Monterey Aquarium and Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay
Growing up I was always coast bouncing back and forth between Florida and Northern California. I have family out there so we were always visiting. I learned to ski and snowboard at the ski resorts around Lake Tahoe and Lake Donner (amazingly, I didn't ski the east coast until I was in college). I even drank my first alcoholic beverage in California. Berkley, Sonoma, San Francisco, Sacramento and Richmond were all hot spots for me. In recent years I've returned to visit friends living in the area along with the same family members. A few weeks ago I was stoked to be bringing my girlfriend to the area for the first time. When she mentioned the Monterey Bay Aquarium and how she'd like to see it I realized that I never have explored south of the San Francisco Bay area.
A plan was formulated and we were off! Landing in San Jose, my aunt's hometown, we rented a car with my cousin (Robert and his girlfriend, Athena, both down from Portland, Oregon) and headed south to Monterey. The plan was simple - start in Monterey and work our way north through Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay and finish in San Francisco for the Bay to Breakers 12K 100th year race.
Sometimes it's best to tell a story with photographs. The following is my story.
We started in Monterey, famous for fish canning and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck amongst many others. . .
The Monterey Aquarium is truly epic or any ocean lover. I've visited Sea World, The Atlanta Aquarium, The New Orleans Zoo Aquarium, Marineland, the aquarium in Atlantis on Paradise Island and even one of the world's largest in Osaka, Japan... but Monterey is my favorite so far! It's not too big. It's not too commercialized. It has a meaningful purpose. And I would go back again.
The Aquarium is located right on the coastline and draws nutrient rich water straight from the ocean. You might recognize it from the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
There are many ocean species here that an east coast surfer like myself has never seen. For example a leopard shark (pictured), a seven gills shark, sea dragons, sea otters, etc.
It wasn't long before Jenny found her dear sea turtles (green turtles pictured). Before going to graduate school she did sea turtle research in the Caribbean and Florida.
I've never seen a sea horse that looks like this. Amazing.
Just outside the Aquarium we found plenty of real wildlife including these harbor seals resting on some rocks. . .
And one of the reasons we really came to the Aquarium was for Jenny to see real sea otters. What we didn't expect was to see some in the wild along the coast line.
Next we visited Santa Cruz. This was VERY exciting for me. I didn't expect my travel companions to fully understand my excitement (Santa Cruz should be a pilgrimage for any surfer), but they were excited about the boardwalk. Robert and I decided to do hand stands and continue the tradition we started last year in Hawaii.
Santa Cruz is rich in surfing history. It's everywhere. Home of Pat O'Neil amongst many others.
Probably one of the most famous breaks is Steamers Lane (a right point break north of town). It wasn't very big the day I was there, but there was a decent lineup of all types of surfers.
I immediately climbed over the guard rail (knowing it's the way surfers get to the cliff to jump off when it's firing) and Robert, Jenny and Athena followed. We were soon able to watch the surfers directly below us. I soooooo wanted to rent a board and suit and paddle out, but there were more exciting things for all of us ahead.
There's a little tiny building right at Steamer Lane that has a free surf museum outlining the history of surfing in Santa Cruz. Definitely worth a visit and they appreciate donations!
The Pacific Coast Highway is awesome! Heading north from Santa Cruz is like driving in a car commercial most of the way. It dips into valleys and rises over cliffs of a jagged coastline bearing hidden paths to isolated beaches.
I need to learn to kite surf! It's apparently the thing to do when it's blown out and choppy.
Alas! Half Moon Bay, California - Home of Mavericks! This town is so unlike most coastal cities in California. In a way it hasn't lost it's charm. It reminds me of New England for some reason. The population is fairly small and the homes look more like Northeastern homes than west coast. I dig it.
Jenny, Robert and Athena really couldn't understand my excitement, but the followed me in support as I homed in on Mavericks like a cruise missile approaching its target. After a short walk along the harbor we came upon this shrine remembering Mark Foo.
I walked out to the point below the cliffs. I felt the freezing cold water run between my fingers. I looked out at the rocks protruding out of the water directly offshore. It was flat - hello... it's May. Just what I expected, but in my mind I imagined a January swell with 30' faces crashing down and sounding like thunder. Oh, how amazing it would be to watch from this beach?
After a few minutes we hiked back to the car, bid farewell to Half Moon Bay and continued on to San Francisco and the race awaiting us, but that's a different story.