Monday, September 29, 2014

Hidden Monterey ~ Moss Landing Beach

Of all of the hidden places I have found in the Monterey Bay area, Moss Landing Beach is the one I treasure the most. So I'm reluctant to share it with all of you because I do treasure these uncluttered, easy to access beaches. But they are too wonderful to keep to myself! (Don't forget to click on the small photos to see their larger versions!)

To get there you need to take Hwy 1 North towards Santa Cruz. You will pass the more crowded beaches while leaving Monterey like Marina or Seaside. Keep going. 
 You will start to see the Artichoke fields of Castroville. Take note! If you love artichokes this is the place to get them at the little fruit and vegetable stands leading into Moss Landing. 
You can get deep fried artichokes at many of the little stands along the way as well or pick up some fresh ones to take home with you.
When you get to the Marina you will see this very picturesque scene on your right. Even on a cloudy day this is gorgeous but on a sunny day with blue skies it is magical! Now look to your left and you'll find a wonderful hidden treasure:
The Whole Enchilada! Everyone will tell you go to Phil's. And yes, Phil's has some good seafood but The Whole Enchilada is the place to eat in Moss Landing. 

 Not only is it picturesque but the staff is amazing. We have met the owner and he's wonderful too! On one of our visits he was actually handing out "quick pick" lotto tickets as Thank You's to his clients! 
 There is seating inside and outside and, due to the fluctuating weather patterns, they do have propane heaters all over the patio so you can still enjoy dining outside. The inside is colorful, spacious and wonderful as well.
The kids were tickled when the drinks arrived and little mermaids were hanging off the edges! These became keepsakes that they still play with at home.
But the food is the crowning reason to go. I'm a Native Californian who grew up in SoCal so I know Californian Mexican food really well and this is some of the best we've ever had! 
You can see the menu HERE but I've fallen in love with the seafood flautas. I get them with the lobster sauce on the side. I could, seriously, drink the lobster sauce.  There are desserts but, to be honest, we've never had room for more food after we've finished our plates! 
Now pull back out onto Hwy 1 and head over the bridge to Jetty Road. Make a left onto Jetty Rd and go ALL the way to the end. There is a little parking lot there. Park in the lot and then walk past the iron gate car barrier. This will lead you to the jetty and to the beach. There are LOTS of access points along Jetty Rd but all of them require you to hike a dune. Don't fall for it unless you want a work out. If you go to the end you get an easy access....which is greatly appreciated if you are dragging kids and beach items to.
Your first glimpse of this beautiful beach will make you an instant fan. One of the things that makes this beach wonderful for families is that it's been formed with different "zones". For those kids who want nothing to do with the water but do want to play in the soft sand then you can stick near the dunes for them. For those who want the choice but still not too close to the water there is a wide strip of that too. And for those who love to play in the wet sand, make sand castles and dash in the edges of the surf without the danger of the swells then this is perfect for them too! It's about 60 feet from dune to foam with these wonderful choices for your family.
The other thing that is wonderful about this beach is that it never gets truly crowded. We were there on a holiday Sunday and it still wasn't crowded. The tourists stick to the Monterey, Marina and Seaside beaches or stop at one of the first Moss Landing beaches (which all have high dunes to climb over) instead of making their way down to Jetty Rd. 

 The wildlife is on of the main reasons I love this beach. Flocks of Brown Pelicans fly over head at regular intervals allowing you to get a good look at these huge birds.
 Jetty Rd is the entryway into the Sea Otter Estuary as well. So it's common for you to see these adorable looking animals playing or floating in the water here.
 We even got to see whales breaching from the shore the last time we were there! There are many types that visit the Monterey Bay so your chances of seeing them are good! 
 But the most fun was watching a small pod of dolphins play in the surf right off shore. Four of them swam along the coast for the entire time we were at the beach so even the kids got to enjoy the antics.
The most common animal to see there is one of the dozens of sea lions that live inside this little jetty area. They play in the surf, swim and play in the water between the two jetties and lounge on the dock by the Sea Harvest Fish Market restaurant. More on that later...for now...the beach!
Sea birds regularly play on these beaches. You will see everything from gulls, sandpipers, avocets, godwits (like these who were hunting for crabs in the sand) and more each time you visit. Since it's less crowded than other beaches the birds will brave the shoreline more frequently.
Central California waves are much smaller than those in some other places. During a storm they can get a bit bigger but they are usually only about 3-6 feet tall. Nothing close to the 20-30 ft monsters they get at Maverick's further up the coastline. 
When the surf is up there will be surfers! This is tons of fun to watch (tons of fun to do too and you CAN get lessons in the area so you can learn to surf too!) and the kids will love watching these guys catch the waves over and over again.
 Of course, if your kids are like mine, the real focus here is the sand and the shells. There are plenty to find on these beaches and lots of wet sand and fluffy dry sand to play in for the whole family.
When you head back to your car take a moment to look back over the marina to the green restaurant and check out the "rafts" of otters gathered here or there in the water. We have seen over 50 otters in the water here and I've been told that summer isn't even the best time of year to see them!
  Drive around to that green restaurant and park in the parking lot. The Sea Harvest is a wonderful place to grab a snack and enjoy the view from their back patio. 
 This is a great place to hop into a kayak as well. This is an affordable way to get more up close to the animals and enjoy the Elkhorn Slough.
The Sea Harvest Restaurant is also one of the places that does up an artichoke really well! I'm more of a "deep fried artichoke heart" kind of person but those who love the outside leaves of a roasted artichoke swear that this is the place to go to get one! I have to say they do look pretty yummy! If artichokes are not your thing we can testify that the garlic bread and garlic fries make a VERY yummy snack!

You can't possibly miss the sea lion dock when you are at the restaurant. One of our favorite places to stop off at, these funny animals never cease to entertain us all. 
And the babies will just steal your heart! Lounging, playing or just romping on Mom and Dad, they are just SO cute! 

 If you still haven't had enough beach, or you were wondering about the other beach on the other side of the jetty, you can go back to The Whole Enchilada, take a right and then another right at the bridge (this is Moss Landing Road to Sandholdt Rd) and drive to the end of the street. There is no formal parking there. Street parking only and very little of that. But the beach is easy to access and it's beautiful.
If the beach on the other side is not crowded then this one is nearly deserted because of the limited parking. This is the same beach that you can access behind Phil's Seafood Market so if you find parking more up that direction then you can still enjoy this beach. Pull up a chair and hang out for awhile, especially if you can see a sunset beginning to develop. 
 Particularly in Summer, a sunset isn't guaranteed. The marine layer comes in to the bay and the setting sun is usually smothered in all of that fog. But when you get a sunset it really is gorgeous! And here's a tip...take a flashlight. There are no lights out there, which helps you to enjoy the sunset but makes it really dark out on the sand after the last rays of light are gone.  As to the mysterious "Green Flash"? Yes, I've seen it. Once. All the more reason to be there before the sun sets and watch it all the way till after it disappears!

Next week we'll head out to San Juan Bautista to visit one of the many California Missions that dot the famous El Camino Real.


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