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Week of Summer Vacation

Last week, I took a break from writing to spend time with my family, who were visiting from out of state. It was a whirlwind as we tried to cram a full summer’s break of activities into a few days. We didn’t get everything done we wanted to, but it was still fun. I’ll share a few highlights from our time.

Felton and Scotts Valley

In Felton, we went to the covered bridge park and looked at horses in the nearby stables. Then we visited the Garden of Eden, a spot along the San Lorenzo River in Henry Cowell Park. It was a pleasant sunny day but not too warm. Finally, we visited another park in Scotts Valley which had many ground squirrels and I found a few rabbits.

The historic covered bridge
Horses in the stables
Hiking in the redwoods
The Garden of Eden, a popular swimming spot
Can you see the little bunny? Hint: look for the white tail.

Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

It’s not a very big zoo and it’s aimed mainly at small children since it has a petting zoo. But it’s still got some cute animals and it’s fun. It was very hot outside when we went, so many of the animals were resting in the shade or hiding in the back. Here are a few of the more active ones.

Red panda
Red panda
A meerkat on the lookout
Goats in the petting zoo

Boulder Creek and Santa Cruz

We went to visit our childhood homes in Boulder Creek and Santa Cruz. In Boulder Creek, it was quite warm and the water was only a little cold for swimming. The little town is named for this creek, Boulder Creek, which lives up to its name with a lot of rocks. However, this spot called Junction Park is deep enough that I could wear my mermaid tail. I’m the first mermaid that I know of to swim in Boulder Creek.

The mermaid of Boulder Creek

Then we walked around Boulder Creek to visit the little shops and enjoy the sights. I haven’t confirmed this, but when I saw Toy Story 4, I thought the town “Grand Basin” looked very much like this area. Boulder Creek is home to a state park called Big Basin, and since Pixar Animation is north of San Francisco in Emeryville, they could have easily taken inspiration from here. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve used Northern California locations in their movie. (I know about San Fransokyo in Big Hero 6, San Francisco in Inside Out, Fenton’s Creamery in Oakland is in Up, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium inspired the aquarium in Finding Dory.) Boulder Creek even has a large antique store in the same location as the one in the movie.

Antique shop

Boulder Creek also inspired the small town in Small Town Witch, called Madrone. Although it’s set in Calaveras County, farther inland, I drew on my experiences living in this little community in the woods when I wrote the book. This coffee shop has gone through different names and owners, but it’s always had a tree growing through the middle of the building. It’s my inspiration for What a Drip Coffee & Bagels which is a location in the story.

Those enormous redwoods are in the middle of the building

By the way, I photoshopped a different cafe from South Lake Tahoe (which has giant sequoias, not redwoods, the correct kind of trees for Calaveras) to look like What a Drip. You will see this photo on the new book cover for Small Town Witch.

What a Drip!

Later, we drove down to Santa Cruz and the beach. Natural Bridges is a beautiful state park, named after the rock formations. Once there were three rock formations, but now only one survives. There used to be a lot of monarch butterflies which migrated through here during the winter months but now they are disappearing.

Natural Bridge(s)

Like usual in the summer, the beach was cloudy and cold so we didn’t swim. Natural Bridges is a great place to look at the tidepools. Subscribers to The Frugal Unicorn newsletter already saw one of my photos of a large sea anemone last week. Here’s a new picture, this one of an orange starfish. (Or sea star if you prefer a more accurate term, since they’re invertebrates and not fish.)

A starfish in the tidepools
Can you spot another starfish on the rocks?

Moss Landing

We drove down to Moss Landing along Monterey Bay, which is the entrance to Elkhorn Slough. This is an estuary where freshwater mixes with the sea and provides a protected area for many kinds of marine wildlife and birds. You can experience it by hiking on trails or get right on the water in a kayak. We rented kayaks for a few hours and enjoyed the sights. So many harbor seals and sea otters are just as curious about humans and try to come right up to the boats, which we tried to shoo away.

A sea otter popped up in front of my sister’s kayak

Later, we went to the beach and watched more wildlife there. Here are snowy plovers feeding on sand crabs in the surf. They’re similar to sandpipers like Tika. As you can see, it was nice and sunny this day.

Snowy plovers

Discovery Kingdom

One of my favorite destinations as a kid used to be Marine World. Back then, it had lots of animals including sharks, tigers, orcas, dolphins, and a butterfly house. In recent years, it’s been bought by Six Flags and renamed to Discovery Kingdom, and added many roller coasters and other amusement park rides. I haven’t been in eleven years so it was quite shocking to see the differences. Many of the animals have been reduced or eliminated. Some of these changes were probably for ethical reasons, like taking out the orca show and the elephant ride, so not all bad. But it was disappointing to walk past so many areas I remembered as a child and seeing them empty or full of thrill rides I had no interest in.

Still, there were some animals I remembered and others that were new. Unfortunately, one of the tigers recently passed away from old age. However, he was replaced with this adorable little guy!

Cain the lion cub

This guy was definitely the highlight of the whole park. He was born May 6, less than three months ago, and gifted from a zoo in New Jersey. The trainers kept him in quarantine when he first arrived. This was his first day out of quarantine when he could play outside in the grass, and everyone was very excited. He was very playful and cute, exploring everything and chewing on lots of things, including his trainers. One of the trainers was even kind enough to pick up the cub and let us pet him! He was only thirty pounds at the time but he is growing half a pound every day, so I don’t think they’ll be able to carry him for long.

Nurse sharks

The park also still has a tunnel where you can walk through a tank full of sharks and other fish. They had sandbar sharks, a leopard shark who appeared pregnant (and there was a mermaid purse on the nearby rocks), and these resting nurse sharks. I would have been happy to stay inside and chill with these guys for a while.

Ending the week with a beautiful sunset on the water

The sun was setting as we left the park and we saw it reflected on the water in a nearby pond. This was a beautiful end to the week. My family left the next day, which is always sad. I hope I can see them again soon, but in the meantime, I have many chores and writing to catch up on!


I'm an author, a blogger, and a nerd. I read and write fantasy.