Archive for August, 2011

Where the Big Sur meets the Pacific

Since arriving in North Cali I’ve been amazed by the lack of information on local beaches, especially when they are so varied and so beautiful.  On the other hand, it’s been (mostly) fun discovering them for ourselves and working out which are the most suited to toddlers.

The beach at Andrew Molera State Park, where the Big Sur meets the Pacific, is one of our favourites.  It’s a long and super clean sandy beach, covered in driftwood (which the boys love) and nearly always empty, even in the height of summer.  I think the mile-long hike out to the shore limits the number of visitors, though for our boys that’s part of the fun as the path winds through varied terrain and abounds with snakes and lizards (keep an eye out for rattlers!).  And the walk is well worth it.

Park at the trail-head for a $10 fee  (although it’s free if you are camping at a local state park) or park on highway 1 for free and hike in. Bring an ergo or backpack for very small children.



A handy wind-break

The beach itself is fairly windy, so dress accordingly.  There are some awesome driftwood ‘wind-break’ structures to shelter behind however.

Go at low tide and there are rock pools to explore and rocks for scrambling along at the mouth of the Big Sur.

An inner-tube would be fun to ride the Big Sur out to the Pacific.

If you like riding, there are stables nearby offering pony treks along the shore.

There is a campground near the beach that we haven’t yet tried, but which seems to be popular. It’s first come, first served and you’re advised to arrive early friday morning to secure a site for the weekend. All sites are ‘walk-in’ but the campsite does have some very basic amenities, though not much shade or shelter.

The view south


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I love it when I’m reminded how much camping with kids is a process of trial and error, prepare as one might.  Last week in Target I grabbed a pack of ‘glow in the dark’ bracelets thinking they’d be fun for the two year olds to play with round the campfire.  The two year olds did indeed love them. But so did the parents – as we were able to easily track where the kids were and what they were doing as dusk fell. 

‘Glow in the dark’ bracelets have now made it onto our list of essential camp gear for tenting with toddlers!

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“The greatest meeting of land and water in the world” (according to Francis McComas).

The early morning view south from the Sand Hill Trail

With two very small children we often find ourselves seeking the impossible – to hike rugged and spectacular landscapes that the boys can also enjoy from our backs or the trail without getting tired or bored.  Point Lobos seemed, however, on paper at least, to meet our needs.  The reserve covers a craggy, wooded coastline and offers fourteen relatively short trails to explore the headland, coves, and wildlife. 

 Our arrival was not auspicious however. It was a cold, blustery, and cloudy morning, the queue for the entrance was long, there were few parking spots available, the small people on board were starting to grumble, and, as the ranger station had run out of trail maps by the time we arrived, we were flying blind.  Determined to hike at all costs, we followed random roads until we found a parking place at Piney Woods and decided to take the nearest trail.



There were indeed plenty of sea lions at Sea Lion Point

Sea Lion Point

We found ourselves on the South Shore Trail heading to Sand Hill Cove and Sea Lion Cove. And it was indeed spectacular. Foggy. But spectacular. The frigid air was heavy with the sound of seal lions barking, and it wasn’t long before we spotted a group of them resting on the rocks much to the boys’ delight.

The trail to Sand Hill Cove was easy going and even wheelchair/stroller accessible. After that, the path became more interesting, winding around crags and requiring the occasional bit of scrambling on the way down to Sea Lion Cove.

 The boys loved the cove and occupied themselves watching the surf and sea lions, and throwing rocks into the sea.

On the way back up the sun came out and we saw Point Lobos at its best. The colour of the sea was incredible, and the water so clear that we could watch the sea lions playing in the kelp from the cliff top.

Sea Lion Cove

 The Take Home

Point Lobos, and the hike to Sea Lion Cove, makes an excellent half-day trip for families with toddlers. The trail was long enough to be worthwhile but short enough that the kids didn’t become restless. The path was easy-going for the most part, but included enough scrambling to make small boys happy, and there was sufficient flora and fauna to interest toddlers. Sea Lion Cove itself provides a satisfying ‘destination’ and our boys always require that we are walking to a specific place rather than just ‘hiking a trail.’

Towards Devil's Cauldron

Would we visit again?

Yes. In fact, we are already planning our next visit as we’d like to hike out to China Cove and Gibson Beach, and to try the North Shore Trail. But we would bring warmer clothes next time (it really was exposed, windy, and cold on the cliffs) and arrive earlier to ensure we could find parking near our chosen trail head.

Off into the sunset

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The Big Sur running past our campsite

Rocks are such fun

We made our annual pilgrimage to Pfeiffer this weekend. It’s a gorgeous campground that quickly became a family favourite and regular summer ritual after we first visited in 2009.  Generally, we like to spend the summer exploring new parts of North California, but sometimes it’s nice to return to a beautiful and familiar spot, especially when it’s so particularly suited to camping with small children.


What makes this park so special?

It’s a beautifully, but unobstrusively, maintained state park  with some of the nicest campsites we’ve encountered.  Most of the plots are relatively large, and some are so secluded that you can forget you’re in a campground while still having the convenience of car camping and state park amenities (toilets, showers, running water, trash cans etc).

Location, Location, Location

Set in a sheltered valley on the Big Sur it has a wonderful, shallow river for kids to play in and lots of open forest space to explore. Plus there are beautiful beaches, pony-riding and hiking nearby. Lots to keep the kids occupied.

Things to be aware of when camping with kids

1. The dust. Pfeiffer in the summer is exceptionally dusty and small children will end up covered in dirt.  Luckily, there are coin operated showers on site and the Big Sur river to clean off in, but be sure to dress your kids in old clothes.

2. The individual campsites vary considerably in size, exposure and privacy.  Generally, the sites in the center of each loop are fairly open and sometimes quite noisy on the weekends.  If you like peace and seclusion, opt for one of the many sites on the edge of the campground or along the road.  While most of the sites are shaded, those in the direct vicinity of the campstore are very exposed and can get brutally hot during the day.  On the whole, however, the sites at Pfeiffer are significantly larger than those encountered at many state parks and can comfortably fit two families (although note there is an 8 person per site maximum).

3. Some sites sit on the banks of the Big Sur with direct access to the river. We loved this, but if you’re nervous about having your kids so close to the water, choose a site deeper in the woods. Incidentally, we’ve never had any trouble with mosquitos near the river, but it’s probably worth bringing some repellent if you react badly to bites.

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