we think we have seen everything there is to see, California pulls another rabbit out of her hat. Friday's itinerary included a much, much too short trip to Santa Cruz. We journeyed not for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but to investigate the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and nearby Natural Bridges State Beach.
We headed off a bit later than we intended, but Nicholas was full of energy and needed to romp while I double-checked my list. Having missed the part about the beach at first, I had to make a quick run back into the house for several beach towels. We didn't need them, but only for lack of time. Had we been there into the afternoon, I have no doubt one we would have needed both...as you can imagine, no shortage of water or sand!
I had heard that Santa Cruz was "about an hour". IF there is no traffic and you are headed to the center of town, this is correct. However, coming from our are of the East Bay, I would think one should allot at least 1.5 hours for the one way trip. Not only did I not realize it was a bit longer of a journey, but didn't count on 8 miles of windy road. At least this time a sign actually warned us!
Despite the longer journey, this area is not something to be missed. I can't yet account for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but even if you just stopped to look at the view from the back deck of the Marine Center....breath-taking. Nicholas took one look and shouted, "Ocean, ocean, ocean..." and that was it for miles and miles. Nothing but dark blue to pitch black water swirling around with one smallish (50 footer?) boat trailing a whale along the coast. We were too far away to see much, but caught the occasional spray from its blow-hole.
I should back-track to our arrival. We got there a bit late, however, still in time to catch the outside tour with our group. We missed the activities inside (seeing marine life up close and personal), however Nicholas very much enjoyed the outside tour. We had a guide named Julie and we were her first tour group ever. To her credit, she was extremely enthusiastic and carried her guide book like a bible. If you have ever had even one marine biology course, though, it may seem a bit geared towards those who have never seen a fish other than in an aquarium.
She was very good with the kids, talked mostly to them and pointed out everything she could that might be of interest to us. After viewing the whale from the deck, we were invited to a back research area. No photos of the research subjects were allowed*, but I managed to catch a few of a desolate, sandy cove, Younger Lagoon, that abutted the pier next to the dolphin pools. According to the guide, photos were not allowed as two of the dolphins were given to them by the Navy and were under strict supervision. Sounds a little fishy to me (especially after I found a you tube video of said animals) but rules are rules, right?
We finished up the tour under the skeleton of a giant blue whale that had washed up on shore years earlier and was painstakingly preserved for display. The kids were allowed the special treat of walking underneath the bones and realized just how big the whale had been. The tour ended here, and the organizer of our group gave us a new meet-up point for our trip to the beach.
We parked off-site to save a few dollars, but I might cough them up in the future. I ended up having to take three bags and Nicholas up a long road to the picnic area, and then down a steep path to the beach. Not terrible, but a bit tricky when you barely have one hand to hold with your active toddler.
I didn't check the temperature, but it must have been in the high 70's and perfect weather for wading in tide pools or just building sand castles. After ambling (running for Nicholas) down the path, we arrived at the beach. We were in perfect view of the bridges, and needed only go halfway to the water to find a 'water-go' which may have been Moore Creek flowing down through the meadows (or my geography is completely off and just a large tide pool). Either way, he was thrilled and soon pants-less after getting his pant legs completely soaked (despite me rolling them up). After being admonished by another beach comber for not carrying extra clothes on my person (what, I didn't have enough stuff?), he survived putting the damp pants back on once we finished up our brief beach tour.
If we had more time, we could easily go back and spend a full day here. We would revisit the Marine Center, have another picnic lunch, and spend the afternoon playing in the sand and water. The town itself looked worthy of exploration, but we ran out of time on Friday. Here's hoping we have a bit of time after the boardwalk and beach on Saturday, though that is more of an official field trip. Now, the only question: what else can we squeeze in during our remaining 27 days in the East Bay?