Are you unbelievably ultra-mega-stoked for winter rains and the snow season to start!? If not, it’s time to head down to Santa Cruz. Look up “things to do in Santa Cruz” and a plethora of activities ranging from brewery tastings to downhill mountain biking make the list. Thought of as a surfer town, Santa Cruz holds true to its title with a laid-back energy that is hard to get you down. I’ll admit, there are times I find myself in the hubbub of downtown Sacramento weaving through traffic, gray hairs poking through my young scalp, but as I approach the ocean breeze, many of those worries seem to dissipate. Even if the ocean isn’t your cup of tea, the outdoor possibilities in this coastal city are endless. To give you a taste of just about everything, here are some of the best aspects of Santa Cruz.

Sunset on the west side of Santa Cruz | Photo by Ellen Baker

Local, organic, delicious food (similar to our dear Sactown)

Santa Cruz grocery stores are out of this world. New Leaf, Staff of Life and The Food Bin, to mention a few, carry organic, local, non-GMO, rainforest saving, cage-free, recycled, responsibly sourced foods to fill that healthy belly. Spend too much time in this city and you are guaranteed to become a food snob. The stores carry fresh-made lunches, vegan brownies and organic kombucha, for example. Charlie Hong Kong is another great stop for lunch or dinner, but prepare to wait in line for the local, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth Spicy Ginger Gado Gado bowl.

The Penny Ice Creamery features housemade, completely from scratch, fresh ice cream in which the flavors change with the seasons. I mean COME ON. You can sample as many flavors as you like (highly suggested), and they offer to blowtorch marshmallows on top if that’s your jam. Breweries and tap houses line the street corners from the east side to the west. A few to be mentioned: Humble Sea, Sante Adairius, West End Tap and Kitchen.

Mountain biking through the forest | Photo by Shawn Griffin

Outdoor Activities

To shred or be shredded? Santa Cruz is home to many badass mountain bike trails. Options vary from leisurely rides along the coast with perhaps a nalgene of wine, to shredding the gnar on single-track downhill lines through the forest. Take your pick; maybe save the wine as an après-shred goodie if you’re getting after it (apparently Santa Cruz has an abundance of wineries as well).

Local surfer preparing to hop in the water | Photo by Ellen Baker

It took me a while to fully grasp the idea that surfers can be mean. Call it territorial, call them localists; whatever it is, there are angry people in the world and some of them are in the water, on beginner waves, yelling at “kooks.” Aside from the periodic maniac, most everyone in the water is encouraging and kind. Start at Cowell Beach if you’re a total noob and move west to Steamer Lane if you want some action.

The Rio Theatre | Photo by Shawn Griffin

Live Entertainment

Moe’s Alley is a sweet little venue with good music, but so many bars, including The Crepe Place (of all places), host bands. Find live music on the beach on the weekends or catch a show at the Rio Theatre next to the aforementioned Charlie Hong Kong. I haven’t attended yet, but it’s on my list: Tango at the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center. The first Friday of every month, the Tannery Arts Center hosts Tango from 8 p.m.–midnight. Come as you are whether it be beginner or longtime Tango enthusiast, I’ll see you there.

Destroyed cement ship at Sea Cliff State Beach | Photo by Shawn Griffin

Simply walking the streets of downtown and people watching can keep one occupied for the day. Eating at hole-in-the-wall taco trucks, watching the sunset over the ocean and discovering a local band on a whim can make for a fantastic weekend. The crowds have slowed as the temperatures have dropped, but there still remain days in which I bask in a bikini, soaking up those sunshine rays. If you have some extra time or want to give back, volunteer at a non-profit for a day or two and get involved with the community. Talk to the locals, have a drink, a laugh, a ride, a shred, a run, a nap; whatever it is, immerse yourself in the culture and enjoy it while it lasts. Drive safe on Highway 17, and adventure on.

**This piece first appeared in print on page 23 of issue #280 (Dec. 5 – 19, 2018)**

    Ellen Baker

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    Rock scrambling, exploring and taking photos along the way.