Saturday, December 30, 2023

A race to the sandsurfing dunes in California

The dunes appear bright, even though it was dark
The most ambitious day of our California coastal journey took true ambition to get to our final, most anticipated, and favorite stop. Seemingly a bit of a secret, we found the Oceano Dunes Non Vehicular Area by parking in the Pacific Dunes Ranch Campground (also known as an RV campground). 

These are among the greatest sand dunes in the United States. We had aimed to arrive before sunset but it had been dark for a good half hour by the time we arrived. We still, stubbornly, parked and headed out with boxes - for sledding - firmly in hand. Our eyes adjusted quickly and our cameras were still able to take amazing night photos. And even though visibility was limited, we leaped, sledded, and skied barefoot accordingly down the slopes. It was so much fun and will either demand a trip back or a separate one to the other best dunes in the country.

Rachel on the dunes 
We drove the rest of Friday night in darkness to get from the dunes to the Mason Beach Inn in Santa Barbara, first stopping at a cool little dinner place on State Street, the main drag in ritzy Santa Barbara.

Back to the start of the day, we woke up in Monterey and, with the streets still wet from an overnight rain, we had to skip Jackson’s skatepark, but he remained his usual upbeat self, as we quickly got involved in other adventures. We drove past the John Steinbeck statues along the cute area of Cannery Row near the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Then we spent quite a bit of time at Lover’s Point, where the sea otters played in the water at the end of a high rock outcropping. From there, we were able to hit the 17-mile private drive along the shore through Monterey courtesy of one of my brother’s great friends who lives there. Our first stop was the spot where John Denver, in 1997, lost control of his little plane off the coast and now has a plaque on a rock to commemorate his musical legacy. 

The massive waves from the day before continued to pound the coast, and we stared in awe at almost every scenic overlook we stopped at along the way. Point Joe (where many early mariners crashed because of the rocks under the waves) and the iconic views at Cypress Point, where waves can be viewed sparkling in the sunshine off into the distance for many miles away, were my two favorite spots in this part of the drive. Golf aficionados will also want to stop at - at the very least - the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach Gold Course, but we had no time for it.

We stopped for a coffee and some reminiscing with long-time friends at their place at the Robert Louis Stevenson School before making our way to the also iconic Bixby Bridge on the way down to Big Sur. Because of coastal erosion, we needed to double back, but that didn’t keep us from stopping and hiking a bit at several very scenic overlooks high above the crashing waves. Although we had planned to take Highway 1 the whole way, it was not to be on this trip, so we headed back inland for a lengthy portion of the 101.

Big Sur needs to remain on our travel bucket list for now, but the dunes at Oceano made the day overall wildly successful.

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