Santa Cruz needs no introduction. The famous city on the Pacific Ocean is known the world over for its great surfing. But my experience with Santa Cruz has always been a bit different. My family had a boat there when I was growing up, and most of my childhood weekends were spent sailing. When we weren’t on the water, we were usually at the beach, leaving a lot of Santa Cruz to be discovered.

Surfing Statue in Santa Cruz, California

Enter my Northern California road trip. My mother and I drive up to Santa Cruz from Monterey and have a lot of exploring to do. Visit California has arranged a stay for us at the new Hotel Paradox, and we arrive ready to see a new side of the city.

Hotel Paradox in Santa Cruz, California

The hotel itself fits perfectly with that theme. Located a short drive from the ocean, it eschews the beach vibe for a forest one in a nod to Santa Cruz County’s abundance of mountainous land. The lobby smells of trees and the front desk is made of a giant single piece of wood. Little details like squirrels on the walls round out the picture, and our room is even done in a natural color scheme.

Squirrels at Hotel Paradox in Santa Cruz, California

Outside of the hotel, we continue our discovery of Santa Cruz thanks to Christina and Rachel from the Santa Cruz County Visitors Council.

Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California

They take us on a tour of Santa Cruz, heading along West Cliff Drive, which borders the ocean. We go out to Natural Bridges State Beach to admire the huge rock formations, then head back along the water to stop at the Surfing Museum, which is in a historic lighthouse.

Surfing Museum in Santa Cruz, California

Next to it is Steamer Lane, one of the most famous surfing spots in Santa Cruz. We watch the surfers for awhile, then head over to a surfing statue on the cliffs.

Surfer in Santa Cruz, California

Back in the city, we make a special stop to see a brand new addition to Santa Cruz’s surfing culture: a mural honoring wet suit pioneer Jack O’Neill on the site of his original O’Neill Surf Shop at Cowell Beach. The 55-foot mural features pictures of O’Neill, a Santa Cruz icon, and its debut coincides with the opening of a lounge in his honor at the adjacent Dream Inn.

O'Neill Mural in Santa Cruz, California

After soaking up the beach culture, we drive past the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an oceanside amusement park with roller coasters and fun fair rides that I looked longingly out onto during many sailing trips as a child. But instead of stopping there, we go for a walk around Downtown Santa Cruz.

Downtown Santa Cruz, California

My mother and I discovered a great place called Verve Coffee Roasters on Pacific Avenue that morning, and we head back to the area for lunch at Laili, a restaurant specializing in flavors from the Silk Road. The flatbreads are excellent, and we eat our fill before a busy afternoon at the farmers’ market.

Coffee at Verve in Santa Cruz, California

Our tour guides at the market are chefs from a local restaurant group that owns Soif downtown and La Posta in the Seabright neighborhood near the harbor. Executive Chef Katherine Stern and her colleague Mark take us to the Downtown Santa Cruz market, which is open on Wednesday afternoons, and walk us through their buying process for the restaurants.

Farmers Market in Santa Cruz, California

We pick up leeks from Rodoni Farms in Davenport, carrots and cabbage from Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, and small turnips from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz, all the while being introduced to local farms and producers. The experience reminds me how lucky I am to be from a place where fresh produce grows year-round.

Farmers Market in Santa Cruz, California

After the market tour, we head over to a few of the food shops downtown. First we meet with Susan Pappas, the owner of True Olive Connection on Lincoln Street, to sample excellent olive oils from Greece, California, Spain, and Sicily.

True Olive Connection in Santa Cruz, California

Then we head to the Penny Ice Creamery on Cedar Street to try some of their inventive seasonal flavors. As we savor parsnip and nutmeg ice cream, we learn from co-owner Zachary Davis that the creamery makes all of its ice cream from scratch, from the pasteurization process to the finished product. He also fills us in on the details of a new restaurant called Assembly that he is opening next month.

Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz, California

After leaving the ice cream shop, we walk down Pacific Avenue, window shopping and basking in the California sun before heading to La Posta for a dinner featuring the food we picked up at the farmers’ market that afternoon.

Farmers Market in Santa Cruz, California

My mixed citrus salad with puntarelle, artichokes, and avocado is both delicate and fresh, and my main of scallops features fennel and little turnips from the market. Even the bread at La Posta is homemade, a detail I can appreciate as soon as I take a bite.

Dinner at La Posta in Santa Cruz, California

As we drive back to San Francisco that night, I can also appreciate having seen a new side of Santa Cruz. Beyond the surfing and sailing lies a city full of beautiful landscapes, great food, and creative culture. And while my Northern California road trip has come to an end, my time in my state isn’t over yet. I’m off to Southern California next…

14 Comments on Lady in Santa Cruz

  1. I miss Santa Cruz. I haven’t been back for almost three years. Far to long. Such a special place and so much fresh, organic, sustainable good there.

    Great photos

  2. Growing up going to Santa Cruz all the time I can’t believe how little I knew about it until now! I had no idea they had a surfing museum, that it was O’Neill’s original shop site, and that they have a farmer’s market!

    • Pam: there are several farmers markets in the county, many times a week. The biggest are the Wednesday market in downtown Santa Cruz and a Saturday morning one at Cabrillo College in Aptos. And on Saturdays, there are also markets in Scotts Valley and on the west side of Santa Cruz. Sunday is my favorite market, on East Cliff near 17th Avenue. It’s also many of the farmers favorites. Live acoustic music—often bluegrass or Hawaiian—as well as having ocean breezes that don’t get too cold. There are markets on Tuesdays and Fridays, as well.

      We are fortunate to be near UCSC, which has a six-month apprenticeship program in organic farming (CASFS: the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems). The UCSC Farm & Garden is amazing and beautiful. You can see Monterey across the bay—although some visitors, less familiar with their geography, think it’s Hawaii.

      I used to write about, and photograph farms. If you want a sense of what’s nearby, visit my blog. (It’s in stasis, though perhaps I will renew soon, as I’ve acquired a position working with a group of farmers.)

      My license tag even said “I<3Farms"—where the heart is an actual heart.

      Cheers, Lady in London! Glad you visited! I'd be happy to take you to one of my favorite farms next time you're here.

  3. The Santa Cruz I remember from having worked there two summers and going there as a child for summer vacations is filled with runs to Marianne’s ice cream on Ocean, Ferrell’s Donuts, Pacific Garden Mall and the Cooper House (latter of which destroyed in the Loma Prieta) and visits to the Broken Egg for our choice of umpteen kinds of omelettes and/or wonderful concoctions now called smoothies. Gloriously bohemian.

    Also, the boardwalk with the “Fun House” and hours upon hours on the beach finding seashells and making sand castles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.