Hiking the Santa Monica Mountains: The Peter Strauss Ranch

One of my most favorite things to do is to just jump in the car and drive… and keep driving until something in my soul tells me to take a left, then my fingertips tell me to veer right and somehow, we end up somewhere we’ve never been. Nine times out of ten it’s someplace magical and that is exactly how we happened upon the Peter Strauss Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains.

We were heading back down to LA after a weekend visit with my mom up north. We had no plans for the day and so I decided to take the Pacific Coast Highway up instead of jumping on the boring 101 freeway. Driving along, watching the waves crash along the shore, enjoying the brown pelicans zoom down the beach, an itch in my nose whispered, “take Kanan.”

Hiking Peter Strauss Ranch with a toddler

Kanan is one of those gorgeous canyon roads that begins at PCH and meanders through the Malibu hills and meadows. I kept my eyes open for a state park sign or a trail head marker, knowing this road had many to choose from and it wasn’t long before we spotted exactly what we were looking for: a new discovery! Peter Strauss Ranch!

Tree climbing at Peter Strauss Ranch with a toddler

This 64-acres of ancient live oaks and chaparral was once home to the Chumash Indians, later it was the perfect backdrop for pre-WW II dances under the light of the moon and rumor has it even some of Charles Manson’s gang hung out there! Now, as our luck would have it, Mother Nature has reclaimed it as her own and it is the perfect spot for an easy hike, a lazy picnic or a game of hid and seek!

Playing hide and seek at Peter Strauss Ranch with a toddler

Its parking lot is huge and its trails are on the short side and super easy, making it a perfect starting point for moms just getting back out there with their infants or toddlers clocking in their first tiny-footed trail miles. Nestled in the quiet Malibu hillside, this hidden gem of a park is rich in history and offers plenty to explore and discover!

Meandering Among the Majestic Monarchs – A Recharging Family Roadtrip

The day-to-day grind of being a work at home mom can definitely get overwhelming and trust me, I’ve had more than a few Calgon moments over the past few months. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself very lucky. My husband and I have thriving freelance businesses which allow us the luxury of maintaining our own schedules which in turn, give us more family time, but sometimes the itch to unplug and recharge becomes so great that we just have to “get out of dodge”!

kid portrait

So, needless to say, when my mom told me she was headed up north to Pismo Beach for some meetings, I cleared our schedule and we jumped in the car! Pismo Beach is a sleepy little beach community a few hours north of Los Angeles, up the famous Pacific Coast Highway, nestled in between wine country, state parks, majestic mountains and white sand beaches. It offers peaceful solitude, lazy walks, monumental sunsets and an awe-inspiring Monarch Butterfly grove!

Sometimes, the very act of changing your scenery can adjust your outlook and it was just our luck that our hotel was steps from the white powder-sand beach, the boardwalk and a huge pier, perfect for watching the sunset. Since birth, I have had an affection for the sounds of moving water. When I was younger, I had a secret place I would go to when I needed to be alone. It was basically just a drainage ditch dressed up with rocks and foliage. To me, it was a babbling brook where I could sit in silence for hours contemplating my teenage angst. I think I got it from my mom. She is happiest when the sound of the surf is within earshot.

Family Beach Portrait - Pismo Beach

We whiled away most of the weekend just spending time with each other, searching for sea glass, building sandcastles and running in the surf. On our way back down to Los Angeles, we made sure to stop at the Monarch Butterfly Grove and it just so happened that it was Western Monarch Day. We seriously couldn’t have been luckier!

As we entered the butterfly grove we walked into a full blown festival complete with art activities for the kids, a drum circle, CAKE and educational exhibitions. They brought to life “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and had magnifying glasses for the kids (and adults) to see, up close and personal, the life cycle of the Monarch, starting from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis. It was a beautiful day full of moments we will keep close to our hearts forever.

Kid Face Painting

There’s a very delicate line we must constantly walk, it’s a sweet balancing act between expecting independent play while mommy works and both of us losing our minds. I must say that the outdoors is not only a place for V to run, jump, explore and discover, it’s a shining beacon of sanity for me! If we are cooped up in the house for too long, we both start to lose our minds and so it is into the woods we go (even if mom’s on deadline).

Kid Hiking Outdoors

The one thing I’ve learned with our newest adventure in parenting is, when the walls start closing in, it’s exponentially more beneficial to all of us to simply stop and get out on a trail, even if for an hour. There truly is nothing that hits the reset button more quickly than a nature walk. The crunch of the leaves under foot, a distant woodpecker knocking, the sun warming the back of our necks, all aid in calming our minds and bringing the smile back to our faces.