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 recently 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, Mascarpone Kumquat, Brown Sugar Oat Walnut, Fresh Mint Chip and even Beet Hibiscus Sorbet. You’ll find them in two locations downtown plus a stylish little outpost in Pleasure Point. Bonus: Ask for the decadent flame-torch toasted marshmallow topping!
If Santa Cruz was a Candyland board, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk would be its magical terminus. The Boardwalk takes fair food to the Nth degree with standards like funnel cake, candy apples, and taffy plus advanced options such as deep-fried Oreos and Dippin Dots, the “ice cream of the future.” Bonus: With the chimes of the carousel and the roar of the Big Dipper as your backdrop, somehow something as suspect as deep-fried Twinkies feels just right.
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 30 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.
This Santa Cruz mainstay fills mornings at its pressed tin ceiling cafe with wafts of fresh-baked pastries, breads and cakes. Linger over your confection with a cup of coffee on a bistro table out on their pleasant patio garden. Carrot cakes — and carrot cupcakes — are perennial faves but don’t pass up the Almond Croissants and Cinnamon Twists. Bonus: The Buttery’s cake business is responsible for the delicious confections at many weddings, birthdays and special events in town.
All photos by Garrick Ramirez