There are parts of my Thoughtful Travel Adventure that are really hard for me to talk about. Not because I don’t want to, but because there are no words to do it justice. What I really wish I could do is put your hand on my heart and through osmosis, you could truly feel what I felt on this trip. But since that’s not possible, I’ll try to paint a picture for you using some of the quarter of a million words in the English language that just don’t seem to measure up.
One of the things that made my trip so memorable was the little cottage I rented. When I was looking for a place to stay, I wasn’t looking for anything fancy. My two main requirements were that it be close to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and that it have a full kitchen so I could make my meals and not eat out everyday. I didn’t need a hot tub or five bedrooms or a souped-up entertainment center. Heck, I didn’t even need for it to be on the ocean or have ocean views. Something simple, clean, and affordable would suit me just fine.
I found what I was looking for on VRBO.com, our usual go-to place for vacation rental homes. The cottage was located at the very end of a quiet residential street in Moss Beach. The property, which also includes the owner’s main house, was surrounded by a tall, wood fence so that when I initially drove up, I couldn’t see the cottage or the yard. While I had an idea of what the place looked like from the photos on the website, there’s always a moment where you hold your breath and pray for the best. This was going to be the place I would sleep, eat, and base myself from for the next nine days—for better or for worse.
After seven and a half hours of driving, I wearily got out of the car, grabbed a couple of bags and headed toward the fence door. The second I pushed it open and stepped into the yard, Iknew I had hit the jackpot. I was instantly overwhelmed with a sense of magic. MAGIC, People! When was the last time you felt that? I hadn’t even step foot in the cottage yet and I had already fallen in love with the setting. Before me was a long, rectangular yard covered in green grass and bordered by a modest landscape of colorful flowers, green shrubbery, and tall trees. One end of the yard reminded me of an infinity pool…it just seem to disappear into the horizon. And it did. It was a sheer bluff that dropped a hundred feet right into the ocean. If I were a sleepwalker, I would have been very afraid to close my eyes at night. The other end of the yard held my cottage (with the main house 10 or 15 feet behind it), brilliantly yellow even in the foggy gray of the afternoon marine layer. In the space between the two ends, there were three distinct sitting areas: one with a huge hammock, one with two modern lounge chairs and a side table in between, and a one with low-to-the-ground, older rattan chairs (with the most comfortable get-lost-in cushions) around a raised fire pit. It was clear to me in that instant that the yard was going to be a prime setting for me.
After taking in the outdoor scene, I went over to my cottage, opened the door, and walked into a soft, warm inviting environment. A bottle of champagne waited for me on the table and two bouquets of flowers with Gerberas in all colors anchored each side of the bed. The cottage’s shape matched that of the yard—long and narrow, which made the cottage seem smaller than it was. On the one end was a huge king bed with fluffy pillows and an even fluffier comforter. The other end of the cottage held the kitchen on one side and a rather large bathroom on the other. In the middle was an oversized leather chair and ottoman, a small desk, and a glass breakfast table with two chairs. It was going to suit my needs just fine…and then some.
The cottage itself was great (clean, well equipped, relaxing, bright, great views…a wonderful place to be if you were forced to stay in because of the weather) but it was the yard and the location that would capture my heart. It was, literally, right above the marine reserve. When I stood at the end of the yard, I overlooked the reserve’s main beach, including the always fascinating horseshoe reef. To get to the reserve, I could jump off the cliff and into the tidepooling reefs below or walk 50 paces down the street, down a set of stairs, and onto a sandy beach. Having left my parachute behind, I opted for the latter. After tidepooling, I would often walk the cypress- and eucalyptus-line trails above the marine reserve. Sometimes I would continue my walk, along the side streets of Moss Beach that paralleled the ocean, past the historic Moss Beach Distillery, along the Seal Cove bluffs, through the Moss Beach Land Preserve (which takes you right above the famous surfing beach, Mavericks), and all the way down to Pillar Point Harbor in Princeton-by-the-Sea (roughly three or so miles one way). From the cottage I could also walk up the street to a small market/liquor store, the post office, a yoga studio, a tiny café, a gas station, and a taqueria. If you continued a mile north on Hwy 1, you’d run into the lovely Point Montara Lighthouse. But despite being in close proximity to these things (I didn’t have to get in my car at all if I didn’t want to), back at the cottage, I felt a million miles away from everything. In fact, the little town of Moss Beach felt a million miles away from civilization. My original intent was to stay in the city of Half Moon Bay and I’m so glad I didn’t. While Half Moon Bay has a fantastic four-block main street, it also has a McDonalds and a Holiday Inn. Moss Beach was private, quiet, and flew under the radar. Just the way I like it.
Regardless of what I was doing during the day—tidepooling, hiking, walking beaches, strolling Half Moon Bay’s Main Street, kayaking—I always felt compelled (and I mean COMPELLED) to come back to the cottage in between activities. I don’t normally feel this way when we rent a place. I usually see our lodging as a base—a nice, comfortable base, but not a destination in and of itself. Specifically, I felt drawn to come back to my little yard, or “The Great Lawn,” as I began to call it. It was the place where I regrouped and prepared for the next adventure in the day. It was the place where I refueled; the lounge chairs became my dining room where I had every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was a the place where I recharged; every day I took a powernap in the hammock. And it was the place where I closed out the day with a hot rice-nog and brandy after-dinner drink while watching the sun set into the ocean and keeping warm by the fire. And after the sun set, in the lingering twilight, I would document the day’s activities and various thoughts in my journal before heading into the cottage, jumping into a welcoming bed and planning for the next day’s adventures. Looking back, I see The Great Lawn as a vortex of the trip with my daily routine swirling around it.
There were so many golden moments on The Great Lawn: soaking up the sun in the mornings, watching the marine layer hanging over the ocean in the distance move in and out, looking up at the stars in the darkening evening sky, hanging out with the owner’s cat in the early mornings on the tiny side deck off the inside eating area, watching the sailboats and fishing boats come and go, seeing the designs of the reefs from above in various tides stages, watching the California brown pelicans soar above me as they road the updraft along the ocean bluffs, listening to the birds, taking in the mingling smells of trees and the ocean, listening to the waves, listening to the quiet…
Last year, when Emmett and I spent a week up in Mendocino County, we discovered a hidden beach. Emmett feel in love with that beach and named it the Beach of Solitude, Peace, and Beauty. That’s how I felt about The Great Lawn at my little cottage…it was a place of solitude, peace, and beauty for me. The space had some serious mojo going on and I was happy to wrap myself up in it.
Next up: A Couple of Hikes.