California Beach Options in Pajaro Dunes, Capitola, Aptos and Monterey

I walk on the Pajaro Dunes beach as pelicans glide silently overhead. Delighted, I spy sand dollars. These aren't the broken, bleached white ones. These are brown and fuzzy. They are alive. I methodically reach down to "save" each sand dollar and heave it back into the blue abyss. Such is the life of a beachcomber.

Fifteen-year-old Sara Kaiser has been returning to Pajaro Dunes since she was nine. Her Moraga family rents a condo from friends every summer. In addition to excellent birding opportunities and day trips to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the nearby Elkhorn Slough offers kayak and water-based touring. And if you like affordably priced seafood, a visit to Phil's Fish Market on Moss Landing is in order. Bring your own container and order the Cioppino to go!

"It's very secluded," notes Kaiser. "The scenery is gorgeous. We always watch the sunset and you get to see pelicans."

Lafayette's Mimi and Ed McBride, along with Daniel and Gabby, look forward to their yearly visit to this gated Watsonville beachfront community. "We rent from a company called At the Dunes. They are very nice," adds Mimi. "We take walks on the beach. We go to Jalisco's Mexican restaurant in Watsonville & Phil's. We usually just hang out at the beach."

If you are looking for a more action oriented beach outing, consider Capitola. This surfer town, filled with quaint shops, restaurants, bars and live music, is great for day trips. Stop at Gayle's Bakery for picnic items.

Two miles further south some Lamorinda soccer families join Dave and Carol Berlier for their annual beach trip to Seascape. "My wife likes it because it's a self contained resort," says Dave. "We've been going for 12-15 years with 3-4 couples. The kids walk down to the beach, go boogey boarding and look for shells. We take turns making dinners and build fires on the beach. It's a very clean place with large rooms and everything's there."

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Another Lafayette family spotted in Aptos, Mike and Jeanne Williams, recently purchased a Seacliff beach house. "The antiques along Soquel Avenue are a major draw," according to Jeanne. Their Campolindo kid's, John Robin and Jenna, like to walk to Snow White Drive In for old fashioned hamburgers and shakes with little brother Stephen.

Moving down the coast to Monterey's Cannery Row, foodies will want to check out the Culinary Center of Monterey  for cooking classes or weekend dining options. Chef Mary Pagan recommends reservations for the Friday night dinners as she doesn't want to overwhelm the students.

I sat in on a cooking class where non-professionals were prepping, cooking and eating their way through a four course meal. This would be a great place for a girl's getaway weekend with classroom water views.

"Monterey is a very easy place to live," reflects Pagan. "How lucky am I that I sit in one of the best agricultural communities. I'm surrounded by viticulture, agriculture and aquaculture and the infrastructure to support it."

If you're in the mood for pampering and privacy, cruise into Carmel Valley for sunny days and balmy nights at Bernardus Lodge & Winery.  You'll feel like a celebrity when you don the terry robe and step into the warming pool before your spa treatment. I went mid-week and had the entire pool to myself. The rooms are pricy, but if you divide the cost between girlfriends or have a special occasion to celebrate, it might be just the ticket for some much needed R&R.

Next month we'll hear about Margaret Stithem's recent trip to Ethiopia and Lorelee Mogg's cruise to China.

Nancy Brown grew up in Moraga and lives in Lafayette with her husband and children. She looks forward to hearing of your adventures at NancyBrownConsulting@comcast.net