Greyson and I spent Christmas down in Point Reyes with his family. We didn’t have perfect weather, but we were still able to get out and hit most of the highlights.
On Christmas Eve day, we headed to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, hoping to see whales and birds. Thanks to the 50 mile an hour winds, the ocean was too choppy to see any whales.
Apparently the high winds also affected the birds. We saw way more birds hanging out on fence posts and low rocks than we normally do. Greyson let me use his nice camera with the big lens to get these bird photos – definitely not with my iphone!
We also stopped by a completely deserted Drake’s Beach. Well, not completely deserted. There was a bachelor elephant seal.
We didn’t end up doing anything on Christmas, other than jokingly participating in the Christmas Bird Count. I counted six different birds from the comfort of the hot tub!
The day after Christmas was much calmer, so Greyson and I went to McClures Beach to look for whales. I hadn’t been to McClures Beach before, so we spent some time wandering around and looking for tide pools.
There wasn’t anything interesting in the tide pools, so we made our way onto the nearby Tomales Point trail. The trail follows along the top of the bluff and I was able to spot 5 or 6 whales way off in the distance through my binoculars.
We also stopped at the famous Point Reyes Tree Tunnel.
Greyson had heard about a biking museum that had opened up in nearby Fairfax, so we drove down there on Saturday. The Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame is awesome, and Greyson wrote more about it on his blog. You can read more about it here.
Finally, on our way out of town on Monday we stopped by my favorite place in Point Reyes – Heidrun Meadery! We bought a couple of bottles, Alfalfa & Clover Blossom and Macadamia Nut. I also bought some Humboldt Wildflower honey. I wonder what is the predominant “wildflower” in Humboldt County?
Heidrun Meadery had their second batch ever of mead made from honey from their own bees based in Point Reyes. It’s not available in the tasting, you have to buy a separate glass to taste it. We decided to do it, because if you can’t drink a glass of sparkling mead at ten am on a Monday, what fun is vacation? I’m so glad that we did, because it was amazing! I wasn’t a huge fan of their first batch of local honey mead, but this one blew me out of the water. Seriously, if you are in the Bay Area, it’s worth the trip up to Point Reyes just to taste it! Well, and to experience the million other amazing things in Point Reyes!
The Sea Otter Classic is a massive bike festival and expo that takes place in Monterey Bay, California over a few days in mid-April. Greyson had great memories of attending the festival when he was younger, and we were excited to check it out. The only word I can use to describe Sea Otter is…overwhelming. Maybe people who are more experienced with massive expos would have gotten more out of it than I did, but there were so many booths and exhibits and things going on that it was hard to find anything I wanted to see. We also went on Saturday (the festival started on Thursday), so I don’t know if it was our random wandering or if the booths were already cleared out, but we didn’t score any swag. I did get a good deal on some new bike gloves and I ran into my friends from TAMBA. While I’m glad that I went at least one time in my life, I don’t feel the need to head back to Sea Otter next year.
We drank Sierra Nevada beer, ate some expensive teriyaki, watched some cyclocross, and then it was time for the main event of the day – Men’s Pro Dual Slalom.
The Men’s Pro Dual Slalom race kicked off with a race between two tandem teams!
Dual Slalom isn’t a super popular race anymore, but it’s a super fun one to watch. Two bikers race head to head on identical courses full of features like berms, drops and jumps. The riders then switch tracks, and their times are combined. The slower rider is eliminated and the other moves on to the next round, until a winner is declared.
As much as I love biking and all things related, I was even more excited for the next iteration of otters – actual live sea otters in the wild!
Greyson and I drove south from Santa Cruz to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve with one goal: to see some otters!
“one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves established nationwide as field laboratories for scientific research and estuarine education. The Reserve is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 1700-acre Reserve is a hub of activity and hosts programs that promote education, research, and conservation in Elkhorn Slough. The Visitor Center has award-winning exhibits that invite everyone to explore the Unseen Slough. There are five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks, and freshwater marshes. We offer tours on the weekends and special events throughout the year.”
More importantly, Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest population of California’s sea otters, a fact I learned by watching Saving Otter 501 (a PBS Nature Documentary, available to watch online here and via Netflix!) over and over.
California’s southern sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries, but a surviving population of around 50 was found off of Big Sur in 1938. The population has grown to nearly 2,000, many of which live in the protected Elkhorn Slough.
Greyson and I didn’t really have any concrete plans for finding the sea otters, other than going to Elkhorn Slough, and potentially renting kayaks. We ended up just pulling into a beach parking lot on vague instructions from Greyson’s sister, and we immediately spotted otters! We were on a little spit of sand with a manmade breakwater that made a perfect spot for otter spotting.
I only had my phone camera, so my photos aren’t great. Greyson got some great shots though, and made an adorable video that I already posted.
A highlight was definitely the two juvenile otters who wrestled near us for 15 or 20 minutes.
The shot I got with my phone.
The shot Greyson got with his camera. Ha!
I also loved this otter that floated contentedly while a fisherman and his dog worked on a boat nearby.
In addition to the dozens of otters frolicking about, the Elkhorn Slough was packed with other wildlife. We saw sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, herons, and the ubiquitous Velella velella. If you’re in the Monterey or Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend a trip to the Elkhorn Slough. If you’re interested in the crucial conservation work they’re doing, you can learn more on their website, or become a member!
We did a few other fun things in the Santa Cruz area over the weekend. We hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium just in time for the otter feeding and to visit the fluorescent-ly lit jellyfish:
And we hit up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for some birthday beers just before we left town on Sunday. These weren’t my favorite beers of all time, and I probably won’t write up a whole review of the brewery. I did enjoy their Peoples Organic Coffee Porter and Devout Stout, and I loved their location with an outdoor beer garden and tap room.
The whole weekend was a great way to celebrate my 31st birthday, and it will be hard to top next year!
I finally made it out to one of my Bay Area bucket list destinations – Alamere Falls. Alamere is a rare California tidefall, a waterfall that streams directly onto the beach. It’s one of only two in northern California!
We approached Alamere Falls from the south on the Coastal Trail outside of Bolinas, California. The trail is about 8 miles round trip, and fairly flat and easy, aside from the unmaintained trail to the top of the falls and the sketchy climb to the beach below the falls.
I had never been to Alamere, and Greyson hadn’t been in years, so we were surprised by the amount of people who were doing the fairly long hike on a Sunday. We had to park about a half mile away from the trailhead due to the amount of cars in the parking lot and along the road. We also were stopped several times before we made it onto the trail by people asking if “this is the trail to the waterfall?”
I’m not sure if it is always that busy on weekends or if it was exacerbated by some outside cause, like the gorgeous weather or being featured in a magazine or newspaper article. We saw several hundred people over the course of the ~3.5 hours we spent on the trail and on the beach. If you’re looking for a relaxing, people-free adventure, this may not be the hike for you, or be sure to time it on a week day during an off time.
Despite the many people (many who lacked basic hiking etiquette – we saw tons of dogs in the dog-free wilderness area, people hiking while blasting music, and other rude trail behavior), the Alamere Falls hike was totally worth it for us. The tide was way in, so there wasn’t much beach and we were dodging the waves, but the view of the waterfall falling into the waves was incredible!
Because there were so many people and loose dogs running around, the steep and loose climb down to the beach and back to the trail was extra sketchy. If you’re not sure-footed and used to scrambling, I’d recommend staying on the top of the cliff and enjoying the still amazing view of the falls from above.
Though fairly long, the trail is mostly flat and not technical, so it ends up being a fairly easy hike to the top of the falls and back. There are great ocean views on some sections of the trail, and once the haze cleared out, we could see back to the skyline of San Francisco. It should definitely be on your Bay Area Bucket List!
So I’ve mentioned a few times that Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip up the North Coast of California. We managed to hit a bunch of must-see spots, both well known and off the beaten path.
I’ve already written about one of the hidden gems we visited, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I thought I’d share the other stops on our amazing road trip.
Truckee, California to Inverness, California (200 miles, 3.5 hours):We stayed at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, California for Greyson’s sister’s wedding. I’ve written about what to do in Point Reyes in the past – it’s an amazing place full of tons of things to do.
Inverness, California to Westport, California (163 miles, 4.5 hours via Hwy 1):We headed north on the legendary Highway One, on our way to Fort Bragg and Westport-Union Landing Beach. In the Fort Bragg area, I knew I wanted to return to Pacific Star Winery and eat fresh seafood. I got my wish, and we tasted wines and watched a new batch of grapes be unloaded at the winery while the staff gave us a tour and let us taste test the different grape varieties. We ate dinner at Sea Pal Cove restaurant, where I had local rockfish fish and chips. I had been to the area before, and I knew that I wanted to stay in a private that I had discovered allowed camping on the sand, north of Fort Bragg on Westport Beach – Westport Beach RV Park. Though it is also an RV park, the tent camping sites are secluded from the rest of the park, and all we heard all night were crashing waves.
Westport, California to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California (75 miles, 2.25 hours via Garberville, CA):I’ve already written about the amazing Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I just want to emphasize again how incredible it is! If you enjoy the outdoors, it should be on your California Bucket List. On our way to Sinkyone, we stopped for lunch in Garberville at the Eel River Cafe – a cute diner with good food in generous portions.
Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California to Redwoods State and National Parks, California (142 miles, 3.5 hours): On our way to the Redwoods, we drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a well known drive that’s definitely worth getting off the highway for.
One of the main things Greyson wanted to see on this trip was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park(part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We found that Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was the closest access to Fern Canyon, and open on a first come-first serve basis in early October during our trip. We arrived fairly early on a Thursday, and by Thursday night the campground was pretty much full, despite it being a weeknight during the off season. If you plan on staying at Gold Bluff Beach, Fern Canyon is a pretty much year-round attraction, so plan on getting to the nearby campgrounds early in order to find a spot. Our campsite was tucked away behind some bushes for a wind break, and a quick walk to the ocean beach, surrounded by the gold cliffs that give the area its name. Fern Canyon can be accessed by a less than quarter mile hike from the parking area, but we chose a longer 7 mile loop through old growth redwoods to access the back side of the canyon. The longer hike was definitely worth it, full of wet forest plants and creatures that we don’t get to see in the Sierra, and not very strenuous at all.
Fern Canyon was like nothing else I’ve ever seen – sheer walls entirely covered with ferns – and worth a trip to the Redwood State and National Parks just on its own.
Redwood State and National Parks, California to Nevada City, California (328 miles, 6.25 hours via Chico): The only problem we ran into on our whole road trip came on this leg. We had planned to stop in Chico, California for our last night and do a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and just get a cheap motel room when we go into town. It turns out that we arrived on the Saturday of Parents Weekend at Chico State, and there wasn’t a room to rent within 50 miles. We ended up just having an early dinner/beer tasting at Sierra Nevada, and we pushed on to Nevada City. We grabbed a couple of beers at Matteo’s Public, and were asleep before ten in our room at the Emma Nevada House.
Nevada City, California to Truckee, California (102 miles, 3 hours via Hwy 49 & 89): Since our inadvertent night in Nevada City meant that we were further along on our road trip, we decided to take the long way – Highway 49 to Highway 89 through Downieville. This route has beautiful views of the Sierra Buttes, and our quick stop in Downieville had us lamenting the fact that we didn’t have our bikes. This meandering, scenic route was the perfect end to a perfect Northern California road trip.
And finally, in true data-nerd form, here’s my spreadsheet of trip mileage, travel time and a few notes, for reference:
So, I don’t want to brag…but I found the best state park in California. I considered not sharing and keeping the pristine, remote wilderness to myself. But Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is so far off the beaten path that I don’t think I need to worry about it getting overrun. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is one of the few ways to access the Lost Coast – California’s least developed stretch of shoreline.
We undertook quite a journey to arrive at Sinkyone (spoiler alert: worth it!). First we headed east and south from Graberville, California, taking twisty backroads through the trees, passing high fences, large fertilizer tanks, and the overwhelming smell of marijuana. We made a mental note not to wander off trail in this area of northern California. After 20 or so miles of this, we followed signs to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Needle Rock Visitors Center, and camping and onto the steepest, windiest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever been on.
It was pretty foggy, so we couldn’t really see where we were headed, and I’m pretty sure Greyson thought that I was taking him somewhere remote to abandon him. After three miles of dirt road (which seriously took like 40 minutes to descend), we got our first incredible glimpse of the Lost Coast.
Can you spot the Harbor Seals?
We checked in with the camp host, and set up our tent on a bluff overlooking the ocean. (You can also book a spot in an old barn if you want!) There are only a couple of spots available at Needle Rock Visitor Center, so you are guaranteed to not feel crowded! While we were car camping, there are hike in camp sites within a mile or so of the parking area.
We decided to head down the steep trail to the beach before dinner. The camp host had warned us about the steepness, and he was not kidding! There were several sections where a rope tied around and nearby bush were necessary to descend and later ascend.
Photo by Greyson Howard
Like the drive, the hike to the beach was worth it. It was sheer cliffs and black sand beaches as far as we could see, and our only company were the dozens of curious harbor seals basking on the rocks. Needle Rock beach has got to be one of the best beaches in all of California.
Over the few days we spent at Sinkyone, we spent quite a bit of time at the beach – examining tide pools, getting into staring competition with the seals, watching pelicans dive, and attempting to climb on the rocks. We even saw an otter, which are supposed to be extinct that far north on the California coast! We also hiked a section of the Lost Coast trail to look at some neat geologic features. We hiked up a steep hill, hoping for a great view.
While we didn’t exactly get a view of the ocean, hiking to above the fog was pretty awesome! We also saw the local elk herd.
If you plan on visiting Sinkyone, be sure to check the weather, as the road probably becomes impassable in the winter/rain. Bring everything you need with you, as there’s nothing in the way of supplies available. Pack out your garbage, as there is not garbage pick up in the park. Be sure to bring rain gear, hiking shoes, and binoculars!
Back in April, I headed to Point Reyes with some friends to do my Dirty Thirty Birthday right. Coincidentally, my good friend Becky also turned 30 on April 19th, so we did a co-birthday weekend filled with friends, hikes, laughter, mountain biking, wildflowers, sea mammals, birds, beer and cheese!
Greyson and I headed down from Tahoe early on Friday so we could get a quick mountain bike ride in. We ended up riding Estero Trail, which, aside from dodging cows and cow pies, was a beautiful, easy little ride.
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Note: the trail was SUUUUPER rutted in sections, to the point where I had to push my bikes up a couple of hills. It had rained fairly recently, so it might be in better shape now. (Note: As of 2017 the trail has been graded and graveled in a lot of sections, so it’s pretty smooth cruise.)
We grabbed a snack at Station House Cafe (I had the delicious mac and cheese) and headed back to the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore to wait for the rest of the group. Everyone else arrived that evening, and we went to bed fairly early in order to get an early start on the day. Much of the group, including me, had never been to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, so we drove there for our first stop. The park ranger stationed there told us they’d seen a bunch of whales the day before, so my hopes were high! Unfortunately, we saw zero whales. But we did see a sea lion or seal. The day wasn’t too foggy, so we could see the Farallon Islands off in the distance.
We headed back to Point Reyes Station to grab some Cowgirl Creamery cheese and called ahead to our (hopefully!) next destination – Heidrun Meadery. We were luckily able to book the last tour of the day, so we scarfed our lunches, piled in the cars and made the short drive to the old dairy farm where Heidrun Meadery is located. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:
“Located in Point Reyes Station, California, Heidrun Meadery produces dry, naturally sparkling varietal meads using the traditional Méthode Champenoise.
Mission: Our goal is to be involved in the meadmaking process from the flower that provides nectar for the honey bee to the flute from which we drink.
Company Overview: Heidrun Meadery was founded in 1997 in Arcata, California. In 2008 we purchased a slightly funky and defunct dairy farm in the agricultural and culinary oasis of Point Reyes Station, Marin County, California, with the ambitious objectives of relocating the meadery nearer to the Bay Area, expanding our mead production, setting up a commercial beekeeping operation, starting a bee forage cultivationprogram and establishing a modest visitor’s center and tasting room.Visitors are welcome on a reservation-only basis Monday-Saturday, 10am to 4pm. You can join us for a tour and tasting, just do a tasting and skip the tour, or enjoy a glass or bottle of mead while soaking up the sun on the patio. Call or email to make reservations.
Our trademark Champagne-style of mead is light, dry, delicate and refreshing, with subtle exotic aromas and flavors found only in the essence of honey. We pride ourselves on producing our mead in the most sustainable manner and supporting beekeepers around the country.”
This place was phenomenal! The mead was delicious, and I could hardly believe that the only difference between each variety was the type of flowers the bees visited. My favorites were a sweeter Orange Blossom Honey Mead and the almost beer like Carrot Blossom Honey Mead. One thing that we learned from our tour guide was that the Meadery is trying to make mead from honey they cultivate themselves, but have been having issues with colony collapse each year.
That night we played some tennis and HORSE on the tennis/basketball courts back at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore and explored the property (watch out for poison oak!) We finished the night with a birthday barbecue back and soaked in the hot tub.
After a leisurely Sunday breakfast and Easter egg hunt, we decided to check out the Tule Elk Reserve and Tomales Point Trail. Tomales Point Trail is an easy, fairly flat 9 mile round trip hike to the end of Tomales Point. Here’s how Bay Area Hiker describes it
“The Tomales Point tule elk reserve is not only a great place to watch wildlife, it’s one of the quietest trails on Point Reyes. The single trail drifts north away from the trailhead, eventually reaching Tomales Point, nearly 5 miles from the nearest road. Squeezed on three sides by water, the only sounds are wind, surf, and bird cries. At a bluff overlooking the ocean you can spy on pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls, while elk bellow in the distance.”
While the elks, bird, and ocean views were beautiful, the mid-April wildflowers were incredible! My pictures in no way do them any justice. The whole Point Reyes area was stunningly green. I would highly recommend mid-April as a wonderful time to visit.
I would highly recommend Point Reyes as a quick weekend away from the Bay area or Sacramento, or even as a destination by itself if you are traveling from further away.
As you may know, there is currently a massive fire raging in California. The smoke from the 180,000 acre blaze is filling up the Tahoe Basin, where I live. I went to get an emergency refill on my inhaler (ooops…probably should have done that ~6 months ago), and the doctor suggested I get out of town. A prescription for an impromptu road trip? The best prescription ever! My roommate and I packed up Strawberry, my CRV, and headed toward the Mendocino coast.
We made it to the Motel 6 in Ukiah and crashed for the night, planning on doing the rest of the drive in the morning. After sampling the produce at the Ukiah Farmers Market and a leisurely breakfast at Ellie’s Mutt Hut, we made the hour or so drive to Fort Bragg.
I absolutely fell in love with Fort Bragg. It’s definitely a tourist town, but also a functioning harbor and fishing port. I had lots of fantasies about marrying a sea captain, getting really good at kayaking and eating fresh salmon every day.
Some highlights from the Fort Bragg area were:
Buying local smoked salmon and salmon fillets right off the boat in Noyo Harbor
Breakfast at Cafe 1 (which one Yelp review described as “that pretentious organic crap”),
We ended up camping a little north of Fort Bragg near Westport at the Westport-Union Landing State Beach campground, which was “primitive” (no potable water, pit toilets), but had a gorgeous view of the coast and beach access with a bit of a hike. The tide was out and the tide pools were teeming with sea creatures! When we were walking along the beach, we discovered that the local KOA campground lets you tent camp right on the beach, far away from the motorhomes. Next time, I will definitely stay there.
My roommate and I played in the tide pools, splashed around in the (cold!) ocean, and attempted to make friends with some successful and attractive kayak anglers. They were friendly, but did not invite us to dinner.
On Sunday, we packed up camp and headed south on Hwy 1, admiring the gorgeous foggy views before we cut inland through Navarro River Redwoods State Park. This is a beautiful but windy drive through dense redwoods and then dozens of vineyards. This drive was a little out of our way home to Tahoe, but the most direct route to Anderson Valley Brewing Company!
I love beer and breweries, and Anderson Valley is a favorite. We hung around the tiny town of Boonville, waiting until the next tour began. Anderson Valley is a little outside of town, with fun grounds to explore, including a disk golf course and goats! The tour was fun, informative and only $5, which included two 5 ounce samples. Katie and I each split our two, so we tried 4 varieties that you can only get at the brewery.
We began our long trek back to Tahoe, hoping that the smoke had cleared. The drive back wasn’t terrible, as there were new views we had missed during the drive in the dark. Also, we stopped at Whole Foods in for dinner and Sonoma Pickles! Definitely a great weekend.