Finding our groove in Santa Cruz

For so many of our travel adventures, the reality is that we will likely not go there again more than a couple times in our lives. There is a freedom in this reality because we are able to let the trip take us… but then there are those few special places that are family traditions, that we get the chance to do over and over, and try new things to make the absolute most of each visit. These are the trips where we want to find a good balance between getting the relaxation we need and also getting out and appreciating the amazing place we are in. Our special places are Santa Cruz, Pinecrest, and Morro Bay.

This past weekend we took a last minute trip to Santa Cruz. We are incredibly lucky to have access to our Noni’s family’s darling little house that has been in the family for well over fifty years. In the past, Rob and I would hop in the car after work on Friday and escape whenever we needed to get out of town! It occurred to us that we hadn’t been in over a year, and we were excited at the prospects of doing Santa Cruz with our kids now that they are almost four and two. Well, this weekend was an absolute roller coaster of highs and lows resulting from poor planning and not realizing our limitations… but on the drive home we discussed how we should do Santa Cruz the next time(s) and we are walking away from this crazy weekend with more knowledge of where we are in our life and where we aren’t and we are encouraged that we can continue to adapt and improve upon each Santa Cruz adventure.

Takeaway 1: No more night drives. Between my anxiety in cars, our aging eyes, and the kids’ sleep schedule being completely thrown out of wack (leading to lots of tantrums the next day), we need to leave by midday from now on.

We left Friday evening around six and stopped in Los Baños for dinner at Espana’s like we always used to before the kids and when they were babies. Though the food was delicious (and in huge portions) as always, we didn’t get to Santa Cruz until after ten and we didn’t get the kids back to bed until midnight. We continued to remind ourselves to relax and enjoy the moment, and we actually got through Friday feeling positive and with some special family moments, but we can do better next time. *If you do have time to stop for dinner while passing through Los Baños, we highly recommend Espana’s. It is in a beautiful, historic property and the food is great! It’s also a really big place, so even though the parking lot was full and they were really busy on a Friday night we were seated immediately and the food came fast! 🙌🏼 Because we were in survival mode I didn’t get any good pics, so check it out your next time in Los Baños.

Takeaway 2: We enjoy living like locals more than like tourists in the places we visit often. Weekends need to recharge our batteries so we can get through the next work week. Outings and adventures are welcome but it does not serve us well to come home on Sunday feeling like we need a vacation from our vacation. Rob and I can brave a crowd when we are in the right mindset, but we are much more rejuvenated by calmer, more peaceful outings.

Saturday was definitely our favorite. We started with a leisurely morning at the house snacking on cereal, milk, and coffee for Mom and Dad. We eventually got ready and made a quick stop at Emily’s Bakery. I ran in at this local favorite and picked up pastries and lattes to take on our mid-morning adventure. This place is awesome! The food is excellent! We tried their lattes, a turkey & cheese croissant, an apple filled croissant, a coconut muffin, and a blueberry muffin. (When we vacation we indulge.😋) It was fresh and delicious! We got ours to go but there is a great indoor cafe as well as a patio that overlooks a creek and small forested area. This bakery is definitely going on our list of to-dos whenever we visit.Pastries and coffee in hand, we drove out to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. This community-supported education center is a project of UC Santa Cruz and has become one of our favorite places to visit with the kids. There is a beautiful cliff-side path that is open and free. Along with the spectacular views, there are also whale skeletons to explore and picnic tables to sit and enjoy the view. While we ate our pastries we watched surfers run by to climb down to the waves below as well as students and scientists working in the surrounding buildings of the center. Lots to see without being overwhelmed by crowds.After we finished our brunch treats, we walked along the beautiful cliff-side path. *There are fences along the whole path but kids should be monitored. Most mornings in Santa Cruz are overcast but by late-morning it usually burns off and reveals incredible views of the coast and the Pacific.All of the paths in this area are open to the public and have never been busy when we’ve visited. The Marine Discovery Center does require a ticket purchase but we would highly recommend it! ($8 for 17 and up; $6 for students with IDs, children 3-16, and seniors; children 2 and under are free.)The Discovery Center is a small aquarium that encourage interaction with marine life and features exhibits that teach both children and adults about the ocean, its inhabitants, and how humans can preserve it.The kids loved all of it, but especially the areas where they actually got to touch the marine life, including these swell sharks and sea stars. The staff was wonderful with the kids: both patient and informative. Before heading back to the house we took one more stroll along the path and enjoyed the beautiful coastal views and weather.Takeaway 3: Another great way to both get out and still relax – Go for a walk! Santa Cruz is full of incredible views and paths for locals and visitors to enjoy. One thing that often stresses Rob and I out is getting the kids in and out of the car and finding parking. Exploring near where we are staying is a great way for us to enjoy our visit and also keep our cool. Our kids are still a little young to trek too far so we opt for our Joovy ultralight stroller and I stow away our Ergo Baby in case Bebe gets restless in the stroller. This walk down to West Cliff Drive and the Santa Cruz lighthouse was another highlight of our weekend. This path is always busy on the weekends but it’s not overwhelming. The ocean and coastal views are gorgeous and the path always provides fun stuff to look at: lots of dogs and their humans heading to and from the dog beach below the path, people on bikes, and quirky Santa Cruz locals. We decided to venture all the way down to the lighthouse to watch the surfers at Steamer Lane and give the kids a chance to run around in the grass and check out the lighthouse. (There is also a surfer museum in the lighthouse that we have yet to visit.) *To be clear, this outing was far from “perfect”… my favorite mom-moment was when Bebe was flailing around in the Ergo while people walking by looked at me like I was Mother of the Year. 😂 But we were in a setting that we felt in control (enough) and we were able to laugh about the challenges. Takeaway 4: Sometimes as parents you need to brave the touristy stuff. Like I mentioned earlier, Rob and I prefer to stay off the beaten path when we can, but we also know some of the popular destinations are really exciting for the kids. So we must learn to include these outings as well.Before heading home we decided to make a stop at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for lunch and a little exploring. We (I) did not take into account HOW BUSY and HOW EXPENSIVE parking and food would be. Once we were down there though, there was no turning back… After some big deep, calming breaths Rob and I committed to making the most of it and we did alright (not great 😂 but the kids had fun and didn’t seem to notice our escalating heart rates.)And really, the kids loved it. They “played” a few games in the arcade… we didn’t put money in but they enjoyed pushing the buttons and pulling the levers.They loved the “carnival food” as Kel called it. Rather than stressing to find a table, we kept them in the stroller and grabbed corn dogs for each of us so we could walk and eat. It ended up working great! (🙌🏼 Mom and Dad needed a win!)We also told the kids they could pick one thing to play or ride on, and they went for the motor boats! Careful Kel had a momentary freak out right before the ride started but we cheered him on and he calmed down once the ride took off. By the end, he loved it! We took this as another win; getting our cautious kiddo to take chances and overcome fear. Bebe, on the other hand, had no inkling of fear, but rather went into full tantrum mode after the ride because she now wanted to ride ALL OF THE RIDES, and it was time to go.🤦‍♀️🤷‍♀️Driving home, both kids conked out and Rob and I had a chance to breathe and reflect. We were able to apologize for our crazy moments and celebrate the better ones. We discussed our next trip to Santa Cruz with optimism and confidence that we’d do it even better. But, our most important takeaway was that traveling with kids will always be a bit of a roller coaster. So much is out of our control, we don’t know what is coming next, and good or bad – we have to hold on and finish the ride.

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