More Secretly Awesome Santa Cruz County
BY GARRICK RAMIREZ
Not every local treasure ends up at the gift shop. We recently shared some of our favorite Santa Cruz hidden gems and invited you to experience what made them so special. If you’ve already checked those off your list, we’ve assembled even more memorable, lesser-known spots for you to discover. From a secret beach to a rare white redwood tree, these obscure destinations will reward those willing to stray from the beaten path.
All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
Natural Bridges Farm
Seek out this magical coastal farm for pick-your-own organic berries and veggies, brilliant fresh flowers, and romantic farm dinners. There’s a charming farm stand with honey and ready produce but the real fun is heading into the field with shears and a basket to collect your own. Snip stalks of dino kale, pluck sweet strawberries, and assemble a vibrant bouquet from rows of colorful blooms. An annual farm dinner series brings in big-name chefs from around the Monterey Bay to prepare seasonal, four-course meals served on the farm. // Shaffer Road at Delaware Ave; Open daily 10am - 2pm; The farm is a project of the Homeless Garden Project.
Hole in the Wall Beach
A secluded beach accessed by a sea cave? Yes, please. The Davenport coast hides some of the county’s most striking beaches and Hole in the Wall is a fitting example. You’ll park at Panther Beach, scramble down a rocky path, and arrive at a magnificent sea arch that leads to a hidden beach. Waves frequently pour through the arch, so you’ll need to time them before hurrying through the opening. What you’ll see when you emerge on the other side is a gorgeous expanse of sand backed by mesmerizing, sculpted walls of coastal bluffs (be forewarned that the secluded locale sometimes attracts au naturel sunbathers). Go early morning for pristine sand and fantastic beachcombing. // Highway 1 south of Davenport. Look for a seaside, dirt parking lot immediately south of Fambrini’s farm stand that is lined by a row of telephone poles.
Sand Rock Farm
With a vintage Airstream, blooming gardens, a peaceful redwood grove, and the moss-covered ruins of an 1880s winery, this historic inn and event venue is one of the most spectacular settings in the county. The hidden property encompasses ten acres of fountains, landscaped paths, and private nooks to rest and relax. Inside the beautiful old farmhouse, a hulking stone fireplace and light-flooded sunrooms invite lounging. Lucky guests wake to Alta Organic coffee and a scrumptious breakfast — think goat cheese frittata with garden herbs— prepared by chef Derek Hagglof who owns the property with his wife Jennifer. // 6901 Freedom Boulevard, Aptos
This secluded redwood forest hides 402 acres of hiking trails and the unique Great White Redwood tree whose towering bark has been bleached by centuries of direct sunlight. Scattered throughout the trails are a number of sculptures by the late Jeff Helmer who stewarded the land for years and hid his folky artworks as a treat for hikers. Start with the 2.5 mile Byrne Trail to A.J.’s Point which passes by some of the forest’s best artwork. The 3 mile Great White loop will lead you to its namesake tree. Byrne-Milliron Forest is free to the public and open every day, sunrise to sunset. // 809 Browns Valley Rd, Corralitos
Loch Lomond Recreation Area
By now, you know that Santa Cruz does beaches, wine country and farmland exceptionally well. But were you aware that it’s also the home of a wondrous, recreational lake? The glimmering Loch Lomond reservoir is a slice of the High Sierras in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Explore secluded coves via a waterfront trail, cast a line for trout and bass, and cruise clear waters with your choice of rental boat. There’s a even a small island set with picnic tables that will inspire FOMO in all your online pals. Learn more about Loch Lomond here. // 100 Loch Lomond Way, Felton
A stone's throw from the spirited swift street courtyard on Santa Cruz's westside, the stylish tasting room at Venus Spirits offers samples of delicious small-batch, organic spirits. Bursting with bright botanicals, their richly-flavored gin will convert non-gin drinkers as well as craft the best G&T you’ve ever tasted. In addition to a series of rare whiskies, Venus produces the only “tequila” in California, an easy-sipping blue agave spirit dubbed El Ladron. Come Friday evenings when the tasting room shakes up seasonal cocktails using a local bounty of fresh fruits and herbs. // 427 Swift St, Santa Cruz; Open 1-7pm, Friday & Saturday, 1-5pm Sunday
Hidden on a downtown alley, this dimly lit lounge feels like a secret supper club. That’s fitting given chef/owner Zachary Mazi’s previous endeavor was Lionfish Supperclub which held regular pop-ups at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge. To find Ulterior, you’ll need to enter via an alley then climb a staircase to reach an intimate bar and dining room. In a cozy open kitchen, Mazi assembles some of the most creative, contemporary food in town. His seasonal menu is like an international tour of our local farmers’ market with dishes such as Duck Carnitas Tacos and Maui Fishcakes with pineapple salsa. When you see him, pay your respect, then beg him to put the life-changing fried chicken back on the menu. // 110 Pearl Alley; Open 5pm - late, Tuesday - Sunday.
Get in the spirit for the upcoming Halloween season with this historic cemetery that feels like something out of Paranorman. You needn’t be a sullen goth teen to delight in the serene forested hillside that’s dotted with ornate, stone grave markers. Founded in 1850, the pioneer cemetery is one of the oldest in California and is currently maintained by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. They invite visitors to explore Evergreen, meet some of Santa Cruz’s most famous residents, and learn of their wild exploits which shaped the city. // Adjacent to Harvey West Park, off Coral St.