Two Days in the Santa Cruz Sunshine
By Emily Benito
With the pandemic looming over everyone, people have had to get creative with things to do. My small, beachy hometown of Santa Cruz, California offers a multitude of things to do. From the waves crashing on the shore to the mighty redwoods, there is something for everyone in this amazing town. With so many things to do it would be hard to spend only 48 hours in my hometown. Here are a few activities I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves here in Santa Cruz.
Who doesn’t want to start their morning with a walk by the ocean feeling the salty breeze in their face? Take a walk down West Cliff Drive. This long stretch of road and walkway is the perfect opportunity to get some exercise while social distancing from other people. Start your walk at the gorgeous Natural Bridges State Beach. The beautiful rock arch at the beach is an awe-inspiring sight. West Cliff is a dream. The incredible foamy waves crashing along the cliffside take you to a different dimension of zen and relaxation. Make sure to stop by Steamer Lane on your walk and watch the surfers at this world-renowned surf spot.
Tip: Wear a sweatshirt or sweater because that Santa Cruz morning fog is COLD.
After that mind-clearing walk, take a stroll down the Santa Cruz Wharf. There are plenty of restaurants and coffee places to choose from for a lovely breakfast (all takeout or curbside now). Old diners, new restaurants and cute clothing and gift shops line the wharf. My personal favorite place to visit is Marini’s on the Wharf. This place has candies and ice cream and coffee galore, all while being right on the water. Grab a takeout coffee embellished by a slice of their homemade chocolate fudge and take a seat on a bench to watch the sea lions play in the water.
My next recommendation would be visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Even when the rides aren’t running and the games aren’t being played, it’s still a place of joy and awe and a fun experience to be able to be at an amusement park on the beach. Take in the view of Main Beach while walking down the Boardwalk strip and look at all the fancy lights.
Tip: Stop by the Giant Dipper, a roller coaster located on the boardwalk that has been a crowd favorite for almost 100 years. This roller coaster is a must-see. It has always been my favorite ride at the boardwalk because when you’re at the top of the incline you can see the ocean stretching out to the distant mountains.
The one great thing about California is that the seasons don’t affect us too much. Some places do get snow, but Santa Cruz does not, except on a crazy occasion. I can cozy up to a book in my backyard with a light blanket while I eat my lunch. It is a relaxing activity that one can do without breaking quarantine rules. The sounds of the birds and the salt air from the ocean are enough to relax even the most stressed-out person. Plus, it’s a great way to get some Vitamin D.
I spend my afternoon browsing the shops in downtown Santa Cruz. From Pacific Wave to O’Neills surf shop, the little downtown will keep you captivated. After browning the shops, it is a great time to stop for a coffee. My favorite place to visit when I’m downtown would have to be Verve Coffee Roasters. The designs on the coffee are so cute and the environment is cozy as can be.
I would not be able to visit Santa Cruz without getting takeout from our very own Betty’s Burgers. The restaurant is totally retro, and the pictures of bands like The Rolling Stones, the vinyl upholstery and the soda fountain stools make this checkered-floor diner a must-see in town.
What to order: If you’re a picky eater the Basic Betty is just for you. All the burgers at Betty’s come with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, pickles, and Betty’s secret lube (a mayonnaise based sauce for the burger patties). Of course, the burgers can be tailored to what you like on your burger or not. If you’re willing to try something a little different, the Texas Two-Step is calling your name. This burger comes with the basics but also adds onion rings, cheddar cheese, bacon, and Betty’s very own BBQ sauce.
With the first day in the books, get some rest and get ready to embark on day two!
An early morning hike is a great way to start the day! Take a hike through the forest of Nisene Marks State Park and enjoy the views of mighty redwoods and other flora and fauna Santa Cruz has to offer. This adventure can be made into a day of outdoor activities, or it can be less than an hour. Different trails offer different opportunities for every type of person.
Another great hiking spot is the Pogonip hiking trails that connect to the University of California Santa Cruz campus. This spot is great not only for hiking but also for family walks, picnics, and biking.
Fun Fact: Pogonip is home to the historic Pogonip Clubhouse. The Clubhouse was once the heart of the Pogonip Social and Polo Club that was quickly turned into an international sensation. World-class polo players and movie stars frequented the spot for the amazing polo and beautiful views. The polo grounds were shut down during World War II, but the Clubhouse reopened later on. Today the building is unsafe to go into, but the view from the outside is still outstanding.
By this time in the afternoon, I would be beyond tired. This is the perfect time to have a socially distanced picnic with friends. Usually, we sit on the beach with towels and lots of snacks, but with the pandemic we have had to improvise. The perfect fix? A drive-in picnic. There are many places to park along West Cliff Drive, so grab a blanket and go. Sit in the Natural Bridges parking lot overlooking the water and enjoy some time with friends while eating some smoothie bowls from Samba Rock Acai Cafe. I recommend the Ayrton Senna or the Pele Acai bowl. The sunsets never get old here in Santa Cruz as long as you’re willing to ride the wave in this beachy town.
Santa Cruz has been a hidden gem in California for many years, and I am so thankful to have grown up in this unique town. If you ever find yourself in the mood for everything from small diners to vast ocean views, Santa Cruz is the place for you.