High on my list of places to visit was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. jonhoneyball has been raving about it for years, and as I've always loved aquaria, we had to go there. A friend of rowanf loaned us a set of guest passes, and we piled into ocean_song's car (fitting in around the contents of her house move) and shot off down the interstate to Monterey. The yellow hills folded themselves higher and higher around the concrete interstate, wrapping us in tree lined valleys.
Monterey itself is on the southern shores of the wide curve of Monterey Bay, close to a deep ocean trench. Cold water is the home to immense kelp forests that hug the edges of a deep trench, forests that teem with life. The aquarium is focused purely on the life of the bay, from its migrant cetaceans to its drifting plankton swarms. Huge tanks capture the depths, and exhibits entertain and educate.
This year, an exhibition of jellyfish added an artistic view of a normally derided inhabitant of the deeps.
We ended the day in a restaurant on a pier, watching wild sea otters dive around the kelp, while in the distance seals explored the edge of the forest, looking for fish.
Highway 280 is by far the nicest way to drive from San Jose to San Francisco. Its gentle curves glide over the hills, speeding you from one vista to the next. One moment you're driving over the Stanford Linear Accelerator, the next you're waving goodbye to the venture capitalists of Sand Hill Road...
In the middle of San Francisco is Twin Peaks, a hill that looks down on the hustle and bustle of the city, from a place in the clouds. It's a twisty drive up the hill, but coming down you slide gently onto 280 and south to the warmth of San Jose. But despite the cold wind at the top, the view is worth it, the towering man made hills of the financial district split by the faultline that is Market Street. At that point you realise that the city itself is a metaphor for the unstable rocks beneath its foundations...
Head west from San Jose on Highway 17, and you're twisting and turning through the redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains, climbing and climbing, before the steep glide down into Santa Cruz itself. Surprisingly chilled in the late summer heat, Santa Cruz is built for hanging out. Wide streets, cool shops and plenty of trees. We bought art and comics, and browsed a friendly bookstore.
And then we went to the beach.
The sun was setting into the Pacific, as we paddled in the waves, feeling the contrast between the warm air and the cold sea. As we watched, drummers gathered, and beat the sun down, sat around a fire on the beach.
Our friend Draco and his wife Selene high up in the redwood peaks of the Santa Cruz mountains, in a completely off grid passive solar home. It's an impressive construction, a mix of high tech (70KW or so of solar panels) and low (inside the cool walls, the insulation is straw bales). Close to the house is a view point. You can stand up here, and watch the mountains roll down to Capitola and the sea, and across to the hills of the Monterey peninsula, far across the bay...