Some of our destinations are too action-packed to summarize in a quick post with accompanying photo galleries. Our time in San Benito, California was just such a destination. You can find a summary and galleries here, but we thought it deserved it’s own post…
We wrapped up 2014 by spending two weeks at a Thousand Trails campground in San Benito county. The campground is located on a wildlife preserve, though most of the wildlife we saw consisted of squirrels, birds, and deer. After all of the rain from the prior weeks, we were greeted with lush green hills and, more importantly, abundant sunshine. Though the campground is somewhat remote, it served as a great home base for exploring Santa Cruz, Monterey/Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Pinnacles National Park.
Before taking in those sites, however, we visited another national treasure: Casa de Fruta roadside fruit stand. What started as a simple cherry stand back in the 1940’s has grown to include a great deli, free wine tasting, a candy and baked goods shop, and even a train ride and carousel for the kids. Be warned, though, the train was being guarded by a peacock when we were there. If you are in the area, it’s worth a stop.
After skipping the choo-choo at Casa de Fruta, the boys were extra motivated to get some amusement park rides in. Next stop, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! Although the boardwalk had limited rides operating, the boys got an “unlimited rides” wristband and had a great time. They were even able to go on the iconic Big Dipper, a large wooden coaster. After the rides, we enjoyed walking along the coastline and watching surfers. Did you know…surfing was brought to Santa Cruz from Hawaii in the late 1800’s? Well, now you do.
Monterey/Carmel has always been one of our favorite regions. We usually visit the world class aquarium, but this time we were not able to because Jack would have missed us (read: we could not find dog care). No matter; we spent the day outside and walked along the ocean, saw wildlife and went on 17 Mile Drive. The Monterey coastline is a perfect mix of tide pools, beaches, and aquamarine water. There were seals, sea lions, and birds decorating the rocks. It’s almost too perfect.
In all the times we’ve been to Monterey, we’d never been on 17 Mile Drive. You basically pay $10 per car for the privilege of driving along the coastline looking at homes you could never afford. Kind of a “salt-in-the-wound” sort of experience. Because this would likely be our last visit to Monterey for some time, we decided to swallow our pride, splurge, and take the drive. It is worth doing at least once. In addition to incredible homes, you can see more wildlife and historic coastline. You can also catch glimpses of Pebble Beach and Spyglass golf courses (more “salt-in-the-wound”).
The south end of 17 Mile Drive drops you into Carmel-by-the-Sea. We honeymooned in Carmel years ago and the town holds many great memories. The boys had not been since they were toddlers. On that visit, we were enjoying the beach and a wave knocked Aidan onto his behind, soaking his pants. Meanwhile, Ethan stepped on a splinter of some sort on the beach. We had dinner plans, so we had to buy dry pants for Aidan. For $30(!) we got a pair of interesting (ugly) toddler pants from a boutique store in Carmel. One problem solved. Meanwhile, Ethan was freaking out about the splinter and how much it was going to hurt to have it removed. Irrational and inconsolable, the anticipation was killing him. We spent at least half-an-hour in the car outside of the restaurant wrestling with a screaming child trying to remove a splinter. We finally got to dinner. Ah, memories.
This visit was much easier, which I attribute to great parenting, not the passage of time. We spent most of our time on the beach and were treated to a dolphin show just off the coast. The sun was setting and the scene was incredible. Of course, the boys wrestled in the sand, but we avoided serious injuries – staying dry and splinter free.
Having our fill of the coast (not really, but…), we stayed inland and visited Pinnacles National Park for some hiking and cave exploration. The landscape itself is beautiful, especially when cast in sunshine. It is made up of large boulders, which give you the feeling of having been shrunken down to a much smaller size. The park is a climber’s paradise (or so it seems), with many designated climbing areas to choose from – and countless unofficial ones as well.
We decided to hike to Bear Gulch Cave, which was partially closed to protect some bats living there. We brought our headlamps as instructed and entered a new world. The first part of the cave was created by fallen boulders that settled in such a way as to create natural skylights. The sunlight passing through from above illuminated a small creek running along, and through, our path. As we ventured up and deeper into the cave, all natural light disappeared, replaced by the growing sound of a waterfall. We kept going, shining our light on the stairs carved into the rock, or simply made from steel, stopping occasionally to view a portion of the waterfall that would fit within the spotlight coming from our headlamps. Our passage through the cave narrowed and we nearly had to crawl on our knees to exit. Upon leaving the cave, we hiked to a nearby reservoir, the source of the waterfall. We sat by the water, had a snack, and soaked in some sun. Though the hike was only a couple of miles long, we felt far away from the green rolling hills to which we’d become accustomed. I suspect we’d go back to Pinnacles today if we could.
San Benito was also our home during Christmas and New Years. Though we purged almost everything we owned before traveling, we did bring one box of Christmas decorations. We got a small tree for inside the trailer and filled it with ornaments. We also hung a small strand of lights outside the trailer. Christmas morning was a nice blend of our new lifestyle (no large, bulky presents) and tradition (spending time together).
Our campground hosted a New Years party at the main lodge area, providing food, drink, and entertainment (karaoke, etc.). It was not the same as celebrating with good friends, which we’ve done for several years, but it was still a nice way to ring in the new year…at least that’s what the boys told us. Given our advanced age, we turned in early and let the boys stay at the lodge until midnight. They partied with other kids and seemed to have a great time.
Initially, we were not sure what to expect from our stay in San Benito. In hindsight, it was one of the most memorable two weeks we’ve spent on the road.