After we had an amazing trip with our friends the Zambranos in El Salvador, the kids couldn’t stop talking about the next trip they were going to take together. It was really the group of kids that decided that we HAD to go to California. It has been four years since we have visited their birthplace and where they spent their early childhood. We often talk about memories from those times, and the boys take great pride in being from Santa Cruz. However, what really sealed the dream was when we showed all the kids the movie, “Chasing Mavericks.” After that they decided they had to see Mavericks for themselves and wanted to see where Jay lived.
We had another motivation for traveling to California which are our best friends, Kyla, Mark and Sunny. They’ve been our best friends for almost 18 years and lived next to us in Panama for two before they moved back to Northern California. However, in February, they plan on moving to Chile. We knew if we wanted to see them while they were in California, this might be our last chance. With the kids so pumped and our desire to see our friends, it didn’t take much to get all the adults on board. Before we knew it, we had a hole trip planned and decided to pull the trigger. It was a homecoming for the boys and a chance to introduce the place we love to our best friends.
Traveling 7 hours with 4 elementary aged kids and a baby is no small feat, especially when you arrive in SFO at 11:30 pm, but don’t make it to the hotel until 2am. We were all exhausted, but we rallied the next morning to drive down to Monterey. We took the kids to the world renowned Monterey Baby Aquarium. We walked the trail to the pier and saw so many seals and otters. Monterey is such a unique place, and it happens to be the place where BC and I shared our first date. We used to return every year on our dating anniversary, and we love an opportunity to go back. We ended the evening in the cute little village of Carmel by the Sea and ate dinner at the famous Hog’s Breath Inn.
The next morning we took the kids to Carmel Beach. The minute they put their bare feet in the white sand, they screamed. They said it felt like snow! These jungle kids are not used to cold beaches. They summoned their bravery to put their feet in the water. Afterward we drove the 17 mile drive which really showcased the beauty of the region. On the way up to Santa Cruz, we had to take the kids to In N’Out. While I think it’s overrated, it’s a must-do and of course the kids loved it.
We drove up to Santa Cruz which was our “home” for the next three days. We had an amazing air bnb a block from East Cliff drive, really BC’s dream location. We had to get the house ready for Halloween so the first thing we did was stop by a pumpkin patch and let each kid pick out a pumpkin. We then headed to the harbor to take a sunset catamaran ride. It was incredible, we even got to see a whale jump. The best way to experience that area is from the water. The boys told the captain their whole life story about originally being from Santa Cruz and returning for this special trip.
The two things the kids really wanted to do in California was surf and skate. The next morning, BC got them all wet suited up and took them to catch their first California wave. They all caught great waves, but they really had a hard time adjusting to the cold. After one day, they were done. However, the skate continued. They all went to Santa Cruz Board Room and got to pick out their own new boards. They explored some of the skate parks in the area and were super impressed seeing some of the older kids skate.
We were in Santa Cruz for Halloween. It was the first Halloween for the Zambranos so they were so excited to trick or treat. They decorated pumpkins, wore their costumes to the Boardwalk, and trick or treated around Pleasure Point. As the capstone to what has seemed like a Star Wars themed year, Asher was Obi-Wan Kenobi and Parker was Kylo Ren. Asher really embodied Obi-Wan. He greeted every house with “Hello There” and left with “May the Force Be With You.” The kids had a blast and loved trading candy afterward. I think their first American Halloween was a hit.
After Santa Cruz, we took the slow coast up to San Francisco. Along the way, we did stop in Half Moon Bay for lunch and to see Mavericks. Mavericks is was out there, but the kids did get to see the waves crashing from the shore. It satisfied their need to say that they’ve seen it. They all think that they’ll be surfing it someday, but they better get used to cold water and wet suits first.
For our first night in SF, BC graciously took the kids to a skatepark and ramen so that Sandra and I could do see Jagged Little Pill. I loved live theater, especially musicals. It’s one of the special things I love doing whenever I return to the U.S., and Sandra was so excited to see this play particularly. It was amazing and so worth seeing. The next day was our typical tourist day in SF. What we weren’t prepared for was rain. It’s early in the season for rain, plus California has been in a drought for a decade. However, the rain decided to hit just as we were boarding the roofless hop on hop off bus. As we drove through SF and across the Golden Gate bridge, it was we were in a wet wind turbine. Not quite the experience we were hoping for, but we eventually got off at Pier 39 which may have been a mistake considering the kids wanted to go in all the chotsky shops. From there we had lunch at the Ferry Building. The highlight was catching the trolly all the way from there to Union Square. At Union Square, we just happened to catch the rehearsal for the opening ceremony for the ice skating rink. The kids love watching the performers.
After that, we caught the bus to the Mission District. It was Dia de los Muertos and there was a celebration of altars at a park. The displays were amazing and there was even a table where the boys were able to write the names of their loved ones to add to an altar. After we got dinner in a Taqueria and watch the processional down the street.
The next day we spent most of the day at the California Academy of Arts and Sciences. We had never been before, and it really did take most of the day. The exhibits were impressive, but I think the kids were most excited about riding the ferris wheel outside in Golden Gate Park. After that, it was time to leave SF and drive up to the wine country to visit Mark and Kyla. It was such an amazing reunion!
We spent the next day the perfect Sonoma Country way- picnicking at our favorite winery, Sunce. We were long time members of Sunce back when we lived in California, and they still make our favorite wines. Plus it’s just an ideal location to break out your chacuterie, play some bocce ball, and soak up the changing lives on the vines. It could not be more of a paradise. That night, the adults got to have more fun when Kyla’s parents watched all the kids and we got to go out for dinner. No place has food like Sonoma County. It was such a treat.
Our next day was a time to catch up with old friends. Several of our old friends met us for a walk through the redwoods-again, a must see that is so unique to that area. Again, we all pooled our breads, meats and cheeses and ate a picnic outside. Sonoma County is the closest I’ll get to feeling like living in Europe- the food, the wine, the scenery. It felt so good to be back, and it was hard to leave. That evening, my old work buddies invited us to a BBQ. They are some of the funniest people I know and we always laugh the hardest with them. They swear they are coming to Panama this June, so we’ll see!
Our next day, we had a lot of time before heading to the airport. We had to say goodbye to Mark, Kyla and Sunny which was heartbreaking. They are such amazing friends, but we promised to see them next in Chile! So now the kids are already planning our next trip together.
Of course, we had one more vital stop- Target. It’s a must do when visiting the U.S. After shopping, playing on a playground and eating one last hamburger, we headed for the airport. It was a grueling red eye back and then the 5 hour drive to Pedasi. Before you knew it, we were back to our regular lives.
It was so interesting to return to what was home before Panama. We look back on our memories of living there with fondness, but this trip really solidified that we made the right decision. Between the congestion of people, the price of everything, and hearing about the stressful lives of our friends who live there, it is clear that Panama is the best place for us right now. I don’t know that we’ll be returning to California any time soon, but I feel so grateful that we had this opportunity to have a homecoming and share it with our best friends. It was quite the adventure!