I use to live in Santa Cruz over ten years ago and it was still idyllic then but today the small town is growing into a metropolis.
Santa Cruz is still part College town home to UC Santa Cruz ( Go Banana Slugs!) and part new metropolis (Santa Cruz Warriors ) with the tourist attractions and idyllic West Cliff Drive in between.
On an average mid week day during the summer you will find a mix of business, tourism, and residents all getting by while the roller coasters bustle in the background. There is an homeless and gang elements that appear to have staked out two opposite corners in Santa Cruz that plagues every growing city.
Santa Cruz is growing if just by the amount of construction that has descended from the highway to new housing to retrofitting buildings for mix use. There is a higher demand for higher quality of care but it is vital that the new building pay homage to the past since the Santa Cruz Wharf just started to celebrate its 100th Birthday!
Okay I am not going to lie I would love to send you to the Catalyst to watch Chris Issack but let's face it he isn't playing there anymore. You can still catch great musicians at the Boardwalk Summer Concert Series and even have a great time at the Boardwalk as there is meeting space for you and your team to enjoy.
Instead I highly recommend taking the Hwy 17 bus over because you can grab a ZipCar or a bus to get you from one end of town to the next pretty easily. There is even an historic trolley that will take you up and down Pacific Avenue.
If you are going to stay in Santa Cruz I advise book at least 5 to 6 months in advance because the new hotel tax that funds the tourism there is pretty steep you won't find many hotels that have all the amenities you want for less than $100 ( side note I remember the days when you could get a hotel room for just $75 and trust me those days are GONE ).
The Dream Inn is located on the beach which is a preferred destination and at nothing less than $269 a night you may want to spend some quality time in your hotel room. Go a little farther inland at The Inn at Pasatiempo and you will find a more digestable $150 a night. Both hotels are great but I totally admit I will probably stay at the Comfort Inn in Watsonville.
Why Watsonville? Partly because after I hop of the Hwy 17 Bus I will walk over and pick up a ZipCar and I have a favorite there
|Santa Cruz Zip|
I will pick up my zip and drive up to Natural Bridges if just to soak up the sun and have a mid day picnic
|picnic fixing yum|
Then I head to the hotel to drop off items wash up and head over to the Wharf for dinner.
Dinner at Stagnaros is a family tradition steeped in french fries, clam chowder and steamed muscles. I enjoy sitting out on the upper deck watching the sunset and taking it all in because you know those Seagulls are hungry. I have done this enough times that I am an old pro at it. I rarely bring my own wine but Bonny Doon Vineyards is just up the way and Davenport is on my list to stop by but right now I am going to stretch out a very long dinner watching the surfers catch the last few waves and the lighthouse become a beacon.
Oh don't bother getting dessert at Stagnaros because the only place to get dessert is the ultimate Santa Cruz treat is at Marini's next door. Not to mention by now the weather is a little bit more chilly and they make great coffee drinks to go along with the probably not diet approved fudge but you are on vacation and this place is where you can also grab a great sweatshirt and trinkets to take back with you.
After listening to the SeaLions and walking off the fudge head up to Primo Vino to catch some great tunes and sip some more great wine as you stare out onto the sea and enjoy the blanket of stars that may disappear courtesy of the fog rolling in.
Nighttime in Santa Cruz can be a hit or miss so I am playing it safe and heading back to my hotel because tomorrow is really going to be backed!
First stop is Chardonnay II for a Brunch Cruise that will take you around the Santa Cruz Bay and you may see some real wild life
You begin to relax as you coast around the bay about a mile out and trust me on this boat you could go to Hawaii but they don't let you.
You can easily head to Downtown Santa Cruz and enjoy one of the many restaurants there from Hula's to Pizza My Heart you will find something to fill your tummy. More importantly you can find some amazing deals on some great art, movies, and clothes so I highly recommend it. Be advised that there is an element of homeless people there that are pretty well regulated and usually move after an hour in front of one establishment or another.
After you are done go ahead and park your car on West Cliff Drive and take a walk. You will find something for everyone from musicians and artists to surfers and dogs. I even saw a guy walking his cat! Yes, his cat! The most important thing ( aside from working off all the food you ate ) catch some of the ocean rolling in and out its pretty darn peaceful and helps you clear your mind.
Now you are probably are saying "With all this relaxing and peaceful head clearing I won't have a thought left in my head!" Well isn't that the point of a vacation so you clear your head. Too many times we go on vacation trying to resolve a problem or address and issue or find that "spark" when if you just give yourself a little time off you will see the answers start to form and you won't be so tense.
After your walk, jump back in your ZipCar and head about 7 miles to Davenport where you can try some great wines at Bonny Doon Vineyard and enjoy a meal along with music at the Davenport Roadhouse Inn. Both of these are favorites and you can reach them by public transportation too.
Bonny Doon Vineyards also makes a nonalcoholic version of there Cigre and Davenport Roadhouse Inn carries Bonny Doon Wines.
After the proverbial dinner and dancing head back to Santa Cruz for your night life however tame you prefer it to be because there is The Boardwalk after Dark and you can't help but be a kid again riding the roller coaster and taking the scary haunted house ride but end the night with Cotton Candy and head back to the hotel with a nice sugar rush buzz.
Sunday morning head to an favorite of Santa Cruz Diner for an great breakfast of massive portions. Then do one last stroll down Pacific Avenue while the street is still quiet and you can catch the nuances of the shops and culture.
Put your ZipCar back and walk over to the Metro Depot to find yourself on the Hwy 17 bus again headed home.
By the way you will have a lot of salt water taffy, trinkets and probably a nice tan but a full belly and a clear head is the perfect vacation so Santa Cruz is the place to go.