** I wrote this blog post originally for the Prana Journeys blog (http://pranajourneys.wordpress.com); all photos are mine**
I am not what you would call “outdoorsy;” I enjoy being outside, but only until I see a bee or a spider, and I have the balance of someone in their late eighties. Nonetheless, there is nothing quite like communing with nature to shift your focus back onto wellness and health, so on my latest trip to California, I was determined to find a happy medium between “outdoorsy” and “falling off a cliff because I saw a large insect.” Turns out, California is the perfect place for any kind of outdoor getaway.
My first stop in California was Santa Cruz, where my friend studying science journalism would turn out to be the perfect field guide to all things nature-related. Besides being one of the surf capitals of the world, Santa Cruz hosts a variety of state parks and beaches that can be reached easily on foot or by car; I highly recommend a beachside stroll to Natural Bridges State Beach, where ocean waves have carved out, you guessed it, natural bridges on the shoreline, only one of which has withstood the test of time. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, about a 15-minute drive north of Santa Cruz, is a perfect spot to meditate or just relax in the company of some of our country’s oldest giants.
A popular day trip for those visiting the Monterey Bay area is Big Sur—a tourist favorite, and for good reason. This area checks every box: stunning vistas, an exhilarating cliff-side drive, and forests and beaches teeming with wildlife— I later told my friend that my day spent in Big Sur was one of the top 10 best days of my life (I say that a lot, but I always mean it in earnest). Point Lobos State Reserve, close to Carmel-by-the-Sea, has several trails that are manageable for any ability level (not just gung-ho hikers), and has some of the most gorgeous views of the California coastline and its wildlife. The Cypress Grove trail is popular with those that are looking for those classic Big Sur vistas, while the Sea Lion Point trail satisfies animal-lovers with glimpses of the many sea lions of the area. Recent storms had made it necessary to close off the Sea Lion Point trail, but a friendly park ranger told me that it happened to be seal pup season and directed me to the China Cove trail—what a trade off! I spent a good part of my morning wondering if it was possible to adopt baby seals before realizing I’m not equipped to take care of them.
A second can’t-miss Big Sur attraction is McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Though I had heard that the five-year drought had affected the famed waterfall, this year’s El Niño storms had apparently enlivened the falls enough to draw big crowds. A short walk on the McWay Falls trail leads you to perfect photo-op spots (and plenty of other hikers to snap one if you happen to be alone). Though you definitely won’t find contemplative solitude at this spot, the view is well worth the crowded trail.
Lovers of the deep blue can visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium or go on a whale-watching excursion. I caught a Sanctuary Cruises boat from Moss Landing, informally called “Moss Landing Whale Park,” where the deep canyon just off the shore has created a perfect hangout spot for whales (and their watchers). In just a few hours, we were able to spot a pod of 6 or 7 feeding orcas, a bevy of humpback whales, and even a few grey whales. Watching orca calves and mothers repeatedly emerge and dive back into the water around our small boat was one of the most beautiful and humbling moments I’ve ever had the privilege to experience.
Though my 10-day escape to the West Coast is unfortunately over, having the opportunity to spend quality time with nature and myself on hikes, coastal drives, and the bay brought me back into the real world feeling more relaxed and in-balance—exactly what a good outdoor getaway should do for you! If you think it’s time for an outdoor adventure for yourself or your family, email firstname.lastname@example.org… she’s full of ideas to get you outside!