So-Cal is a treat with its warmer climate busy cities and the awesome beaches, but honestly this stretch of Monterey to Half Moon Bay stole my heart! First off, most of the coastal drive and actually most of our entire trip has some beautiful scenery to write about, but the landscape we drove through in this region took my breath away and surely must be painters' heaven!
I'm not a botanist, but boy could I appreciate the beauty of the wild flowers, rose bushes and green rolling hills that lined the east side of the 101 along our drive and stay in this region. Vineyards for miles with sheep grazing or napping under the vines was like straight out of an english novel depiction. Jane Austen would have ate this beauty up!
The air smelt of sea and roses and the weather was mild and pleasant for our entire stay. The west side of highway 101 gave us the roaring waves of the Pacific which no matter where we camped we were blessed to hear this gentle and soothing sound to lull us to sleep every night! I remember giving birth to Shyla and playing the sounds of waves the entire 8 hour labour! lol This was a free meditation CD right for our own very ears during our week and half stay in this gorgeous area.
Our campsite in Monterey was Moss Landing Harbour KOA which is nothing in itself to write home about, but when I actually stopped complaining in my head about the KOA and let my senses take in what was behind the concrete wall that was behind our site I smelled salt water, I heard waves crashing in, seagulls calling and wait a minute what is that I hear.....seals barking! Yes our KOA campsite was not our favourite camping spot, but the location was incredible!
A few minute walk out of the RV compound and we were in the Moss Landing harbour filled with fishing boats and seals galore! A quick hop and step over the harbour was a ton of sea lions and sea otters chilling on the beach in the harbour! What a treat! It was windy as heck that day. seriously sandstorm in my face constant and the kids and i had hoods covering our ears and sun glasses to protect our eyes, but we couldn't' believe that the cutest animals (in our opinion sea otters of course!) were just hanging out steps away from us in the harbour. Have you ever seen a sea otter get out of the water and walk up a beach? We didn't until then and they look like a giant rodent actually lol their back legs are awkward out of the water; you can tell they are meant to be on their backs in the sea and not on land. We took in the giant waves that were on the other side of the harbour and looked out to try to find humpback wales that had been spotted.
So after my taking in the otters, seals, ocean and market produce stands my kids where like "hey mom we are bored!" Honestly, kids right?! So we heard that the town of Monterey had an aquarium that we HAD to go see and of course the kids were all about it! After going to many renowned aquariums in the past few years I can say it is a very good one, however it was BUSY! Stupid us made a mistake of going on a Saturday, but when you are on retirement time you kinda forget which day or month it is! lol Besides the heaping crowds and elbows flying I would rate this a great aquarium for littles, but do not go on weekends! My favourite part of this area was outside the aquarium. there are streets filled with tourist shops and ice cream parlours, but it's the beach that is behind the busy streets that was our favourite part of the day! We threw rocks in the ocean, looked and touched the sticky anemones, collected shells for our fam and friends back home, Shyla wrote a few letters on the beach for back home too, Alex got the kids ice cream and a seagull literally swooped down and stole his milk shake! We climbed rocks and ran as the waves crashed in to see who could come the closest to not getting wet! It was the most pleasant afternoon ever and I find when travelling it is the unplanned parts of the day that are the most treasured. We were truly living in the moment and I felt incredibly lucky and blessed sitting on the beach playing with my kids and surrounded by the ocean and all its wonder.
Shyla learned how powerful the waves truly are and the effects of the tide coming in when she climbed onto a rock straight out of the little mermaid and all of a sudden the water level rose around her, she was surrounded by water rushing in and another wave rolling in behind her! It was a scary moment and as I ran to her I saw her face terrified. I yelled for her to stay because I knew she'd be OK, but she was too scared and jumped into the water fully dressed and managed to jump, swim and run out of the waves and onto the beach with a very large crowd watching! She was shaken and soaked, but after a big hug and talk, I wrapped her in my dry warm sweater and we decided to pack it in as Alex's stress level was high (seagull snatching episode, Madden crapping his pants and eating beach sand, and now Shyla almost caught in the tide pull!) All in all, Monterey area is a fantastic place to visit and I would highly recommend it! I definitely want to go back and check out more of the area on another trip :). You know we try to teach our kids about the ocean and tides, the power of currents, the difference between lakes and oceans and the importance of listening when we tell them to stop when running into an ocean without us! But until you actually experience the powers of the waves and tide you cannot grasp its almighty power so even though it was scary for Shyla now she can truly understand the gravity of the oceans strength and she will def stop next time when we tell her to before running into the ocean! lol #lifeskills
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay campsite is amongst our favourite campsites for a very good reason. The natural beauty again is breathtaking. Where's Julie Andrews running down the rolling green hills singing? lol Seriously! My eyeballs were constantly delighted in the views of the ocean side campsite we had with a gorgeous tree for the kids to climb, the beach had beautiful fuchsia (Shyla and my fav colour) coloured flowers crawling along the sand cliffs and the humpback whales that would treat us to a visit along the beach was just amazing in fact it almost felt like a divine experience really. I was in awe the entire stay!!
Half Moon Bay also had tons of fresh produce stands lining the highways and streets that had local fresh produce for cheap! I tell ya I was in produce paradise! I literally skipped and giggled up and down the market stands as I picked bags of fresh cherries, artichokes grown next door, strawberries from the field across the street, blueberries from a few miles down the road, chives and cilantro and eggs from the farm 2 miles away! My kids looked at me like a lunatic and so did the women who worked there, but I did not care. Having worked so hard to fight my autoimmune dysfunctions, histamine intolerance and learning about health and importance of fresh food this was a huge and kind of an emotional moment for me! I felt like Martha Stewart in her kitchen in her hay day! lol We had some great meals that week I tell ya. My fresh produce stands were literally a bike ride away and speaking of bikes, we had the best bike trail ride along the sea and picnic on the beach while we practised our cartwheels, skipping stones, chased waves crashing in again (our fav beachside game for Lennon he calls this game "don't get wet!) and just took in the beautiful beach side homes and hidden coves along this route. Sometimes we would be completely alone in one of the beach coves we'd find along our way and it felt like God, the Power, Mother Nature whatever you call the incredible energy that formed this planet and all life was with us! I could seriously see myself living in Half Moon Bay area for realz!
Why 11? Well because we tend not to follow the norm if you haven't noticed AND because we just couldn't narrow it down to 10. We are just over half way through our journey and we decided to reflect on the best camping spots we've been blessed to find thus far. There's been some real beauties and also some disappointments, but below are the ones we've loved the most for various reasons.
Hendy Woods State Park
By far our favourite site yet is the secluded Hendy Woods State Park found 40 minutes east of Mendocino California. All the sites are totally dry with no electricity or running water and the journey in and outta here takes you through some challenging levels mountain passes, but it was well worth it! Our site (like most) was set among giant Redwood trees with tons of room for the kids to explore and play. All the hiking trails were kid friendly and we even managed to find a beautiful river to splash around in when the weather got warm.
Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park near Tucson Arizona makes our list due to its amazing hiking trails through a living desert at the base of the Catalina Mountains. The campsites also sit at the base of the mountains giving you a spectacular view every day. On top of that the campground is crawling with little gofers popping their heads up all around you and the weather was near perfect when we visited in March. We were also quite lucky to have plenty of good grocery shopping and other amenities within a 5 minute drive.
Guadalupe River State Park
Guadalupe River State Park nestled between Austin and San Antonio Texas offers amazing secluded and very spacious campgrounds with plenty of things for the kids to keep themselves busy with. On top of that the river meanders beautifully for several miles and you can put a river tube in the water and float down several miles taking in all the scenery. Since the river loops around you can get off your tube and walk a short distance back up to the top and do it all over again!
Giant Redwoods RV REsort
Found in a little town called Myers Flat in Northern California is this beautiful little RV resort. While we tend not to enjoy RV resorts as much as state parks, this one is a bit different. All sites are nicely set among Redwood trees and the location even has its own river access for swimming and just enjoying the beautiful scenery. The smell of pine from the trees is everywhere and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the park as well. On top of that it's located right in the heart of the famous Avenue of the Giants and close to amazing trails, hikes and massive Redwood trees.
Half Moon Bay State Beach
Located 30 minutes south of San Francisco right on the Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay beach is a real scenic wonder! Our campground and site sat about 100 yards from the beach and it's biking trails were fantastic! It's proximity to San Francisco makes it a great spot to stay as the drives into San Fran are as scenic as ever along the famous pacific coast highway 1.
Silver Strand State Beach
Silver Strands Beach and campground is a gem of a spot found about 5 minutes from downtown Coronado in San Diego California. Although the sites themselves aren't very private, if you plan ahead you can get one of the spots directly on the beach and enjoy stepping out your RV right on to the sandy beach and the Pacific Ocean. It's location to Coronado and all the amazing attractions of San Diego also made this place a huge hit with us.
Oliver Lee State Park
Set in the beautiful desert landscape at the base of Dog Canyon is Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in Alamogordo New Mexico. The view of the mountains each morning and evening was breathtaking. Add to that the fact that the famous White Sands of New Mexico are a short drive from the campsite and this place is an awesome place to stay while camping in New Mexico! We also enjoyed the trails in the park and it was especially nice to find a slow moving river set among the desert landscape.
Topsail Hill State Park
Topsail Hill was the very first campground we stayed at while embarking on this journey. We really lucked out because we were met with beautifully maintained sites, a full hookup, decent privacy and within a short 1 mile walk we could enjoy a secluded part of the white sandy beaches that Destin Florida had to offer. This park was close to all the amenities of Destin and other amazing beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.
Morro Bay State Beach
A few hours north of Los Angeles and just south of The famous Big Sur sits Morro Bay State Beach. We were fortunate to find a site that was about 100 yards from the ocean and with a full hookup! Although the water here makes for difficult swimming (serious waves and cold temps) there is plenty to see from this location. Just a short drive north and we were observing wild elephant seals, sea lions and amazing pelicans. Even the famous Hearst Castle was a short drive and well worth the visit.
The Lost Dutchman State Park
The Lost Dutchman State Park sits at the base of Flatiron Mountain just east of Phoenix Arizona. Lots of gold rush and Wild West history here, but the greatest part of this campground was its hiking trails and picturesque setting. We managed to find a site where I had to maneuver our 31 foot trailer between two massive saguaro cactuses (cacti?) which made for a nice photo op albeit a stressful parking job for me!
Lake Havasu State Park
Whats better than finding a huge fresh water lake in the middle of the desert? Nothing! Lake Havasu State Park was a blessing to find in the desert. We landed here in March and the temperature was already a stifling 36C but with our trailer parked literally 20 yards from the beach and lake we weren't complaining much! Lots to see and do here if you enjoy water sports, boating, jet skiing, paddle boarding etc. At the same time, I suspect this place gets VERY busy in the summer months so plan accordingly.
Month number three of our epic RV journey across the US and Canada brings us to sunny Southern California! While we had so many incredible experiences during our time there, we decided to summarize our journey through SoCal into these top 10 must-see spots! We didn't have time to see absolutely everything so we know we've missed some great places...but these 10 in particular hold a special place in our hearts now. Have a look and let us know if you agree or disagree...
#10 Beverly Hills & Hollywood
For many folks, this may be the highlight of Los Angeles, but for us this came in at #10. It was quite nostalgic to see the Hollywood sign on the mountain, walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame to see all the great artists and stand outside the famous Chinese Theater. Apart from those must see attractions, Hollywood was definitely a bit 'rough' and slammed with tourists so we were happy to get out of there after we saw the main sites. Beverly Hills was certainly more pleasing for us to walk around with the kids and just soak in all the richness and wealth that shows up everywhere you look! Bentley's, Lambourghini's and Rolls Royce's were commonplace here which was pretty cool to see. Rodeo Drive was a must see for Wendy so we ventured down to do some "window" shopping and eat some ice cream in hopes of catching a celebrity sighting.
#9 Elephant Seal Lookout
This might seem out of place, but for nature lovers like us, this place was just an amazing find! Located about 30 minutes north of Morro Bay almost near Central California, there is a large beach lookout which is home to a hundred or so elephant seals. We've never seen an elephant seal in their own habitat before and it was just amazing watching these huge creatures crawl around in the sand and push each other around in the rocky water. Best of all, this place is totally free to the public and provides amazing views over the ocean.
#8 Hearst Castle
Almost by accident, we found Hearst Castle, previous home of William Randolph Hearst the newspaper mogul. Not too far from Elephant Seal Lookout in a town called San Simeon we found this HUGE mansion and complex built atop a mountain overlooking green rolling hills and the the ocean. What's amazing is Hearst built this mansion over the course of 15 years and with many European design influences and architecture. Hearst Castle is now a state park, but once you get to the information center, visitors are bused up a windy mountain road to where the mansion is located. The mansion, its grounds and the views were absolutely stunning!!
#7 Desert Sculptures of Borrego Springs
Surreal is the best word to describe these incredible and odd steel statues that exist in the middle of the Anzo Borrego Desert. While driving to our campsite in Anza Borrego park, we passed ten or twenty enormous steel sculptures that are set inside the desert. None were more impressive than the magnificent serpent that meanders in and out of the ground and across the road. Just an amazing site and the kids absolutely loved checking out all the various sculptures and taking pictures with them.
#6 USS Midway Aircraft Carrier
I think TripAdvisor lists this as the #1 thing to do while in San Diego. While we didn't have this as #1 on our list, it certainly was impressive and a great way to spend the day with the kids. This aircraft carrier which holds 20 or more jets and helicopters from various wars is a fully hand-on exhibit that us and the kids were able to walk through and touch everything in our path! Many exhibits we've been to in the past don't allow you to touch anything, which sucks for the kiddo's), but it was a pleasant surprise to find that literally everything on the ship was fair game to play with. The kids loved sitting in all the jets and helicopters and also visiting all the areas of the ship...and pressing all the buttons!
#5 Morro Strand State Beach
Located about 3 hours north of LA is Morro Bay and Morro Strand State Beach. The state beach was a great place for us to stay as our trailer was parked literally 50 yards from this huge amazing beach! Although the weather was cooler when we were here, the views of the famous Morro Rock and the huge rolling hills that sit directly behind the campground were incredible. The kids loved playing on the endless beach, picking up hundreds of sand dollars that washed up and dipping into the ocean to attempt some wake boarding. This is such an amazing and picturesque part of California!
#4 San Diego Zoo
Not surprisingly, this sight had to make our list! The San Diego Zoo is an incredible zoo with tons of animals that we really couldn't even see all in one day. Such a huge place that they even have shuttle buses inside the zoo to bring tourists from one place to another. Many exhibits are so well laid out that you get fantastic unobstructed views of the animals despite the busy crowds. Wendy was super excited to finally see pandas up close since the Toronto Zoo seems to always have a 2 hour wait to see their pandas and she always misses them. From Grizzly Bears, Polar Bears and Koala Bears to Lions, Tigers, Giraffes and Elephants this place had it all.
#3 Santa Monica Pier & Pacific Park
We had originally planned to drive around LA and not visit the city at all since the idea of pulling a 31 foot trailer anywhere close to LA traffic didn't seem appealing to us at all. We came to our senses and decided to park our trailer just outside of LA so we could stop in for a few days and boy are we glad we did. We spent the better part of an afternoon and evening enjoying Santa Monica area, the pier and of course all the rides at Pacific Park. Santa Monica had such a great vibe to it...a laid back beachfront and boardwalk, fun little shops, greasy food and fun performers. On top of that the weather, sunset and view over the beach was just amazing. We could've easily spent the entire day here, but unfortunately we just didn't have enough time. All I know is...we will be back!!
#2 Hiking Slot Canyon in Anza Borrego
While we were staying in Anza Borrego State Park, we managed to stumble upon this amazing trail. The trail is located about 20 minutes from our campsite and directly past the steel Desert Sculptures, but only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles (thank you Dodge Ram). The kids had an absolute blast off-roading through the desert just to get to the trail head. I had to be careful not to bottom out my truck a few times as its not a true off-road vehicle, but we managed to get to the trail with my entire truck still intact! Once on the trail it was an amazing meandering trail that led you through tight spaces inside the canyon. The walls were eroded by the water and wind so they had such beautiful swirls and patterns. The kids loved crawling in and out of the tight canyon spaces and the views from inside the canyon were truly amazing. The canyon walls even shelter you from the intense desert sun and heat which is an added bonus for the desert! Highly recommend visiting Anza Borrego and doing this trail in particular.
#1 Silver Strand Beach & Coronado
If you ever plan to visit San Diego, Coronado area and the Silver Strand State Beach is a must see. For us, as RV'ers, we were able to secure a spot directly on the beach (yes that's right) where we could step out of our trailer and directly on to the ocean beach. White sand and beautiful waves welcomed us and each night it was amazing to go to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing the beach. The kids played endlessly in the sand and we especially loved trying our luck wake boarding on top of the medium sized waves. If you're a beach lover this should be on your list! As an added bonus, Silver Strand beach is located about 5 minutes down the road from downtown Coronado which is probably one of the nicest areas in San Diego.