Nature in California - where best to go with kids
Replies: 14 - Last Post: Nov 27, 2012 9:02 AM Last Post By: NWLondoner
Nov 26, 2012 6:46 AM
Nature in California - where best to go with kidsWe're planning to be in California next August with our 3 kids (will be 13,10, 8) for 2 and a bit weeks. We're after some outdoors where:
- we have a chance of seeing wildlife that is not behind a fence
- feels like nature and not a theme park full of tourists
- ideally, some of it gives us a chance to do a bit of cycling/swimming/kayaking as well as just hiking. The kids will hike but will appreciate a break.
So with that in mind, my questions are:
1. We're planning on spending a few days in LA and then moving on up the coast for a few days. Should we:
a) Go to the Channel Islands (kayaking, right?) or
b) Go and camp in Big Sur? (Sounds nice, not so sure on the animals front) or
c) Go to Monterey (hoping for dolphins, sea otters?). It sounded nice at first but on closer reading found discouraging noises about expense and about fog in the summer.
We can maybe do two of those but not three.
2. Then we want to go inland and see the mountains. Again the guidebooks are so discouraging about Yosemite in August - the traffic, the 3 minutes you have to book the campsites before they get booked up, the crowds etc, that we're thinking of Kings Canyon and Sequoia instead. Given what we're after - bad idea/good idea? is there a better?
Nov 26, 2012 7:08 AM
1August is prime whale watching season in Monterey Bay. Good chance of seeing blue whales and humpback whales. Sometimes other whales, plus dolphins, porpoises, otters, and more. You can do trips of 3-5 hours,, depending on the company.
Although the Monterey Bay Aquarium can get crowded in summer, it's on the list of most wildlife fans. Buy tickeets in advance and go on a midweek afternoon.
Just north of Monterey is Elkhorn Slough, a very popular place for kayaking. You can rent kayaks or take a guided paddle. It's a fairly calm, sheltered estuary. A great place for birding and kayakers often see otters.
Kayaking Channel Islands. Not a place for beginners.
One of my favorite animal-oriented hikes is at Tomales Point, part of the Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco. What you can see there is tule elk. August will be rut (mating) season--that link describes what it's about & where to find volunteers talking about it. This would be an all-day if you do the full hike with a picnic lunch.
Just north of Hearst Castle (and south of Big Sur), you can stop and watch elephant seals at Piedras Blancas. August is not prime time. It will mostly be juvenile males, few females or the immense adult males. However, the price is right--free. You just pull off the highway into parking lot. There is a state park between Monterey and SF where you can also see elephant seals. Año Nuevo. You hike out to the beach where you can watch the seals from a distance. There is an entrance fee.
Nov 26, 2012 8:22 AM
2Channel Islands National Park will be a great place to enjoy nature and see wildlife including many varieties of birdlife, seals/sea lions (mostly from a distance depending on the Island you visit). Dolphins also are known to surf behind the boat out there, and you may also be lucky to spot a whale. However kayaking around the Islands, especially with kids is not easily arranged and probably not the safest either.
Big Sur is beautiful, but wildlife viewing potential is not the best.
Not too far inland from the Channel Islands is the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, a rugged bit of nature where you may spot some condors from a distance flying around
A good stop when heading inland could be Anza Borrego State Park. Not usually that crowded, and a good spot to potentialy see desert animals including birdlife, road runners, chuckwallas, kit foxes and for the lucky and patient few, a big horn sheep, though it will be hot!
Sequia and Kings Canyon will still be busy at that time of year though not as bad as Yosemite. And I have always seen marmots every time I have been to Mineral King
Have you looked at the Safari Park in San Diego County, just an hour or so south of LA. Plenty of exotic animals in large natural settings.
Good luck and Have fun
Nov 26, 2012 9:54 AM
3The same company which rents kayaks for Elkhorn Slough (locally pronounced slew)
at Moss Landing, rents them on Monterey Beach near the McDonald's. Monterey Bay Kayaks.
Your kids are the perfect age for this, if they are strong and confident enough to paddle a kayak. You will be able to kayak near sea lions, seals, sea otters, jellyfish, kelp beds all the way along Cannery Row to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
A visit to the Aquarium the day before you go out will add to the whole experience.
Go out on the kayaks early in the day before any wind and waves come up.
The Elkhorn Slough experience will be far calmer and gentler, but fewer animals except birds.
August is almost guaranteed to be foggy or high overcast for part of the day on the coast.
Camping in Big Sur is very limited and needs to be reserved well ahead of time.
Point Lobos State Reserve north end of Big Sur and a few miles south of Carmel would be a great place for short hikes, picnic, wildlife, getting close to the ocean which is otherwise far below you further south in Big Sur.
Nov 26, 2012 11:08 AM
4Morro Bay state park has canoe/kayak rentals. Paddle around the bay and see otters, seals, fish, all manner of birds, the occasional dolphin, etc. Very nice. The Museum of Natural History and several other pretty parks and reserves are in the immediate area.
Further north, the Cone Peak hike will get you well above the fog, with view to forever.
Nov 26, 2012 11:20 AM
5For the inland trip, consider the 395 corridor between Mono Lake and Lone Pine.
See Bodie, Mono Lake, Lee Vining Canyon, June Lake area, Devil's Postpile, Bristlecone Pines, Fossil Falls and the Owens Valley Gorge, Alabama Hills, Whitney Portal, Onion Valley Rd, and much more. Perhaps even a side-trip to the Panamint Mounains to see Aguereberry Point (overlooking Death Valley) Skidoo, Charcoal Kilns, etc.
Nov 26, 2012 11:44 AM
6I forgot one of my standard Monterey posts. If you want a quiet place to stay, with deer and other animals wandering around, this might be for you.
In the Monterey area, you might want to look into staying at Asilomar. It is a part of a protected reserve that is part of the state parks system. It is primarily a conference center, so rooms for travelers are not always available. If you want peace & quiet, this is it. It's a collection of small buildings, set among trees. There are paths to wander and Asilomar State Beach is just over the sand dunes. Deer and other wildlife will wander past your room; birds chirp in the trees. Some of the buildings were designed by the same architect who did Hearst Castle. Some rooms have fireplaces or balconies. Many of the cottages have a common room with a fireplace. Rooms have private baths. There is a heated swimming pool and you can rent bicycles.
It isn't for everyone. Rooms do not have phones or TVs. There is Wi-Fi internet access in the rooms & some common buildings, and a T-1 line in the main lobby. The dining hall is sort of a cross between a restaurant and a college dining hall, but meal packages are optional. Most rooms include breakfast.
Nov 26, 2012 12:25 PM
7Probably the best hike I've done in my life with kids was the Twenty Lakes Basin in Inyo National Forest, just outside the eastern entrance to Yosemite. You start from the highest drive-to lake in the country (Saddlebag Lake) In August you can start by taking a water taxi service to the other end of the lake, From there, you are in wilderness. There is a gorgeous 5-mile loop trail. Not very long, but still a bit challenging because it is a wilderness trail and you are in high altitude.
I've gone kayaking at Anacapa (Channel Islands). In summer, the sun is strong and if you are in a wet suit, you can really bake inside your kayak. It's a beautiful experience, but I would rather take my chances without a wet suit or not do it at all.
Geo Nerd, #5, above is right about the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. Many of these places are drop-dead gorgeous and fascinating to boot. It will be one incredible vista after another.
Personally, I like the inland much better than the coast. Almost the entire coast of Big Sur is in private hands with plenty of no trespassing signs. It's more a sit-in-your-car place than an active vacation.
You WILL see sea otters at Point Lobos State Park, a spectacular place near Monterey. You may get very close to the sea lions at Carpinteria State Beach south of Santa Barbara.
Nov 26, 2012 6:59 PM
8If you go to Monterey, the Lone Oak Lodge is a reasonably priced motel that Is located only one freeway exit away from the exit for the aquarium. (They will have discount aquarium tickets available at the motel, too.)
I echo the vote for Morro Bay as a good place to go kayaking and seeing wildlife. There are beautiful hikes at nearby Morro Bay State Park and Montana De Oro State Park. (There's a good campground there, as well.)
Ditto the comments about the beauty of the eastern side of the Sierras. There are lots of campgrounds in the area.
Nov 26, 2012 9:42 PM
9In the Monterey area, to see sea life you need to go to Point Lobos Reserve, 3 miles south of Carmel. Kayaking at Moss Landing, a little north of Monterey, is an excellent idea, but if you don't want to kayak you can take a 'safari' boat. LOTS of sea life on this trip.
For the mountains, Sequoia and Kings Canyon would be a good idea if you are turned off by the crowds in gorgeous Yosemite. They are just next to each other.
Nov 27, 2012 3:19 AM
Nov 27, 2012 3:43 AM
11I'm sure this question has been asked somewhere before on the forum but I can't find it, so here goes.
Having followed the wise advice above, we'd also like to see the Grand Canyon before we go home. Unless we go reasonably far north, as far as I can see the only way to get to the Grand Canyon is through Barstow on route 40. Is it remotely sensible to try and stop and spend a night in the Mojave National Preserve en route and see a bit of the Mojave, or is that just nuts because of the temperature and we should get to the GC as quick as we can.
(Or should we make an effort to go further north earlier in the trip and come to the GC via Las Vegas? Doesn't seem to help much)
Nov 27, 2012 4:11 AM
Nov 27, 2012 8:07 AM
13In reply to post 11.
I don't understand what you mean by 'go north.' I thought that was the point of the trip? Where do you intend to end your travel, back in LA?
At any rate, if you're going to see Grand Canyon, I'd suggest the North Rim, via Las Vegas. The N. Rim is cooler and the drive is nicer. Stop for a few hours at Zion on the way.
As you've noticed, GC is significantly out of the way. Visiting will chew up at least 3 days, two of which will be wasted in the car driving across the miserably hot summer desert. IMO, if you're going to invest all the effort to get there, you may as well stay for 2 full days - a total of four. There are plenty of trails to hike and places to go.
The trouble is that with only two weeks, you simply don't have time to see all the stuff on your wish list. It's time to start making realistic decisions regarding where you will actually go.
Nov 27, 2012 9:02 AM
14Yes, I know the Grand Canyon is miles away. But it's a bit of a dream of ours to see it.
And actually we have more than just two weeks flat; I said "2 and a bit" because that was all I had down for California; total holiday is best part of 3 weeks.
(By "going north" I mean constructing the itinerary such that we end up in, say, Mono Lake, at which point it looked to me that it would make sense to take the Veteran's Memorial Highway via Vegas. Whereas if you're in, say, Lone Pine then it looked as if the way to go was through Barstow and route 40.)
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