The Soul of Santa Cruz – Weekend Getaway
Santa Cruz: a 1-2 hour drive from most parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and a most satisfying weekend destination. It is more than just a funky hippy town, but offers plenty of charm, fine food options, a plethora of hiking trails, a scenic wonderland, and of course, the beach.
On a three day weekend, you can feel the luxury of a relaxing vacation and/or mix it with some high energy activity. A recommended first stop upon arriving in Santa Cruz is at the Verve Coffee’s new roastery at the Seabright plant. This boutique coffee roaster brews top-notch coffee ranging from Kenya to Costa Rica. For a warm summer’s day, an iced Colombian Coffee offers bursts of fruity and nutty flavor. Verve locations can be found on their website as well as a video series of their “Street Smart Tips” on becoming a coffee connoisseur.
After fueling up on Verve coffee, check into your AirBnB home-away-from-home for the weekend. Santa Cruz, with its traces of the Groovy 1960s, seemed like the right place to find a unique place on AirBnB. Look to book a loft or room close to downtown but ideally near the Sea Cliffs.
Next stop, check out the pretty little beach-goers’ area called Natural Bridges State Beach. These naturally occurring mudstone bridges are carved by the Pacific Ocean. Although it is called Bridges Beach, only one bridge still exists. The beach is an idyllic location for picnics, surfing, kite flying, swimming, and nature walks. Between mid-October until mid-February, be sure to watch the migration of 150,000 monarch butterflies at the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve.
Just north of Bridges Beach is Wilder State Park, which has 110 acres of restored historic habitat and native vegetation. Take an hour to hike and admire this photogenic NorCal coastline. It will captivate you when you view the Seagulls and other coastal birds suspended by the gusty ocean breeze.
As dinner time nears, head over to Chocolate Restaurant. It holds true to the Santa Cruz’s once-not-so-touristy downtown. The menu may be daunting, but here are some good picks: artichoke cheese pot appetizer, rolled and baked ravioli with marinara, and seasonal blueberry sangria. Save some room for one or more of their massive truffles. After dinner, drive down Soquel Avenue to the corner of Seabright to hit up the Crepe Place. It offers a quirky bar up front with regular indie music groups that will put you into a Santa Cruz groove.
On Day 2, meander over to the famous Gayle’s Bakery located in the town of Capitola…a must-stop while in the Santa Cruz area. In this 10,000 foot space, it maintains a constant flow of loyal locals that gawk at the endless selection of baked goodies and lunch items. The berry parfait with Gayle’s granola and an almond bear claw are a sweet combo for breakfast. To burn off that full breakfast, sign up for a two-hour surf lesson with Club Ed. Santa Cruz is an ideal place to surf with both gentle and hardcore waves. The water may be cold, but it is all worth it when you gain that proper balance to ride that wave all the way in. After surfing, refuel that hungry appetite at the colorful Cafe Brasil. It has an authentic Brazilian menu serving fresh juices, large flavorful platters, salads, and sandwiches. You may have to get the food to go since seating is limited. After lunch, take a leisurely stroll along the Santa Cruz Sea Cliffs towards the Santa Cruz Lighthouse, which is now home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Learn about the roots of Santa Cruz’s strong ties to the surfing community. Also, be sure to look down upon Steamer Lane (northern section of Monterey Bay near the Lighthouse) to watch some of the talented local surfers glide through the waves.
For dinner, try out a newish Afghani-Mediterranean restaurant called Laili. The restaurant’s delicious food is only trumped by its romantic outdoor private backyard garden…hard to believe that you are still in bustling and touristy town of Santa Cruz? Here are some recommendations for appetizers: pumpkin bolani with homemade chutneys, and their seasonal arugula salad with strawberry fennel, goat cheese, raspberry pomegranate vinaigrette. For a main course, devour their scrumptious lamb kebabs paired with their wonderful chutneys. Additionally, ask the waiter for a suggested wine pairing from their international and local selection. Top off this fabulously filling dinner with some homemade, small-batch ice cream from Penny Lane. Be warned that you may enter into the food coma zone.
For Day 3, start off your morning with a tasty brunch at Kelly’s French Bakery. The smoked salmon and onion bagel, house-made pear ginger scone, and iced chai will certainly wake up those dormant taste buds! While at Kelly’s, pick up a picnic or lunch to go for your afternoon outings. Then, head over to Fall Creek Unit at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park for a day hike. This state park is rustic, full of redwoods, creeks, and boasts an array of greenery. Make sure to block out a few hours to do the full Big Ben loop (about 6.8 miles) On this loop, you will come across the limestone kilns, which are one of the few remnants of the Gold Rush. During the mid-1800s, the limestone processing industry was prosperous in California since limestone was a key binding agent of mortar to construct buildings. Now, all that is left, are the overgrown kilns that mark this once booming industrial period. Here are some great hiking options: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=25157.
The tiny town of Felton is a short distance from Fall Creek Unit. Make a quick few turns and find yourself at the charming White Raven Cafe, for their famous Chai. During the mid-afternoon, make time to enjoy a wine tasting in this lesser-known wine country located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A good place to stop on the drive back towards San Francisco is at Ridge Winery, which has reasonably-priced wine tastings and spectacular panoramic views near the top Cupertino’s Monte Bello Road. After your tasting, find a picnic table outside, take in the views, and eat your packed sandwiches from Kelly’s French Bakery. As the famous song goes, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” however, you will be saying, “I left my soul in Santa Cruz.”