All photos by Garrick Ramirez
Before I got to know Santa Cruz, I would dip into town sporadically to hit the Boardwalk before scooting back up to San Francisco. But when my wife’s family relocated from Seattle to Santa Cruz, I started exploring more areas and was particularly thrilled to discover the The Westside. This burgeoning part of town has the best of both urban and natural settings: artisan foods & wine, hip urban shops and outdoor recreation with stunning natural scenery. If you haven’t spent much time in the area, here’s just a few of the things that you’re missing out on!
OUTDOOR + NATURE
What was once a thriving ranch is now a hiking and mountain biking nirvana. Wilder Ranch State Park sports 34 miles of scenic trails that wind along the coast and through inland valleys. There's also a sprawling area with historic ranch buildings, farm animals and shade trees that provides an idyllic spot to picnic.
Located on a picturesque hilltop surrounded by natural land reserves sits the beautiful UCSC Arboretum. It’s a functioning part of the campus, but they welcome you to stroll their peaceful 135-acre grounds overflowing with a rich diversity of Mediterranean plants from California and the Pacific.
The Loma Prieta Earthquake made quick work of the last namesake bridge at Natural Bridges State Beach, but what remains is a beautiful beach with a cool arched rock formation and tidepools thriving with local sealife. Don’t be surprised if you see little orange and black wings fluttering past. The beach is backed by a eucalyptus grove that is home to the largest concentration of monarch butterﬂies in the U.S. during fall and winter months.
After your visit to the tidepools, head to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center to learn more about local marine life from the hands-on staff that walk the exhibit floors. The center was created to lend the public an inside view of a working marine lab. You can pet a shark, Instagram the world’s largest blue whale skeleton, and marvel at striking seaside bluffs with giant pumps that cycle water direct from the bay and into the lab.
EAT + DRINK
The Westside has three incredible bakeries to while away a lazy morning with coffee and a treat: Check out Cafe Ivéta for multi-flavor drop scones, Companion Bakeshop for hearty tea cakes and Kelly’s French Bakery for an endless display of treats that are best enjoyed on their sunny Swift Street Courtyard patio.
A warm cheery vibe permeates Saturday’s sunny Westside Farmers’ Market. After you've filled your tote with local fruits and veggies, choose a breakfast from one of the cooked-to-order stands and a grab a seat as you nod along with the band. Trust me: I’ve done this a thousand times and it’s a no-fail way to start your weekend on an upbeat note.
The folks at Ristorante Avanti are no strangers to local farms. The perennial Westside dinner fave prides itself on sourcing from local farmers the produce and meats that go into their organic Cal-Italian meals. Has it been a while since you stopped by? They recently moved into a handsome new space and gained a nice cocktail menu in the process.
I think the Westside provides the best opportunity to sample the region’s great wine. Surf City Vintners makes it easy with a collective of 10 boutique tasting rooms all within walking distance of each other in and around the bustling Swift Street Courtyard complex. Ditch the car and sample local treasures like the European varietals at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and a refillable Petite Sirah / Zinfandel blend from Sones.
Local organic beer, a convivial outdoor beer garden, and fun events like Monday Movie Nights explain all the smiles at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. Pop in and enjoy a pint of one of their ever-changing seasonal beers which can only be had at the brewery.
Photo by Rachel Endsley
Want to extend your visit? Especially after those indulging in those last two entries? Bed down at Mission Inn, a thoughtfully-maintained 53-room roadside inn that's walking distance from many of the spots included here. Bonus: free WiFi and a better-than-most continental breakfast in the morning.