If you are traveling to the California coast then chances are you are hitting the highlights. There are certain hot spots along the coastline starting with Eureka to the far north then Fort Bragg, San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Morro Bay/Pismo Beach, Long Beach/Malibu and then San Diego. Chances are good that these are one of the places that come to mind when you think of the coastline. But there are wonderful spaces between the hot spots to visit! Two such places that we stopped off at were Seacliff and Twin Lakes State Beaches.So I packed up my daughter, her 3 year old son and my 13 year old son and headed north of Monterey to find out if this first beach was as cool as my research made it sound to me. Seacliff State Beach is in Aptos. Located about 35 miles north of Monterey and about 10 miles shy of Santa Cruz this beach features a ship that has been sunk at the end of the pier in order to create a reef for fish and a nice landing/nesting spot for the sea birds. (click on the small photos to see the larger versions!)
Turns out is is VERY cool! Even my jaded teenager turned to me and said "Mom, this is the coolest beach you have ever taken me to!" and since I drag him to beaches all of the time that's saying something.
And look who we found right at the shoreline. Egrets are wetland birds but can be found near the ocean as well. Actually, there are times I've found them standing on kelp beds IN the ocean. This one seemed to barely notice my presence.
What makes this beach special, other than the artificial reef, is all of the driftwood, shells and rocks you will find as you walk the shoreline.
Normally the central coast will have either smooth beach sand or big jagged rocks so finding this beach with smooth "skipping" stones was a real treat.
As I turned to walk to the underside of the pier the egret stretched his neck, suddenly very aware. Initially I thought it was me but soon the arrival of a dog, happily bounding on the beach, made it clear that the egret could care less about me and was a whole lot worried about the dog.
The underside of piers has been something I've loved since I was a little kid. It's like this great hidden world that just goes on and on. When I was little, growing up in Southern California, I would pick a dry, sandy spot on the beach under the pier and just watch the waves. Now I photograph them.
I wanted to capture the way the high waves were crashing into the columns when my son tossed a rock into the nearby water startling a gull and making my image SO much more dramatic! (oh, and the 13 year old was all too happy with the effect!)
Gulls, pigeons, cormorants and brown pelicans dotted the ship with more flying off an on every minute. There was no easy overlook down into the reef but that didn't stop this from being a very cool view.
Due to the hazy, foggy morning the sun shimmered off the sea and cast the birds into silhouette creating one of my favorite photos of the day.But just look over the side of the pier and you could see lots of sea birds, like this grebe, swimming around in the water.
One of the most beautiful details that we noticed was the way the foamy water curled over into the crest of the wave. Just as beautiful from the top as they are from the front.
Because of the weather we were treated to two very different views of the shoreline. If you looked south along the shoreline there was very little visibility due to the fog bank which created this wonderful ghostly effect.
But all you had to do was walk to the other side of the pier to get a view of what the day really looked like! This beautiful and bright view gives you an idea of how moderate the temperatures of the day really were.
Since this was a week day the crowds were low, parking was easy to get and we almost had the beach to ourselves. There is a fee for day use but it covers all of the state parks you visit during that day.
Sea foam is created when large amounts of "surfactants", molecules from algae blooms and kelp beds, get churned up in the big waves that come with winter storms. Makes it look like snow on the beach. While snow on the beach is common on the shorelines of the Eastern US, it's not here in California so that makes sea foam a pretty cool effect.
From Seacliff we headed about 6 miles further up north to Twin Lakes State Beach. The fog gave the Walton Lighthouse there great ambiance but I'd love to go back again and see it on a clear day. If you want to actually walk the jetty out to the lighthouse you will need to go further north to Seabright State Beach.
Now Twin Lakes State Beach is a special hidden treasure. Located on the southern edge of Santa Cruz it is the Santa Cruz beach experience without the crowds of the Boardwalk or Natural Bridges. Parking is very limited so that helps keep the crowds down as well. If there is no parking lot spaces available you can get a parking permit for street parking on the weekends from the Live Oak Parking Trailer located at the corner of 9th Avenue and East Cliff Drive between 10am and 5pm on weekends or holidays. We were there on a weekday so there was a space to park and almost no one on the sand.
As with Seacliff, the foggy horizon didn't really effect the beach where it was bright, blue and beautiful. Different shore and harbor projects have left these broken pylons on the beach which create their own little ponds to discover and explore.
Twin Lakes is a very long beach and it offers a lot of room to run and play which was important for our little guys. Lots of wet sand meant lots of ways to play as well!
And while the day looked cold if you looked off into the fog bank just off shore, it was in the mid 60's and definitely warm enough for my teenager to play in the waves.
One of the things we enjoyed most about this beach was the textures and details created by the different beach features. This "river" was created by the wetlands drainage from the Schwan Lakes Wetlands located right across the street. This is a great place to see wetlands birds but it also creates this great pattern on the sand at the beach as the faux river makes its way to the sea.
Both kids were simply fascinated by the little water ribbons created by this effect. Okay, the adults had fun with it too. The effect was just beautiful!Right before we left for the day to head out for a late lunch and the drive home, we decided to try to make ourselves a sand "snowman". It sounds easier than it actually was! Due to winter storms the sand was really wet. It took some effort to make this little six inch tall figure but we were as proud as we would have been had he been six feet tall!
Having let the two beaches hold our attentions for way to long, by the time we started to look for somewhere to eat (not easy to do when you have a choosy teenager and a picky 3 year old to feed) we were happy to take the first place we found along our way.
We stopped off at Jeffery's Restaurant on Soquel Avenue and, I will admit, we thought we'd made a huge mistake when we walked in the door. This place is ancient. The type of place where the servers are all over 40 (maybe closer to 60) and it smells vaguely of that musty smell you identify with Grandma's house. But we were starving and knew the kids were not going to make it much longer due to the late hour and energy expended on the beaches...so we stayed. And were we ever happy we did. My daughter ordered the pancakes for her and her son and they were golden and light and fluffy. My teen ordered the fish and chips and the fish was crispy and light, not the least bit greasy. I took a leap and ordered the Monte Cristo sandwich and...wow. Man, oh, man was that GOOD! Sweet and savory and creamy and wonderful. Perfection. The prices are moderate and the service was good. It gets 4 stars for food and 3 stars for the ambiance which, honestly, could use some remodeling. But if you can get over the old location then you will enjoy the food. As we sat there enjoying our lunch we noticed that several of the other customers were obviously regulars and everyone seemed to be enjoying their food as well.
So if you are headed to the California Coast and find yourself in Santa Cruz or Monterey, hit these two beaches in between the two cities. It will be a fun day trip for the whole family.
As always, don't forget to click on the small photos to see the larger versions. And come check out the photos every day over at Instagram or Flickr and just this month I'm now featuring work on 500px so drop by one of those and say HI! See you here next week!