Butterflies, Coast and Sunsets: A guide to Pacific Grove, CA. 

I have written about the areas around Pacific Grove in previous posts (see: California’s Wildlife – a free and beautiful guide.) however I haven’t actually written about PG (as us locals call it) itself and this is silly as it’s simply a lovely place. So, here goes!

PG is a small town in California within walking distance of the more known Monterrey Bay – a place I may well do a future post on. If you’re from California and have heard of the town, you’ll most likely know it as ‘Butterfly Town U.S.A.’ This is because the town hosts the annual migration of monarch butterflies who come to a protected sight right in the heart of the town forming their famous large clusters. The little park is free to visit and the sight is truly one of nature’s most amazing events. If you’re in town at the right time of year (October is the start) then this is an absolute must! I myself go to the park almost daily whilst I’m there in an attempt to capture the perfect photograph.

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With these huge clusters of butterflies gathering in PG, you will often see them all over the place flying around and, on one unlucky year I remember, they decided to settle in a nearby private garden as opposed to their dedicated natural park. This was not ideal to say the least. But anyway, yes, they float around the place and make it all seem quite lovely, occasionally settling somewhere so you can see them not just in their clusters, but in their own individual beauty too.

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The walk from the butterfly park back into the town and High street is also lovely. The town is a great example of Victorian housing in the states with 75% of the homes in the city being considered of historical interest. The people of PG are incredibly proud of their town and of how it is presented, and as a result each house is a visual delight. Either because it and it’s gardens are immaculately maintained, or because they have done something special. For example, there is a house just outside the town which has a miniature railway going all the way around it’s gardens! And, if this wasn’t enough, they and their neighbours have bookshelves on the property where you can take one in return for replacing with your own. This is very useful when you’re on holiday if you’re old school like me and prefer paper to paperwhite. (That was a kindle joke).

(I will go take a photo for here next time I go).
The town itself is adorably quaint. It’s basically one long high street and on either side there are cafes and shops selling locally produced jewelery and gifts. Perfect for Christmas shopping! Especially as whilst some of the shops are beyond a budget Budgie price range, there are many which have affordable local goods. Fantastic! There’s also a great local museum in the town if you want to sharpen your local knowledge and make the most of your trip as a result. I can highly recommend the place. Also, if you want your heartstrings to be tugged, there’s a cat and dog charity rescue centre on the high-street with fluffy adorable souls needing some love and stroking. (My parents hadn’t lived there for longer than a whisker before they caved and adopted a couple).

 
Parallel to the highstreet at all times and accessible down any number of little roads is the coast. Whoop. If you walk in one direction you end up at the world famous 17-mile drive, and in the other you end up in Monterey Bay. Both are stunning walks. However, personally I tend to go right and head into Monterey because that direction has more coffee shops. In either direction though you will see loads of nature on these coastal walks with seals, sea otters and all sorts of birds guaranteed sightings. (Probably. Don’t sue us if you don’t see them – we honestly have absolutely no money).

 

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A particular favourite beach area of mine is Asilomar State Beach. This favouritism is mainly because it’s under 5 minutes from my parents house but also because the conference grounds next to it have nice hot chocolates in the cafe. The sunsets here can be truly incredible too…

 

Pacific Grove Sunset

 

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So there we have it! Pacific Grove. A venue of spectacular beach sunsets, coastal walks taking you either into natural beauty or the lovely city of Monterey, iconic hugely important monarch butterflies and a high-street of good food, good coffee and lovely gifts and local artistry. Head on over!

 

But… preferably not when I go. It’s already a busy enough place for tourists and to be quite honest I’d rather there were less. So yeh… actually… the place is awful! Don’t go! Thanks.

 

Matt.

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Stunning Yosemite. (On a Budget)

A few years back Budgie Al and I (Matt) managed to get a few weeks holiday in America. Whilst based in the Bay Area of San Francisco we wanted to make the most of the trip and travel around and one place we were desperate to visit was Yosemite. For those that don’t know, the National Park is in Northern California covering a huge area of 746, 956 acres across the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range and the surrounding area. It’s a huge tourist attraction with well over 5 million visitors last year. And, as you may then expect, it can be an extortionately expensive holiday destination! So how did we manage it the Budget Budgie way?

First up – Transportation: 

Whilst the train system in the states isn’t ideal, it was our friend on this occasion. I’m writing this on a Sunday, and to book this route for tomorrow would cost me $32. Not bad at all. So of course with advanced planning and booking you can nab this for a bargain. The journey isn’t the simplest it’s true, with a couple of changes, however it was perfectly pleasant. Having said that, I don’t remember it being quite as nice a journey as the Amtrak site suggests…

“You’ll see the state’s premier agricultural region from the comfort of your seat and roomy train interior. Grab a snack and sit back as you watch the coastal mountain ranges pass by on your way to Yosemite National Park . After a quick stop in Merced, CA and a scenic Thruway bus ride in through Mariposa and El Portal, Yosemite National Park greets you with a spectacular sight. Waterfalls, giant sequoias, scenic overlooks and winding trails throughout 1,169 square miles of parkland are just a few of the things that await.”

As it says, you have to change and get a bus once you’re at Merced. However they ran regularly and we didn’t have to wait too long at all – which was a good job as shade was lacking and refreshments were limited to a machine which spewed boiling black water it called coffee. The shuttle busses were also incredibly convenient as they took you around the larger and most popular hotels, hostels and camp sites. Which leads us to…

Accommodation: Yosemite Bug. Rustic Mountain Resort. 

Without camping gear Al and I needed a bed, or two, and as such we unfortunately had to pay a premium. There are no ‘cheap’ places in this area. Having said that, the Bug offered very good value for the area. I can’t remember the exact prices we paid back then, but it is now $28 a night for what we had – a male shared dormitory. This was basic. Bunk beds, snoring hikers and an open bathroom with shower curtains which stick to your whatnots. However it’s located great for the bus from the station and the bus into the visitor centre area of the park with them running regularly in both directions. And, after you’ve spent a day in the park doing hikes in the sun all you want is a functional shower and a bed to collapse onto.

IMG_0668Also it’s in a pretty setting with walks in that area too and hammocks and table tennis etc spread around. There’s a very decent food hall too with unlimited coffee by the pint glass and burrito breakfasts. So yeh, certainly can recommend to anyone and would use again. And by would I mean I hope to.

 

Yosemite Valley itself. 

The shuttle bus is free!!! I can’t stress enough how great this is. This is after all Budget Budgie and therefore the word free should always be accompanied by fireworks. The shuttles are supplied to reduce car traffic and are excellent. The drivers were all incredibly knowledgeable and they give fantastic views of the stunning scenery and take you to the start of the different hikes and sections. Bliss.

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Some of the trail routes are for the hardcore hiker only so make sure you read up before you pick your pathway. For instance, the Half Dome Day Hike is a 16 mile round trip with elevations of almost 5000 feet and involves cables you have to climb up a near straight rock face. Budgie Al and I dressed in shorts and Sports Direct trainers did not do this or other similar trails. Instead we chose those listed ‘easy’ on the useful map from the information centre. These are up to around 3 miles and are perfect for those with just trainers, a bottle of water and a camera. They also mean you can do a few different ones leisurely during the day and thus see many different areas of the park with the aid of the shuttle bus. Did I mention that’s free?

So what sort of things can be seen? Well, quite simply, breathtaking things. One trail we did took us to Vernal Fall:

“Climb along nature’s “giant staircase,” where you are rewarded with close-up views of two waterfalls and numerous geologic features (depending on how far you choose to hike). Powerful and turbulent, these two waterfalls will soak you in spring and entice you year-round”

 

Yes, we truly did get soaked – The power of Vernon’s spray was quite phenomenal! This trail was tough on the knees with the ‘giant staircase’ taking you up high with stunning views over the terrain. However, who cares if you’re out of breath if this view is the reward! Woodland. Waterfalls. Mountain Ranges. Sun. Clouds. Birds. Animals. Everything. Nature can be truly breathtaking.

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Other trails though are more relaxed and give you more of a ground level experience of Yosemite with rivers and meadows. If you’re not much of a walker and just want to do one, then the ‘Cook’s Meadow Loop’ is often recommended:

“Walk through the heart of it all! Enjoy views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Royal Arches from the center of Yosemite Valley as you saunter through this large open meadow.”

For Al and I it offered stunning views, great photo opportunities and spots for food breaks. And I can’t stress this enough, Al requires many many many food breaks. If he doesn’t get them then he becomes a more fearsome animal than you’ll find anywhere else in the national park.

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Whilst there are many, many other activities that can be done in the park ranging from biking and ice skating through to kayaking and horse riding, Al and I chose the walking because it’s free, can be done at your own pace with a million breaks and, with the free shuttles, gives you the chance to see an incredible amount of beauty in just a short time. And, sadly, we didn’t have too much time. Just a day and a morning. Having said this, it was fully worth the travel and expense. Which leads to…

Summary: 

Do it! Go there! 6/5.

Thanks for reading,

Matt.

California’s Wildlife – a free and beautiful guide.

I had the sort of upbringing where a weekend was spent birdwatching in a dreary field with my parents excited to see a fairly common bird doing a fairly common thing. And, I confess, I did struggle at times to share in their enthusiasm. Looking back however, I am relatively happy with this as it gives me a great foundation now to appreciate the beauty of the world I encounter on my travels in comparison to this field near Luton. Here is a brief summary of some of the nature easily accessible to those traveling to California with my own photos to accompany.

In the Air…

We may as well then start with the birds. One of my favourite birds to be seen darting and zooming around the place are Hummingbirds. What’s great about these little colourful souls is that you don’t have to necessarily go anywhere to see them. Wherever I have stayed I have seen them. From an Airbnb in San Francisco to a campsite in Yosemite National Park – the city and the countryside. They are also very satisfying to photograph as they move so quickly and all over the shop making it difficult.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird.jpg On the other end of the size scale are Pelicans – moving from the couple of inches for a hummingbird to the few feet of a pelican. These can also be seen all over the shop. A particular haunt of theirs is Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey where they line the wharf alongside the restaurants waiting for spare food and fishing in the clean water of the bay. As can be seen in the second picture, they can scoop up a whole fish.

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The ugly California Condor. Ugly with nasty claws and a face designed for burrowing into bloody dead animals.  Ugly, but iconic.

In the Oceans…

Here we have the adorably cute Sea Otter on the right, and the ugly fat nosed smelly Elephant Seals on the left. They are huge and impressive and you have to travel to particular parts of the coastline to see them with their breeding grounds (stretches of beaches they prefer) being tourist attractions in their own rights. The sea otters can be found dotted all over, however can be allusive to spot. Monterey again is a good spot to try at.

A tourist attraction in San Fransisco are the Sea Lions on Pier 39. They’re present nearly all year and nearly all the time – though I have been there without any and was very sad. People buy a drink on the pier and then set up shop and watch them for an age with their squabbling, cuddling and squishing together as close as humanly, or sealionly, possible.

 

On Land…

The huge landmark animals are depressingly two I have not seen despite having been in the locations where they are meant to be. 1) Black Bears 2) Mountain Lions. The bears can be spotted (rarely) in Yosemite National Park and the closest Budgie Al and I got whilst there was listening to the bus driver boast to his passengers of having seen them once or twice in his thirty odd years driving around (seemingly without wearing deodorant). As for the Mountain Lions, my parents live in an area where they are on the prowl. http://www.montereyherald.com/article/NF/20150914/NEWS/150919881 – As you can see, they are damn damn damn damn damn damn damn cute. I have walked around the area with cat treats in my pocket but have yet to see them. All in good time perhaps. But maybe some distance may be good seeing as they can be quite deadly…

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For now this will have to do… but in time maybe a lion or two.

So there we have it, a brief look at some of my favorite nature you can see for free in the California area.

Matt.

San Francisco

San Fran is the best city in the world. Hands down. Unfortunately, its not usually an overly budget friendly option to get to from Europe. As we’re an internationally followed, world-renowned organization though some of our many readers will be based in the States and thus get there easier. Also, there are cheaper ways to get there for us in Europe. For example, encourage your parents to move there and then pay for your tickets out of a mixture of guilt for abandoning you and their air-miles. Once there, though, there are options aplenty for the budget conscious explorer and here are some of my top tips to make the most of this stunning city.

Let’s start off with the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you get to SF you will be bombarded immediately with adverts showing people cycling the bridge, proclaiming it to be THE way to travel its length. But, why? Its quicker to get across and back, sure. Its also no doubt liberating zipping along with the sea breeze whipping into you etc. But then… as someone who has walked it a fair few times… I can say that from observing cyclists they either do one of two things: 1) Spend the whole time stopping every few seconds to take photos and posing with the bike in selfies or group shots as opposed to riding it. 2) Zoom along enjoying the buzz of ‘I’m riding the bridge!’ and see absolutely nothing of the view or bridge around you. Walking is free, you can take your damn sweet time, take the photos and enjoy the view.

Sticking with the walking theme then… The city’s cable cars look lovely along the steep slopes and majestic going along the waterfront, and everyone should jump on one for a journey for sure. But using them every time? The city is very manageable to walk. Whilst Al may disagree with him whinging over his tired little feet and his burning thighs in his tight short shorts, the whole city is walkable. You can do the main street, take a right up into china town, carry on down and hit the waterfront and loop back round seeing the historic boats and moving back to fisherman’s wharf and pier 39 following the water back to the Ferry Building. And for those like me who have to put up with a complainer, there are cheaper public transport options all over the place with busses and trams and the underground. So just use those cheaper ones and save the cable cars for a one off and photos if your legs have given up.

China Town. Buy ALL your souvenirs here. They’re cheaper with warehouse style shops lined up full of the same sort of knickknacks that are twice the price up the road.

The Bay is lovely, and seeing the city from the water along with the bridges (not just Golden Gate but the others look lovely in the dusk light too for example Bay Bridge) and Alcatraz is a gorgeous thing to do. Instead of paying for one of the tourist boat tours though, go to the Ferry Building and get on a ferry across the water. You get all the same views and can spend a couple of hours in a different location before heading back. The best option is probably Sausalito. It has lovely views across the water to San Fran, the journey is a leisurely pace giving you time for photos and the likes, the town itself is full of sweet little cafes and gift shops and you’re certain to see the bay’s nature of sea lions and crabs and pelicans etc.

So there we have it, some budget budgie tips for San Francisco including some of its tourist hotspots.

(Oh yeh, you may have noticed I missed off going to Alcatraz. Well, some things you should just pay for and Alcatraz is one of these worthwhile things which you just have to suck up and pay for)

Matt.