Even before we started getting tips from Russian Hill Andy (who actually gave us a handful of nuggets that maybe we’ll share some day when we come out with the In the Big Picture Box Set), our vacation had some direction. Of course we are not traveling blindly through the vastness of Northern California We have all of the guidebooks and Web-site information that we (mostly Jen) have amassed over the past few months. We have sketches of memories from our epic California 1999 trip, which took us from LA to San Francisco to Sonoma Valley to San Diego and back to LA. And we have recommendations from friends who have traveled and/or lived in this part of the country. Today was a day that we relied mostly on this last source of information.
The ribbon of coastline that stretches south from the San Fran/San Jose metropolitan area is wall papered with state parks, interspersed with farmland (this area produces ¾ of the nation’s Brussel sprouts and a lot of artichokes as well, we’re told). We might have bypassed all of it to get to our lodge in Big Sur if it weren’t for our friend Trisha, who pointed out one special park along the way. She told us that Ano Nuevo was worth the visit, and she was right.
Like many of the other parks we passed, it’s right on the Pacific. It is a former dairy farm where the cow barn is now the visitors’ center, the horse barn has an interpretive movie, and the farmhouse is home to rangers and base for volunteers.
Hiking trails extend from here through fields and along the beach. All of this, we agreed, would have been enough to warrant a stop, but the real draw for us and the dozens of people we saw along the paths, were the hundreds of elephant seals basking on the shoreline and throngs of California sea lions staking out nearby Ano Nuevo Island. It’s about a mile and a half (some of it through deep sand) out to the viewing platforms above the marine mammals, and most of the viewing platforms are populated by docents with binoculars who can show and explain the situation in more detail.
It seems that a few years after the park was established in the early ‘60s, the seals decided to make it their bi-annual jamboree site. As many as 10,000 seals congregate here at the peak of mating and molting seasons. At the time of our visit, juvenile seals occupy the beach, but in a few weeks, the adults will start pouring in and the whole place will be covered in seal. The ones we saw were between two and six years old and many of them were huge and blubbery. The adults are amazingly large and unbelievably blubbery.
Even though we won’t get to see the colony in full swing, this was a good time to visit. In a month, when mating season starts, the park limits the number of people out there and the amount of time you can spend gawking.
Trisha knew all about this, and was nice enough to relay this information. We owe her a big thanks.
After roaming around the state park (where we also got to see sea otters, the remains of a shipwreck, a bird that might have been a California condor, and seals jumping out of the water, either in celebration or to avoid great white shark attacks), we headed south in pursuit of another tip from a friend. A few years back, our pal Jamie had a transformative experience at a taqueria in Santa Cruz. Given that Santa Cruz coincided with dinnertime on this driving leg (and, surprisingly, we had yet to sample Mexican food since getting to California) we hunted down the place.
It was a little out of the way; Santa Cruz turns out to be a bit of a sprawling community and we were well past the center of town before we started hitting the right numbers on Water Street. It was very inconspicuous — a good sign for a truly transformative taqueria, though if we didn’t have the exact street number we would have definitely driven past it.
And it was good! None of us seem to have been actually transformed as yet. Nadia is not likely to roam the greater Boston are looking for a sauce to correspond with Taco Moreno’s. You won’t see Lanie or Zoe pulling up to gas stations in Revere reputed to sell carne asada with a West Coast savor. But if Jamie ever does find a taqueria that he feels is on par with Tacos Moreno of Water Street in Santa Cruz, we’d be happy to join him for a burrito from time to time.