This is the type of vacation a person takes to rejuvenate their soul. Our family has been renting a house in Cayucos, California since 2001. At the time, the boys were five and one. They beg to come here and plan, strategize and dream for the time that they will arrive here. ‘Our’ house is one of only two rentals that are located on the beach in the center of town. We can park our car and leave it in the garage for our entire stay. Everything we need is within walking distance. The house is perched several feet above sea level with private stairs that lead to the beach. We go on off-peak seasons for two reasons; first, the cost is much less and second, there aren’t as many people on the beach, in fact, there are hardly any people in off-season.
With a population of only 2,692, it’s one of the smallest cities on California’s Central Coast. Locals and visitors alike have always been friendly to us and appear to be truly happy. You can not beat the vibe.
We stayed for one week in December of 2020. Our two college students had been attending virtual classes since March of 2020. With the Fall Semester completed, we all needed a break. When they were younger the boys would often stay in a room they shared and play video games all day. We would have to literally drag them away from the games to play on the beach. Now that they’re 24 and 20 they refused to bring their game console and chastised my husband and I if we got on our laptop or focused too much on our phones. They insisted on long walks and board games. Given that we had all been in close proximity to each other for ten months, this was a pleasant surprise.
The entire back of the house is windows allowing for an unfettered view of the ocean. There are chairs that we place along the sidewalk and we’ll sit there, lined up, as much as possible, just soaking in the beautiful scenery and scents that can only be found near an ocean.
We have our traditions. One of our favorites (well not ALL of our favorite) is what we’ve named ‘Cayucos Hose Surprise.’ When the boys were five and one, the elder hosed the younger from behind. I was lucky enough to capture the event on film. We’ve reenacted this moment in two additional years, just for fun. In 2020, we switched it up so that the younger (and now bigger) brother hosed the elder. And, we started a new tradition this year. It’s called Kintsugi, which is a Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with powdered gold. My husband found a kit online and purchased it for us to do at the beach house as a family. This will be a new tradition for us and one that is completely unique and will capture our memories for years to come. The boys each made an ecosystem this year using pickle jars, oceanwater, sand and for photosynthesis, seaweed. They’ve brought them home and keep them in their rooms to remind them of their time on the beach.
There is something odd that happens here. It can rain all night, yet soon after the rain has stopped, the outdoor chairs are dry. The weather can read 46 degrees yet, you don’t feel cold. You wake up in the morning and the sun is setting without you understanding where the day went.
We have our favorite restaurants and each of us got to pick one place to eat out each day. All other meals were prepared in our house or barbecued in the back yard overlooking the ocean. Our favorites are Duckies Chowder House, Schooners, Lunada Garden Bistro, and Ruddell’s Smokehouse. We did venture out a few times to get takeout from Morro Bay, but this blog is about Cayucos.
On the beach, dogs are allowed and many people let them run without leashes. A nightmare if you’re a dog hater, but a delight if you’re a dog lover. Us four are of the later ilk. Unfortunately, our house doesn’t allow dogs so we especially enjoy dog-watching when we’re away from our own.
It’s fun to watch the various types of birds feed near the waves. They usually stay in flocks and run to the waves when they’re receding and away from the waves when they’re coming in. The goal is to get as many sand crabs as possible to fill their stomachs. There is definitely a hierarchy to their methodology. It seems that some of the flocks separate between youth and adults. We watched a flock that had the adults merely watching from a safe place while the youth ran back and forth from and to the waves. We made up stories as to why they did this and what comments each group might be saying.
If you walk 1 ½ miles south from our house, you arrive at the sand dollar beach (our name for it). Here, there are hundreds of sand dollars on the beach, many of which are unbroken. We enjoy collecting them and bringing them back to our beach. If we find red ones, it means they’re still alive and we throw them back into the ocean. It’s not always easy to walk to this beach. If the tide is high, you have to wait until the waves pull back long enough for you to race around the rocks without getting pelted by the larger waves. Our oldest son especially likes the challenge of the high tide. In fact, he talked me into going with him one day. The tide was super high and all I could do was imagine myself being thrashed against one of the rocks. He made fun of my cowardice and asked why I was OK jumping out of airplanes but not OK with a few waves. Good point, but I still made him come back to our house with me.
Another reason we especially like this beach is because you can have fires on it. It’s nice to sit in the sand roasting marshmallows for s’mores with the waves roaring nearby. We’ve spent hours next to our fires over the years. There’s something hypnotic about watching the flames dance while in the midst of nature.
Each year, the Cayucos Chamber of Commerce hosts the Polar Bear Dip on January 1. I booked this year with the intent to participate. Like everything else, it was cancelled, and I was disappointed. But then, on January 1, heading back to the house from the high tide fright I noticed many people north of our house on the beach next to the pier. I realized that folks were doing the Dip even though the Chamber wasn’t organizing it! I ran up the stairs to the house and changed into the outfit I had brought especially for the event. Towels in tow, I headed that way to participate. Unfortunately, I was too late, and the people were all dispersing. On the way back to the house, with husband and elder son with me, we decided to do our own Dip (renamed Polyack Plunge) at the beach in front of our house. It worked out better because after the plunge, we were able to run up to the showers and warm back up. Another tradition I suspect.
Places we would have gone if it weren’t for the timing of our visit would have been Hearst Castle in San Simeon and Field of Lights near Paso Robles. Places we did go to either on this trip or on past trips included the Elephant Seals of San Simeon – a must see for anyone in the area. All three of these activities is a wonder in its own distinctive way. This year we went to Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in San Simeon which was beautiful. The most notable part of this hike was that the boys were able to climb on the rocks, uncovered due to the low tide, and sit just a few feet away from Harbor Seals, starfish, crabs, snails and anemones. The rocks here appear to have no life whatsoever, but when you stop and take the time to look, they are shockingly alive. We stayed until late in the day.
Cayucos was the perfect elixir for an upside-down year. We are all so grateful for the calm and simplicity that recharged us here.
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.