• Shannon

Serenity In The Hills

Recently we returned from a visit to one of my favorite places in the US. Not only does San Francisco have the iconic landmarks that every recognizes–the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman”s Wharf, Marin Headlands, beautiful dog-friendly beaches and gorgeous hiking trails through redwood forests–but it has the best freaking weather. I’m usually there in the Fall, so going in the summer was a bit different. I look forward to my yearly trip out west so I can soak up the gorgeous views and brisk, cool temps. I am always thrilled to have a week of no sweating and suffocating humidity once or twice per year, and this was no exception. Temps were in the 50s and 60s for the duration of our visit, and the smell of the trees there never gets old.

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Hawk Hill.

My oldest son just graduated from high school and so–feeling suddenly very old and sad that my baby was now grown–I decided to cancel my BlogPaws trip and use that money to take the three youngest kids on this trip. The older girls have long been out in the world, and so with my milestone anniversary (ten years), this graduation and the recent tragedy in our area (#orlandounited), I was feeling very emotional. I thought back to all of our vacations as a family, and it seemed someone was always missing. Someone was with another parent, visitation schedules didn’t mesh quite right, etc. For whatever reason, it had been a long time since our last family trip. I wanted to share with my children the city that I love so much and for them to have memories that would last a lifetime.

View from Hawk Hill, Marin Headlands.

The hiking in the area is wonderful. It’s so very different from Florida. The air smells different, the feel of the ground under foot is different, the plants are different. On one of our evening beach strolls, we were amazed to find that the plants and grasses along the dunes smelled of cinnamon granola. Seriously? It’s roasting in Florida and smells like swamp ass. Here it was in the 50s in the summer and it smelled like cinnamon fucking granola?! It’s goddamn paradise that’s what it is. I told the kids to breathe deeply and remember this, because it’s a gift to be able to experience such a place.

Hiking along the coast, Pacifica, California.

Montara State Beach, Pacifica, California.

If you’ve never driven the Pacific Coast Highway, you’re missing out on some of the most stunning views our country has to offer. It’s crazy beautiful. I was pleased to note a lot more green than the previous year. Coming around a curve to nothing but wide open ocean and magnificent cliffs is an experience like no other. Driving along those cliffs, I suddenly missed the Jeep. It would have been awesome to drive it out there. I’ve wanted to drive out to California for a while now, so I can bring all of our camping gear and the dogs and experience backpacking out there. There are always people outside; it’s easy to enjoy the outdoors without getting eaten alive by bugs like we do in Florida.

Pacific Coast Highway.

Another of my favorite places is the John Muir National Monument. At the top of a very windy country road in Mill Valley, California is this picturesque old growth redwood forest. Named for conservationist John Muir, 295 acres were donated by a private individual and became the nation’s 7th National Monument in January of 1908. The park now boasts 554 acres. Most of the trees are aged between 500 and 800 years. The oldest tree in the park is 1,200 years old. You can read more about the park’s history here.

The first time I hiked here I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. The smell of the trees is intoxicating, and the temperature is rarely above 70 degrees. I don’t know how to explain how I feel when I’m walking amongst those trees. It’s like my soul sighs and my heart screams “Yes! We’ve finally found peace!” I have never in my life felt like that in any other place I’ve ever been. To stand in the forest and just listen to the movement of the wind through the leaves, the songs of the birds and the babbling of the water is nothing short of a divine experience.

We went close to sunset, which is, in my opinion, the best time to go for optimal feelings of zen. If you are hiking some of the longer trails, however, you need to arrive early. To those who live nearby and can walk here anytime, I’m so jealous of you. You are lucky, lucky souls.

John Muir National Monument.

John Muir National Monument, old growth redwoods.

It is rumored that some of the Endor scenes from Return Of The Jedi were filmed in Muir Woods. Wikipedia does mention the park was used in the film, and it would make sense seeing as Skywalker Ranch is located in Marin County. I scored major points with the 12 year old when I dropped this tasty tidbit.

Endor scene, Return Of The Jedi. Photo copyright starwars.wikia.com.

A dream of mine is to return and be able to camp amongst the redwoods here. The park itself doesn’t allow camping, but there are a few campgrounds adjacent to the park. I love my kids, but trying to enjoy the majesty of such a place with children is a challenge. All I wanted to do was sit down, close my eyes and meditate. Or string my hammock up between two trees near that stream, and just chill. Instead I was in Mom Mode, making sure the kids didn’t disturb anything, encouraging them to take notice of what was around them, and listening to endless chatter about video games and tv shows. I had to shut that shit down. Who the hell talks about tv and video games in the middle of this? At one point I had to order them silent just so we could hear the wind rustling up above. The bird sounds are different from what they are used to, and they wondered aloud what kind of birds they were. The park has excellent pamphlets, plaques and signage describing the native plants and animals, so we searched them out.

Score for Mom. They learned something.

California Dreaming

A far cry from our sandy beaches back home.

The kids were also fascinated with the beaches. Especially the color of the beach sand and the fact that some beaches are made up entirely of tiny pebbles, smooth from endless tumbling in the surf. Walking barefoot here feels so weird. Seeing the 18 year old roll up his pants and giggle as he walked across the pebbly beach warmed my heart. My little guy is still in there, I thought. The younger ones ran and squealed and had a great time as the sun set and bathed everything in a lovely orange glow.

As is always the case when I leave California, I was already thinking of my next visit. There was, however, the excitement of our next big adventure looming large on the horizon as we returned from this one. It’s HUGE, people! You won’t want to miss it!

Stay tuned to our social media channels for hints about our next destination!

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