Day One on the Road: Fresno to Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa

What a day it was! We woke up excited and in awe that this day that was ahead of us — which we’d planned for, talked about, and anticipated for so long — had finally arrived! It felt surreal. After cleaning up around the house, packing a few last items, loading up the car, wrapping up some final logistics with my mom, and her taking our, “We’re off!” photo in front of our car, we were ready to go!


It was rough saying goodbye to my mom. There was lots of hugging tightly and loving words exchanged. I will miss her so much even though I know we’ll still text, email, and talk regularly (mostly thanks to our new Project Fi plan through Google)! It will be an adjustment being geographically so far apart for an extended period of time, more than we ever have been, but it will be okay and it won’t be forever! 

We drove 99 North to 152 West for our route to Santa Cruz. I was insistent that to go north, I did not want to go up through Sacramento again (we had just gone from Sacramento to Fresno, Fresno to Sacramento, and Sacramento to Fresno again within such a short timeframe, and I wanted to feel like our road trip was officially beginning on a new route; there was also an emotional component to saying goodbye to our home in Sacramento and closing that chapter of our journey already). The drive went by fairly quickly and the feeling of being on the open road felt so freeing, our whole trip lying out ahead of us to embark upon!

We arrived in Capitola by the early afternoon and ate our homemade sandwiches from our cooler on a bench facing the beach. It was so busy! School must not have started for everyone in California yet. We walked around a bit and took in the fresh, cool air (it felt so good; what a contrast to the 100+ heat of the Central Valley we’d just come out of)! Looming over us, however, was securing our accommodations for the night. Unfortunately, the initial campground in the area that Aaron had looked up and had in mind for us was full. It used to be the case, from Aaron’s extensive outdoors experience, that most California campgrounds have some open sites that don’t require an advance reservation (which is at least 2 days typically and not possible for us to book due to the short period of time we knew where we were headed first on our road trip). The campgrounds in the area, as we found out upon driving around for 1-2 hours checking them out, were all booked up. This is the challenge of deciding the day before to head north on our road trip instead of south at the 11th hour (tradeoffs). I felt frustrated and suggested we head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk area, to take a break from our hunt, for some food and walking around to continue enjoying ourselves, and also to check out AirBnB for possibilities.

Once getting to the Boardwalk area, we parked on a side street across the street from and near Dream Inn, where I had my Tabata Bootcamp™ Trainer Summit experience back in January; I knew from when I found it then that this specific stretch has free parking (score on this travel hack)!


We walked back and forth multiple times (adding steps to our day, uphill included!) for items needed in our car. Unfortunately, my phone (yes, my over-4-year-old iPhone4 that has seemingly been running slower and slower until it’s reached its snail’s pace lately) died when we needed it upon receiving a response from a potential AirBnB host that their place was available and to request to book through AirBnB, and by the time we charged it enough to turn on, the place had been swooped up by someone else (yes, that fast)! There were very limited, affordable options to choose from in the area (we chalked it up to being prime family vacation time in mid-August and the last hurrah pre-back-to-school week for many kids, even though it seemed a number of school sessions were starting up that week based on teacher friends’ comments and the word on the street locally in the Central Valley). We made a mental note to ourselves that if we want to return to the area for a long weekend trip in the future, once going back to our “regular” lives, we will definitely reserve accommodations in advance for ease and maximizing enjoyment of our surroundings due to eliminating focus on figuring the logistical necessity out of where to stay as the evening quickly approaches.

Before the AirBnB fiasco, we stopped for a restaurant happy hour experience near the pier at Ideal Bar & Grill. We were excited to be able to benefit from the appetizer and drink specials advertised (we sat at the bar to be eligible for them as part of the deal). $4 margaritas and $6 appetizers were promoted. We shared the ceviche and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and each ordered a margarita (I had some but ended up asking Aaron to help me finish it; I’m super picky about my drinks these days and especially don’t like them too strong or too sugary, which this margarita was both). We cheers’d to the beginning of our road trip and long-term travel journey together. The ceviche was the highlight; fresh, plump, and citrusy with generously portioned avocado slices over the top.




When the bill came, we noticed we had not been charged happy hour pricing for the drinks (they were at least double what we had expected them to be) or the ceviche; feel free to check out my Yelp review for more details, but it put a slightly sour taste in our mouths upon leaving the restaurant.

We ended up walking the pier at the end of our time spent in Santa Cruz, which included a stop at Marini’s; we used up the $5 gift card I received from Mindy as a part of my Tabata Bootcamp™ Trainer Summit goodies (I know, a gift card for candies from a fitness training; kinda funny, but small bite-treats are a reasonable portion size for dessert!) and got some chocolates and saltwater taffy (another travel hack — use a giftcard), which we enjoyed that evening and in the days to follow on the road.

We decided to cut our losses regarding the lack of available accommodations for the night in the Santa Cruz area and head north past the Bay Area, to avoid the commuter traffic in that area the following day. While we were tired, the extra push to do it was worth it. Aaron drove while I mustered up all the patience I could to work with my snail-paced phone to find us an AirBnB accommodation somewhere along the way north of SF. A few hours later, after Aaron got us through some light traffic (for the Bay Area) and I had spent most of this drive searching, reviewing options, and messaging potential hosts to confirm their availability, and after an instant book was confirmed and then canceled due to the host not being in the local area that night (we did get an $11 credit when this happened — another travel hack — score! — and ended up reserving her yurt for the following night), we did have a responsive host with availability for a private room and shared bathroom in their home for that night in Santa Rosa. We basically arrived, brought our stuff inside, showered, hung out a bit in our room, and hit the hay. After a long, eventful day, it felt so good to be in that soft, warm bed for the night!

Overall, our first day on the road had its ups and downs. We learned a few valuable lessons early on that we’ve taken with us moving forward in our travels. #1) There are tradeoffs to booking accommodations in advance; while you are tied to a certain place for the night and aren’t able to be as spontaneous, perhaps giving up the potential to stay longer in places you pass through before it that you like, absent is the constant, ominous cloud hanging overhead of worry about not being able to find a place for the night where you are, and having to spend precious daytime, when you could be fully enjoying your surroundings, scrambling to find a place. Although there are tradeoffs for the opposite as well, which I’m sure we’ll address when it benefits us in future posts. #2) It’s all a part of the journey. While it felt stressful figuring out the accommodation situation and we were a bit irritated about the happy hour payment experience (it felt like a fast one had been pulled on us), these things happen. We did our best to remind ourselves that the big picture of what we have the opportunity to do is amazing, and that hiccups like this will happen along the way that we’ll just have to deal with. As far as happy hours go, we’ll be confirming what is listed as included in the happy hour on the menus and as advertised before we order! #3) If it’s not working out to stay where we are, we’ll just move onward. No big deal! As a result, we’ll get to experience places we might not have planned on going or staying in (such as Santa Rosa, which was much enjoyable and time well-spent)!

Until next time,
Elena 🙂