The bulk of our trip to California last month was spent where we’re both the happiest: by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea.
On the second to last day in the Golden State, after we’d logged our time in Santa Cruz on the boardwalk, SVV and I set off south along the coast. Two of our dear friends, Justin and Lyndi, were also in town from Nashville for the Big Sur Marathon. We figured this was the perfect excuse to meet them in Pacific Grove for the afternoon and an even better excuse to go in search of some wildlife en route.
As we neared Moss Landing, we pulled over to take some photos. After turning away from the beach to head back down the Pacific Coast Highway, we saw a cluster of photographers shooting down into the bay.
Pro tip: If you spot a smattering of long lenses all hovering in one spot, you should always pull over.
It was OTTERS, y’all! Lots and lots of cuddly, playful, couldn’t-be-cuter otters. There were a solid 50 of them, maybe more, sunbathing and frolicking in the placid waters. I suddenly wished I traveled with a long lens, cumbersome though it may be.
From there, we rushed on to Pacific Grove to make it in time to see our friends before they had to take off in the opposite direction.
After a late lunch and toast to Justin’s 26.2-mile victory at Victorian Corner—the staff of whom were super friendly and accommodating when we technically arrived a half hour after food was being served—we each went our separate ways: them to Big Sur and us just around the corner to Lovers’ Point.
I’m not going to sugar-coat things: It was freezing. We barely stayed longer than a minute in any one stop as we didn’t arrive equipped with down coats (OK, the California native, SVV did; I, on the other hand, did not).
We drove to the edge of the rocky town where the iconic 17-Mile Drive begins north of Pebble Beach before the sinking sun and the biting wind steered us back home for a final night with the VV clan.
The following day, on our very last morning on Santa Cruz, we killed a couple hours in town checking out the murals, enjoying the warmth (finally!) and doing what we do best: brunch and photo shoots.
Then, it was off up the PCH yet again! The best part about staying in Santa Cruz, hands down, is the easy access to so many deserted beaches and quaint coastal communities within an hour’s drive in either direction.
We were flying out of SFO, so this time we drove north—back up to San Francisco, slowly and methodically, stopping at even more coastal viewpoints that we missed on the way down.
It was still windy as Hell and tough to stand without being blown five feet, let alone set up the tripod and ND filter and take a shot on a 20-second exposure, and yet, we persevered, making pit stops in Pescadero and Año Nuevo.
Instead of arriving in the city via Highway 1, we cut over at Highway 84 in San Gregorio to make our way through the towering redwood forests surrounding La Honda and Woodside.
Once we finally made it to San Francisco, it was late afternoon and we just had time for a brief drive through our old stomping grounds Pacific Heights, which I think offer the best views of the city.
Local’s tip: Skip Lombard and head up Divisadero or Scott Street in the direction of Crissy Field, and the entire city will unfold in front of you, both to your north and your east. In late afternoon, there are no better views of the city.
From there, we went to an old favorite, B-Star Bistro, with my good friends Trina and Autumn before making it out to Sutro Baths just in time to watch the sun set.
Then, we moved down the road a bit to Ocean Beach where the sands were shifting dramatically as if we’d teleported to the Sahara.
We drove back through the city and over into Berkeley for our final night at Hotel Shattuck Plaza before a 3am wake-up time to our next destination—but not before stopping on Treasure Island to see San Francisco’s illuminated skyline in all her skyline glory.
Our time in California was all-too brief—just under five days, though once every other year is about all my waistline (and wallet) can take, to be honest—and we were on the go the entire time, but I’d say we accomplished a lot, wouldn’t you?