidden jewels  along the northern coast . So the first stop would be a little coastal area called Jenner Beach, then Bodega Bay, and, possibly Fort Bragg.

Not wanting to grind the first days , we decided to stay in Kettleman City just off from the Interstate 5.  It was strictly a half way point and only for sleeping. 

The next day we set out for Guerneville. Yes ,Guerneville…a place, I have never heard about but is actually pretty popular with visitors from San Francisco.  This peaceful little village would be our home base for a few days while we spent each day visiting those aforementioned coastal cities.  We choose Guerneville because it is next to the Russian River and along with our mostly planned beach activities, just maybe we could try some river fishing

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A few miles from the 101 Freeway, Guerneville  (pronounced without the second ‘e’ )  is home to about 4,500 residents. This small and quirky town is situated in the Russian River Valley part of Sonoma County. 

The central area is a vibrant mix of unique shops and restaurants with colorful facades.

In parts,  we felt like we were in small town USA with old Rexall signs and theaters that looked like they were from the 60’s.  It was an eclectic mix of retro and now.  They even had a 5 & 10 market, one that you rarely see these days.

For wine lovers and beachcombers, more than 50 wineries are within a 20-minute drive while the coast is only about a half hour away.

On our first day in Guerneville, we set out down the road to a small sandy beach next to the Russian River to try our hand at fishing.  The slow moving river weaves around town under the watchful eye of the tall and majestic redwoods. Redwoods and an occasional tree changing color, makes for a stunning back drop.

The beautiful scenery made up for the lack of luck on the fishing line, not a nibble or a bite. However, river fishing isn’t our forte so we weren’t expecting much.   The locals told us that salmon and steelhead are what you catch mostly in these parts. It was still worth the time when you are out in nature  and in such an amazing setting.

On one of our days, we ventured up to Fort Bragg from Guerneville where our car’s GPS took us off the beaten path and through freshly blooming vineyards. The rows and rows of grapes were ablaze in color, while a newly launched hot air balloon was giving its passengers a thrill of a lifetime.

When you drive the other way, towards the coast, it is only 14 miles but it takes longer because of the zig-zagging roads, making for a slower pace.  Meandering through the two-lane road, you will pass by tiny communities and more of the towering redwoods.

The winter days in California are much shorter so we decided we had enough time and daylight hours left to head to the coast!   Now it was off to Jenner Beach!

See the Jenner story here: https://staycationscalifornia.com/2022/01/20/jenner-beach

Story and Photos by: Debbie Colwell

Parting Shots: Nearby Guerneville, an old theater still stand.

Pismo Beach

I must admit, that these Covid 19 shutdowns has made it extremely hard to be active. I’ve become so lazy in fact, that it has taken me a while to write this story.  So, pay no attention to the Christmas lights in the photos even though we are only a few weeks shy of the start of summer.

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this piece about an amazing town on the Central Coast of California, otherwise known as Slo Cal.  This moniker is fitting, as this part of the coastline has a slower pace and is less populated than other seaside counties.  So, it is no wonder that this story is written by an equally slow and sluggish, ‘former shutdown survivor’.

Pismo Beach and Everything Nearby:

My brain was screaming, “I need to get out!!”   More specifically out of town!  After being locked up by Covid 19, it was time for a staycation.

You know, California gets a bad rap because of the political climate and policies; therefore, I am not touching on those subjects with a ten-foot pole.  What I’m talking about is travel and exploration while taking the time to discover all that this state has to offer. There are tons of beaches, mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers, streams, plus so much more!

So, we leave the current events at home and head up our incredible coast to, Pismo Beach.

Covid Times:

Traveling during the Covid 19 crisis is a lot different than at other times as it provided a few challenges. For one, all the restaurants were closed for any kind of dining while California was in one of its more restrictive tiers.  So, we knew take-out would be the order of the day… make that morning and night too.

On the bright side, traffic was nonexistent as we decided to travel in the morning instead of the dreaded rush- hour that we know oh so well in Southern California. 

This was a time when people were still isolating themselves so we suspected the weekend would be filled with another challenge, social distancing. 

Our goal was to get outside and enjoy ocean breezes as well as much needed… fresh air. Between going to the beach and fishing as we planned, we could easily separate ourselves from other people. 

The drive went by surprisingly fast as we made it up the coast in record time.  It was only four hours from our starting point of North County San Diego.

Even though it was the beginning of our winter, Mother Nature still treated us to a weekend of beautiful weather. The nights were cool, but the days were pleasant and comfortable.

Only a few blocks from the pier, our hotel was just steps from the beach and not at a price that would break the bank either. It wasn’t fancy but it was clean and fresh which was fine with us.

The beach on the north side of the pier was expansive and seemed to go on for miles. Taking advantage of the agreeable weather, there were tons of people wandering about on the sand.  You were hard pressed to come within 50 feet of any of them, which made social distancing not a problem.

As the day faded away,  the sunset was gorgeous as the vibrant oranges splashed the sky like they often do in the short winter days in California.

Pismo Pier:

As a center piece in the city, the Pismo Pier is quaint and simple.  A huge colorful sign at the base of the pier lets visitors know exactly where they are…P-I-S-M-O  B-E-A-C-H.

At 1,200 feet long, the pier is short compared to others and it is absent of the other normal features such as, restaurants, cafes, and shops. In their place were three silver Streamline trailers situated at the entrance. 

Although they were closed for the evening, we saw at least one that had a food menu and a cozy little seating area. We made a note to come back in the daylight hours although we assumed that it would be closed because of Covid restrictions.

The Pier at night. Streamliner at the right.

Maybe in the future, when we are allowed to sit down in a restaurant, this would be a great place to kick back and enjoy the backdrop of this sprawling scenic shoreline.

The Seaside:

Although Pismo is one of the more visited towns along the Central Coast, it still has the charm of a smaller one. The shoreline is brimming with spectacular cliffs and offshore rock formations while the big blue Pacific Ocean, dances in the background.

One very wonderful feature about Pismo Beach is that they allow dogs to romp around on the sand, albeit, only with a leash.

It is a small price to pay to have our furry friends along with us to enjoy the day…or night.

Even though it was a chilly winter evening by California standards, there were dozens of people out- and- about on this weekend night.

A short walk to the pier led us to that large illuminated sign where tourists were taking photos and enjoying the night air. Just steps from the pier entrance, the clinking of glasses blended with the scent of freshly prepared sea food.

This is the heart of the city where locals as well as visitors go to eat, drink, and shop.  

Shell Beach:

The next day, the sun was straining to free itself from the clouds, so we bundled up, and headed to explore the general area a little more.

Up the road from our hotel, sits the small community of Shell Beach. 

Essentially, it’s a part of Pismo Beach although you would be hard pressed to find it on a map. 

This small town is perched high on the bluffs, so to reach the beach you either use a trail or a man-made stairway.

We found an entrance area where sturdy stairs allowed you quick access to a rocky beach.

However, the waves were crashing violently onto the cliffs so there was no way we could make it all the way to water’s edge. Luckily, I had my trusty tide ‘ap’ and determined that the high tide had peaked and it was headed towards low.

So, we decided that we would buy some time and go fishing eleven miles up the coast to the wharf at Avila Beach. Avila Beach is another place you should check out while in the area.

Avila Beach Wharf

A few hours later, we made our way back and sure enough the tide had receded enough for us to safely step on to the beach. It is amazing that only a few hours earlier we could have risked our lives just standing where we were now.

I am a beachcomber, so I was looking forward to seeing what this place had to offer.  Sea glass is what I search for first but, sadly there wasn’t much. I think I found two pieces. Nor were there many shells which begged the question, why is it called Shell Beach?

Researching it later, evidently there are shells, we just didn’t see them when we were there.

Regardless, these are tremendously scenic beaches to explore, even if you don’t beachcomb. However, just as a suggestion, pay attention to the tides because they can make a difference in your day.

Driving on the Beach:

Speaking of tides, yet again they can determine your activities for the day.

Another unique feature of Pismo Beach is the fact that you can drive your car or truck on the beach.

There is a designated area just south of town where you can pay a small fee and actually take your vehicle out onto the sand.

We stopped by one day right before sunset and were surprised that it was only five dollars for the whole day usage.

Even though daylight was waning, you could see cars and trucks for miles.  Some were parked and bon fires were already being set up for the evening. 

It was interesting that they just let you dig a hole and create as large of a fire as you want.

We considered paying the nominal fee to experience this uncommon activity but decided against it after talking to the guard at the gate and reading the brochure.

We were informed that cars without four-wheel drive were only allowed at certain times, mainly because of the sand condition.

There are periods where the sand is hard and impacted, making it easy to drive on.  All of this is determined once again by the tides.

The brochure said to keep on the paths but with my inexperience and the impending low visibility, I decided, maybe another day.

Luckily, I was able to experience this many years ago, but I highly recommend it for any of you that are visiting the area.

Butterfly’s are Free:

Heading back into town, there is another rare experience, the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.

At least 10,000 butterflies flock annually to this Eucalyptus grove in south Pismo. 

Seeking shelter from the cold, these vibrant orange monarchs nestle high up into the trees where you can barely see them with the naked eye.

The day we visited, binoculars were available to be checked out but, my cameras telephoto easily viewed them close up.

It is a must see especially since it is free, unfortunately, they only migrate here in the months of October to February.

A Short Weekend Comes to an End:

The warm and inviting aroma of a warm cinnamon bun hit our nostrils like a Mack truck.

So we took a short walk to find out where that appealing smell was coming from. Judging by the line at the door, others were being lured here also. 

Lines at doors are common, as the food in Pismo Beach is exceptionally delicious.

On other trips, while traveling up the coast, I have had to pull into town just so a friend or two can get the local clam chowder. Chowder that they claim is one of a kind. 

But cinnamon buns? Not exactly sea food, but I was going to wait in line, darn it!

They were worth the wait and easily gobbled down.

Pismo Beach is a lively town, it reminds me of a college town where bars and restaurants are abundant. Yet, it still has that small-town feel.

With belly full, we took one more stroll on the beach to say goodbye to the Christmas tree lights at the tip of the pier.

Delicious food, driving on the beach, butterflys, scenic beaches, and warm cinnamon buns, what else could you ask for?  

So consider the vibrant Pismo Beach for one of your California staycations, you won’t be sorry.

Photos and story: Debbie Colwell

The Long Beach Peninsula

Situated at the border of Los Angeles and Orange County is the eclectic city of Long Beach. This city is so full of life with its non stop shipping port, visitor attractions, seaport villages, water activities, and piers.

I find this town very appealing even though I know it has its downfalls and not so lovely parts.  However, this can be the case with many cities.  

There is so much to see in the Long Beach Harbor area, so that is where my trusty sedan takes me every time I am in the area. 

There is nothing like cruising down Shoreline Drive where you catch glimpses of the historical ship Queen Mary as it sits idly across the bay.  You’ll also pass by the refurbished ‘Pike’ area with its many stores and restaurants available to satisfy any tourist or visitor.

One building you can’t miss happens to be one of the most iconic sites in Long Beach, the convention center.  This huge circular structure is made even more unique as every inch of it is painted with giant whales and ocean scenes courtesy of the renowned artist,  Wyland.

However, we weren’t traveling in that area today as we were headed to the south end of Long Beach on one of our exploratory Sunday drives.  We were driving to the Long Beach Peninsula.

The Peninsula:

This peninsula has the beautiful Alamitos Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.  A man-made breakwater keeps the waves from reaching the shore, so don’t expect to be doing any surfing. On most days the water is calm, but the area can get very windy which bodes well for a different kind of sport.

As you make your way towards the coast from Second Avenue you are greeted at the entrance of the peninsula.  Here you get your first glimpse of the thrill seekers who take advantage of the aforementioned windy conditions…kite surfers. Dozens of colorful kites fly through the air with their passengers attached to surfboards and hanging on for dear life. They make it look easy although there is no way it is.

There is an area where they give lessons and I briefly thought that it might be fun, but only briefly.  I don’t think I am strong enough and sadly for me, it looks like a sport far from my physical capabilities.

However, it is enjoyable sitting there watching the collage of color streaking across the sky.  Every now and again a high speed rider catches a gust of wind which propels them far up into the air.  Yeah, I think lessons would be a waste of money for me.

Kite surfers packing up for the evening.

Where Dogs Run Free:

You could watch for hours but we had a furry friend with us that was anxious to visit the nearby Rosie’s Dog Beach.  About a mile from the Kite surfing area sits this crowded beach filled with both humans and canines alike. There is a large parking lot and I always managed to find a spot even on a summer day.

There are human bathrooms nearby and the dogs go…well in the sand.  There are bags situated around for this and everyone is very responsible about picking up after their dogs mess.

As with the kite surfing area, there is plenty of sandy beach and it takes time to get from the parking lot to the water’s edge.  Every color, shape, and size of dog can be seen roaming around with a few making occasional visits to your pup as Rosie’s beach is leash free.

With no waves or ocean movement, the shore isn’t exactly Caribbean or Hawaiian quality. Don’t expect to swim in a crystal clear blue sea, but, the dogs didn’t seem to mind as they frolicked in the water as if they were in heaven.

Pedestrian and bicycle trail.

More Beach: With a tired pooch in tow, we now headed south into the peninsula towards the south end.   On the east side, beautiful homes line the bayside with small sandy areas directly out front.  The same on the west side although their backyard beach extends way further as it makes its way to the shore. This is not a crowded area so you can walk for miles without seeing many people.

At the beginning of the peninsula there is a boat rental dock where you can also hire a gondola to take you through the Naples canals.  This is another reason why I like this area; you must visit the canals during the Christmas Holidays.  See this story on the canals.

At one point we parked right in the middle of the peninsula to put our toes in the sand and set eyes on the ocean.    I was a little disappointed when I made it to water’s edge and saw a distinct line of left over plastic and bottle caps strewn around.   I am hoping that it is because we just had a storm and that it wasn’t like that on a normal basis.    

At the very end of the peninsula, two separated jetties designate the entrance to the harbor.  A public parking lot allows you to get out and enjoy the activity of the boats flowing in and out of the bay.   

Across the waterway, the Ballast Point restaurant has a perfect location for its patrons to sit with a full water view.  You can also stretch your legs and walk along the jetty or throw out your poles to fish.

Homeward Bound As with any Sunday drive, it isn’t meant to last forever, and it was time to leave.  We saw plenty of eye candy for one day and we definitely relaxed for a bit.  I got some beach combing in, we all saw some great sites, and our pooch was able to meet new friends.

 It scores at least a solid nine for a Sunday drive and would have probably gained a ten if we were able to enjoy a meal along the trendy Second Avenue area.  Sadly, Covid 19 shut them down for a few weeks.

That will have to be for another time and believe me, there will be one.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Ships inside as well as outside of the breakwater.
Another day ending at the entrance to Alamitos Bay and the end of the peninsula.