California is so incredibly big, and there is so much we want to see here, that we will end up spending two and a half months in the state overall. We entered California on March 18th and will depart on May 31st, so there is a lot to put into just one blog post. So FYI, we’ll divide out time in Cali through several blog posts.
We entered California in the Southeast corner of the state and spent out first few days exploring Joshua Tree National Park. We had no clue that Joshua Tree was a rock climbers paradise! We thought we’d just see a lot of cool trees and cacti, but the park is so much more than that! We camped at Jumbo Rocks campground, which is one of the coolest campgrounds we’ve been to. Each site is strategically placed around massive rock formations so you get a fair amount of privacy and a built-in playground for the kids. We had day temperatures reaching 85 and night time temperatures often dropping below the ‘40s. We learned that Joshua Trees aren’t really trees but are in fact yucca cactis that grow incredibly large. Some are over 150 years old and are well over two stories high. They are beautiful “trees” and we happened to be there as the trees started to bloom, making for some wonderful viewing and photos. The wildflowers were also in full bloom. We spent one full day just climbing the rocks around Skull Rock where we could get very high and have incredible views of the desert below. There were several times when Micah and Justin would climb some high rock faces to find professional rock climbers and canyoneers up there as well, getting ready to repel down. It was hard to contain Micah’s energy and desire to climb higher and higher, which gave me a heart attack and exhausted Justin. I felt like a broken record, constantly saying, “Be careful!” or “Not so high!”
From Joshua Tree we drove about two hours south to Anza-Borrengo State Park, one of the largest State Parks in all of the U.S. A couple that I met in a hot tub in Tuscon recommended coming here because they let you boondock almost anywhere in the State Park grounds, so we decided this would be the perfect place to try out real boondocking. What is boondocking, you might ask? It’s simple. You find a nice place to park your RV and stay there. No electricity, no water, no sewer, no campsite, nothing. We found a great spot right outside Borrengo Springs to set up camp, on a high flat ridge overlooking a vast mountain range. There were about 10 other campers within a five minute walk from us, so we felt fairly safe here and ended up having a spectacular time at the State Park. We spent $2 on a map, which was the best idea we had since 95% of the trails aren’t marked. We did at least three to four miles of desert hiking per day and often went hours without seeing another person. It was beautiful and remote, which was really cool. One night the winds sweeping through the desert hilltop were so loud and fierce that we were up all night feeling the Airstream shake and the wind whip through us. We found out the next morning that the winds were up to 60 mph that night, and without any protection from trees or a valley, they felt even more severe!!
One night we drove 45 minutes into the mountains to the town of Julian, which is famous for their apples. The town is about three blocks long and the buildings look like they are from an old western movie set, except that they are legitimately old buildings from the 1880s. The town has a great many apple pie shops but the highlight is Julian Brewing Company, which has some of the best brews and best pizza we’ve ever had. The bacon and blue cheese pizza with walnuts and and local honey was divine! Every beer we tried was excellent. We bought an apple pie to bring back to Silvia and had it for breakfast the next morning. Pefection! When we left the desert at Anza Borrengo it was 90 out and when we arrived in the hills of Julian it was 42 out!!! One of our first lessons of California…. you can gain a lot of elevation in a short time, so always have a sweatshirt in the car with you just in case!!
Our next stop was a trip highlight…. one week spent with Justin’s cousin Danny and his wife Jen at their home in the Temecula wine region! We hadn’t seen Danny and Jen in almost six years so we were very excited to see them again. They have a pool and hot tub which proved to be a dream come true for our kids! Most nights were spent drinking wine, relaxing in the hot tub and the re-telling of funny family stories. We were able to tour four wineries during our visit, two breweries and a few farmers markets. We took a day trip to San Diego to show the kids some of our favorite places, most importantly The Fish Market restaurant, and also celebrated Tabatha’s ninth birthday! Tabatha had a great day shopping with Jen and I, opening up all her birthday gifts and cards sent by friends and family (thank you to everyone who sent something!!), and having a great dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was nice to be in a house again too, and Dan and Jen were very gracious with their showers and laundry facilities!! And the kids will never forget watching Jen and I fish out a dead rat from the pool. Good memories.
We left Silivia at Cousin Danny’s for another new adventure. Our next stop was a week at a Marriott Vacation Club Resort in Newport Beach, just south of Los Angeles. My brother and parents met us there and we all spent a week enjoying the amenities of a beautiful vacation resort. It was our first time in LA and we enjoyed it far more than we thought we would. Yes, LA is huge, the traffic can be pretty bad and you can’t really get anywhere in less than forty-five minutes. But it’s also very beautiful, the beaches are glorious, and you can be out hiking in the mountains and enjoying nature pretty easily. Justin, my brother and I spent one night watching the Dodgers play at Dodger’s Stadium and that was a highlight of our week. Dodger Stadium is the third oldest ballpark in the U.S. (Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are older) and we loved it. The park is very simple and not fussy, easy to get in and out of, and the fans were really into the game! Other LA highlightes……we took the kids to the Getty Musuem for the beautiful artwork and gardens, to Hollywood so they could see Gramin’s Chinese Theatre, a rollercoaster ride on the Santa Monica Pier, and swimming on Laguana Beach. One day my Mom and I took Micah shopping, and he had a glorious hour trying on kids suits at Brooks Brothers. It’s cute to see a six year old begging to buy a $600 sport coat for all the fancy dinner parties he’ll be attending! Someone got a case of the LA lifestyle.
The best part of our week in LA was a visit from my greatest friend and Tabatha’s godmother, Auntie Julie!! Julie was smart enough to plan a work trip during our last few days in LA and we were able to spend the day and evening with her. Tabatha was so excited to see her Aunt so close to her birthday and seeing her felt like the best birthday present of all. But I was the most excited to see Julie. After six months of not seeing my greatest friend, just sitting next to her made my heart feel happy. Julie and I can solve all the world’s problems in just a few hours over a cocktail or two, which is what we did! It’s great to have a friend who knows you so well that all you need is a hug from her and a few hours of girl time to feel like a million bucks. Thanks Jules, for bringing joy to my heart every time I see you!!
Southern Cali proved to a lot of fun. Great weather, great advenutres, great people. It was a great start to two more months of fun in this beautiful state. From Southern Cali, we’ll make our way up the Pacific Coast Highway and see some of the greatest National Parks in the State. More to come……