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Beaches, Redwood Forests – Santa Cruz Has It All
If you don’t have time to tour the entire state of California, we’ve found a place that feels almost like a microcosm of the state. You have your beaches, your surfers, your redwood forests and, just an hour away, one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the state.
Give up? Try Santa Cruz. Built along some of the most scenic coastlines in the Golden State, this city offers you many of the state’s famous attractions in an easy-to-drive area.
We were amazed, for example, when we ended a morning of beach sightseeing with a short seven-mile drive to the sleepy town of Felton. Almost instantly, we were taken from a bustling seaside town to a forest so thick you could barely see through the trees. It’s no wonder the famous “Bigfoot” was spotted in the Redwoods not too far from here, and today there is a Bigfoot Museum that attracts both the curious and the amused.
Fifteen minutes later, we were back in Santa Cruz, taking in the stunning coastal views and watching visitors and locals bask in the winter sun while having lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes around. the city. Most likely, their menu choices included lots of fresh produce “apples, berries, spinach, squash, tomatoes, etc.” because these and other fruits and vegetables are all grown near Santa Cruz. In fact, there seems to be a lot of focus in Santa Cruz on diet and exercise. It’s hard to be in poor health in a place where you can easily jog along dramatic ocean cliffs or hike the trails of half a dozen state parks.
If we were so inclined “and we weren’t on this particular trip” this would be a reasonable day trip from Santa Cruz in the San Francisco Bay Area. And that’s why you’ll want to allow plenty of time for your visit: there’s something new in every direction you take.
If you have the chance, we suggest a midweek visit to Santa Cruz. We did, and while it’s not exactly a ghost town during the work week, there seems to be plenty of open space to explore with little to no traffic concerns. Santa Cruz motels and inns had large empty parking lots during this January visit, and we’re told that all changes over the weekend.
Our base of operations was the Hilton Scotts Valley, a good choice for travelers who want their accommodations a bit away from the hustle and bustle of the beach. Scotts Valley is only a 10 minute drive from Santa Cruz so it really isn’t remote at all. Yet this particular hotel offers almost double deluxe rooms with all Hilton amenities and, might we add, some of the most courteous and helpful staff we have encountered.
Entering Santa Cruz, you first wind your way through the downtown area where it quickly becomes apparent that this is a beach town in every sense of the word. Like many other coastal towns, Santa Cruz attracts down-to-earth mavericks who, for example, don’t mind using hair colors that look like they were picked from a box of crayons. Think of your teenage worst fashion nightmare, and it’s what you sometimes see on the streets of Santa Cruz’ that, of course, is part of the charm. You don’t travel just to see places exactly like home.
On West Cliff Drive, where the views from these coastal cliffs are picture-perfect, you meet the surfer crowd. Every day, dozens of free-spirited surfers paddle out to ride some of Northern California’s toughest waves. Long, narrow concrete stairs give surfers easy access to the water not far from where the waves break. On the sunny day we visited, maybe half the pedestrians along West Cliff Drive were carrying surfboards.
Indeed, this part of Santa Cruz is Surf Central. There’s even a small but informative Surfing Museum where we enjoyed viewing exhibits that detail the decade-by-decade evolution of the sport. Housed in a former lighthouse, the Surfing Museum includes many memorabilia and examples of different types of surfboards, some so big and heavy you wonder how the original surfers managed to get these things back and forth. on the beach.
About a five minute drive and we were back in downtown Santa Cruz. Just a few blocks from the beach and we had arrived at the famous Santa Cruz beach boardwalk. Roller coasters, thrill rides, and boardwalk buildings are an integral part of the Santa Cruz skyline, and visitors enjoy the nostalgia of visiting the West Coast’s only oceanfront boardwalk. The 75-year-old roller coaster is said to be just as thrilling as the newer ones, and that’s been augmented by a host of other more modern rides. Of course, there are the bumper cars, the carousel, the huge arcade and, uniquely, a wide and beautiful beach where you can sunbathe and, in summer, enjoy a dip in the ocean.
The boardwalk area is just one of many beaches and coastal viewpoints in the Santa Cruz area. Just south of Santa Cruz there are some scenic beaches near Capitola and at La Selva Beach. You can save yourself a few hours and take a scenic drive north on the Coastal Highway where you’ll find plenty of other beaches, including Waddell State Beach. An interesting off-beach excursion takes you north from Santa Cruz on Highway 9 to the Roaring Camps Railroad, where you can ride a historic steam train through the redwoods.
Our own drive north on Highway 9 was short but productive. Not only did we take a look at Henry Cowell State Park with its towering redwoods, streams, and recreational trails, but we were also lucky enough to stop at the small, inconspicuous wooden building that now houses Bigfoot Museum today. Most of the time, owner Mike Rugg watches the store all by himself and, no doubt, will be more than willing to share his many Bigfoot stories with you – just like he did with us.
Understand that Mike has never seen Bigfoot, at least not that he can say for sure. But he became convinced of the creature’s authenticity when he wrote a college dissertation on the subject. While the professor only gave him a “C” on the report and dismissed his research as having as much “or little” validity as a UFO sighting, Rugg was undeterred.
Bigfoot is believed to be an approximately eight-foot-tall gorilla-like creature that roams the remote mountainous regions of the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and other places. Although little scientific evidence supports this claim, there have been hundreds of reported sightings and a grainy home movie that Rugg is convinced is the real deal. The Bigfoot Museum features a six-foot-tall enlarged image of a still from that film, and Rugg has plenty of cast footprints and other exhibits to help convince you he’s right. Since the museum opened in July, visitors have added many more sightings to its wall pin map showing exactly where Bigfoot was spotted.
From furry creatures in the mountains to colorful creatures downtown, Santa Cruz offers a surprising collection of sights and attractions that make it a one-of-a-kind destination – a truly tasty slice of California.
IN ONE LOOK
WHERE: Santa Cruz is on the California coast between San Francisco and Monterey.
WHAT: A particularly scenic area that offers many miles of scenic beaches, coastal drives, state parks, and several access points to Redwood forests and parks. The town itself offers the only beachfront promenade on the west coast.
WHEN: All year round, as temperatures are generally moderate. In winter, the Santa Cruz beach promenade is only open on weekends. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, it’s open all week.
WHY: Santa Cruz offers many different getaway experiences and tourist attractions in an easy-to-navigate area.
HOW: For more information about Santa Cruz, contact the Santa Cruz County Conference and Board of Visitors at (800) 833-3494 or visit [http://www.santacruz.org]. For more information about the Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley, call (831)-440-1000 or visit http://www.santacruzscottsvalley.hilton.com.
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