Mu husband and I wanted to get out of town for my birthday… But we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. And we wanted to send some time outdoors before it got too cold (even in Southern California.) Inexpensive outdoor getaway? Sounds like a job for CAMPING!

We’re talking car camping, not backpack-and-powdered-food camping. We have a roomy tent, a big cooler, and a nice propane stove. Hubs made a reservation at Pinnacles National Monument (most major campgrounds take online reservations nowadays,) the site of a long-extinct volcano about 2 1/2 hours from San Francisco. Actually, it’s two-thirds of a volcano; Thanks to movement along the San Andreas Fault, the other third is still near Lancaster, where the volcano first came into being. But it felt more like being in a forest, the campground was beautiful and shady, nothing like the barren, rocky landscape we expected.

We didn’t rough it the whole time… We broke up the drive with stops in the charming Dutch town of Solvang, and did a little wine tasting in Paso Robles. We spent most of our camping time reading, cooking, and relaxing, though we did take a beautiful hike to the Bear Gulch Talus Cave. Talus caves are formed by big boulders falling such that they create spaces inside, where the temperature is blissfully cool, and visitors might run into a few Big-eared bats. (We didn’t, though. We also didn’t spy any California Condors, but 32 of the rare birds live within Pinnacles as part of the California Condor Recovery Program.)

We did get a little dirty, and discover we need to invest in a better air mattress… But Pinnacles National Monument was such a wonderful place to find some peace and tranquility, we’ll definitely be back.