Channel Islands National Park

Last summer I went on a sea kayaking trip at Channel Islands National Park. It was superb! Here’s some info in case you’d like to go this summer (and you should):

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The Channel Islands are located about an hour’s boat ride from Ventura, CA. No one permanently lives there (you can camp) and there is no transportation on the island. All there is to do is kayak or snorkel or hike, and it’s pretty glorious.

You can only get to the islands via a couple of companies. If you want to kayak, you can book your passage to the island and kayak expedition all together. There are different excursions to different islands, including one-day trips and overnight trips with camping. There’s lots of info on the park website.

My husband and I chose Aquasport’s one-day trip to Santa Cruz Island with ocean kayaking. The boat left at about 8AM and we returned around 5PM. Once we arrived, our guide provided helmets, jackets, paddles, and kayaks, along with basic instructions. We spent the next 3 or 4 hours paddling in the sea, nudging into sea caves whenever possible. Our guide was fantastic and, even though it was unusually windy, he was a pro at making sure we saw as much as possible.

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I’d recommend wearing a bathing suit with some quick-drying layers over top and lots of sunscreen. Water socks are also highly recommended. Oh, and a baseball cap. It’ll keep the sun out of your eyes and make your helmet more comfy. You can bring some dry clothes, water, lunch, more sunscreen, etc. and keep it in your guide’s lockbox on land. Store in a waterproof, airtight bag and/or hard-sided cooler.

After kayaking, we had a couple of hours to eat lunch and explore the island. There’s a small museum of sorts displaying the history of the island, and there are a few hiking trails. I made my way up one and took in breathtaking views free of traffic noise.

Note that the dock at Santa Cruz has been out of commission for a few years now, and the crew ferries everyone back and forth from the big boat in groups of 8-10. It takes a while, but it’s kind of fun, and they are working real hard. Just be patient.

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Channel Islands National Park

Big Sur

Our northernmost destination on our roadtrip was Big Sur. It’s long been on my list of places to see, and it was definitely worth the drive. The best and only way to see Big Sur coming from the south is to drive along the 1 north of San Simeon and stop whenever you like to enjoy the view or go on a hike. It’s a very windy road that largely hugs the coast, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But take your time and enjoy it—there are plenty of turn-offs, viewpoints, and trails to enjoy.

Our first stop was Ragged Point, which is where Big Sur begins at it’s southernmost point. It consists of a hotel, viewpoint, cafe, and expensive gas station (pro tip: fill up in Morro Bay or San Luis Obispo if you’re driving north. The gas is stupid expensive is Big Sur and few and far between). We parked and walked along the viewpoint, spotting a whale or two from the coast and watching for some time. It’s a great introduction to Big Sur and a chance to stretch your legs.

Big Sur

Another great stop is McWay Falls, which is in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Park near the entrance of the park (there’s a big state park sign) and walk across the 1 towards the coast. There is a very short and easy trail leading to viewpoints all around the falls, which drops directly into the ocean. There is also a trail or two that start across the street in the park, and afford great views and lots of redwoods.

Big Sur

We camped in Big Sur, and this was our tent plot. We were in a circle of beautiful redwood trees! Camping is a great way to experience the region, and fancier accommodations can get pretty expensive. Do your research and book early when it’s high season.

Big Sur

On our second day before starting the drive back down, we drove up a few miles to Bixby Bridge. Next trip I’d like to keep going north a bit and check out the Monterey area.

Big Sur

On our drive back down through Big Sur, we stopped at an unmarked trail that led us down to the coast, past a stream, through a tunnel, and to a couple of coves. Basically, you can’t go wrong stopping at any official trail. They all lead to something beautiful.

Big Sur

Redwoods! This is the view looking up from our tent site.

Big Sur One last view. Every view is beautiful in this part of the state, including inland, since there’s lovely forest, streams, and big beautiful trees. We saw whales a few times while just staring out at the ocean, and sometimes you can spot happy seals. We’ll be back, and you should check it out, too.

Big Sur

Ice Cream Cone S’mores

S'mores cone

While camping in Morro Bay, we put our fire pit to good use. After grilling up cheesy veggie flatbreads, we tried out a new trick for dessert. We each stuffed our own sugar cone to the top with a mix of dark chocolate chips and mini marshmallows and wrapped them tightly in foil (be careful not to be too rough, I broke one of my cones this way).S'mores cone

If you have a calmer fire, stick them in the grates like the photo above and let them heat up while you clean up your dinner mess. If your fire is pretty hot like our’s, I started them out on their side, rotating them after a couple of minutes, and then poked them through the grates to finish. This way the bottom won’t burn, but hopefully when you unwrap your cones, they’ll be nice and melty inside. Once you check and see if they’re done, be sure to let them cool for a minute before digging in.

It’s a great way to enjoy a s’more without the need for skewers, and they’re not quite as messy. We liked them so much we made two for each of us.

Ice Cream Cone S’mores

Morro Bay

I’m sorry for the radio silence as of late. Work got unexpectedly busy and then we had a short but much-needed vacation, but now I’m determined to get back into posting on the reg. I had such a great time on our road trip, I thought I’d share some of my favorite places and fun stuff we did.

Morro Bay Morro Bay is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Los Angeles or San Francisco, and, as its name implies, it’s a beautiful bay on the Pacific Ocean. It attracts some tourists, but it’s not an overrun resort town. The inns are small, the activities are nature-filled, and the wildlife abundant. Morro Bay

We camped at the state park campground on the south end of the bay, just a block from the water. While there, we rented a tandem kayak and paddled around in the bay, getting great looks at lounging sea otters and rowdy seals. The prices at Kayak Horizons were reasonable, we called ahead for tide info which they happily provided, and their dock is right on the bay for easy in-and-out.Morro Bay

We ate lunch at one of the bay-side seafood restaurants before checking out the giant Morro rock and walking along the beach. It can be pretty windy on the water, so we didn’t stay for long, but lots of people were surfing some good waves that day. The rock is covered in birds, and we saw pelicans skimming the water.Morro Bay

We set up camp and walked up to the nearby Natural History Museum to take in the view. Morro Bay also has boating trips, a tiny aquarium, hiking, and all the amenities you’ll need (groceries, shops, etc). Especially since it’s a relatively easy drive and near San Luis Obispo (more on that later), we’ll definitely be back.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay