There is one thing that everyone from California told us we must do upon visiting their state - drive the coast and stay at Big Sur.
Eric and I had a few days to spare before a family reunion, so we set them aside as the only days we'll get to ourselves during our month-long US trip and we squeezed in a sampler of California's best.
From Santa Barbara, we moseyed up the coast on Highway 1, stopped to tour the stunning Hearst Castle, camped at Big Sur for the night and then drove the rest of the coast to San Francisco, where we stayed with Eric's friend from elementary school who now works for Google.
Big Sur was simply fantastic and my only regret is we were rushed for time; I know I could have explored the parks and the coast for days, but instead we had to make very quick stops at the main attractions and move on quickly.
We set up camp for the night among the California coastal redwoods and were able to squeeze in a short hike the next morning. We took our time during the hike to the beach and while I was picking wildflowers in a field, Eric spotted a deer looking at us. While I rushed to change lenses on my camera, we noticed one more and then another - 2 bucks and one doe. They stayed long enough for me to capture them and then they left us.
I later told Eric that this happens to me a lot - when I spend just a little time to notice and appreciate a little something in Mother Nature, she tends to reward me. Sometimes I'll bend down to look at a very normal bug crawling on the ground and then a stunning bird will fly next to me or I'm simply admiring a leaf when I find colorful wings from a deceased butterfly. Or while I'm picking wildflowers, a few deer come to say hi. In life as in nature, the more you notice, the more you notice.
And as promised, Big Sur and the rest of California's coast demanded a lot of noticing and appreciation.