Anybody who grew up within the San Francisco Bay Space within the Nineties will virtually definitely have the Santa Cruz Seaside Boardwalk commercials stamped on their unconscious, alongside their finest pal’s landline. However Santa Cruz is way more than a West Coast Coney Island. (The Boardwalk, by the way, is California’s oldest amusement park and is a fantastic place to trip a historic curler coaster with an ocean view.)
Santa Cruz, a metropolis of some 60,000, defies straightforward categorization. A university city (go Banana Slugs!) and a world class browsing vacation spot, it’s inside commuting distance of Silicon Valley. And but one way or the other it nonetheless manages to really feel hidden away.
Hugging the northern lip of the scallop shell-shaped Monterey Bay, vacationers can attain Santa Cruz through a dreamy coastal drive on California’s Freeway 1, or rounding vertiginous curves by way of the Redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Technically the start of the Central Coast, Santa Cruz has been influenced by Silicon Valley with out really changing into part of it; it’s its personal county and decidedly has its personal vibe. It is a place the place, day by day and unironically, you’ll see a classic Volkswagen Vanagon parked subsequent to a Tesla, with surfboards extending from each.
As a former Bay Space child, I’ve been coming to Santa Cruz for so long as I can bear in mind: Reminiscences of foggy summer time days ambling alone the Boardwalk with a high-school finest pal meld with pictures of late-night veggie burgers and shakes after backpacking journeys in Large Sur. However what as soon as felt like a unusual, crunchy pit cease is now one in all my favourite weekend locations from my residence in San Francisco — for unbeatable out of doors adventures, each on land and within the water, a standout dwell music scene, and glorious food and drinks choices that may stand as much as its increased profile neighbors to the north and south.
Reportedly one in all the primary locations surfed on the mainland, Santa Cruz has spawned quite a lot of world-class skilled surfers and boasts greater than 10 surf breaks, with spots for all ranges. Standard go-tos embrace Cowell’s, a cruisey, accessible break finest for newcomers and beloved by longboarders; Steamer Lane, a well-known spot in each Santa Cruz and California at giant; and Pleasure Level, a beloved native wave on town’s sleepy jap aspect.
The Santa Cruz surf scene is considerably infamous for a robust locals-only perspective, however tensions may be averted by respecting the principles, that are helpfully inscribed on signage mounted atop the cliffs above Steamers and Pleasure Level — alongside monuments to fallen surfer comrades. (In short: Respect the lineup and don’t be a kook.)
Take the chance to be taught from native consultants at outfits like Surf Faculty Santa Cruz, which affords personal surf instruction and group classes (superior reserving is advisable). For those who’re able to shred by yourself and are in want of a board, surf outlets, many with rental choices, abound, from Cowell’s Surf Store, proper off the water, to the Traveler Surf Membership, on the Eastside. The Midtown Surf Store + Espresso Bar is one other worthwhile vacation spot on your gear wants; along with boards, moist fits, leashes and fins, they’ve bought a pleasant choice of clothes, items, a surfboard shaper (obtainable to lease for $15 per hour) and a restaurant serving Verve espresso.
For those who’re extra comfy as a spectator, or on the lookout for inspiration, then try the O’Neill Coldwater Basic, a World Surf League qualifying competitors that’s returning to Steamer Lane Nov. 15-19 for the primary time since 2015.
Whereas browsing could also be king in Santa Cruz, there are different nice methods to get within the water, together with stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming, plus ample seashores for seaside volleyball, bonfires and, naturally, lounging. And don’t overlook in regards to the many alternatives for land-based adventures: Santa Cruz is a well-known hub for mountain biking, with trails snaking alongside the coast and thru the encompassing mountains, and is a mountaineering and tenting vacation spot, too, significantly in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and Large Basin Redwoods State Park, which is presently open for restricted day-use entry following 2020’s C.Z.U. Lightning Complicated fires.
Tempting as it could be to stay within the lovely wilds of the realm, it’s price a return to civilization to catch a present. Santa Cruz has a wealth of dwell music venues and attracts a powerful mixture of indie bands and legacy acts, plus a thriving neighborhood of native musicians who usually carry out at cafes and bars round city. The Rio Theater in Midtown, housed in a transformed movie show, is an intimate venue that pulls a spread of acts, together with Patti Smith, Little Feat and indie legends like Invoice Callahan and Constructed to Spill. Different venues with calendars price scoping embrace the Catalyst, which performs host to bands, karaoke nights and DJ occasions; Moe’s Alley, which has a spacious out of doors patio and meals vehicles; and the Kuumbwa Jazz Middle, a vacation spot for jazz performances and academic applications. Up within the mountains you’ll discover the Felton Music Corridor, an intimate venue with a strong bar and restaurant connected for pre- and post-show food and drinks.
The place to eat
All of this exercise is a fantastic solution to work up an urge for food, and Santa Cruz greater than delivers with scrumptious choices throughout a spread of costs. I’m evangelical in regards to the Level Market, an unassuming store and cafe out by Pleasure Level that makes my platonic splendid of a breakfast burrito — good as pre- or post-surf gasoline. (They’ve bought a location close to Cowell’s now, too, known as the Pacific Level Market & Cafe.) Steamer Lane Provide, a low-key stand on the cliffs above Steamers, has a flavor-forward menu of quesadillas, breakfast tacos and bowls bursting with contemporary, native elements. For a sit-down brunch, Harbor Cafe is unbeatable, with its hangover-busting breakfast platters and hair-of-the-dog cocktails. In Soquel, a small city northeast of Santa Cruz, Fairly Good Recommendation, a venture from chef Matt McNamara (previously of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters), is slinging on-point breakfast sandwiches and burgers; the menu is fully vegetarian and options produce sourced from Mr. McNamara’s farm within the close by mountains.
Elsewhere in Soquel you’ll discover House, a captivating dinner possibility with contemporary pasta and a very good in-house charcuterie program. Different favorites embrace Bantam, a wood-fired pizza vacation spot on Santa Cruz’s bustling Westside (the soppressata pie and fried rooster are must-orders); Copal, for excellent mole and an encyclopedic mezcal choice; and Alderwood, the place you’ll discover a choice of high-end cuts of beef alongside native produce. Whereas it’s tempting to splurge on a bone-in rib-eye, Alderwood can also be a wonderful place to seize seats on the bar for his or her gloriously messy burger and a cocktail. (The mezcal-based Director’s Reduce is excellent.) Throughout my final go to, I ended up in dialog — and sharing bites of the restaurant’s signature maitake mushrooms, often known as often known as hen-of-the-woods, with my neighbors. (Oswald is one other native favourite for a burger-cocktail mixture.)
The place to drink
Wine has lengthy been a fixture in Santa Cruz. (The Santa Cruz Mountains is a devoted AVA, or American Viticultural Space.) Extra not too long ago, although, spots devoted to pure wine — wines made with minimal interventions and no added yeast — have been gaining a foothold. Unhealthy Animal, a uncommon and used bookstore and pure wine bar, has wines from California and past, together with books starting from $4 paperbacks to $40,000 antiquarian volumes. Devoted to “the wild aspect of the human animal,” the store opened in 2019 and performs host to a rotating roster of chefs-in-residence. (The newest, Hanloh Thai Meals, began this month.) Apero Membership, a heat, funky wine bar and store on the Westside, opened in August 2020 and hosts meals pop-ups and, usually, raucous dance events with tunes spun on vinyl.
Santa Cruz’s craft beer scene can also be excellent, from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, an all-organic brewery based in 2005, to New Bohemia Brewing Firm, which focuses on European-style brews alongside I.P.A.s. A few of my favorites embrace Soquel’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, a vacation spot for funky sours and farmhouse ales, and Humble Sea Brewing, which, along with standout hazy I.P.A.s and co-ferments, has a number of the finest can artwork round. For a wider array of beers, try the Lúpulo Craft Beer Home in downtown Santa Cruz for a often altering choice of brews and Spanish-style small plates, or Beer Thirty, a sprawling beer backyard in Soquel with 30 rotating faucets. For those who’re with a gaggle of beer fans, you possibly can join a Brew Cruz, a craft beer tour of the realm aboard a classic VW bus.
Your explorations might result in a sluggish morning; fortunately, Santa Cruz can also be a critical espresso vacation spot. Verve, which has cafes round city (plus round California and in Japan), opened in 2007, specializing in equitable enterprise practices and deliberately sourced espresso beans. Cat & Cloud has 4 cafes within the space; the sunny Eastside location is a very good place to spend a morning. At eleventh Hour Espresso, the wonderful espresso is roasted in-house and finest loved of their plant-filled cafes each downtown and on the Westside. (Their chai is excellent, too.)
The place to remain
There are ample lodging choices in Santa Cruz, together with Airbnbs and low-key seaside motels. The Dream Inn is town’s solely beachfront lodging; renovated in 2017 in a retro surfer-kitsch model (the lodge’s Jack O’Neill Restaurant bought a refresh in 2019), the lodge has 165 rooms (from $299), all of which have an ocean view. The pool deck overhangs Cowell’s Seaside, with stairs main on to the sand, making for unparalleled ocean and browsing entry. Listening to the waves (and the barks of sea lions) from mattress is sort of good, too.
For a mountainside retreat that’s nonetheless near downtown Santa Cruz, Chaminade Resort & Spa has 200 rooms (from $359) and is on 300 acres within the Santa Cruz Mountains, with direct entry to mountaineering trails. Additionally on provide are tennis, pickleball, disc golf and Santa Cruz’s solely full-service day spa, plus panoramic views of the Monterey Bay from the lodge’s restaurant — fittingly known as The View. The property accomplished a serious renovation in 2020 and accomplished a brand new pool space in 2022 that features two swimming pools, cabanas, a bar and a meals truck on weekends.
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