We'd like to do a bigger, international trip in the next few years, but until we save up the cash for that we're going to try to explore nearby locations in California. A few days before New Year's Eve I started researching places along California highway 1. Despite being only a few hours from the San Francisco Bay area, I realized I'd never actually been to many of them! So I booked a hotel in Pacific Grove, and we woke up early on the 1st, jumped in the car, and headed towards Big Sur.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Highway 1, it's a narrow, windy road that hugs the California coastline. It's super beautiful, and full of great places to camp and hike. I worried that going on this road trip with young kids (my kids are 4 and 6) would lead to lots of whining either because their little legs couldn't keep up with mine, or that they were super tired of being in the car. In the end though I think we found a really great balance where both the adults and the kids really enjoyed the trip. And sooooo...that's why I'm sharing what I learned here on the blog today!
Day 1: We took a leisurely drive down highway 1, stopping at some of the outlets to take pictures. I made sure to pack my kids' camera, because this really helped keep my kids interest. They were super excited to take their own pictures. For the historic Bixby bridge, shown in the picture above, I followed Gal Meets Glam's advice of taking the first road up right after the bridge (as there wasn't anywhere to park at the outlet.) The view from this road is amazing, but this is one instance where I only let my kids take pictures from the window of the car. Talk about major drop-offs!
Next we continued south on Highway 1. We arrived in Pfeiffer beach around 11am. Pfeiffer beach is located in Big Sur. There are streaks of purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach because of Manganese Garnet particles that are washed down from the nearby hills. My kids were super impressed by the purple sand. Before our trip I read that the "purple" in the sand can be disappointing, but we were actually quite impressed. We arrived at low tide though on an overcast day, I'm guessing that those conditions may have made the purple seem more dramatic. The ranger told us that the most popular time to visit was around 4:30 (sunset) because then the sun shines through the rocks in a very dramatic way. We were out of Pfeiffer beach by a little after noon though, so we didn't get a chance to see the the dramatic sunset. My kids LOVED the time running around the beach and climbing on the rocks.
NOTE: Pfeiffer beach is easy to miss. There is a narrow road right off of highway 1 that takes you down to Pfeiffer beach. It's about 2 miles to the ranger station where you must bay $10 to park. By the time we left Pfeiffer beach around 12:30, the parking lot was full and they were turning people away.
Next we drove down to McWay falls. McWay falls seems as though it belongs somewhere else. The bright blue water reminded me more of some tropical location, so much so that it seemed out of place on the California coast line. It was breathtaking though, and definitely a place you don't want to miss on your Big Sur trip. We were even able to see whale spouts from the McWay falls trail.
Note: McWay falls is about 10 miles south of Pfeiffer beach on Highway 1. It's a short hike to the falls (it's less than a mile) and the trail head is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State park. You'll see lots of cars parked outside of the entrance of the park (probably to avoid the $10 entrance fee), and it is true that you can meet up with the trail there to go see the falls. However, parking in the park has it's advantages. For one, the trail beginning from the park brings you UNDER highway 1, so you don't need to dodge cars along highway 1 to get on the trail. Secondly, the park has bathrooms, which, which you are traveling with young kids is another huge advantage. The trail is short and easy, but you will need to hold young kids' hands as the fence along the cliff does have holes large enough for a small child to fall down through.At this point, we began our trip back up North to Monterey/Pacific Grove. Originally we planned on stopping at Point Lobos, but it was so crowded (at around 3pm) that we ended up passing it up and traveling to Pacific Grove Instead.
Every winter thousands of Monarch butterflies fly to the area to shelter out the winter in the eucalyptus trees. Ellie loves insects and animals, and this was her favorite part of day 1.
NOTE: The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is just a small haven for butterflies in the middle of a Pacific Grove neighborhood. It's small, but the amount of butterflies were impressive.
After a quick stop in the butterfly haven, we headed over to Monterey for dinner. I don't have any pictures from this part of the trip, but here's a few pictures of Fisherman's wharf from a previous trip. It's always a favorite for us...as we stayed right by the wharf on our honeymoon almost 10 years ago!
We ended day 1 early, tucking the kids in bed by 8pm.
Day 2: In the morning of day 2, we were out the door by 8am. We headed straight out to Ocean View Boulevard, right by Pacific Grove Golf links, to look at the tide pools. The kids got to see lots of great sea creatures and enjoyed climbing around on the rocks.
By a little after 9 am we were in Monterey, ready to go to the aquarium. Getting to the area right when the aquarium opens is super awesome, as we were able to snatch street parking ($6 for 4 hours, I think!!). Since we have a membership to the aquarium we were also able to get in earlier, avoid the lines and experience the aquarium with fewer people.
After lunch we explored Canary Row a little bit and headed to Dennis the Menace Park on our way back to the San Francisco Bay area. This isn't your typical park... There's a train engine, a swinging bridge, a roller slide, and even a maze. It was a great way to end a great trip.
And I guess that's a wrap! Those of you that follow me on Instagram know that we took another trip yesterday...to the snow! It was just a day trip and I don't have anything to write up about it, but I'm so excited to start off the new year with a couple of fun trips. Now I just need to plan our next adventure!
Be back here soon with some new craft projects!