Waking up in California wine country north of San Francisco, Julie and I were excited for the day. Today we were headed a few hours south to Monterey to spend a few days with our good friend Melissa. After a quick breakfast we packed up the van and we were off.
We headed back onto highway 101 going south. At this point the road had turned from a slow moving 2 lane road to an actual highway with 3-4 lanes going in either direction. While this route was not the fastest it was the most scenic.
Golden Gate & San Francisco
As we drove closer towards San Francisco and the ocean the arid landscapes left and sea fog started to appear. Before we knew it, we turned a bend and were heading over the famous Golden Gate Bridge. We had driven over it once before and just like the time before this felt just as special and exciting. The sea fog stayed heavy overhead as we crossed the bridge and entered into the heart of the city. At this point the highway ends and we drove through side streets. It was a bit jarring at first as this was the largest city that we had driven the van through since driving through Vancouver weeks prior. Slowly but surely, block by block we made our way through San Francisco.
Santa Cruz, CA
We drove through this city as we wanted to stay along the coast. After getting south of San Francisco we drove down route 1 stopping for lunch inside the van as we looked over Montara Beach. From there we continued south until we reached Santa Cruz. This was a town that we had not been to yet on our previous California trip. We had always seen people wearing “Santa Cruz” shirts so we figured it must be a fun town. Driving through the town was absolutely gorgeous. While we didn’t have time to stop, we took a few laps in the van down the main streets of the town looking at the shops, restaurants, bars and even street performers (it was a bit of a tourist town after all). We thought for sure that we would have to come back and spend some time here.
Fun in and around Monterey, CA
After driving another two hours south from Santa Cruz we finally entered into Monterey. This was the third time that we had been here and as it is a fairly small town, we felt that we knew it pretty well by this point. We drove over to Melissa’s house, parked and knocked on the door. Melissa was happy to see us and wanted to take us to the next town over (Sand City) as their West End Festival was going on. We hopped in her car and we were off. The festival turned out to be a lot of fun. There were stages with bands, vendors selling crafts and food as well as a few breweries selling beers. We ventured into Post No Bills Brewery, got a beer and started to walk around. As we caught up with Melissa, we browsed vendors tents looking at a few art pieces.
After we walked the entire festival we hopped back into Melissa’s car and headed back to Monterey. Melissa is pretty into beer (as we are) and she wanted to show us a new brewery in town. We drove over to the Dust Bowl Brewing Co, located in a former train station and next to Monterey’s Fisherman Wharf. We had driven by this location quite a few times in our previous visits but had never stopped as the area looked a bit too touristy for us. Melissa assured us that locals go here too. The beer turned out to be very good and the location near the wharf was pretty neat as well.
From the brewery we headed back to Melissa’s house for a bit of relaxation before going to one of our favorite Monterey restaurants, Hula’s Island Grill. Living on the east coast there are not many restaurants specializing in Hawaiian food so every time we visit Monterey, we make it a point to visit this restaurant. The interior has a very 1960’s tiki vibe which goes well with its drinks in coconuts and great food! Needless to say, we left full and very happy.
The next morning after shaking off a bit of a hangover we walked into town for a big breakfast at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar. Schooners is a restaurant located inside the Monterey Plaza Hotel. The hotel is built so that half of it is actually over Monterey Bay with the restaurant being on the 1st floor. Our table was against a window so as we ate, we were able to look right out into the bay. The food was great, and the views were even better.
Next up for the day was a trip to the other side of the Monterey Peninsula to the town of Carmel-By-The-Sea. We had not explored this town before, so we were pretty excited. As the peninsula isn’t very large, we were over to Carmel in only about 20 minutes. Carmel turned out to be a bit bigger, and pretty fancy compared to Monterey. Every street and sidewalk was perfectly manicured. This was pretty neat to see as Julie and I were accustomed to campgrounds and truck stops for gas and snacks. In Carmel we stopped by a fun brewery/restaurant called Yeast of Eden which was great.
After the brewery we hopped back into Melissa’s car and headed back to Monterey. Melissa had to take her dog Harper to the vet. While she did that Julie & I relaxed then took a walk around the neighborhood. Monterey in terms of California is a very old and historic city. Founded in 1770 it was the capital of both Spanish & Mexican California and for a very short time taken over by Argentina. It hosted California’s first theatre, public building, public school, newspaper & printing press. It was also the city in which California’s constitution convention took place in which the necessary documents were put together to apply for statehood. A lot of history took place in this little city.
After Melissa got back, we took a drive over to one of her favorite places to relax, Folktale Winery. The winery is set on a huge property a few miles east of Monterey. As Monterey is located on the Monterey Peninsula, sea fog and the lower temperatures that come along with that can happen at any point. As the Pacific Ocean is generally cold, Monterey is generally on the cool side as well. Even just a few miles east (at Folktale Winery is) is a totally different climate. This also means its much warmer. While Monterey was in the mid 50’s, Folktale was a comfortable high 70’s. Here we each ordered a wine and an appetizer to snack on while we enjoyed the sunshine and had a nice conversation. After our wine and a bit more hanging out time we hopped into the car and headed to Andronico’s grocery store to pick up a quick dinner. We ate in Melissa’s backyard that night. It was a good day!
The next day we were going to be on the move again. Melissa works at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and had said that we could come in and she could show us around for a bit before we left. We couldn’t say no to that offer. After showering and packing up the van we walked down to the aquarium. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is pretty unique in its design and attractions. It was built using an existing sardine cannery on the property and keeping most of the original architecture. At the time that it opened in 1984 it was the largest aquarium in the United States. As the building is directly on the bay, it pumps filtered seawater into its exhibits and then back out in the bay. This is extremely eco-friendly as the building only uses limited city tap water. This aquarium was also the first to have a living kelp forest within its building. All in all, pretty neat.
Melissa met us after we got into the aquarium and showed us a little behind the scenes magic. First, we were able to watch her and her coworkers feed a few of the aquariums huge sea turtles then it was feeding time at another huge tank. It was pretty neat to see thousands of fish come towards the surface when food was being put into the water. We were then shown a few jellyfish that the aquarium had gotten and were being tested for diseases before being put in an exhibit.
We then ventured out into the normal customer area of the aquarium where Melissa showed us around. The Aquarium is massive and would really take an entire day (or two) to see it all. After an hour or so Melissa had to get back to work. We thanked her for letting us stay and show us around for the past few days. We then wandered the aquarium for a bit longer, having lunch then going outside and looking at the bay for a while before heading back to the van.
Next up for the day was a two-hour drive to the town of Livermore, located east of Oakland. We were going to have dinner with our friend Stacey. We had met Stacey and her mother in Denver back in 2017 while on a bicycle brewery tour. We had kept in touch and as we were in the area wanted to catch up with her again as we had visited years prior. Driving into Livermore is always fun. Livermore sits in a valley surrounded by huge arid grassy hills. The downtown is charming with lots of restaurants, bars and shops. We met Stacey and her daughter Quinn at a BBQ restaurant called Sauced BBQ & Spirits. We found out that Stacey wanted to come here as she knew the owner. Julie and I loved it as we are both huge BBQ fans. Here the food was great, and we had such a great time catching up with Stacey. Friendships are sometimes funny in how they develop. Two years ago, we randomly both signed up for a beer tour in Denver and sat next to each other and had a conversation. Two years later here we are again in her hometown having an awesome time.
As we were not sure where to camp that night, we asked Stacey (who with her husband is also an avid RV’er) and she told us their favorite nearby spot Del Valle Regional Park. After dinner and staying our goodbyes we headed out to the park. It was a beautiful short drive past vineyards then up into the hills of the park. After checking in we knew that we had to fill the RV with water. We parked in our spot and stepped out. After about 30 seconds we started to feel an itch and I looked down at my legs and saw about 30 mosquitoes! We both ran back into the van and threw on every piece of long sleeves that we had. Long socks, pants, long sleeve t-shirt, hooded sweatshirt and hat. The only issue was that it was 90 degrees outside. So out we went feeling a few hundred mosquitoes on our backs as I filled the van with water then attached her to the campground electric. It was a beautiful campground but damn, the mosquitoes were lethal.
The next morning, we woke up with turkeys next to Bubbles. We had woken up with many things next to the van; deer, birds, squirrels and even chickens while in Key West. Never turkeys though. It wasn’t just one; it seemed to be an entire extended family. After breakfast we formed a plan to pack up in the shortest time possible to avoid the mosquitoes. At the precise moment (after getting covered up) we ran out, putting away the electric cord and bicycles before jumping back into the van. Phew….glad that was over.
Heading Towards a New (to us) National Park
Today we were heading to north east California to a campground near a new national park for us; Lassen Volcanic National Park. After leaving the park we headed back into Livermore stopping by the grocery store for needed supplies. We then hit the highway driving north on I-5 until just south of Redding where we turned east. We were camping in the Mt. Lassen KOA just outside of Shingletown for the night. The drive from Livermore to the campground took about 4 hours and most of the day after getting groceries to get to. As Shingletown was a few thousand feet higher in elevation than Livermore the temperatures were much cooler. There were also beautiful Ponderosa pine trees, one of Julie’s favorites. After eating dinner, we set up for the night. We were excited to find out what the park had in store for us the next day!
Next up…We explore Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park!