Cruise on by Santa Cruz – one solo woman traveler’s candid perspective

I’ve never been to Santa Cruz, but it’s always held a certain allure for me. I was expecting a fun, charming surf town and had planned on spending some time getting to know the area. I took the scenic route (9) in from San Jose. It was a lovely ride through the mountains with redwood forests on either side. It was lovely, that is, until I got within a couple miles of Santa Cruz city limits. Here, the pullouts were crowded with disheveled people hanging out, drinking, smoking, erratically crossing the street, their stuffed cars overflowing, litter and debris everywhere. Are these the official town greeters of Santa Cruz? Yikes. I had intended to camp in the state park here, but made a quick decision that camping by myself anywhere near Santa Cruz would be ill advised.

Don’t get me wrong, not all of Santa Cruz is like that, but there’s enough of this element to make many areas downright unpleasant and uncomfortable. Of course, I don’t go in for the amusement park scene either and Santa Cruz has a big seaside amusement park and boardwalk. The entire area gets inundated with people, especially on a summer weekend. So inundated, in fact, that my map program told me it would take 30 minutes to drive 1 mile. Yikes again. Since I’d been in transit all day, I wanted to take a nice walk. Not knowing where to go, I headed for the beach and ended up by the squalor of the boardwalk. My stroll took me through neighborhoods with boarded up and ramshackle homes and through other undesirable areas where street people were lurking under bridges along the river trail. Second impression was as bad as the first. Wouldn’t recommend walking alone at night around here at all. To top it all off, my Airbnb had a port-a-potty and an abandoned couch out in front of it. I paid $115 for the dubious privilege of spending the night in a dingy, dirty, dimly lit dump. Everything was sold out so I was out of luck and I was too exhausted to drive any further. Luckily, the sheets and towels were clean.

The next morning, I discovered one of the most beautiful areas of Santa Cruz, scenic West Cliff Drive, with its gorgeous homes, famous surf spot, “Steamer’s Lane” and Natural Bridge State Beach. If you’re looking for a coastal stroll in Santa Cruz, this is the area to take one. Third impression of Santa Cruz, much better.

 

 

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I took a yoga class on the beach at Natural Bridges State Beach – spectacular setting, lame instructor. I’m all smiles before the class.

 

Despite posting extensive credentials, the instructor didn’t seem to know yoga flow, was too chatty and stunk of body odor. (Was he sleeping in his car too? Had I been scammed?) He had 29 reviews and they were all good???  What? When I’m on vacation time, my time is precious and I don’t want to waste it. If someone is advertising yoga and hyping their credentials, I have certain expectations. Definitely wouldn’t sign up for his class again and I am officially responsible for the 1 negative review currently posted. (Guess the class would be fine for beginners – maybe?) Santa Cruz disappointments kept racking up so I decided to leave town for a scenic drive up the coast to Half Moon Bay.

 

The scenery did not disappoint. The central coast is ravishingly beautiful and gives a sense of a pristine California before people invaded.

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Five miles south of Pescadero, you’ll find Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Built in 1871, at 115 feet high, this is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. It is still an active navigation aid for the Coast Guard. The light house has a cool hostel with a jacuzzi you can rent out at night. Looks like you’d have your pick of secluded beach coves too.

 

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Warning: Soap Box

But I spoke too soon, much to my dismay, every spot I stopped in a pullout, there was litter strewn about. In one spot, I filled a paper bag within a 2-feet radius of my car. Humans really disgust me sometimes, especially Americans and others who trash their environments. We are a 1st world country that acts like a 3rd world country in many respects. It really disturbs me. Any of you old enough to remember that American Indian PSA commercial about littering? The one with teh Indian Brave who has a tear rolling down his noble cheek when he observes a littered area? Cliché, I know, but that’s how I felt – it’s heart breaking to see nature ruined. I stopped to find a spot to have a picnic and saw filthy underwear, antifreeze containers, all kinds of grotesque detritus of car transients etc -all within 25 feet of the ocean.

I spoke to a Park ranger and she said, “We just can’t keep up with it.” I hate to think of what this coast will look like in another 5 years if things don’t turn around. Where is the respect for nature? Where is the personal responsibility to clean up after yourself? Animals behave better.

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Watching the “uplifting” wind surfing and kite surfing on the way back helped lift my mood a little as I contemplated my next move. Stay tuned for my Carmel / Monterey experience – it did NOT disappoint. Highlights include Point Lobos, two epic bike rides and more to come.

 

Exploring California Parks’ Crown Jewel: Magnificent Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

A crown jewel indeed. Point Lobos is absolutely breathtaking. The pristine natural beauty here is brimming with life. A small park from a hiking trail mileage perspective  – about 6 miles total – this park delivers big with stunning, spectacular vistas. Here, you’ll encounter plant communities, archeological sites, geological formations, and the incredibly rich flora and fauna of the rugged turf and rolling surf. There’s also a whaling museum on site.

 

Blue Heron Mediataion
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Charming, Secluded Coves
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The Carmelite Monastery of the cloistered Sisters by The Sea, a heavenly spot to cultivate spirituality.

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Sea Blues by Monastery Beach
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Wildflowers and Wild Views
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Point Lobos is home to 3 species of trees: the Monterey Pine, the Coast Live Oak, and the Monterey Cypress.  The Allan Memorial Grove in Point Lobos is a native stand for the Monterey Cypress, which is listed  as a Category 1 rare and endangered species,

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This is an absolute must do if you’re in the area. The trails are all quite accessible and you don’t have to go far to feel like you in the midst of the coastal wild. If you’re like me, you won’t want to leave. It’s a mesmerizing, magical place. (It’s like California before man.) We are so fortunate to have this area preserved. So grateful to the Point Lobos Foundation for protecting this natural wonder and national treasure. A great destination for nature lovers, painters, photographers, poets and all artists and pantheists alike. (The foundation actually puts on a poetry walk / Haiku hike- how cool is that???!)

This is my bliss. Soaking in the natural beauty as I channel Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddling

Given that Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is one of California’s richest marine habitats, it is a scuba diver’s, snorkeler’s, kayaker’s, stand-up paddler’s paradise with 70 foot kelp forests  brimming with lingcod, rockfish, harbor seals and sea otters.

Diving is allowed only at Whalers and Bluefish Coves. Proof of certification is required.  Reservations are recommended for the weekdays and are a must for weekends and holidays.

Stand-up-paddle and kayaking are also allowed in the Reserve. (There’s a $10 fee to launch from Whaler’s Cove. You can also launch from Monastery Beach, 1/4 mile north of the park.) This would be an exceptional way to explore the captivating coves and coastal. Surprised I didn’t see anyone kayaking or stand-up paddling here; it was a perfect day with glassy calm water. Next time, I’m going for a SUP tour of my own. And yes, there will be a next time, because once you visited, all you can think about is going back.

Notes:

Poison oak flourishes here and is everywhere. While the park does its best to keep the trails clear and rope off areas, they can’t keep up with the robust growth. Pants and long sleeves are recommended. Keep an eye on young children with wandering hands…

No pets allowed in the reserve or left in parked cars.

Keep a minimum 50 feet away from marine mammals.

Dangerous conditions, including rip currents occur – be ocean-wise and safe.

Hours: 8AM-7PM

Address: 62 California 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Fees: You can park and enter for free via Coast Highway (their small parking lot is often full), otherwise it’s $10 to park, $5 for Seniors & Disabled.

Stunning Stonewall Peak Hike, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego

Cuyamaca Peak‘s little sister, Stonewall Peak, (5,730 feet) outshines her big sister with her stunning granite crown, haunting tree skeletons (remnants of the Cedar Fire) and lovely vistas of Cuyamaca State Park and out to Anza  Borrego. Before I moved to North County and started exploring the area, I had no idea that all this wonderful natural beauty is an easy drive from greater San Diego.

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Gradual ascent on a friendly trail

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Expansive views
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Interesting rock formations along the way
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Stairway to heavenly vistas

 

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Something about these beautiful trees and boulders
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A bit crowded at the actual peak – silly people looking down at their phones
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Lovely Lake Cuyamaca views on the way down
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A sprinkling of dazzling wildflowers

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Planning your Cuyamaca adventure

You can make it a day or a weekend adventure and do as much or as little hiking as you like. Ambitious, fit hikers can take on both peaks (Cuyamaca & Stonewall)  in a day. For the less ambitious, there are plenty of opportunities to add on easy short strolls by the lake and up to Stonewall Mine. Lots of wildlife viewing with trails for the whole family. Stay tuned for my next post. Happy trails!

The historic gold mining town of Julian is a mile or two away with its quaint shops, B&Bs, restaurants and famous pies.

Notes: This is the most popular hike in the park so go early to avoid the crowds. After you reach the Stonewall Peak spur trail and make a right, there’s a really short scramble over some rocks before you hit the last rocky stairway.  Keep your eyes open for the metal handrails.  On the way back, I recommend taking a right at the junction for a different route down ton what becomes a pleasant single track trail d. At about 3.7 miles, you come to a trail intersection. Make the left onto Vern Whitaker Trail. Shortly after that (around 3.9 miles) there’s another junction, continue to stay left. At 4.2 miles or so,you’ll encounter another side trail; stay your course to the left again.

Miles: ~<4 miles rt if you just go up and down the main trail.  My scenic route adds about a mile & a half for ~5.5 miles rt.

Elevation gain: 1,050 feet

Terrain: Mostly sweet, clear terrain (as in trail runnable). It’s gets a bit rocky and pesky for a while near the top so watch your footing. .The single track down was mostly friendly.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Depends on your fitness level and the route you take.

Trailhead: Across the street from the Paso Picacho campground, Cuyamaca State Park

Parking: $10 State Park Fee

Dogs: Only allowed on paved roads and must be leashed.

Camping: Paso Picacho campground has family campsites with tables, firepits, running water and bathrooms.

Takaragaike Park and scenes from another Kyoto walkabout

Takaragaike Park features a small, man-made lake with lovely trails that are laced with cherry blossoms in the spring. Though not a destination in and of itself, it’s great for a quick, refreshing nature fix or run if you’re staying at the Grand Prince Hotel Kyoto (made my top pick list) or attending a meeting at the Kyoto International Conference Center.

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Convention center grounds

One of the more unusual sights I saw was a woman mediating in the park with a goose at her side. If you look closely in the top featured picture you can see them in the bottom left corner. The convention center is the large building in the background.

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Apparently, there’s an iris garden here that I somehow managed to miss despite the obvious sign.

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Some photos from my Kyoto walkabout – such a picturesque place!

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Bike paths and healthy lifestyles!

Temples and shrines

 

Kyoto life…

 

A day spent strolling anywhere around Kyoto is a day well spent. Beauty abounds and it’s all so wonderfully clean everywhere.

Getting to the park, convention center or Grand Prince: Kokusaikaikan Subway Station, on the Kyoto City Karasuma subway line, which is located right outside the north entrance to the park. It is also about 10 – 15 minutes north on foot from Matsugasaki station on the same subway line.

Photo Post: Hiking in the hills of Kyoto

Kyoto is surrounded by mountains on three sides so the opportunities to hike abound. I haven’t been able to locate my trail notes on this one so I’m just going to post some photos from my Kyoto walkabout for now.

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Sometimes your future

is clear and inviting. The

bridge appears; you cross.

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Hmm…

Sometimes it’s hard to

know which way to go so let

the forest guide you.

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Magical dappled light – must be the enlightened path

Find yourself in the

dazzling, dappled light-your path

to enlightenment.

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Hidden shrines

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Traditional buildings and cherry blossoms
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Temples

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Never too far from civilization
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Some signs are more helpful than others…
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Trail markers like this one at key intersections between Kyoto suburbia & Kyoto Forest trails were very helpful.

Check out my Kibune to Kurama hiking adventure too (trail notes included in that one).

Top Pick: Hakone Open Air Museum – art and nature in beautiful harmony

The town of Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 60 miles from Tokyo and one of the most popular destinations for Japanese and international tourists. Famous for its natural beauty, many hotsprings (onsen), traditional inns (ryokan), and the view of Mount Fuji across Lake Ashinoko (didn’t get to see that), Hakone is also renowned for its open air museum.

The Hakone Open Air Museum (Hakone Chōkoku No Mori Bijutsukan), is one of the most spectacular outdoor museums in the world. Surrounded by mountains and overlooking a valley, ~100 diverse sculptures (modern and contemporary, including works of Rodin, Milo and Moore) from around the world grace the expansive (~17 acres), rolling gardens. There’s also several indoor exhibits as well, including One of the world’s best collections of Picasso’s work, the 2 story Picasso Exhibition Hall displays a total of 300 pieces, including paintings, sculptures and ceramics. The exhibit also features photos chronicling of the artist’s life is one of world’s best collections.

 

 

 

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In addition there are shops, café’s, multiple kids spaces with art installations that they can climb on and a mini garden maze. And because the Japanese think of everything, there’s even an 65 foot heated foot bath to refresh your weary feet while enjoying the view.

You can easily spend hours here taking in all the beauty and the art.

Take the Hakone Tozan train there – it’s an incredible experience in itself!

The Hakone Open Air Museum is just a few steps from Chokoku No Mori Station on the Hakone Tozan (30 minutes, $3.55 from Hakone-Yumoto). It’s the last station before the terminal station of Gora. Taking the train is an experience in itself as it chugs slowly ,  traversing switchbacks up and backwards as it climbs the steepest slope of all railways in Japan through green forests above the splendidly scenic Haya-kawa River Valley.

 

 

 

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From the train station, you’ll walk by Woody’s Café Bar first. I stopped in on my way to the museum. The hot artisan coffee was a cool wet morning so it was a perfect prelude to walking around outside. It’s quite a unique spot with a Toy Story theme, hence the name. It serves coffee, lunch, dinner and is a bar at night.

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Tokyo Photo Post and Top Picks Prince Hotel & Hamashiba Sushi, Minato

Had the good fortune to travel to Japan on business and to stay in the luxurious Prince Hotel, Minato, Tokyo. My bathroom and room had tremendous view of Tokyo tower (aka Eiffel Tower knock off). I have never been in such a large or luxurious bathroom – huge walk in shower, deep jacuzzi bathtub and enough room left over for a small dance party. Seriously, the bathroom seemed more spacious and outfitted than the room itself. In case you haven’t heard, the Japanese have a thing for outfitted toilets (heated seats, warm water spritz wash (biddett & hot air dry, etc…) and deep soaking tubs. We Westerners could certainly learn a thing or two from Japan and improve our WC experience…

 

While I was in town for business meetings, I still managed to sneak in a couple strolls and a quick run around the area to take in a few of the nearby scenic highlights.

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As my Japanese grand finale, I indulged in a sushi dinner at Hamashiba restaurant in the hotel. Forget everything you’ve heard about hotel restaurants – this one is superb. The sushi is outstanding, by far the best I’ve had and no doubt, will ever have. The maguro / tuna was absolutely exquisite and it was a treat and once in a lifetime experience to watch the master sushi chefs at work. Was it expensive? Duh. Was it worth it? Absolutely! (The company didn’t pick up this one.)

 

 

 

Sayonara!

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Garden and City views from my room at The Prince

 

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Oh, and it looks like the sole homeless person in all of Japan was sleeping under my window at The Prince.

Stay tuned for adventures in Kyoto and Hakone…Arigato.