STORY IDEAS FOR SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
Best Place to Learn to Surf – Cowell’s Beach next to the Santa Cruz Wharf is undeniably the best place on the West Coast to learn to surf. A sheltered point break provides long, gentle waves in shallow waters with a soft, sandy ocean floor. Surf school instructors will outfit you with wetsuits and surfboards, coach you in small groups or one-on-one and guarantee to get you up on the waves on your first lesson.
Shakespeare in the Redwoods – The nationally acclaimed Shakespeare Santa Cruz throws stereotypes out the backstage door while remaining steadfast to the Bard’s original words. Every season for the past 25 years, an outdoor glen has provided the enchanting backdrop for the summer performances-cleverly interpreted with imaginative wit and an exuberant company of players. The audience brings blankets, beach chairs and picnics as part of a long-standing tradition for enjoying the plays under the redwoods.
Free Things To Do – On a budget? Visit eclectic museums, explore unusual gardens, watch marine mammals in the Monterey Bay, explore art studios and galleries, take an historical walking tour, people watch in Downtown Santa Cruz, hike through ancient redwoods, walk along scenic West Cliff Drive, or build sand castles on the beach.
Art Glass – Painters, sculptors, writers, jewelry makers, textile artists and others inspired by the region’s natural beauty call Santa Cruz County home. The First Friday Art Tour, public art installations and murals, the Tannery Arts Center, the Henry Mello Center for the Performing Arts, Arts Council Santa Cruz County’s Open Studios Art Tour and the abundance of museums and galleries all showcase the work of local creative talent. In fact, two pieces from renown glass artist Ann Morhauser of Annieglass can be found on permanent display in the Luce Foundation Collection of American Craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Visitors can also stop by her flagship retail store and factory in Watsonville where her visions come to life.
Eccentric Winemakers and Distillers – They fraternize with varietals of questionable background such as Malvasia, Cinsault and Freisa. They’re bringing back aquavit. They carry on with 100 percent organic, “sulphiteless” potions such as “Big House Red en Screw Cap”, “Chaucer’s Mead” and “Rusty Ridge.” And they integrate herbs and botanicals with wine and spirits, resulting in ginseng blends that may be as good for you as they taste. Welcome to wine and spirits, Santa Cruz style.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary – Santa Cruz County serves as the gateway to the nation’s largest marine sanctuary and offers endless ways to explore the bay including: whale watching charters, sunset cruises, fishing charters, kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, tide pool exploring, and Santa Cruz’s newest attraction, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab.
The Music Never Stops – Between free summer concerts, the acclaimed Cabrillo Music Festival, Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, Santa Cruz Chorale, Santa Cruz Symphony, New Music Works, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, eclectic nightclubs and countless festivals, the possibilities for enjoying live music are endless.
Wintering Monarch Butterflies – From October through February, thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate to Natural Bridges State Park. Visitors can catch sight of these royal creatures clustered in the park’s magical eucalyptus grove.
Romantic Escape – While long known as a family destination, Santa Cruz is also a romantic escape for the young at heart. The scenic beauty, combined with a rich infusion of arts, wine, cozy bistros and award-winning inns, rouses the romantic muse in everyone.
Top Spot for Kiteboarding – This new, adrenaline-packed sport combines the best of windsurfing and wakeboarding with a specially designed kite to get gigantic air. Spectators get stoked just watching. Waddell Beach north of Santa Cruz has become the top destination in California for daredevil kiteboarders.
Bird Watching – The Pajaro Valley and Watsonville regions are recognized for the over 200 species of waterfowl, raptors and songbirds which call it home, making it an ideal place to watch for feathered creatures. During peak migration, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve near Watsonville supports up to 30,000 wintering and migrating shorebirds alone. Both areas can be explored on foot, by kayak or by guided pontoon boat tour.
Unusual Gardens – Explore a forest with over 40 different varieties of bamboo, see rare and antique roses, view entire landscapes of exotic plants from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, pick up organic gardening tips, or tour drought-resistant demonstration gardens.
Savor Strawberries – Watsonville is the “unofficial” strawberry capital of the nation. Local farms offer the opportunity to pick your own, and each August, visitors can join in the fun of the Monterey Bay Strawberry Festival. The free festival features an array of strawberry treats, art and crafts, music, pie eating contests, and a carnival.
Made in Santa Cruz – A fourth-generation, family-run candy company is credited with bringing salt water taffy to the west coast. A world-class surfboard shaper crafts boards in his Pleasure Point studio. A local glass artist creates art for the table that is sold internationally to the style-conscious shopper. These and many more fascinating artisans comprise Santa Cruz County’s long list of residents creating products found nowhere else.
Little-Known Wineries – The Santa Cruz Mountains were established as an acclaimed wine-producing region in the 1800s, but prohibition knocked it out of the running for while. Santa Cruz Mountain wineries have since re-emerged with award-winning wines and an independent spirit that is distinctively Santa Cruz. There are now nearly 50 family-owned wineries in the appellation.
Healthy Living – Santa Cruz County is a magnet for the health conscious. The region offers a plethora of day spas, yoga centers, woodland retreats, vegetarian restaurants, an oxygen bar and natural food stores. There are also several area farmers’ markets-one for nearly every day of the week.
State Parks – Hike an unbroken trail from the redwoods to the sea. Watch wintering monarch butterflies. Explore a historic rancho that once served the Santa Cruz Mission. Stroll wide expanses of pristine coastline. Santa Cruz County has an extraordinary number of state parks-14 in all-and is home to California’s oldest, Big Basin.
Nightlife – Big talent at intimate venues is the norm at area nightclubs with Santa Cruz serving as a favorite jumping-off point for musicians traveling to and from San Francisco. Kuumbwa Jazz Center, The Catalyst, Moe’s Alley Blues Club, and Henfling’s Firehouse Tavern serve up the best in live music ranging from bluegrass to surf punk to jazz.
Downtown Revitalized – From the rubble of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Downtown Santa Cruz has re-emerged as one of the most engaging destinations on the California Coast. Here you’ll find a vibrant city adorned with public art, graceful architecture, and bustling coffee houses.
Antiques – In the quaint hamlet of Soquel Village, visitors can stroll from one antique shop to the next in search of countless treasures. Other antique spots may be found in Aptos, Watsonville, Santa Cruz and the San Lorenzo Valley.
Organic Cuisine – In Santa Cruz County, cooking begins in the garden. Chefs base their imaginative culinary offerings on the bounty of locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. They forage local farmers’ markets to select the finest ingredients for their daily specials and create menus in harmony with the seasons to feature local produce at its peak.
Golf – Designed by Alister MacKenzie, Pasatiempo Golf Course is ranked among the nation’s top 100 courses. Santa Cruz County is also home to several other beautiful courses including Boulder Creek Golf & Country Club, Seascape Golf Club and DeLaveaga Golf Course.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk celebrated its 100th birthday in 2007! The boardwalk is the West Coast’s last remaining major seaside amusement park and Santa Cruz’s most popular attraction. The park blends the best of the nostalgic rides and arcade amusements with the latest high-tech rides. Favorites include the Looff Carousel from 1911 and the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1924, both National Historic Landmarks.
Roaring Camp Railroads – Train lovers and history buffs can celebrate the days of old at Roaring Camp Railroads, a place where a 1890s steam train still carries passengers daily through some of the most primitive scenery in the American West. History often comes alive as wily desperadoes from the 1800s try to rob trains, and Civil War re-enactors play out gun battles along the route.
History – Historical walking tours bring to life the history of Capitola, the logging days of Boulder Creek and the Victorian homes of Watsonville and Santa Cruz. Also, don’t miss the Museum of Art & History, Agricultural History Museum, Castro Adobe State Historic Park, Wilder Ranch State Park, Santa Cruz Mission, and the other historical museums around the county.
29 Miles of Beaches – Whether it’s building sand castles, learning to surf, playing a round of volleyball, tide-pooling or taking a romantic stroll, Santa Cruz County’s 29 miles of sun-splashed beaches offer something for everyone.