Things have been a bit slower on the blog this summer. I’ve tried not to stress about it too much. It is hard to balance work and play when the kids are home. Speaking of summer, we had the opportunity to drive up the California coast over the course of a week and a half for our family vacation. You may remember that 4 years ago we took our first official family vacation. Our “vacations” in the past consisted of visiting family and camping. We loved that HWY 101 trip so much that we did it again! We changed it a bit because this time (instead of just northern California and Oregon) we did most of California. If visiting the California coast is on your bucket list, I am going to share the places we visited and the beaches we played at. Hopefully it will help with your future vacation planning.
We drove to the LA area the first day and stayed in Ventura that night. Shane had served a 2 year mission in that area before we were married and we were able to meet up with some people he met back then. It was so nice to go out to dinner and chat! We also had to pick up some oranges while we were there.
We stopped at the Ventura Pier . This was our first beach we came to and the kids had been in the car all day. They didn’t even care that it was foggy and they were not in their swim suits.
We had a bit of car trouble but found a good mechanic that had us back on the road in no time. What’s a road trip without a hiccup or two, right? While we were waiting for our van to be fixed, we headed to El Capitán beach. It was our boys’ first time swimming in a southern California ocean where the water was warm. They had so much fun body boarding and skim boarding. It was a great beach complete with bathroom and a wash station.
We got to explore Santa Barbra and I fell in love with all the homes up in the hills, especially the landscaping. I wish I had more pictures. The roads are so narrow and winding and there aren’t any places to pull over aside from driveways. Most pictures I got from from the window as we drove by turned out blurry. Luckily, the photo of one of the most interesting things I saw turned out. A long fence around a large estate had a fence made out of logs all stacked up. It was such a huge fence that I can’t even imagine how many logs and branches it took to construct!
Santa Barbara was gorgeous and is a must see if you are in the area.
We traveled to the San Louis Obisbo and Morro Bay area next. We went out on a boat for a whale watching tour. We saw a hump back whale which was amazing. My kids were also fascinated with the neon blue jellyfish we could see around the boat and of course the playful seal lions. It was a successful trip, even if I did upchuck off the back of the boat.
My rock collecting boys were excited about a place I had read about online called Jade Cove. It was our next stop along the way. When we got there however, we could not find where the access to the cove was. We asked locals and they acted funny about it. We finally asked the camp host at a campground that was across the road from where the GPS was telling me that Jade Cove was. He, after we chatted for a bit, confided in me that the locals don’t want people to know about it. They have removed the signs and won’t give people correct directions. He told us how to get there but by the time we got there it was high tide and didn’t look very safe.
We opted to go to Sand Dollar Beach which was within walking distance of Jade Cove. Luckily, my previously disappointed rock hounds, found some small pieces of jade at this beach. All ended well :) Plus, the beach was beautiful!
On the way to our next hotel we drove through The Big Sur which was gorgeous. Places that we missed (because it took so long to find Jade Cove) in this area that we wanted to see were Point Lobos, Shark Fin Cove, and Monterrey.
That night we stayed just outside of San Francisco. Since we spent a couple of days there the last time we came to California, and we were trying to explore new places, we didn’t go into the city. It was Sunday so we went to church and then found a beach to have a picnic on.
We went to the town of Moss Beach and found a beach called Seal Cove. On one side of the rocks there are harbor seals that lounge on the beach. You can not go to that part of the beach but there is a look out above that gives you a great view. If you continue on the trail after viewing the seals, it takes you to a little ranger station with all sorts of things to see that come from the ocean. We spent most of the day at the beach on the other side of the seals. It was one of our favorite beaches because there were so many treasures and shells to find here and it was not filled with people like the other beaches. At one point we had the whole beach to ourselves.
The trail to the lookout was surrounded by a forest of cypress trees and it was quite striking.
Places of interest along the way that we didn’t have time for were Stinson beach, Agate Beach Park, and Point Reyes lighthouse.
That night we stayed in Mendocino. It was a darling little town and our hotel looked like an old house with smaller homes around it. The landscaping was beautiful. We woke up early and went on the Skunk train that is in nearby Fort Bragg. I really wanted to go to the Mendocino Botanical Gardens but it was pricey and my kids were not super excited about the idea. I kind of wish I would have had Shane take the kids somewhere so I could have gone by myself. If you have been, let me know in the comments if it was worth the ticket price!
The Skunk train was worth it for the facet that my kids loved it and the price wasn’t too bad. I didn’t admit this to my kids, but I was a bit disappointed. The views were not as great as I thought they would be and it didn’t go very far. But overall, I was happy with it because my kids liked it.
After the train we ate lunch and headed to Glass Beach, also in Fort Bragg. This was one of the few thing we repeated from last time. You can read a more detailed blurb about it in my other post.
As we headed to our next hotel, we drove through part of the Redwoods. In Legget, CA there is a drive through tree. Even though we drove through it last time, we did it again since our youngest doesn’t remember it very well. We drove through the Avenue of the Giants which is a little detour off the main road that goes past some really big trees. It eventually connects back to the main road. Along the Avenue of the Giants there are some hollow trees that have been turned into little houses. It is fun to stand inside them!
Eureka was our next stop. We stayed in a hotel close to a laundromat because by this point in our road trip, we needed clean clothes! We visited two beaches in this area that we really liked. Moonstone Beach and Hidden Beach. Moonstone beach was our first stop in the morning and it was not very busy. We were able to find a ton of sand dollars. It is a long beach and we enjoyed just walking along it most of the morning. At one end there is a cave you can go in. We met a local who said that some years it is easy to get into the “back room” of the cave and some years the sand is higher and you have to crawl. My boys had fun going in the back room but since it was a high sand year.
Hidden Beach was, well, hidden! We had to ask the people who work at Trees of Mystery (the place with the giant statue of Paul Bunion and Babe the blue ox) where to find it. Just beyond Paul and Babe is a pull off that has bathrooms. I just thought it was a rest stop. The trail head is there. It was a 1 mile hike to the beach. It was the prettiest hike I have ever been on! It led to a beautiful beach that was not very busy. We had the beach to ourselves most of the time.
We stayed in Crescent City that night and visited the Battery Point lighthouse in the morning. We were going to be meeting up with Shane’s family later that day but decided to go to another beach while we waited. Enderts Beach also had a small hike to get there but it was less than half a mile. All along Enderts Beach road and along the hike there were blackberries. My kids loved picking them and eating them as we went.
The reason we took this trip, was because of a family reunion with Shane’s side of the family. We obviously extended the trip for a bit with just us, but the main reason was to hang out with a whole bunch of Risenmays :) We camped in the Redwood National Forrest. In.The.Redwood.Forrest. How cool is that?! The campground was stunning! Lush, green, and filled with giant redwoods. Moss and ferns were everywhere and I was in heaven. There are only a few places where you can camp in the Redwoods. We stayed at the Millcreek campground in Del Monte. The other campground near that area was the Jedediah Smith campground.
We visited the Jedediah Smith part of the National Park because they have some of the biggest trees. There is a scenic drive that goes through the park that was a must. It is a dirt road and is very narrow but you get to see some huge trees. One was hollow and the kids went inside. They claimed that it was so big that we could all fit inside. We put them to the test and over 20 people (mostly teens and adults) fit inside with more room to spare. We had lunch on the banks of the Jedediah Smith River. It was the most colorful and clearest river I have ever seen! Sometimes it looked turquoise and sometimes a dark green. The boys skipped rocks and caught tadpoles.
Our second day with Shane’s family was spent exploring some tide pools near Battery Point Lighthouse, went to Ocean World (I wrote about that in more detail in this post) and played at Crescent City beach.
It was so nice to get to spend so much time with family, whether we were exploring or hanging out at camp.
On a side note, I get asked how we can go on such a long vacation on a little budget. I have a few tips to make a vacation more cost effective.
How to Vacation on a Budget
*If possible, travel during the off season. My favorite time to go on a vacation is from mid May into the first part of June. Hotels are so much cheaper and the places you are visiting are less crowded.
*Don’t eat out for every meal. We always have a big cooler in our van and eat most meals from that. Even when we flew last time and rented a van, we bought a cooler and when grocery shopping when we got there. We do eat a restaurants here and there. Maybe once a day. But picnics with sandwiches work for us, especially when they are on the beach!
*Plan ahead. You can get better deals (especially on hotel rooms) if you book ahead instead of last minute. Shop around for flights if you are not going to drive there. I was able to get round trip flights for around 100 per person last time. That’s not always the case, but if you plan ahead far enough you can start keeping your eye out for deals.
*Don’t stay in expensive hotels. That kind of seems like a no brainier but it is tempting to book the nicest hotel loaded with amenities. We have always stayed at cheap hotels. Little one off “mom and pop” places right off HWY 101. First of all, they can be darling in their own right and most are right near the beach. Second of all, if you are vacationing right, you will only be at the hotel long enough to sleep and shower before starting another adventure the next morning. As long as it is clean, I am good. If I were staying in one spot the whole time I may consider upping the quality a bit but since we stayed in a different hotel each night, I wasn’t worried about settling in and getting too comfortable.
I use to use the excuse that we didn’t have the money to go on vacation, and while Shane was unemployed, that certainly was the case. But as my kids started to get older and I realized that we didn’t have very many summers left with all of them at home, we made it more of a priority to save for vacations.
I am curious, where is your favorite place to vacation?