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Santa Cruz - California

Surf City - the Original

A university town, and a vacation destination since the 1880s, Santa Cruz bears reminders of the 1940s (the Beach Boardwalk amusement park and Coconut Grove Ballroom), and the 1960s (the aging and contemporary hippies who flock to and live in the town).

This is the most casual and relaxed resort community in the state, with a lot to offer the traveler as well as the surfing and amusement rides.

Situated an hour or so south of San Francisco, and a short drive north of the Monterey Peninsula, Santa Cruz anchors the northern edge of Monterey Bay. At times, the surf crashes on the wide beaches, providing fine opportunities for long beach walks. In the hills above Santa Cruz a growing winery region is taking shape and several wineries are open daily for tastings.

Things to See & Do

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

This is the last oceanside amusement park left on the Pacific Coast, harking back to the early days of the century when people arrived by train from San Francisco to enjoy the beaches, nightlife and amusements. The Boardwalk is home to an original wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper, and a wonderful 1911 Loof carousel. You can see saltwater taffy being made and dance in the ballroom. The amusement park is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day and most weekends and holidays throughout the year. The boardwalk's arcade adds a contemporary touch.

State Beaches

The beaches stretch in a line from Natural Bridges State Park -- west of Santa Cruz -- to Sunset Beach, south of Watsonville. It's an enormous line of wide sand which offers great beach combing, strolling, sunning and wave-watching. Some of the best (not the busiest) include Capitola Beach, near the Esplanade lined with cafes, shops and a wharf in this town east of Santa Cruz; Natural Bridges, home of a large monarch butterfly colony, with tide pools and trails; Seabright Beach, a stretch between the Boardwalk and the yacht harbor with fire rings available for evening weenie-roasting; Sunset State Beach, secluded coastline surrounded by farms, with camping and a day-use fee.

Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad

The narrow-gauge railway line departs from Roaring Camp, a re-creation of a typical redwood logging camp operation of the 1880s. The camp is at Felton, in the sequoia groves next to Cowell Redwoods State Park. The train provides a thrilling ride -- climbing the steepest narrow-gauge grade on the continent, stopping atop Bear Mountain for view-taking and returning to Roaring Camp. The steam train excursion takes 75 minutes (408-335-4484). A second line (on standard gauge tracks) runs from Felton to the Beach Boardwalk in downtown Santa Cruz. The trip takes an hour (each way) and you have an hour in Santa Cruz to sample the food and attractions at the oceanside amusement park.

Año Nuevo State Reserve

A breeding ground for the northern Elephant Seal, this reserve north of Santa Cruz offers guided walks into the rookery December through March. Self-guided tours can be taken from April 1 through November 30. Permits are issued on a first-served basis through 3:30 p.m. each day and advance reservations are strongly advised. The reserve is just off the Pacific Coast Highway.

Where to Eat

Shadowbrook, 1750 Wharf Rd. in Capitola, has a cable car that descends to a longtime favorite restaurant, an outstanding romantic place serving continental cuisine.

Much more casual, The Crepe Place at 1134 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz serves lunch, dinner & weekend brunch inside or in a lively garden at the back. Bistro food and home-brew is served at Seabright Brewery, a brew pub at 519 Seabright Ave. There's an outdoor patio.

Just where several restaurants occupied a space in a west side strip mall, a new incarnation has arrived with Tapas - the Spanish small-plate food that is just perfect for this tourist and university town. The Al Mar Restaurant, at 841 Almar Avenue, serves small plates of delectable food, spiced with Spanish and North African flavors, that just can't be matched in many big-city tapas restaurants. Chef-manager Roger Cook and partner Roger Grigsby has managed to bring high small dish-dining to this unlikely place. try cold plates like "Rusa" potato salad, grilled prawns (hot or cold), crispy chicken and roasted onion croquettes with pepper aioli (hot) and braised lamb with apricots and Moorish spices. There is a full menu of hot and cold plates, and a few dinner entrees (flatiron steak with cabrales cream sauce; grilled halibut "chermoula" Moroccan flavors with pilaf) and three fettucini dishes for the pasta crowd. Desserts include bittersweet chocolate cream "Catalan" with almonds and a Spanish rice pudding.

in Downtown Santa Cruz, Red Restaurant & Bar serves up a lot of comfort food. It's upstairs at 200 Locust Street, in the historic Santa Cruz Hotel building. The restaurant has an extensive menu including upwards of a dozen appetisers including their notable S'mac -- their mac & cheese dish. Then on to small plates, dishes meant flor sharing, and plenty of entrees ranging from burgers, salads, ssandwiches, spaghetti and meat balls, truffle mac & cheese, plus a full dinner version of S'mac.

Seafood restaurants are in good supply including Stagnaro Bros. and Gilda's -- both on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. The much loved Gilda is no longer there, but the Stagnaro family carries on with the well-tested menu.

The Crow's Nest is located on Twin Lakes Beach, just south of downtown, at the yacht harbor. The restaurant has good views,good seafood, plus an oyster bar.

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

To search hotels, cruises,
and vacation packages around the world,

go to the Hotel Guide

Guide to Santa Cruz




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