Santa Cruz Trip (Sep 3-10)

With no firm travel plans for September, we received a home exchange offer to spend a week near the beach in Santa Cruz, CA. So we decided "why not!?"

We arrived at the San Francisco airport in the early Tuesday afternoon, found the car our exchange partners had parked at the airport with ease, and headed straight over to the Pacific Coast Highway taking the scenic route to Santa Cruz.

Pacific Ocean at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach

We made stops at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve near Moss Beach, and the Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park. This lighthouse, at 115 feet high, is one of the tallest in the U.S.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

North of Davenport we stopped to enjoy the surf crashing on rocks and kite-surfers at Waddell Beach in the afternoon sun.

Kite-surfers at Waddell Beach near Davenport

The Whale City Bakery in Davenport caught our eye, so we stopped for a casual dinner before checking in to our condo in Santa Cruz. It was cute and comfortable, and oh-so-close to the beach. 

We drove some of the streets in town and discovered the Santa Cruz Boardwalk was closed this time of year, except on weekends. We also explored West Cliff drive to the west, then back in town walked to the end of the historic Santa Cruz Wharf.

Wednesday we explored more of our local area near Santa Cruz.

Natural Bridges State Beach, looking west

The beach near Natural Bridges

Later we drove over to the beautiful campus and Arboretum of University of California, Santa Cruz, where we spotted a new bird, the Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk at UCSC Arboretum grounds
Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos), Australian plant at arboretum

Later we drove over to Felton to see the 80 foot long Felton Covered Bridge and then to a walk through the redwoods at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Felton Covered Bridge (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Inside the Felton Covered Bridge

Redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Obligatory pose "inside" the trunk of a redwood

Later that evening we went to Natural Bridges State Beach, just west of Santa Cruz, for some sunset photography.

Sunset at Natural Bridges

Last light on the remaining natural bridge

Unfortunately Mike was feeling a bit under the weather Thursday so we lounged around and read, listening to the sea lions just outside. 

We took it easy again on Friday, stopping first for brunch in picturesque Capitola. Then we continued with a very scenic drive down to the Big Sur coast area.

The colorful vacation rentals and wharf in Capitola, across from our brunch spot

Capitola Venetian Hotel and beach
Along the Big Sur coast

Big Sur coastline

We stopped at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and walked the short trail to the McWay Falls viewpoint and the ruins of the Waterfall House.

McWay Falls hitting the deserted/restricted beach

McWay Falls

Saturday, Mike's brother and his wife drove down from Tracy to join us for the day. We walked out to the Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse just outside the harbor and along on "our" beach (Seaside) then into the Boardwalk where we all took a ride on the vintage 1924 "Giant Dipper" wooden roller coaster!

Santa Cruz harbor lighthouse (aka Walton Lighthouse, ca 2001)

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Beach volleyball tournament near the boardwalk

Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk

You don't see surfboards on (lifeguard) fire trucks very often :-)

We walked along the beach near the Boardwalk, stopping to watch a beach volleyball tournament. We also went out on the Wharf again for a light meal before walking back to our condo.

A very unusually decorated car near our condo :-)

Later, the four of us had a lovely dinner at the remarkable Shadowbrook Restaurant in Capitola. We descended down the hill to the multi-level restaurant via private cable car! Too soon it was time for them to head back home.

Waiting on the cable car down to the Shadowbrook

Sunday morning we visited the tiny Santa Cruz Surfing Museum before driving down to the Monterey Peninsula. We drove through Monterey and Carmel, stopping only to take a few pictures. We decided to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium again another time.

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Mike checks out Surfing Museum exhibits

Monterey Bay

Fogged rolled in so our views and photographs were not the best, but that was all forgotten when Mike spotted another new bird for us, the White-tailed Kite, along the very scenic 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove. We had a chance to watch him hunting, hovering and diving several times.

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite hovering as it hunts

Our last full day in California was spent in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We got an early start to hike the 11 mile loop out to Berry Creek Falls. The cool morning quickly turned hotter and muggier than we anticipated, especially since we were at higher elevation.

Susan on the trail to Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin State Park

Mike with a redwood too big to hug

Berry Falls in mottled sun

Berry Falls detail

Susan in a stand of redwoods along the trail

Another cascade along the trail

The total elevation gain ended up at about 1800 feet and we ran out of water near the end. It was a tough hike, but worth the effort to see the falls, which was magnificent even with the low water flow of September. I almost stepped on a rattlesnake on the return trail.

The best shot of the rattler getting away. We believe it was a Pacific Rattlesnake.

Tuesday it was time to go home again. Our generous home-exchanger Laura gave us a ride to the San Jose airport where we soon learned that our flight was delayed. After an uneventful flight we drove home up the canyon through Lyons around midnight in pouring rain, not knowing that in two days we would experience historic flooding, closing that stretch of road for months. But that's another story.

Here's a map of the part of California we covered on this trip.

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