Trip Recap: Santa Cruz to Big Sur

Last year, we took a quick trip to California’s central coast. It had been on my list of places to visit for awhile, and I’m so glad we finally made it. The whole area is an amazing stretch of wild scenery. We soaked up blue, sunny skies and explored rocky beaches. As I type this recap, it is snowing and 30 degrees, so reminiscing about sunshine is welcome.

Day 1: Santa Cruz. This trip was a surprise for the husband. He knew we were flying somewhere, but that’s about it. We landed in San Jose in the morning, and drove straight to Santa Cruz for lunch. After filing our bellies, we headed out to Wilder Ranch State Park and hiked on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. The views were amazing, and the salty breeze felt so good. After our hike, we checked in to our hotel and used their bikes to explore the town. We found a brewery (or two) and enjoyed a refreshing drink.

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Left: Hiking the bluffs at Wilder Ranch. Right: tide pool at Asilomar State Park.

Day 2: Monterey. We made the short drive south to the Monterey area, and stayed at an Airbnb in Pebble Beach, right off 17-mile drive, which was such a great location and value. On the way, we stopped at Moss Landing and kayaked in Elkhorn Slough. Sea otters were playing in the water all around us; so adorable! Asilomar State Beach was our afternoon destination to search for tide pools and watch the surfers. That evening, we enjoyed the sunset along 17-mile drive. It was spectacular: the soft light hitting in the mist from the breaking waves combined with fog rolling in made for some incredible views.

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Sunset on 17-mile drive.

Day 3: Big Sur. In the morning, we got up early, grabbed some coffee, and headed down Highway 1 to Big Sur. I was most excited about our itinerary this day, and Big Sur did not disappoint. Around every corner was another amazing view! We pulled into a turnout where a few people had big cameras pointed at the water and ran over, just in time to see three huge whales in the kelp beds. So exciting. We kept driving and stopped for photos at the quintessential spots (Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls), and did a 4.5 mile hike on the Ewoldsen trail at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Hiking through redwood groves only to pop out of the trees with views of the ocean was pretty special for this mountain girl. We drove further south to Sand Dollar Beach, where we ate a picnic lunch, and found zero sand dollars. We finished the day by playing in the purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach.

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Upper left: overlook at McWay Falls. Upper right: at Bixby Bridge. Bottom: Pfeiffer Beach views.

Day 4: Monterey, then back home. Our AirBnb host let us use their passes to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so on our final morning of the trip we elbowed schoolchildren out of the way to touch the sting rays, stare at sharks, and laugh at the frolicking sea otters. The jellyfish exhibit was my favorite; those are fascinating creatures! We then made the drive back to San Jose and from there flew home. It was a pretty full 4 days, but also so relaxing to just spend time together exploring some of the most scenic terrain in our country.

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