Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taking the Kids to Half Moon Bay

At Devil's Slide

A day during Spring Break . .

Me - "Okay guys, I looked at the tide chart and there will be a low tide tomorrow at the Fitzgerald Marine Preserve between 10:30 - 12:30AM. Do you want to go?"
Kids - "Yeah!" "Sounds great!"

The next day . .

My Daughter - "It doesn't look like low tide, Mom."
My Son - "Are there supposed to be tide pools here?"
Me - "Well, I don't know what tide table or day I looked at, but obviously it wasn't the right one! Sorry guys."

 What a difference a tide makes . .


 At least there were Harbor Seals . .

And a cool fresh water stream . .


We decided to switch our destination to Devil's Slide. I'd walked it the week before but the kids hadn't seen it yet. They were amazed that cars used to drive along this route, and without protective barriers!


We didn't stay long because this is what happens when you travel with a growing 12 year old boy . . .


I'll show you what we did the rest of the day in next week's blog. To be continued . .

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spinning at the Boardwalk!

The black sneakers and white socks belong to my daughter

 Recently, my daughter and I enjoyed a wonderful mother/daughter day trip to the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. Now this isn't exactly a budget trip. The only way it could seriously be a budget trip would be to stroll along the boardwalk, soaking up the sights and sounds of all the fun everyone is having - except for your kids who are being tortured! So I don't recommend that. But I can recommend a few ways to save money. I will list them at the end of this blog.

We got to the boardwalk right when it opened. It was foggy but we didn't mind, and the best thing was, it was wide open. We were the first at the ticket booth to buy our season passes so it went quickly. Later in the day, there is always a long line to get tickets because their process is very cumbersome. You have to fill out a form, get your picture taken and put on a wristband, all of which takes time. Get there early if you can, to get that out of the way. Anyway, because the boardwalk had just opened (10AM) there were no lines at any of the rides and we even had some to ourselves. 

So peaceful in the morning

One of the first rides we did was supposed to be a gentle kids ride. It's called the Cave Train and features a slow train ride through a long dark cave with neon lit "cave people." They look like Neanderthal Apes and reminded me very much of this terrible driver's ed movie I saw back in the 70s, that starred monkey masked people who would do really stupid things and get themselves killed. So I can safely say, the cave people creeped me out! And even my daughter, who was initially amused by the cave people and their antics (playing jazz, riding a dinosaur, etc.), ended by thinking they were too freaky to be funny. So go at your own risk.

Luckily there are a lot of rides to choose from. Mild spin rides, crazy spin rides, up and down and round about rides . .

Notice she's riding and I'm photographing. Round and round is not for me!

 My favorite is the Giant Dipper roller coaster.

The Giant Dipper

It's the 5th oldest coaster in the United States (but well maintained!) and is also a classic wooden coaster. I LOVE this coaster. It's non-stop excitement but not crazy scary. My daughter however, has to force herself to ride it (she won't let a ride go unchallenged), and yet she LOVES the crazy swing rides, like the Fireball, that swoop and twist you up into the air until you're practically hanging upside down. Run away!!

The Fireball - It was hard for me to even watch it!

 Neither one of us had the courage to ride the Undertow. Shudder . .

The car spins at the same time it's traversing the track!

Moving away from the rides, there are many fast food places along the boardwalk. Two of my favorites are Surf City Grill, where you can buy delicious clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl or deli sandwiches and Whiting's Foods where you can buy soft serve ice cream in chocolate or vanilla (or both). We took our lunch and ate it on the beach; it was good to get away from the noise of the boardwalk for a bit.

View from the sky buckets

Speaking of the beach, the boardwalk beach is broad and white and large, with beautiful views, plus a long pier (Santa Cruz Wharf) where you can always see and hear sea lions cavorting below. There are so many fun things at the boardwalk and beach - I think I'll let you discover the rest for yourself.

Taking more pictures? I'm on to you Mom . .

If you go: the beach and boardwalk can be freezing in the morning because of fog and wind. The sun usually comes out very bright in the afternoon. Of course, it all depends on the season and the moods of the ocean. So bring clothing for cold or hot weather. 

Pre-operating Hours

To save money: 

  1.  If you live locally, buy a season pass
  2.  If you are a Costco member, you can buy 2 all day ride wristbands for just under $60.00 (vs. $80)
  3.  Between June 13 - August 26, visit after 5pm on Mon & Tues nights and tickets per ride will only cost $1.00. They call this 1907 nights. 
  4. Between June 13 - August 29, there will be free Friday Night Beach Concerts.
  5. Between June 25 - August 13, there will be free movies every Weds at 9pm, on the beach.
Have fun!
P.S. for a calm ride with beautiful views, ride the Sky Buckets.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Sunset Gardens - an Oasis in the Middle of Town

1.2 acre lawn of colonial bent grass, Astoria strain
Menlo Park is a great little town to visit, but what makes it even better is its hidden oasis - Sunset Gardens - yes, THE Sunset Gardens of magazine fame. Their headquarters are near downtown and they have a display garden that is open and free to the public, M - F, 9 - 4pm.
Location: 80 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA - at the intersection of Middlefield and Willow Road.

I needed to go to Menlo Park to pick up my daughter's repaired cornet (Bridgepoint Music - a great music and repair store) and I thought, why drive all that way and not do something while I'm down there? A quick Google search brought me to Sunset Gardens so away I went.

Approximately 1 mile from downtown Menlo Park

What struck me most about Sunset Gardens was its quiet serenity.  Here I was in the middle of downtown (well, almost) and I could hear birdsong!  When I arrived, an elementary class was just leaving, so except for one gardener and one visitor, who both quickly disappeared, I had the garden to myself!

Sunny sky and Birdsong!

This is a self guided tour; you can pick up their guide brochure at the front desk. The garden consists of a beautiful green lawn bordered by 5 separate western climate zone areas. It also has an Editorial Test Garden. Following the brochure's suggested route, I began my stroll in the Southwest Desert.


Following that, I walked through the Southern California zone, the Central California zone, the Northern California zone, and finally the Pacific Northwest zone.

Tlingit Totem Pole from Port Chilkoot, Alaska

Leaving the Pacific Northwest, I passed some beautiful ornamental grasses. Not sure which zone these were in as there was no label.

The last area I visited was my favorite, the Editorial Test Garden. This is where Sunset staff evaluates various plants and projects to see how they perform. According to their brochure, the garden is "an example of how to achieve high performance in tight spaces." They also point out that half of their photography is done in this area. I certainly favored it for my photography!

If you go: Bring your camera and slow down long enough to discover the garden's hidden gems.

Have Fun! Oh, and if you're lucky, like I was, you can pick up a free sample of Ghirardelli chocolate before you leave. What can be better than that?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Heavenly Devil's Slide

Sunny but hazy day on the San Mateo Coast

It used to be that if you drove along Devil's Slide on HWY 1 on the San Mateo coast, you were taking your life in your own hands. It's hard to find exact statistics, but one article from the Tuscaloosa News dated Aug 20, 1967, stated that the Pacifica Fire Dept. "recovered 28 bodies in a decade and rescued more than 60 injured persons since 1963." Since then, there have been many more auto fatalities and accidents, climbing accidents and landslides. But hopefully no more!

The new and improved Devil's Slide opened to the public - pedestrians and bikers only - at the end of March, 2014.  Auto traffic is now re-routed through the Tom Lantos Tunnels, which run through the San Pedro Mountain, between the towns of Montara and Pacific, CA.

View of the Tom Lantos Tunnels, north end of the trail

This morning I drove up to Devil's Slide to check it out for myself. Driving north on HWY 1 from Half Moon Bay, I didn't see any signs directing me to Devil's Slide. But when I got to a fork where you could go right through the Lantos Tunnels or left to a small parking lot, it was easy to decide to go left. There was still no signage but there was a newly paved trail, restroom and water fountains. Maybe they'll add the sign in time and yes, it was Devil's Slide.

Not a good photo but you can see that the road is nicely paved.

The trail is 1.3 miles long and features beautiful views of the San Mateo coast. There are 3' concrete barriers protecting visitors from cliff drop offs, and netting that helps secure parts of the inland side from rock falls. I'm making it sound scarier than it is! This is a great trail for young kids. You don't need to walk the whole thing to enjoy beautiful views. Most of the trail is wheel chair accessible, though pushing would be required for some of the steep parts.

Fun Fact: A 1960 movie called Portrait in Black, had a scene filmed at Devil's Slide in which a car was pushed off the cliff.

No wonder driving here was dangerous!

There is quite a bit of educational signage, some nice benches for relaxing, and for 50 cents you can look through an observational telescope. It is very convenient that there are restrooms and water fountains at each end of the trail. But I do recommend carrying your own water as the black pavement and sunshine can make you pretty thirsty.

It was a great morning. The sun was shining, it was almost too hot, and there was a refreshing breeze blowing in from the ocean. I saw a Grey Whale spout a few times, a rookery of birds on a faraway rock (Common Murres?), song birds, sea gulls, pelicans and even a lizard. I don't know if it was the beautiful scenery or the newness of the road, but practically every walker greeted me with a smile or a hello. I also saw one friendly ranger who offered me the use of his binoculars.

Bird Rookery

The only negative that occurred was when I saw a mother letting her toddler son walk on the concrete barrier, while she kind of held his hand. While she was talking to her friend, her son stepped off the barrier and took a couple of steps toward the edge. It wasn't a close call, but I did say to her, "you know that's a sheer drop off right?" She ignored me but immediately called back her son and put him safely on the ground. Parents - please don't risk your children's lives and don't teach them that it's okay to ignore a safety barrier; I mean - Duh!
Okay, done with my little rant.

Steep drop offs

I bet sunset would be beautiful here!

So I highly recommend this short hike. You can walk it quickly or take as much time as you want. Parking (at both sides of the trail) is limited to 40 vehicles, so they recommend taking a weekend shuttle from Pacifica or riding the Sam Trans Rt.17 bus. Because I went up on a weekday morning, I lucked out and found a parking space.

And when you're done, head south a couple of miles to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve for some fun tide pool exploration. Have fun!