We're walking past groves of soaring redwood "families," some with their innards carved out by forest fires.
But we're not in a crowded national park. In fact, we pretty much have the hiking trail to ourselves in Butano State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, midway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay and only a little more than an hour from San Francisco. Butano State Park -- one of the least known of the California parks -- is home to a spectacular redwood/Douglas fir forest.
During our five-mile hike, we see plump yellow banana slugs, the tiny Calypso orchid and blooming trillium. But the best part is the conversation. I'd forgotten how conducive hiking is to catching up!
We're spending the weekend in Half Moon Bay (www.halfmoonbaychamber.org), and I can't think of a better respite from city living -- a spectacular coast and beaches (great tide-pooling), and the chance to hike through the redwoods, visit farms and try restaurants that have been at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement.
Asparagus is in season and it's served to us -- gently fried in a light batter at Pasta Moon (www.pastamoon.com), which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. You can point out veggies to the kids in the fields and farmers' markets and then bring them here to eat them.
There are farms that date to the 1800s, miles of white sand beaches (here's the place to horseback ride along the beach), redwood forests and hiking and biking trails along the bluffs and among the mountains. There's kayaking, fishing and even the chance to see how cheese is made. And, of course, plenty of farm-to-table good eats.
This area, we learn, is home to a broad-based ecotourism visitor program. More than 30 farmers, fishermen and community business members offer visitors hands-on activities. To be included in the Ecotourism Map (www.halfmoonbayecotourism.com), businesses agree to follow certain environmental standards. You have your choice of options where to stay -- even Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of the tallest and most photographed lighthouses in the country, is now a hostel!
We opt to pamper ourselves at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay (www.ritzcarlton.com/en/properties/halfmoonLine is overdrawn bay/). The hotel is high on scenic bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with two golf courses, tennis courts, walking trails to the beach and outdoor fire pits. Plus, they leave us s'mores kits in our room.
The fantastic Sunday brunch offers more than 300 items -- good thing there are so many hiking options to walk it off! But with four regions to explore around Half Moon Bay -- the North Coast, Half Moon Bay, the South Coast and the Redwood Region -- we wish we had more than one weekend.
When we arrived, we stopped at Harley Farms Goat Dairy (www.harleyfarms.com) in tiny Pescadero to sample goat cheese -- the best I've ever tasted -- for a picnic overlooking crashing waves at Bean Hollow State Beach. Dessert? Creamy fudge made with goat milk. At Harley Farms, kids can watch as goat cheese is made and ogle the baby goats! And check out the Saturday Coastside Farmers Markets (www.coastsidefarmersmarket.org).
As we walked along Pebble Beach with its distinctive small pebbles instead of sand, kids explored the tide pools, oblivious to the cold water and wind. An anemone! A sea star!
At Pescadero State Marsh, we followed a trail to watch scores of baby herons in the rookery and laughed at the harbor seals sunning on the rocks at Pescadero State Beach.
So easy to entertain the kids and at the same time, help them connect to the natural world.
More goat cheese, please!