Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sunny SoCal

This President's Day weekend, we decided to take a trip to SoCal. We planned the trip along with my namesake and brother-in-law. As it was a last minute plan, I didn't have much time to do my usual research and planning. This did not stop us from having a fantastic vacation.

The stunning California coast

We headed out of the bay area on Friday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to find no traffic on the way. Our first stop was Morro Rock around 5pm. We reached there just in time to catch the beautiful sunset. The breeze was very cold and so was the water so we couldn't really hang around and play. We managed to get some great shots of the sun setting behind the huge Morro Rock.

Morro Rock

Our hotel was located in Arroya Grande which was a perfect place to access San Luis  Obispo and Santa Barbara. The next morning, we headed to Pismo beach which was ten minutes away. The weather was gorgeous. The warm breeze and the bright sun made it a perfect day. We sat on the pier for a long time looking at the rise and fall of waves. There were  a few surfers in action. I could have stayed at the beach for the entire day but we had a few other places to explore so we set out. There was something very calming about the beach and I can tell I'm going to go there again.

At Pismo Beach
Brown Pelican

Next up was San Luis Obispo downtown. We treated ourselves to a scrumptious Moroccan lunch and then strolled along the San Luis Creek. The mission and several restaurants flank the creek. We also passed by an alley which has bubblegum stuck all over it and is aptly called 'The Bubblegum Alley.'

San Luis creek

SoCal has a large number of vineyards and wineries. So we decided to try one out. Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards was our pick. It is a small winery with the major highlight being the dozens of peacocks that roam the grounds. As most of us are not wine connoisseurs, the wine tasting was just a different experience.

Wine tasting at Kelsey See Canyon Winery

Peacock at Kelsey See Canyon Winery

Avila beach was our final destination for the day. We found a nice place to sit and relax, waiting to watch the sunset. Vishnu busied himself in trying to get some good pictures. The warm breeze made it very enjoyable to sit unlike the beaches in Santa Cruz where the wind chill drives you crazy. We had dinner and called it a night.

Avila Beach

Sunday was the day to explore Santa Barbara so we drove there. We visited the Botanical Garden which turned out to be very hot and not too much fun. Then we went to downtown where Vishnu wanted to check out the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The museum was undergoing renovation so they had limited art on display. They did have a few notable artists like Monet, Dali and Renoir. I was very exhausted and hungry after that so we headed straight to find food.

Botanical Garden

Post lunch, we went to the Stearns Wharf. It being a long weekend, the place was packed and we had to park quite a distance away. I wanted to rent a bike and enjoy a nice bike ride along the coast but I changed my mind after seeing the crowd. We went to the end of the Wharf and sat watching the waves, seals and the boats in the water. It was very peaceful. We hung around until the sun went down.

Stearns Wharf Santa Barbara

I had heard a lot about Solvang, a quaint Danish village. We reached there after dark so could not really see any of the architecture or explore the shops as most of the stores were closed. It was quite a let down but we managed to get some great pizza in a downtown restaurant and we were content.

Monday morning we headed back home taking in the lovely sights of the California coast. The breathtaking views of the blue ocean and the coastline are enough to fill your heart with awe. It is a photographer's delight. We stopped at one viewpoint to snap some pictures and got back home wishing to be back soon.

California Academy Of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences is one of the museums situated inside the Golden Gate Park. I've been to this one during my earlier visits to the US. I went there again this weekend as my brother was visiting me.

The main attractions in the academy include the multilevel rainforest, planetarium and the aquarium. These in my option are a must-see. 

The rainforest has been recreated complete with all the insects, birds, fishes and reptiles. They have even managed to replicate the humid environment which adds to the authenticity of the experience. Macaws, gorgeous butterflies and lots of geckos and colorful frogs are on display. Most of them are so well camouflaged in their surrounding that it becomes a game to find them in their case. They have recreated the Bornean forest floor, Madagascar mid-story and the Costa Rican forest canopy. Once you reach the top level, you have to take the elevator to the ground floor where you can get an underwater view of the Amazon flooded forest. It is a breath taking view with all the colorful fishes and their surroundings. You have to see it to believe it!

The planetarium is equally impressive. There are set hours for the shows and you can get passes for those right outside the planetarium. The 75 foot dome is huge and impressive. They showed is a documentary on asteroids which was informative as well as entertaining. It almost felt like one of those immersive rides at Universal Studios. Who wouldn't love that!

The aquarium is enormous and houses marine habitat from Philippine coral reefs, tropical rain forests as well as the California coast. Each exhibit has a digital display that provides you info about the marine life. I was awe struck by the vibrant colors and the varied shapes of all the creatures. Made me appreciate the magic that is nature. Again, very tough to describe and should be experienced. 

The last exhibit that we saw was the one about earthquakes. There were three levels. The first one was a mini dome with a screen showing a short presentation on how earthquakes are caused. The second one was a room that mimicked the 1906 and the 1989 San Francisco earthquakes. It was a small sample of how scary and intense those earthquakes must have been. The final level was general information about preparing for and staying safe during an earthquake. 

There were several other exhibits but by then we were exhausted and it was time for us to leave.

Parking is free on the street inside the park but finding a spot is tough. The parking garage is conveniently located but expensive. So taking public transport is a good option. In addition, if you provide your bus or train ticket, you can get a $3 discount which is pretty neat since the actual tickets are expensive at $34.95 per head. 

Highly recommend this place if you're even mildly interested in aquatic life, biodiversity and science in general. 

What: California Academy of Sciences
Where: 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco CA 94118
When: Mon-Sat 9:30am-5pm and Sun 11am-5pm
Cost: $34.95 per head for adults

P.S: I only have pictures of the aquarium as I was too busy looking at the exhibits and forgot to click!