3 Relaxing Days in Santa Cruz
It really is the gem on the coast
Relaxing beaches, redwood forests, intellectual zest and a bit of nostalgia: Santa Cruz has it all. So it’s not surprising that it was the highest-ranked metropolitan city in California for overall well-being in a recent Gallup-Healthways poll and also obvious why San Diegans venture to the northern town for a little R and R.
The low-key vibe and promises of relaxation drew Christy Jaynes, owner of Kiko&Sven, (the home, garden, beauty and paper goods shop on Adams Avenue), and her boyfriend, Joseph. The couple drove eight-and-a-half hours to the creative community of students, artists and Silicon Valley types, but there are numerous daily flights on various airlines too.
When they arrived, the pair resisted the temptation to do touristy things. “We sought out the kinds of places we would visit in San Diego,” Christy explains. So their Santa Cruz itinerary included healthy vegetarian eateries, gardens and books.
What follows are a few of Christy’s favorites—some guidebook mainstays but also some ideas that will take you off the beaten path.
The couple rented the Fox’s Den (through Airbnb), a one-bedroom retreat in Nisene Marks State Park, surrounded by redwood trees but still just two miles from the beach. “[Joseph] and I both have kids, and we work really hard, so we wanted private down time,” Christy explains. “[The Fox’s Den] is tucked away, and it feels like you’re a million miles away from everything even though you’re a 10-minute drive from downtown Santa Cruz.”
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, book a room at the newly renovated Chaminade, a resort and spa in town with an outdoor patio and arguably the best view of Santa Cruz. On a clear night, you can see all the way down to the ocean from this hilltop hotel.
While Capitola bustles with tourists who love its well-known historic, colorful architecture, it also boasts a secret creekside walk that leads to the ocean. It’s very hush-hush, as people live along the path, but if you use discretion and promise to tread lightly, you’ll discover vacation rentals, homes, little businesses, bars, restaurants and coffeehouses. Follow the winding path to admire the architecture and gardens of the homes, enjoy the view and a cup of coffee—and later a glass of wine—along the way. Take your time to savor all the delights. Christy and Joseph took nearly four hours to meander. “The whole experience feels very small-town Europe,” Christy says.
Santa Cruz’s Westside district’s marquee attraction is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. To be sure, it’s a tourist attraction with rides, the famous roller coaster, arcade and more, but if you go in the off season, you get to see the iconic amusement park in a quieter state. “You almost get to imagine it as it would be,” Christy says. The long, peaceful walk to the pier also offers an opportunity to catch otters and seals at play in the water below.
“We hit the jackpot when we found Abbott Square in the middle of Santa Cruz,” Christy says of the outdoor dining locale they happened upon. The modern gathering spot, which opened last summer near the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, houses six mini restaurants and two bars (all in the Market), a quiet Secret Garden, live performances and lots of communal seating.
“The options [at the Market] are just really good. There are gourmet popsicles, noodle bowls, coffee, an Italian restaurant, and it’s not fast-food feeling at all,” Christy says. She purchased a local wine from Front & Copper and cuisine from Veg on the Edge, then found a table, read her book and noshed.
For lunch, Christy and Joseph dined at the quirky, space-themed Saturn Cafe to enjoy inventive meat-free diner food such as burgers, sandwiches, tacos, burritos and lots of vegan and gluten-free options—all made using local and organic ingredients. Christy recommends any of the faux-chicken burgers, which come loaded (or not) with basic fixings, plus Nayo, house-made ranch, barbecue or chipotle sauce.
Locals send visitors to one of the town’s four bright, airy and modern Verve Coffee Roasters, a homegrown entity. The company, known for ethically-sourced, single-origin brews and roasting its own beans also serves “the best gluten-free, vegan doughnut I have ever had,” says Christy of the vanilla-coconut confection she enjoyed with her Americano at the Pacific Avenue location. “It was perfection.”
There’s not a lot that Christy hasn’t seen—or carried—when it comes to the design industry, but she calls Agency, a home goods store on Pacific Avenue that stocks tabletop items, small-scale furnishings (including their own Telegenic California line), linens, lighting, artwork, gifts and more, “a huge delight.”
The shop, which opened its doors two-and-a-half years ago, is a good mix of high-end design and accessible pieces with a great collection of housewares, she says.
Besides being a gardener’s paradise with hard-to-find plants, succulents and outdoor necessities, DIG Gardens “has all the nice littles you want in your space,” Christy remarks. From dishes and pottery to houseplants and terrariums, DIG is a shop you want to linger in, she says.
And Christy did, sitting and enjoying the garden before buying a candle and air plant for her Airbnb host (who had welcomed the couple with a bottle of wine).
Bookshop Santa Cruz has been a favorite downtown institution for more than 50 years. Still family owned and operated, the huge independent book seller is a hub for literary activity and events and carries a collection of cards and gifts in addition to books and magazines.
And many of the offerings reflect the interests of those who live and work in Santa Cruz. “It’s a book lovers’ must,” Christy says.