Monday, November 10, 2014

California Redwoods and the Pacific

While we were in California, one of the lovely touristy things we did was of the natural sort. After we travelled up from the Monterey area to the Sonoma area, the whole family ventured out to Muir Woods National Monument just north of San Francisco. It's not really a monument at all. It's a redwood forest. But it was created at a time just prior to the national park system as we think of it today, and by designating the area a monument, it was both saved and preserved for future generations. And I'm so glad it was.

The redwoods here are tall, but more slender than those in other parts of California. It's fascinating how the area quite clearly just ends and becomes a different sort of forest. It's not very large, perhaps a mile or so deep, but it was lovely to breathe in the cool, damp air and observe the near-silence of the woods (as few birds make their home within).

After we left the woods, we drove the windy roads a bit further to the lovely Muir Beach Overlook. The sun was shining a bit low in the sky and it made for some spectacular (if windy!) photo opportunities. The Scot and I walked down the path to the little vista point that felt like you were flying over the ocean. It was a bit scary as I'm not fond of heights, but the view it afforded was magnificent.

If you find yourself in or around San Francisco, I really can't recommend this visit enough. Such beauty so close to an urban area, yet clearly unspoiled by humans. Wonderful.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

We arrived on a Wednesday night to California. It was a terrible experience, with our (prepaid) rental car booking being denied on the grounds that although I'm an American with an American driver's license, I am a UK resident and therefore wasn't allowed to use our booking without an international driving permit (to accompany and translate my...American license). Yeah. It was horrible. (Though we got a car from another company in the end and weeks later got the majority from the bad booking refunded).

After driving 2 hours or so South to meet up with my parents where they were camping, my mom had the wonderful idea to spend the next day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It would be easy to visit even if we were jetlagged, and would be a nicer start to our visit than rental car drama! I'm so glad she came up with the idea as it was the most fabulous aquarium I've ever been to.

Most aquariums I've visited have been rather like water zoos. Fish here, crabs there, some otters maybe, etc. But at Monterey they do things differently. It was more like a museum with exhibits that happened to be full of beautiful living creatures. They have a multi-story tank that's a natural-ish environment full of tortoises, sharks, tuna, etc. which is filled with water drawn in from the bay. I loved that. But my favorite thing was the jellyfish exhibit. So. Many. Jellyfish.

The Scot had fun in the hands-on area holding a little crab and picking up some other sea creatures (under the watchful eye of trained staff, of course). I wasn't so keen to stick my hands in, but it was fun to watch someone else do it!

Although this was the single most expensive thing we did on our trip, it was fully worth it. The people at Monterey Bay clearly do a great job with the animals there and work hard to keep their ocean habitat healthy and safe as well. It was a great day out!