Every now and then you stumble upon something special. Something, or some place, that, even as you’re experiencing it, you know will stick with you, treasured, for the rest of your life. For me, one of those places is Davenport Bluffs.
Headed for San Francisco, my daughters and I started up Route 1, first thing in the morning on a Tuesday in February, after welcoming the sunrise alongside elephant seals at San Simeon. (An adventure in itself.) The West Coast was a new experience for all of us. And we couldn’t get enough of the scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway. We pulled over often to enjoy the views, totally in awe of the surrounding landscape, the coastal cliffs and the Pacific Ocean, such a deep blue even on this winter day.
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So it was with necks already getting sore from craning for views that our minivan chugged into the little town of Davenport, about nine miles north of Santa Cruz. We were really just looking for breakfast when we crested a small hill and noticed a few businesses along the right side of the road, including restaurants. A dirt parking area lay ahead on our left, which looked like a promising spot to take our dog Cali out for a stretch. We pulled in and parked at the northernmost end of the lot near a patch of trees.
You could call it fate, chance, or luck, but, looking back, whatever led us to that parking spot at Davenport Bluffs feels like divine intervention.
The girls tended to Cali while I walked around a bit to stretch my legs. The ocean rolled toward me, just beyond the cliffs. I could hear waves crashing against the rocky shore. And I wanted a better look. There was a small embankment along the length of the parking area, and railroad tracks neatly divided the base of it from a strip of land along the top of the cliffs. Scrubby vegetation scratched at my ankles as I wandered, seeking a good view.
I came upon a little sign, that announced the area as Davenport Bluffs. The sign warned of steep cliffs and instructed “stay back.” In my head I heard the lyrics, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…”
Then I noticed the path. A narrow brown foot trail led from the other side of the railroad tracks toward the edge of the cliffs. And paths beckon to be followed, enticing with the hint of secret adventure. Intrigued, I reasoned that if there is a path, it must be reasonably safe. So, ignoring the sign, I scrambled down the little embankment and crossed the railroad tracks. The incredible view stopped me short.
The Pacific crashed violently into the land against massive rocks and cliffs, spewing foam and salt water. The assault was magnificent, and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
This view was much too precious to not share so I waved until I got my daughters’ attention. The younger of the two looked from me to the sign, questioningly. I pointed to the path. She seemed to understand, and within a minute or two the girls joined me in reveling in the view from Davenport Bluffs. We watched, amazed, as wave after wave filled the air with salt water until, eventually, our attention returned to the path.
The trail wound along near the edge of the cliffs, rough-edged and well worn. We stopped often to take in the views, marveling at the wildflowers and raw natural beauty of this little slice of heaven on earth.
We followed along until the path led us downhill and presented us with a little beach, nestled in a cove. Not another soul was in sight! We had to clamber down a few rocks to the sand, but the beach was perfect, a rare gem that felt clandestine and mysterious.
With no one else around, we unhooked Cali’s leash and she took off running like a wild thing. Barreling back and forth along the shore, playfully dodging us as she zoomed past, she was having a great time!
Being from Western Pennsylvania, we couldn’t quite grasp the cloudless sky and beaming sun this time of year. Trying to take it all in and commit it to memory, we were like little kids. We walked barefoot on this strange shore appreciating the texture of the rough sand. We examined unusual seaweed, poking it with a stick (we weren’t sure it was seaweed at first). The girls climbed around on rocks on the southern end of the cove and got soaked in the process. We sat and watched the Pacific waves, some gently lapping at the beach, others crashing into a large rock, stoically holding its ground out in the water. Astounded at our luck for happening upon such a place, we were explorers encountering uncharted lands.
All too soon, our rumbling bellies reminded us that it was well past time to eat and we resigned to return to civilization. We followed a different path out, which led to the railroad tracks and the road beyond.
Across the road from the parking lot, a few colorful buildings clustered together. The bright yellow Whale City Bakery Bar and Grill was hard to miss! Large purple signs read, “Breakfast,” “Lunch” and “Dinner.” Since we weren’t sure what meal time it was, between the three-hour time change and our irregular, on-the-road meals, it was reassuring to know that all bases would be covered.
After pouring myself an organic coffee from the self-service coffee bar and verifying that dogs were allowed at the outside seating, we chose a table and settled in, watching the everyday activity of the area. It was a slow pace. A few people meandered into and out of the restaurant. Conversations skipped amicably between tables. A repairman worked near the side of the building. A local police officer picked up his lunch, exchanging greetings with some of the other patrons. Cali rested in the shade of a planter box next to our table, content from her beach excursion. I thought to myself, if a modern-day Mayberry on the Coast existed, this surely must be it. All the while, the Pacific sparkled and shimmered from the other side of the road.
With bellies full from our excellent meals at Whale City Bakery, it was time to bid a sad goodbye to Davenport Bluffs. A golden bridge was waiting for us to see, but the hidden cove we discovered beyond the Davenport Bluffs resides in my memory as a gilded treasure.
- If traveling to coastal California, you may want to pick up your own reusable straws, especially if you have children or sensitive teeth. We found that many restaurants don’t offer them due to environmental concerns. In fact, disposable straws have been banned in several cities.
- A reusable shopping bag may be helpful — we were unprepared and surprised to learn that California has banned single use plastic bags for many retailers. Grocers and other stores in California now must charge per bag (usually ten cents).
We love road trips! Read about another one of our adventures here.
Have you been to Davenport Bluffs? Have any PCH travel tips? Let me know in the comments below!