Category Archives: Sights

Sand Dollars and Crabs at Avila Beach

IMG_8973Katie and I visited Avila Beach on our trip to Avila Hot Springs as our last adventure before heading home. It was one of the few things Katie really wanted to do that weekend. We arrived and found parking in the lot about one block from the small beach town’s main street.

We quickly walked down the main street’s three blocks and reached the far south end of the town where the shops end. We started back and this time slowly passed the ocean and beige sandy beaches and many shops. We occasionally walked in and out of some of the shops just browsing the small stores that looked of interest to us. Each had their own set of trinkets and little knick-knacks, from frames and key chains to shirts and beach towels. They were the kind of stores that you only find at a beach town and the kinds of items that allowed you to remember your summer vacation getaway.

After looking in the stores we headed down to the beach. The light brown, almost white sandy beach was a big difference from Shell Beach’s coarse sand, which hurt our feet. This beach was smooth and firm along the water’s edge, quite easy to walk on. We walked the beach from the pier as far south as we could go scouring for shells and rocks to take home. Suddenly I noticed one creature that I had seen many of in the stores on our walk down the street, a sand dollar. I quickly picked it up showed it to Katie. In the stores I had read about the Legend of the Sand Dollar or Holy Ghost Shell. How it resembles the Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. I felt lucky to find the only one on the sandy shore that day.

As we got further from all the other people and more isolated I noticed little V’s in the sand as the salt water washed back to the ocean. I told Katie what they were, little sand crabs that stick their antenna out of the sand to catch food as the water rushes above them. Then without thinking much about it I reached down and picked up two handfuls of sand. The sand crab wiggled deep beneath the sand in my hand until it rested on my palm, feeling much safer down below the surface. I slowly let some of the sand fall from my hand and eventually it was exposed. Up close you could see it’s small round body, almost translucent, and little legs. It felt so weird crawling on my hand trying to escape to safety. After showing Katie I released it back to the sand where I found it and it disappeared faster than I ever imagined it would. Turns out they use their tails to burrow into the sand and can be completely submerged in less than 1.5 seconds

With our feet wet from the ocean we hung out for a little longer and walked back along the beach. As we reached the pier we tried to pick the quickest and easiest way to the street without burning our feet on the hot sand. We then headed to the car, it was getting late and we still had a long drive ahead of us.

As we drove out of the parking lot and to the freeway back toward Los Angeles we only wished we could have stayed and enjoyed this delightful small beach town a little longer and then we saw the strangest sight ever. A man, pedaling along on his bike with a gorgeous Blue and Gold Macaw riding on the handle bars. It was quite a spectacle and I tried my hardest to get a good picture of it. I wish we could have stopped.

Avila Valley Barn

IMG_8973Right next door to the Avila Hot Springs is the Avila Valley Barn. Not so close that you can smell the animals, but close enough that you could walk if you wanted to. Of course Katie and I had to stop by before heading home on our last day at the hot springs.

We parked in the lot next door and walked straight into the animal section with goats, sheep, and miniature horses. Inside there were small bags of goat feed for purchase. We took a moment to watch the children feed them through the gates. There were signs over the horses that said no petting, but the rest of the animals you were able to reach through or over the fence and give them a soft pat on the head.

IMG_8971       IMG_8971

There was a tractor hay ride about to depart as we arrived to the barn entrance. Before heading in we noticed that they had fresh ice cream for sale along with deli meats in another building nearby. We headed into the barn where there were multitudes of things to see. They had fresh locally grown fruits and veggies, homemade pies and sauces, and recipe books and cooking accessories. They even had honey from their own bees and jams from the fruit they grown in their fields. As we were looking around I even saw where their pies were made as I snuck a peak through a window into their kitchen.

IMG_8971       IMG_8971

Though everything looked delicious we didn’t end up purchasing anything. The barn has a lot to explore and experience. While we didn’t have a ton of time to check it all out I’m sure you could spend a half day or so there feeding the animals, going on the tractor ride, looking through and shopping at the barn. It’s definitely fun for families with children.

Crunchy Sand at Shell Beach

IMG_8971While on a camping trip to Avila Hot Springs Katie and I took some time exploring the nearby beaches. I had heard that we should check out Shell Beach so we googled it and headed over to see what was so special. As we arrived we could see that it was absolutely beautiful. From the streets of Pismo Beach, CA the large rocks sticking out of the water along the ocean’s edge were breathtaking. The horizon like nothing I had seen anywhere else.

Driving along the water’s edge, we came across three staircases. Not sure which to take, we choose the one furthest south to start. As we reached the bottom there was not much sand. We traversed over the rocks and eventually came to a little section with more sand than rocks. We searched for rocks compressed with shells inside them, but didn’t come across anything that looked remotely similar to what I had seen from my friend that had been there. We wondered if we were in the correct area so we headed back to the car and moved farther north.

We walked down the staircase farthest north this time since the tide was coming in and there was no way to go down to the sand on the middle staircase without getting wet. Down in the sand this time it crunched beneath your feet. The drastic change in only a mile away from the other section of the beach was interesting and somewhat confusing. Unlike most sand you find in California this sand was harsh and hurt as you walked. Our feet created huge deep marks as we walked. As I took a closer look I could see that the sand was made of small rocks and shell pieces about 2 mm in size.

IMG_8971       IMG_8971

We walked around continuing to look for those big compressed rocks with shell within them, but not finding any in this area either. At least there were rocks in the last area that might have had the compressed shells in them. This area had hardly any big rocks at all. The dark brown sand was beautiful however. We headed back to our campsite glad that we took some time to explore and see somewhere new.

The North Windmill of Golden Gate Park

IMG_8973After seeing a post on Facebook about the Dutch Windmill located at Golden Gate Park I knew I had to check it out next time I went to San Francisco. One afternoon while Katie and I were and headed to the Sutro Baths we drove right past it. I mentioned that later if we had nothing to do we should go back and take a look. The last morning we were there while we were waiting for the Aquarium of the Bay to open at Pier 39 we headed over to the north end of the park and took a few minutes to see the majestic windmill.

After a little research I learned that the Dutch Windmill was constructed in 1902. The interior holds amazing paintings, but over the years insect and water damage has made this gallery unvisitable for the public. The windmill was also originally used to pump water but today, even after all the restoration, it can no longer do this. It’s not a complete loss. The blades still move and there is the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, which is quite beautiful, right next to it so you’ll want to explore the area for sure.

The Dutch Windmill is right next to Beach Chalet and is about 75 feet high. With the tree cover growing around it, it’s easy to see the top with the blades from the beach but difficult to see as you get closer. We walked into the beautiful garden around the base and all the way up close super where we could read the plaques cemented to the walls. We looked up to the windmill’s top and could truly see how immense it is. Standing right next to the base it is huge and the long blades that swirl around in the wind are magnificent.

IMG_8971       IMG_8971

If you’re planning on going you might want to check out the Beach Chalet Visitor Center as well. Unfortunately when we went it was closed, but I’m sure that they much information about the history of the beach and park. Next time I’m exploring the Golden Gate Park I will be sure to stop in there and the South Windmill to learn even more.

Equality Without Exception at PRIDE in San Francisco

IMG_8973The LGBT community has been fighting for visibility, dignity, and equality for many years. 1970 was the first year of their Pride Celebrations and Parades in the cities of San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village sparked the Stonewall riots in 1969. This year, on June 26th 2015 the US Supreme Court announced that Same-Sex Marriage is legal nationwide. With the 45th Anniversary of San Francisco’s Pride Celebrations and Parades occurring on that following weekend, June 27th & 28th, they couldn’t have had more perfect timing. I had been planning on going all year long and now I was even more thrilled to be a part of these exciting events.

Ready to celebrate, Katie and I awoke on Sunday morning and got a ride to the train station.  From there we bought tickets and jumped on to head downtown to Market Street where the festivities were taking place. Not exactly sure where on Market Street to get off, we followed the crowd dressed in rainbows and brightly colored clothing and exited about the fifth stop with them. We came up to the street level and found ourselves at the end of the parade route. Making our way to the street to where everyone was set to watch.

We caught the beginning of the parade. The first group to pass us was the AIDS Life Cycling Team. They were quickly followed by the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Committee who I must say did an amazing job putting the parade together. In true form they carried signs that read “Equality Without Exception,” their theme for this years’ parade, and rainbow flags. They wore rainbow clothing and behind them was a big float with a balloon made rainbow, rainbow colored globe, and performers riding on it.

The diversity of the groups supporting within the parade was immense. From local community public safety departments to professional companies and even some schools. It seemed like everyone wanted to be a part of the parade. We saw the San Francisco Fire Department, San Francisco Police Department, Irish pipers, marching bands, percussion bands, cheerleaders, and other companies such as animal rescue shelters, Apple, Wells Fargo, Facebook, and even Netflix. There were people in costumes including Tigger, Chip, dogs and clowns, people on stilts waving at the audience, and floats that were magnificent. Everyone was smiles for miles, laughing and having a great time.

One of my favorite groups were the Golden State Warriors. There was some down time before they arrived as a small break in the parade. There percussion band, wearing all yellow, was the perfect pick me up the crowd needed. We could hear them coming down the street and the energy of everyone increased more and more as they got closer. They worked the crowd getting close to us and drumming their own beats when the unison song was ended. They were amazing.

My next favorite groups were Netflix, the animal shelter, and the Recology and PG&E companies. Netflix had characters from a few of their original shows standing on their float with those characters acting exactly how they would act in person. Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black was on point! The animal shelter had dogs walking in the parade wearing rainbow skirts and hats. Recology and PG&E companies had their mascots in toe. These last three were too cute for words.

We had seen the majority of the floats in the parade when it eventually stalled to a halt. It was past the time the parade was supposed to be over by according to the website so rather than wait for the parade to start moving again Katie and I decided to walk the rest of it. Not exactly the way a parade works, but it got us through a few more floats before we decided to call it a day and get some food.

San Francisco PRIDE  was a blast. With all the floats, characters, colors, and spectacles I was pleased with the outcome and the decision to take the trip north to check it out. I might go back next year to see it again. It’s definitely something you should experience once in your lifetime, no matter what age you are.

Lands End at the Sutro Baths

IMG_8973One of the many places I wanted to be sure to check out while I was up north in San Francisco was the ruins of the Sutro Baths at Lands End Lookout. I had heard about and seen gorgeous pictures of the ruins over looking the ocean, large bird and seal covered rocks jetting out of the water, and a tunnel that leads to a rocky ridge where hikers are discouraged from going. I wanted an opportunity to see and explore it all for myself so late in the afternoon Katie and I headed to the far corner of San Francisco. Parking was extremely easy as there is a lot right across from the center. We took a moment to take in the view and then headed inside.

The Lands End has been around for many centuries. Native Americans, specifically the Yelamu Ohlone tribe, were the first to walk there as early as 10,000 years ago. They found everything they needed, fresh water, shelter, and food. They often traveled by foot to fish and hunt for otters, sea lions, and sea birds. Their children would run and play in the sand dunes and their families built fires on the bluffs to tell stories and sing songs around.

In 1769 the Spaniards began to explore the area for the main purpose of establishing permanent military and missionary compounds. With their arrival of settlements in 1776 the Yelamu Ohlone tribe’s traditional lifestyle was ended. Not only did the Europeans bring disease which took with it much of the Indian population, they also expected the Indians to convert to Christianity, cleared lands for agriculture, housing and irrigation and  prohibited the tradition of long controlled burns that assured an abundance of wild food plants. By the time Spanish rule had waned a few decades later the damage was irreversible.

As time passed Americans came to Lands End to see sea lions at Seal Rock and race their horses at Ocean Beach. By the 1860’s several taverns had opened to accommodate their needs: Seal Rock House, Lakeside House, and Cliff House, which is still there today. In the 1880’s Adolph Sutro began buying property in San Francisco and actually ended up owning 1/12th of the city by the end. He especially loved Lands End and used his fortune to protect the area, purchasing Cliff House, the coastline and using his influence to make Seal Rock a marine sanctuary. He was no angel though, as he created his attractions he dynamited cliffs, tunneled through rock, damned coves, planted countless non-native trees and flowers and built acre-large buildings. He eventually opened his attractions gardens to view at Sutro Heights, a place to swim at Sutro Baths, a museum and a rebuilt Cliff House.

As time pasted and a new generation craved different seaside attractions such as arcade games and rides Playland at the Beach was formed in the 1950’s. With this new attraction, Sutro Baths was less popular and transformed into an ice skating rink. It was soon shut down in 1966 and later burned in a fire. Playland didn’t last very long either. It was closed in 1972. Realizing that this land needed to be preserved, National Parks Service acquired both Lands End and Ocean Beach area by 1980 allowing them to become a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as well.

As we left the center feeling full of information I couldn’t wait to get a closer look at the ruins. We could see them from the lookout and headed over to the stairs that led down to them. We slowly walked down the stairs trying to choose which path to take. There were several different paths each leading somewhere different and by the end of our exploration we had seen them all. We started with the main Sutro Bath area, climbing inside what might have been changing rooms, but now looked like closed brick and cement chambers without any doors.  It was hard to tell what was what.

We continued to the tunnel, deciding to come back to the pool after. The tunnel looked about 1/8 of a mile long. It was dark and cool inside. Midway is a cool outlet to the ocean where you can watch the waves crash and light peek in. We made it to the other side which had a wire across it trying to stop people from continuing any further. As I watched others climb out onto the rocks, clinging for their lives as the scrabbled and inched there way around I remembered the warning sign stating that people have been swept off the rocks and died here. I was not about to try it, especially with the sneakers I was wearing that day.

IMG_8971       IMG_8971

We walked back through the tunnel and continued our exploration of the baths. There were cool things to see everywhere. A section of the wall crumbling down due to the weather, another little tunnel that was closed off, wide open water space with seagulls swimming, the beach with amazing rock formations coming out of it. I took picture after picture as we walked along the walls with the water on both sides of us careful not to drop my camera. The water itself was disgusting, but made for great pictures. Even the rock wall from when the baths were operational was still there.

IMG_8971       IMG_8971

The sun was slowly lowering and we headed toward the south where Cliff House is located. Not sure what we were exploring, we found a wall covered in sand carvings, more stairs, little rundown rooms, a steel pipe leading to nowhere, and beautiful flowers. We ended up back near the top overlooking the whole place and decided to continue exploring to the north, over the tunnel. We came to another overlook and even saw a mother caring for her baby seagull, a little grey fuzzball. From here the rocks out in the ocean looked like they had a heart inside them. We even found a shark spray painted on a piece of cement.

It was time to leave as the sun had set and there was only one route we had not taken yet, the  one through the thick forest of trees. Just a few feet away from the oceans edge a canopy covered the sky from view. It greatly contrasted the wide open fields of grass and beach that we had been previously exploring. We followed the path which brought us back to the center and starting point of the lookout. We took some time taking in the view one last time and finally headed back to the car content with our experience and feeling as though we had completed all there was to do there.

Lands End is an absolutely beautiful place. If you are in San Francisco and are looking for something to do you will not be disappointed checking this place out. Save a few hours to experience it. I’m positive you won’t want to rush this one and I’m sure you will want the extra time to look in every nook and cranny this place has to offer.

The 25th Anniversary of the “Sea Lebrities” of Pier 39

IMG_8973One of my favorite things to do while I am in San Francisco is to see the sea lions at Pier 39. Since Katie and I were at Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch we took the short walk to check them out. We walked over to the end of the pier or K dock where the sea lions can be seen.

The sea lions, now often called the “Sea Lebrities” of Pier 39, started arriving in January of 1990 after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. At first there were only 10-50, but quickly their numbers grew to over 300 within a few months. Today, the numbers reach over 900 in the winters, many of which are male.

Early on San Francisco became aware that their “Sea Lebrities” could be a problem for Pier 39. The sea lions were overtaking the dock space and making it too dangerous for the boaters to dock their boats safely. San Francisco decided to make and dedicated docks specifically for the sea lions. Once they did the sea lions quickly realized this space was for them and there hasn’t been an issue since.

The marina’s protected environment with its plentiful dock space and it’s bountiful supply of herring is the main draw to the sea lions. When Katie and I arrived we could immediately see that it was their 25th Anniversary. As we got closer we read signs posted by the Sea Lion Center that the males migrate south during the summer months. There were 4 on the day we were there. These four had decided not to take the trek south to mate for one reason or another. Two of them were slightly skinny, but very active males and the other two were even younger, still fuzzy, less alert males. One of younger ones looked as though he had been bitten by a shark.

We headed up to the Sea Lion Center to ask about the poor little guy that had been bitten. Of course they knew about him and were watching him and monitoring his recovery. The rescue team had been contacted, but only intervene when it is a man-made issue. Everyone was hoping and praying he would make it and while it sucked and he was definitely having a bad day I was told that his wound looked like it was healing nicely and they all thought he would make it. The Sea Lion Center’s employees were a little happy though to see his wound. To them it meant the Bay was healthy and there were sharks in the area.

We took a few more minutes exploring the center. Feeling the different seal and sea lions’ fur, looking a pictures, learning where different seals and sea lions live, and a little about sharks their main predator. They even have a life-sized skeleton right when you walk in the door and sea lions and a shark hanging from the ceiling. And the best part is that it is all free. Free to see the sea lions at the end of the pier and free to take a few minutes to walk through the Sea Lion Center. But don’t forget to donate a few dollars to them so they can continue to do amazing work helping to save our marine life.

IMG_8971       IMG_8971