Santa Cruz has a remarkable number of ways to indulge your sweet tooth. When in town, I’ll rationalize a stop at one of the following spots for an afternoon pick-me-up. Like Jerry Seinfeld commented on his way to a cronut shop, sweets are like “mini vacations in your stressful day.” Here then are five suggestions for a delicious, bite-sized getaway:
PENNY ICE CREAMERY
The Penny needs no introduction to Santa Cruz ice screamers. But did you know it’s the only Northern California shop that makes their ice cream from scratch? And they partner with local food providers for fun, uber-fresh flavors. Think Verve Coffee, Strawberry Pink Peppercorn, Black Tea Plum, Brown Sugar Oat Walnut, Fresh Mint Chip and even Vanilla Ricotta Raspberry. More traditional (yet still extraordinary) flavors are always on the menu too like their Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Dark Chocolate Sorbet. You can find them in four locations: Downtown Santa Cruz, Pleasure Point, Aptos, and Scotts Valley. Bonus: Ask for the decadent flame-torch toasted marshmallow topping!
PACIFIC COOKIE COMPANY
Look to the cookie: An asteroid-sized cookie adorns the wall at this family-owned spot that’s been baking cookies in town for over 40 years. Among their 13 varieties, the classic Chocolate Chip still reigns supreme. But don’t overlook the Lemon Drop or mint-chocolate chip studded Mint Condition. Bonus: they also stock a cold case filled with Marianne’s Ice Cream ready to scoop.
Grab a ticket at this buzzing bakery and wait for your number to be announced via microphone like Willy Wonka calling his next golden ticket holder. You’ll need the extra time to decide since the glass counter of cookies, cakes, pies and pastries stretches for roughly one mile. Key Lime Pies and Eclairs keep the regulars coming back, but I love the Strawberry-Shortcake Cookie paired with a cold glass of milk. Bonus: If you crave it, chances are Gayle’s has it. Go beyond sweets with fresh-baked bread loaves, rotisserie chickens, sandwiches, salads and everything in between.
THE FARM BAKERY, CAFÉ & GIFTS
An Aptos classic, The Farm’s cozy atmosphere feels like stepping into a friend’s place for some coffee and a sweet treat. The fruit tartlet is the highlight of the menu: with its crisp-yet-soft pastry shell, filled with sweetened cream cheese and topped with fresh, seasonal fruit, you have to sink your teeth into this tartlet! Chocolate lovers, rejoice: there is also a must-try Chocolate Strawberry Tartlet. Its chocolate-espresso crust is filled with chocolate ganache and sweetened cream cheese, topped with strawberries and a chocolate drizzle. Whatever you choose, The Farm’s extensive menu and mouth-watering confections will have you coming back in no time!
The sweet aroma of baked goods wafts through the air around Sugar Bakery Co. Pop in while you shop at the Capitola Mall, where you’ll be greeted by the pink, macaron-theme mural and a fantastic display of their star treat, the impeccably-decorated and delicious macarons. The baker behind these tiny masterpieces, Ela Crawford, taught herself her craft amidst the pandemic. It takes technical baking skill to master the macaron, which you’ll know if you’ve ever tried to make your own! Ela’s taken the classic macaron and provided a sweet twist: rather than buttercream in the center, she uses chocolate ganache, which allows the flavors of the macaron to shine through. While the flavors here rotate, there are a few must-try classics: the Pistachio Raspberry and for chocolate lovers, the Dark Chocolate Caramel. The salted caramel used is also made in house, and its three-hour-long process is worth it in every single bite; it is the perfect combination of salty and sweet. We recommend grabbing a box, so you can try many flavors at once. Whichever macarons you end up tasting, their sensational flavors will have these sweet bites top of mind for your next local treat.