Friday, April 28, 2017

Day trip to Capitola

I have been meaning to write about our daytrip to Capitola for quite some time now (almost a year!). So here I am, 8.5 months pregnant with baby #3, trying to muster up the energy to get one last post in before the baby arrives. I have rather optimistically made a long list of day trips and adventures that I want to pursue on maternity leave, so I hope you all will follow along on instagram in the event that I don't get around to writing much on the blog.

Now, back to Capitola! Like many of our trips, the catalyst for heading to the area was to make a stop at the very popular Saint Adairius Brewery in Capitola. Our first planned stop of the day, however, was the nearby Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. We hadn't done the best job packing for the day, so we were all a bit hungry when we arrived in the area.  Thankfully, we stumbled upon the Aptos Farmers Market which was pretty darn awesome! I highly recommend making a pit stop if you are visiting on a Saturday. We loaded up on fresh baked pastries and several baskets of berries and fresh fruit and then continued on our way down the road to start our hike.

Does anyone else have a problem actually getting home with strawberries?? These kids could easily eat half a flat in one sitting!
We parked just inside the main gates (parking is $8/vehicle) and hiked along Aptos Creek. The trail immediately takes you off the main road and into the redwood groves where you are greeted by the sound of the creek. We followed the trail until we got to a point where the creek was just an easy couple of steps down from the path. The kids enjoyed hopping on the boulders and walking across the fallen trees. It doesn't get much more relaxing than being surrounded by nature with the sound of water flowing. We ended up keeping the hike relatively short and turned back after about a mile.

Our next stop was Saint Adarius, so we swung by a local grocery store to pick up deli sandwiches and some snacks and then headed to the brewery. The seating area is relatively limited, but we were able to find a nice picnic table in the back room, which opens to the parking lot, providing fresh air and ample sunlight. The kids were easily entertained with lunch and some coloring books, and we got to enjoy some of the delicious beers on tap!

Our kids love to smell our coffee and beer.

Clearly a relaxing venue for this little lady...
Our last stop of the day was Capitola City Beach, located in the heart of the charming beachside town of Capitola. We arrived in the early afternoon, but despite being a popular spot, we had no problems finding a place on the sand to settle in for a bit. One of my favorite parts of this beach is that Soquel Creek runs through the middle, making for a very calm moving and relatively shallow body of water for the kids to splash around in without the worry of waves. It was the perfect environment for both our girls to enjoy some time in the water.

We came a bit unprepared in the sense that we didn't bring swimsuits since we don't typically go too far into the ocean water (brrrrrrr!). The kids ended up having a blast and getting pretty soaked in the creek, so thankfully we had a change of clothes back in the car. After a couple of hours in the sun, we were all pretty exhausted so we packed up and headed home. While I got the sense that the beachside stores and restaurants were pretty touristy, I would definitely like to do a little more perusing of the nearby streets when we return someday.

Any recommendations for things to do in Capitola?

Details: Capitola is about an hour and a half from Berkeley. Street parking is a bit hard to find, but there were plenty of spots in the Beach and Village public parking lot.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Exploring Point Reyes National Seashore: A roundup of my favorite spots

With spring finally here, and the promise of warmer weather on the horizon, I wanted to put together a roundup of our favorite spots in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Despite living in the Bay Area for most of my life, it wasn't until just over 2 years ago that we actually made a trip to the Point Reyes area. If you haven't been, then now is the time to go! It's one of my personal happy places and we have literally never had anything short of an amazing experience on our visits.

Abbott's Lagoon

I'm starting the list off with Abbott's Lagoon because spring is the absolute perfect time of year to go. We visited on Mother's Day weekend a couple of years ago and I can still see the rolling green hills and perfectly blue water of the lagoon as if I were there now. I'm sure it's beautiful year round, but the contrast of colors in the springtime makes for a really special trip. From the parking lot, there is an easy 1.5 mile hike out to the sand dunes and lagoon. I suggest packing a picnic and making a day out of it! You can read all about our trip here.

Limantour Beach

Limantour was our first taste of West Marin and started what has become a clear love affair between me and this part of the Bay Area. As soon as I saw pictures of the rugged sandstone cliffs, I knew this had to be part of our first trip to the area! It has been a recurring realization since I started this blog just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful state! So pack up a picnic lunch or treat yourself to something tasty from Cowgirl Creamery and make your way to Limantour! You can read all about our trip here.

Tule Elk Preserve

Our trip to the Tule Elk Preserve is proof that you can't have a bad day in Point Reyes. We visited in late October and had misty weather and a sky of clouds that almost completely blocked out the ocean views on our coastal hike. Did it matter? Nope! Our kids were ecstatic to be exploring the old barn at Pierce Point Ranch and then continuing on our search for Tule Elk. On the weekends there are docents at the trail head as well as about 1 mile into the hike that are happy to engage the kids with elk horns and binoculars. You can read all about our trip here.

Heart's Desire Beach

My kids LOVE spending the day at the beach, but the rough ocean waters here in Northern California are not always ideal for young kids. One of my favorite beach trips to Point Reyes was Heart's Desire Beach, which sits in a small alcove on the Tomale's Bay side of the National Seashore. Here, you get to enjoy a beautiful sand beach with the relatively calm waters of the bay, all while nestled in a forested alcove (which also provides nice protection from the wind!). Despite being a fairly popular destination, the calming scenery makes you feel as though you're the only one there. You can read all about our trip here.

Point Reyes Lighthouse/Drakes Beach

This trip requires an extra 45 minutes of driving past Point Reyes Station, which for a very long time meant that we opted for other destinations in Point Reyes. I am happy to report that we finally made it out to the lighthouse this past winter and it was well worth the drive! The Point Reyes Lighthouse is a prime spot for whale watching from late December to mid April, and Drakes beach is a picturesque spot for some fun in the sand that is just a few miles down the road. On our trip we saw deer, whales and even watched as an elephant seal rode the waves in and settled on the beach about 100 yards from us! I highly recommend a mid-week visit towards the end of December before prime tourist season when you are required to take a shuttle out to the lighthouse.   You can read all about our trip here.

Tomales and Dillon Beach

Just 17 miles north of Point Reyes Station is the small town of Tomales. The town, despite only spanning one intersection, is a good stopping point to get some coffee/pastries and a nice lunch. It's also conveniently location a short drive to Dillon Beach. We had a wonderful stay this past holiday season at Toluma Farms, which has a beautiful home for rent that is perfect for large family gatherings. If you are visiting the area, the farm also offers tours with reservation. Read more about our visit to Tomales here.

Samuel Taylor Park

While not technically in the Point Reyes National Seashore,  Samuel Taylor Park is a great option for those looking for affordable lodging in the area. They offer both traditional camping sites as well as cabin camping options that are perfect for those looking for a less rustic experience. The cabins, which were built in 2012, come equipped with electricity, platform bunk beds with mattresses, wood floors, covered porches, and a small electric stove. There are 4 bunks (one full size mattress and three single beds) and the top bunks have rails, making them pretty safe for kids. All you have to bring is your bed linens and you are set! Read more about our visit to here.

Any suggestions for future trips?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Point Reyes Lighthouse and Drakes Beach

I have mentioned in several blog posts that Point Reyes is my happy place. It is easily one of my favorite travel destinations in the Bay Area and I always feel a tremendous amount of calm and peace when we visit. The Point Reyes Lighthouse has been on my list for a while, but the additional 40 minutes of driving PAST Point Reyes Station has always seemed a bit intimidating to me. It just so happens that our holiday break coincided with the last day before the official tourism season started at the lighthouse, which was the additional push I needed to get moving! Visiting before the high season (or on a non-holiday Friday and Monday) means smaller crowds and you don't have to take a shuttle bus to the lighthouse (win, win!!!). 

Our first stop when heading to the area is always at Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station. They have great pastries, coffee and reasonable prices. There is also a lovely open area next to the bakery with picnic tables that no matter what the time of year, always seems to have sunlight shining on them. We planned ahead and brought a picnic lunch for the afternoon, but if you're looking for an easy lunch, Cowgirl Creamery is right around the corner and has a really nice prepared foods counter.

After breakfast we headed out to the lighthouse. One thing I have to say for all of the drives that we have taken in this area is that the kids are always exceptionally well behaved on them! The roads aren't too windy, they offer spectacular views of Tomales Bay, the Pacific Ocean and picturesque farmland with what must be some of the happiest cows in the world! Plus, if you ever buy Strauss dairy products you can say "Hey kids...those cows help make the ice cream we eat at home!" 

We arrived at the lighthouse around 11am and I definitely recommend getting there on the earlier side to get a good parking spot (there were far fewer spots available when we left less than two hours later). The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located on the western-most point of the Point Reyes Headlands. From the parking lot, there is a paved trail that is just under half a mile long that takes you to the stairs that lead down to the lighthouse. We immediately started spotting dozens of deer playing along the hillside below the path and even saw some elephant seals resting on the beach in the distance! 

I was a bit worried that the kids would have trouble with the steps, but they are very deep steps with a smaller than average rise to them, which made walking down them very easy. The pathway is protected on both sides by a chain link fence and there are several opportunities to pull off into viewing areas that are set up just off the main path. January through mid-April is prime whale watching time, so we were hoping to spot some whales during our visit. Thankfully we were not disappointed! Within just a few minutes of being down at the lighthouse we were able to spot a whale, and over the course of maybe 15 minutes, we saw several whales go by! It was a bit tough for our 3.5 year old to spot, but our 5.5 year old was able to catch a glimpse of the whales surfacing.

After a short visit we started the climb back up the steps. Every 10th stepped was stamped with a number, which made the climb sort of fun for our oldest who enjoyed looking for the numbers and reading them aloud as we passed. I was expecting my legs to be burning by the time we got to the top, but I actually found the walk up to be much easier than anticipated! I think the trick might be to keep your expectations low and then be pleasantly surprised! Bribing the kids with a small treat for making it to the top on their own also works well :)

The views on the walk up aren't bad!
Our next stop was just down the road at Drakes Beach. We got so incredibly lucky with the weather, seeing as it was late December and we had blue skies, very little wind and temperatures in the mid-60's! The beach itself is beautiful and there was plenty of room to spread out for a picnic, play with some beach toys and dab our toes in the extremely cold water. 

The views of the sandstone cliffs alone are enough to make this beach a memorable place to stop, but what really made our trip amazing was getting to see an elephant seal arrive! We have made a couple trips to see elephant seals along the California Coast, but those trips always involved walking to a spot that was already full of elephant seals. On our visit to Drake's Beach, we were throwing a frisbee around and enjoying the beautiful scenery when I saw this giant thing floating along with the current maybe 40 feet out from the waters edge. I yelled to my husband "What is that?!!!" and then we all watched as this massive elephant seal rode the waves onto the beach and slowly squirmed his way up onto the warm sand less than 100 feet from us. It was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Visitors are warned to keep their distance from the elephant seals that arrive on the beach and it just so happened that the fog was starting to roll in, so we packed up our belongings and cautiously made our way back to the car, stopping to admire this massive creature that was taking a nap on the beach. 

Another amazing trip to Point Reyes.

What are your favorite spots along the 
Point Reyes National Seashore?

Details: Point Reyes Station is about an hours drive from Berkeley and the lighthouse is an additional 40 minutes past Point Reyes Station (but I promise the drive isn't so bad, especially if you break it up with a stop in Point Reyes Station for food). Parking/admission is free if you visit the lighthouse during non-peak times. Check here for details of the shuttle and related fees for visiting during peak times from January through mid-April. My favorite family-friendly options for food in Pt. Reyes are Bovine Bakery and Cafe Reyes for take-out pizza (if you're being frugal) and Cowgirl Creamery if you were willing to splurge a bit more. When we are trying to keep costs down, we will also bring along our own food and maybe supplement with a side salad from Cowgirl or some pastries/treats from Bovine.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cabin Camping in the Bay Area

One of my biggest challenges when approaching affordable travel was finding places to take overnight trips. Camping sounds fantastic, and I think that someday we will get there, but at the moment we aren't quite ready to make the financial investment in camping gear. Cabin camping to the rescue! There are so many truly spectacular cabin camping options in California and it just so happens that there are several right here in the Bay Area! Check out my recent roundup of cabin camping options here on 510 Families.

What are your favorite cabin camping or glamping spots in California? Please share!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Escape to Mendocino

Mendocino has been on my list for a while, but due to the distance (about a 3 hours drive) it kept getting pushed to the back burner in lieu of closer destinations. That was until a couple of months ago when we decided to heck with it! Sure it's a long drive, but it's also an adventure, and we were very much in need of an adventure. So we woke the kids up at 6am, packed them into the car and we were off!

We broke up the drive by making a pit stop in Healdsburg to fuel up on coffee and pastries and to let the kids stretch their legs. We loaded up on muffins, scones and rolls from Downtown Bakery & Creamery, grabbed some drinks at Flying Goat Coffee and got back on the road for the last leg of the trip. While this is certainly a long trek to make for a day trip...the scenery is pretty amazing. The drive takes you along windy country roads, through a Redwood forest and along the coast for the last leg.

The main draw of this trip for me was getting to rent an outrigger canoe at Catch a Canoe. With two young kids, we don't get a lot of opportunities to tackle water sports, so a family friendly and safe option for canoeing was very attractive to me (and worth a 3 hour drive!). The outrigger canoes are longer and narrower that a typical canoe and don't tip over making them a great option for groups with small children.

The staff at Catch a Canoe were extremely accommodating and friendly and had us out on the water about ten minutes after our arrival! The canoe route takes you inland along Big River, which is an estuary for the first 8 miles. The scenery is breathtaking. Not far from where we rented the canoes, we found ourselves alone on the river, surrounded by hills of lush forest and wildlife. Five minutes on the river and I was ready to relocate our lives to Mendocino and spend my days floating down the river. Of course I quickly realized once we were in the canoe that my camera battery was dead, so unfortunately you are stuck with my iPhone pictures.

Aside from the beautiful scenery, Big River is also known for being home to river otters. We were really crossing our fingers that we would have at least one sighting, since we had jumped the gun a bit by promising the kids we would see otters. Thankfully we hadn't gotten far before we saw a small otter floating on it's back along side us, eating a fish!

A bit further down the river we spotted what we initially thought was a massive rock, but turned out to be another seal! This one was laying happily in the sun and had it not been for some small movements, I think we would have floated on by without noticing it. It was HUGE and we got a nice video of it waving to us on our way back.

Our rental was for a generous 3 hours (and only cost $60 since the kids were free) so we paddled down the river for a bit over an hour before turning around and heading back. Even after the excitement of the otters, we were still in awe of the nature surrounding us. It felt so special to be paddling down this river with almost nobody else in sight.

The river is tidal, meaning when the tide changes, the flow of the river changes with it. The ideal scenario is to paddle out with the incoming tide and then return with the outgoing tide so you are never paddling upstream. We didn't time our trek perfectly and found ourselves paddling upstream on the way back. This wasn't particularly straining aside from a few stretches that were exposed to the wind. Definitely plan on your paddle back taking a bit longer than your paddle out. I would also suggest wearing lots of layers. We had spectacular weather inland, but much colder weather as we approached the mouth of the river and hit the coastal fog. Thankfully we had brought along a blanket that the kids wrapped up in. Our youngest actually fell asleep on the way back, a testament to the comfort of the canoe I suppose (or the 6am wake-up)!

After getting back on land, we headed over the bridge to the town of Mendocino. We indulged in a warm meal at Goodlife Cafe and then took a leisurely stroll around town. Despite being a fairly small town, there were a number of shops to peruse and lots of tiny alley ways with cafes and small gift shops. Definitely a place I could relax for a long weekend!

Since we had a long drive ahead of us, we said our goodbyes and got back on the road. Our plan for the afternoon was to make a stop in Boonville, but we had no firm itinerary for our visit. Our first stop was at the Philo Apple Farm, where we purchased some fresh apple juice from their self-service farmstand. The gardens on the property are so beautiful!

After filling up on all sorts of apple goodness, we took an impromptu trip down to the nearby river. While I am all for a well-planned day-trip it felt particularly rewarding and relaxing to have a portion of the trip where we had the freedom to do as we wanted and not worry about checking destinations off the list. We threw rocks into the water and the kids watched minnows swim around their bare feet as they teetered on the river rocks.

We had planned on stopping by Anderson Valley Brewing (see our first visit to the area here), but unfortunately they have an early closing time on Sundays! Aside from a stop in Healdsburg for ice cream at Noble Folk (their pies are also amazing!) and a quick change into PJ's for the kids, we made good time on our trip back to Berkeley. The kids fell asleep on the last leg of the drive and we were able to easily transition them into their beds when we arrived home (love when that happens!!!).

While I hope to post more often in the coming months, please follow along on instagram for more frequent updates!

Details: Mendocino is about a 3 hour drive from Berkeley. Outrigger rentals at Catch a Canoe are $28 for adults, half off for kids 6-12 and free for kids 2-5 and include 3 hours on the river! Lunch at  Goodlife Cafe was very reasonable, with most dishes under $10 (and organic/local ingredients). Fresh pressed apple juice is $2 at Philo Apple Farm (self-service, so bring cash) and access to the adjacent river is free!

Have you been to Mendocino County? Any recommendations?