Road Trip to Santa Cruz, Monterey, and the Pacific Coast

Dad by the I-5 in Buttonwillow

When I was young and unattached, it didn’t take much to get me to visit the Bay Area. Punk rock shows at Gilman, film festivals at the AMC, zine and comic conventions, friends and burrito joints all over the place–Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco were frequent destinations. Of course, that’s no longer the case. So when it was announced that my cousin would be throwing a first birthday party for his daughter I arranged a family vacation to the Bay Area, but this time on the coast. Above, my dad outside a pupuseria in Buttonwillow on the drive up. It took forever to get served but the food wasn’t bad and Mexican Coke is always awesome.

Mack's first birthday bash

We stayed in a Santa Cruz guest house big enough to fit my parents, siblings, and all of our families. It was perfect for the girls to run around and play between excursions–equidistant to Monterey and Los Altos. The latter is where the celebration took place. Mack’s parents grew up in Hawaii, so there was a ton of local food (including poke), a shave ice stand (quite good), and hula dancing (above). It also happened to be their tenth wedding anniversary. Congrats, Scott and Angie!


Shave ice

Back in Monterey, Natural Bridges beach. Natural bridge not shown and we missed out on butterfly migration season, but you can see the thick, green sea foam.

Natural Bridges

There’s a J Church song that begins, “I know that it’s not cool to cruise the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz.” Since I’ve had coffee at Muddy Waters and seen Faye Wong in concert, I figured going to the 100-year-old amusement park would make it a hat trick.

Santa Cruz pier

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is much better known as the setting of The Lost Boys than the song by the L.A.-born, Mission District-bred, and Austin-ending punk rock band. It’s authentically old and cheesy, with an impressively old, rickety, and fast roller coaster (Giant Dipper) and all the bad food you can handle (deep-fried Twinkies).

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Locals and tourists alike wear the Santa Cruz dot on sweatshirts and T-shirts. Do they even know it’s a hardcore skateboard brand? I love it because I had Corey O’Brien’s Grim Reaper board back in college… The Screaming Hand logo is less common but still present around town, especially on the back windows of pick-up trucks.

Cliff Hanger

The next day we drove down to Monterey. The aquarium’s price of admission is a steep 30 bucks for adults and 20 for kids. It’s not easy to get a discount, and I think my parents only got 2 dollars off for senior prices. But it’s still the biggest, baddest collection of fish and sea mammals that I’ve ever visited. Eloise was jumping in place with excitement when we entered the chamber with jellyfish.

Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

No Spock sighting, but we did check out the nice exhibit of otherworldly seahorses.

Seahorse at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

And the ever-popular ocean sunfish, a.k.a. Mola Mola, in one of the big tanks.

Mola Mola at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Moss Landing was deserted except for some European tourists and occasional sea otters.

Mossy Landing

Years ago, my friend Adam urged me to do myself a favor and take the 101 home from San Francisco. We didn’t listen, took the I-5, got stuck at the Grapevine in a snowstorm, and basically had the longest drive ever. Since we were so close to the coast this time, we heeded his suggestion this time and made some nice pit stops. Castroville is the artichoke center of the world. We bought 12 for a dollar at a produce stand and saw a food truck advertising deep-fried artichoke hearts…

Artichoke capital of the world

The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo never gets old… I may never actually stay in one of the super ornate and customized rooms because they’re rather pricey, but I love eating in the coffee shop, using their fancy bathrooms, and taking pictures of the opulence.

Madonna Inn

Last stop. Coming home!

Madonna Inn