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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve is quite the tongue twister but what the locals call it today and I what I called it when I was a kid is simply, the Back Bay.
Many, many years ago it was designated as an area for speed boats and water skiing. It was far away from the mansions and homes in the main bay so the noise and wakes never affected any residents.
Back then, I remember seeing my first water-skier riding high behind the boat, holding on to the rope as if for dear life. I couldn’t figure out how they stayed up without sinking. I guess I was too young to understand physics. Still it was fun to watch as this part of the bay was filled with life.
Today, the drone of speedboat motors is long gone only to be replaced by the much quieter kayaks, stand up paddleboards , and outriggers.
The quietude is interrupted once in awhile when a low flying airline from John Wayne Airport takes off to who knows where. I was thinking what a bummer that these million dollar homes are right under a flight path.
Have Kayak will Travel
The Upper Newport Bay is a coastal wetland that encompasses 1,000 acres of small water-ways, a larger channel, reeds, and marsh. It is also home to hundreds of different species of birds.
A bird flies by with the Newport Aquatic Center in the background
On land, there is a ten mile loop for joggers, bicyclists, hikers, roller bladders, and for about 3 miles of it motor cars can join in on the road. On water, there are plenty of nooks and crannies for you to explore via kayak or SUP. If you don’t have your own, across the bay the Newport Aquatic Center has plenty of rentals.
California is coming off of it’s lock down and we will start doing some new trips and activities. Until then please enjoy some of our old favorites.
First up: Santa Monica Pier. A great summer escape.
Santa Monica Pier
People, people, and more people. A few weeks back I did a story on the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial Pier. In that story I mentioned that when I was strolling on that pier, it was if I had gone back in time. The design of the pier seemed reminiscent of a time long ago with old lanterns that subtly lit the walkway and an unusual lack of crowds. It felt like something from the 1950’s.
Two weeks later it was feeling more like the 21st century as we stepped on to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County, California. Unlike the Belmont Pier, we were now sharing it not with a handful of people, but with thousands!! It was bumper to bumper people as far as you can see.
So what attracts so many to the Santa Monica Pier and not the Belmont Pier?
The Belmont Pier has a snack bar, fishing, plenty of bathrooms and a great view, what more could you ask? In comparison, the Santa Monica Pier also has those features but with a few wee minor additions, such as, a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, a two story restaurant, a flying trapeze, shops, carnival games and rides, vendors, music, and much more. It is an amusement park sitting on top of a pier and that is why it is so crowded!
The Santa Monica pier is where you go to play, eat, drink, and have fun. We went on the Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday so I am sure it was more crowded than normal, although I can’t be sure of that fact. Summer is probably even more crowded and I also overheard someone say it was busier at night. So with that in mind, plan to to spend the day here as you would any amusement park or fair.
The Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909 and strangely its purpose at the time was to carry sewage out to sea,via pipes. Obviously through the years it has been re-built to house and to hold the weight of the amusement park type rides and structures. I stood in awe as I watched the waves crash against the pilings wondering how they could possibly hold up all of those rides.
Looking north you can see Malibu in the distance and Venice Beach to the south. With its close proximity to Hollywood, the pier has been used in many films and TV shows. Some scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed at the pier and not surprisingly a Bubba Gump’s restaurant still sits at the entrance. I’m told it is owned by some of the producers of the film.
Standing tall like a beacon for Margarita lovers, the two stories of the Marisol Mexican restaurant are positioned at the end of the pier for your dining and drinking pleasure. Directly behind it you will find a set of bleachers perfect for relaxing and viewing the stunning Pacific Ocean to the west. At the absolute end of the pier there is a second level for anglers to reel in their prizes without contending with the crowds.
Scattered about are small street vendors as well as the sweet sounds of performing local musicians. Bathrooms are aplenty much to my relief after guzzling two large iced teas.
Santa Monica Pier is a floating party, a carnival, a street fair, and an amusement park all wrapped up in one. Staycations California recommends it as a fun place to visit for the day and enjoy the rides, games, food, and shops. Or people watch, there are plenty of them.
However, if you want mellow there is always the San Simeon Pier some 200 miles up the coast or the peace and quiet of above mentioned Belmont Pier.
Wherever your mood takes you, nothing beats taking a stroll on a pier, even if it means sharing it with a thousand of your closest friends.