california dreamin’

I’m back! Back to writing on this blog, at the encouragement of my husband, and back home after a glorious month spent oceanside in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. A few years ago, during a particularly difficult time, Sean and I decided that the best thing for our family would be for him to retire from the workforce and transition into being a full-time stay-at-home parent. One of the key reasons for making this major change was the damper that his field marketing role in healthcare was putting on our ability to travel. Those of you who’ve followed me on this blog over the years know that traveling the world is my primary joy in life, and while Sean has always been supportive of my solo adventures, he also knew he was missing out on some incredible places. We decided to give it a year to see if we could sustain a single-income household and to see if being home full-time would really fulfill Sean the way we hoped it might. Two years into the experiment we are happier than ever that we made the leap. Sean has been able to join me on several adventures that he otherwise would have missed, but the best part of our new lifestyle is our ability to really take our summers with the kids to the next level. Instead of spending the entire time in one place based out of our home in Colorado, we can now venture to other places for extended stays. Last summer (our first with so much freedom) we took the entire clan, dogs and all, to Lakeside, Montana for a month of boating, swimming, hiking, ATV’ing and exploring. Due to our proximity to town, we also experimented with giving the kids a little more freedom to do things like bike to the lake without us or stay home while Sean and I went out on date nights (a revelation like no other!). The only downside of last summer’s family adventure was that due to the demands put on the tech industry by COVID, my job became abnormally stressful and I had to put in many more hours than I normally do, particularly in the evenings and on weekends. Despite the additional workload, it was still an obvious blessing to be able to experience a completely new environment as a family for an entire month – so much so that I was already daydreaming about where this summer could take us while we were still in Montana. Having binge-watched the show Big Little Lies on HBO, I became obsessed with the scenery where the show was based in Monterey, California, and decided that would be our next summer destination. A friend recommended we base ourselves in the charming town of Carmel and that was that – we booked it!

Now I’m on a plane heading back to Colorado with the kids and Sean is on the road back with our gear – all of the toys we hauled out there plus a new beach wagon, a couple of Tommy Bahama beach chairs and a surfboard. For all those big waves that Colorado is so famous for, right? Suffice it to say, we had an incredible time. Work was unseasonably manageable for me and we truly embraced everything Central California and the Monterey Bay area have to offer. Here is my highlight reel:

  • Point Lobos Nature Preserve – somewhere I read that this place is “the most beautiful meeting of land and sea in the world.” I can’t say I disagree – a small, but absolutely breathtaking place to see enormous Monterey Cypress trees, plus a rugged coastline full of sea birds, sea otters, Harbor seals, sea lions and hermit crabs. It was only 5 minutes from our house, so I went there frequently on my own in the mornings to jog. I haven’t been a runner in years, so I set a goal of running 30 miles in 30 days and it’s a good thing I had this place to lean on for some flat trails because I was not prepared for all of the hills in Carmel!
  • Surf Camp – Kathryn has been talking non-stop about learning to surf ever since she found out we were going to be in California for a month, so we signed the kids up for the Wahine Project Surf Camp for two of the weeks we were there. After her first week, Kathryn begged us to sign her up for a third week (we did). Both kids put in countless hours at the ocean, either out on surfboards or skimboarding from the shore. Their enthusiasm was so infectious that Sean even bought a second-hand surfboard on Craigslist while we were there so they could practice when they weren’t in camp. It mattered very little to them that every trip to the ocean meant bundling up in a thick, full-body wetsuit so they could endure the freezing-cold water temperatures. It was so fulfilling as parents to watch these two little adventurers take on the ocean with such fearlessness and I am certain my daughter in particular is going to find a place near the ocean permanently one day. I won’t be far behind her!
  • The Monterey Aquarium – I’m not sure the hype of this place lives up to the actual experience, but we did make it a priority based on all of the recommendations, even becoming members so we could go as much as we wanted to. There aren’t as many exhibits as I was expecting, but the ones they have are beautifully designed. Date night with edibles and jellyfish viewing was memorable as well!
  • Friends & Family – we had a lot of visitors in Cali! My best friend flew out for almost a week, we had good friends drive down for a long weekend from the Bay Area, and parents from both sides came out for several days. This travel-centered lifestyle we have created is really special, and it’s only made more so when we are able to share it with the people we love.
  • Carmel – if you’ve never been to Carmel, I insist that it’s worth planning a vacation around. The main downtown and residential area where we put roots down for a month are magical. The homes are small, but unique – each one looking like it was custom-designed for a fairy and her gnome husband. You can easily walk (up and down lots of hills) to shops, restaurants and beautiful Carmel Beach (some of the holes at Pebble Beach Golf Links overlook this beach). We decided not to bring the dogs this time, but at times wish we had since Carmel Beach is one of only a handful of beaches in California where dogs can play off-leash. The absolute best part of Carmel is that it’s close to everything – 10 minutes gets you to the beach, mountain biking, golf and hiking. 30 minutes takes you to the cliffs of Big Sur in the south or to some incredible wildlife watching in Moss Landing to the north.

When I say we did it all, I mean we did it all. All the outdoor activities and all the restaurants, including a foodie experience at Aubergine unlike any I’ve ever had in Colorado, Chicago or the world – thanks again for that one, Poppi! All the shopping, all the attractions, all the wildlife. Side trips to Big Sur, Stanford University, Henry Cowell Redwood State Park and Santa Cruz. All. The. Things.

I am tired and inspired. Ready for the comforts of home in the mountains, ready to see the familiar faces of our furbabies and our friends, but also ready to start thinking about the next big adventure – two months on Kauai next summer and a million more memories to be made as a family.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about our time in California and won’t hesitate to drop me a line directly if you want to hear more about it (or just catch up cuz’ it’s been a minute). As I said, Sean is encouraging me to “put my talent out there” again, so this just feels like a good moment to share and reflect. I hope to put more content out over the next few weeks and months.

XOXO

Marissa

2 thoughts on “california dreamin’

  1. Love this and love that you are able to create such fond memories for your family. Something I never had! Kudos to you for your adventurous spirit and ability to go with it! Again something I need to work on. But I will get back to Italy some day and not for just a short stay and you all will be there with me to share my adventure ! Xoxo Nana.

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