Monday, January 9, 2012

Taking the coast road north from Santa Cruz

I spent a few days in Santa Cruz, California last week, extending the time-away-from-work that comes "free" with the holidays in order to turn away from the hustle of 'regular' life and develop deeper plans for my novel-project-in-progress. Santa Cruz (pop. ~60,000) is a small coast-and-campus city just a couple hours' drive from where I live, less if you take a more direct route than I usually do.

I've spent a fair bit of time at nearby beaches, I have family and friends who live or have lived in Santa Cruz and points south. The downtown area has a generous offering of caf├ęs, bookshops, and restaurants in most imaginable cuisines and price ranges. The city's just a bit too small for me to want to live there, but I do like to visit.

I enjoyed my stay, including a lot of time at the desk of a light-filled room in a quiet Bed and Breakfast a few blocks from the Town Clock end of downtown, a place called The Adobe on Green Street (highly recommended); and a visit to my longstanding-favorite coffee house, the quirky and comfortable Caffe Pergolesi (ditto, but for entirely different reasons ... it's rarely quiet, for one thing).

I also had a fine time trolling through a couple of the local independents, Bookshop Santa Cruz and Logos, for reading material; and puzzling over the wackiness that passes for decor in places like Chocolate, the restaurant attached to Bookshop Santa Cruz (see photo), where I had lunch on Thursday.

But for me a favorite part of a visit to Santa Cruz is getting there and back.

From where I live, in Berkeley, there are a few choices: one can drive down the east side of the Bay and circle around from the south, through Watsonville (where some of my cousins live) via Hwy 101 and any of a host of roads between 101 and the coast; there's the drive through redwood-forested hills that separate Santa Cruz County from the central Bay Area, via the treacherously congested Hwy 17; or there's the way I almost always take, which is almost always slower than "over the hill" (as locals describe the second route), but so much more relaxing: down the coast, along Highway 1.

The coast road, most of which is in San Mateo County, is lined with agricultural land on the one hand, dominated by artichokes and strawberries; and, on the other, by beaches that span a full range from placid and sandy to rugged and rocky. It's a fine contrast, the domesticated fields and the wild sea. There are fine wineries along the way (Bonnie Doon Vineyard, with its brilliantly-labeled -- and delicious -- Le Cigare Volant); there are marine reserves and teeming tidepools; there are even a couple of lighthouses along the way.

Here are some personal best-of picks from my drive home at the end of last week...

My first stop was the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, south of Pescadero. Pigeon Point has a hostel I've been meaning to check out for years, and getting a glimpse of the dramatic coastal views that residents enjoy from the rooms makes the prospect of a writing-retreat stay here all the more enticing. Would it work? Or would I be driven batty by the incessant sound of the crashing waves? I'm thinking that only an experiment can answer that question with certainty.

The lighthouse's Fresnel lens has been taken down temporarily, but if you visit between Friday and Monday, and speak with one of the volunteers, you're likely to get an invitation to check it out in the Fog Signal Building, where it's being restored. Pretty cool, even if the original light and lens is only used ceremonially nowadays.

Here's a bit of video taken from the far end of the point, giving a panorama of the coast and a view of the lighthouse itself from the seaward side. The crackly sound is the wind getting into my camera's microphone.

Bean Hollow State Beach is just up the coast from Pigeon Point. It was my family's beach-of-choice when we first moved out to California. Depending on the time of month and year the tidepools can be terrific: starfish, sea urchins, sea anemone, even (very occasionally) an octopus.

Oh -- and lots of crabs, small ones, the largest I've seen have been maybe three or four inches across. When I was in junior high school my father was getting his doctorate in medical microbiology, and worked with a Japanese MD who was doing a post doc with my dad's advisor. Our families became friends, and we spent many a Sunday together at Bean Hollow. One time -- in flagrant violation of the law, but hey, it was the seventies and we weren't very good at environmentalism -- my dad's colleague and family spent a ridiculously long and patient time lying in wait for crabs to emerge from their crevices, then catching them.

An hour or two yielded just two of the quick and evasive little buggers. Then they skewered and roasted the critters over a driftwood fire. I refused the skinny little leg they offered to me, and they giggled at my squeamishness. Truth be told, I've never really warmed to the messy business of eating crab out of its shell. The same family taught me to play Go using stones and a grid drawn in the sand, but I never got very good at that either.

Pebble Beach is just a mile further north and is bureaucratically part of the same state beach, according to on-site signage and the California Dept. of Parks and Recreation web site. I stopped at Pebble Beach on my way down a few days earlier ... the photo shows waves making toward the pibled shore north of the modest parking lot. The real draw here, though, are the strangely sea-carved sandstone formations that geologists call "tafoni." I'll share some photos I took of the tafoni at Bean Hollow / Pebble Beach in a later post, stay tuned...

In the Bay Area, all good drives come to a traffic jam sooner or later. After easy sailing through Half Moon Bay and Pacifica, my Subaru and I climbed over the last of the coastal hills, heading for the Bay Bridge and home to Berkeley. Below you can see the view from my windshield at about 3:45 pm. Yes, it was safe to take a photo ... we were barely moving.

As far as I'm concerned, the forty-five minutes it took to complete a 20 min. drive is a pretty good argument for my usual modes of transportation: bike or public transit.

O well....the leisurely drive along the coast was worth the congestion getting through San Francisco. No regrets. I hope to do it all over again, sooner than later.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Tafoni at Pebble Beach on the San Mateo County coast

1 comment:

  1. That stretch of coast is just about my favorite place in the world, Steve ... Thanks for this travelogue!