Central California… A Welcomed Escape!I was born and raised in Central Illinois, surrounded by corn fields outside our “city” of Bloomington/Normal. Vacationing always seemed to take us east or south of Illinois, never west.  In 2017, we moved to Mesa, AZ and are having fun exploring the west coast now! In late April, my husband and I flew to Fresno, CA, to visit family that live there. They were concerned that Fresno wasn’t exactly a place with a lot to do, so they drove us to Kings Canyon National Park and also to the coast. I’d love to share some of that trip with you!

Kings Canyon

The day we arrived, we left immediately for Kings Canyon. It’s only about an hour from Fresno!  In fact, the Fresno airport is heavily utilized for visitors to Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and even Yosemite, because of its great central location.  

I’m a bit terrified of mountain driving. I mean, hey… I grew up with flat lands where you can see for miles. Runaway truck signs are concerning. LOL So, yes, I was gripping the seat for a small bit of the windy drive 6000 feet up into the Sierra Nevadas to get to our final stop. It was a BEAUTIFUL drive, though. 

When we arrived inside the park after paying a small entrance fee, my husband and I were rendered speechless. I have always wanted to see the “Generals” – General Grant and General Sherman redwood trees – since I first saw them in grade school in my social studies book. We weren’t able to visit Sherman because of the road being closed, so we saw the Grant which is the 2nd largest tree in the United States.

When we got out of the car, we couldn’t believe the size of these trees. 40 foot in circumference… just think about that! Swimming pool depth is usually no more than 20 ft (usually less!). These things are simply massive. The color of the wood is mesmerizing. And the absolute stillness of the park – the quiet, the nature – was just what the soul ordered that day. I  highly recommend making this a stop on your next California adventures!

Santa Cruz

The next day, we drove to Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Where we live currently in Mesa, we noticed a lot of Santa Cruz shirts being sold at all the “hip” stores at the mall, so to actually go there sounded fun. We paid for unlimited ride wristbands and enjoyed the day eating carnival food, riding rides, and watching those wild waves crash on the shore line. We walked out on the pier and ate dinner, then watched sea lions sleeping on the rafters below. I didn’t think the day could get any better. I was wrong.

17 Mile Drive

The next day, we drove a bit more south to do the “17 Mile Drive”. This drive is well marked with 17 total stops along the way with points of interest to behold. There are golf courses, multi million dollar mansions, and iconic cliffs all around. It’s definitely something everyone should do at least once in their life. Here are a few of my favorite pictures!

Central California… A Welcomed Escape!


After the drive (which took us about 2 hours), we drove to the next town over, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Don’t laugh… I didn’t get a ton of pictures of this town because I was totally in my element. This is the most quaint and cute little town I have ever visited in the US.  The shops were all set up in cottages on a hillside. Even the hotels looked straight out of Anne of Green Gables. Lots of boutiques, name brand stores, food… my favorite shop was the original art gallery of Thomas Kinkaide… yes, his very first! I can totally see the inspiration he had while painting there. We only spent a few hours there, but I am already planning another trip back to spend several DAYS in Carmel alone. My FAVORITE California town, hands down.


Finally, we drove to Monterey where we walked around Cannery Row and spent some time watching youth learn to race sailboats on a very windy day…now THAT was amusing. 🙂 Dinner was at the original Bubba Gump Shrimp where I am proud to say that I knew the answers to over half of the trivia questions the waiters asked.


We headed back to Fresno for the final 2 days of our trip. We enjoyed visiting a Japanese Botanical Garden in Woodward Park and seeing the most amazing underground home of an immigrant from Italy. 

We have been to Southern California twice before this trip. The best part of SoCal, to us, is Disneyland and Coronado Beach. We have a lot more to explore there, but haven’t been anxious to do so because it just didn’t give us the feels… but now that we have been to Central California and enjoyed the slower life, the tree farm scenery, the gorgeous mountains and fantastic coast there, we may just decide that California is a new favorite destination.  

If you’d like to chat more about a laid back visit to the central coast of Cali, contact me today! I’d love to help!

Thanks to Embrace the Journey Travel Planner, Sheila Nowell, for writing this blog post for us. You can learn more about Sheila here.