Santa Cruz offers everything from big breakers to a boardwalk perfect for any traveler. Skip the usual spots and head for the harbor where outdoor enthusiasts may hop on a kayak and explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary up close. Eat great Hawaiian food, walk it off on the beach and then enjoy a great massage to end a perfect one-tank trip to scenic Santa Cruz.
Located on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is an easy 73-mile drive from San Francisco, along US-101 South and CA-17 South. Weekday visitors should leave after the heavy morning commute so the 1.5-hour road trip doesn’t last longer. Weekend adventurists may enjoy a little less traffic, but no matter the time of departure, this one-tank trip will be worth the drive. For a more scenic route, take I-280 S to US-1 South (signs toward Pacifica). Stay on US-1 South toward Half Moon Bay and then all the way to Santa Cruz. It will add about five miles to your trip, but as long as there is no fog, the views along the shoreline are spectacular. You’ll miss the bakery in Los Gatos though, so bring your own coffee and bagels.
Icing on the Cake
50 W. Main St.
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Be sure to stop by Icing on the Cake in Los Gatos for your favorite breakfast pastry on the way to Santa Cruz. Try one of its oversized blueberry muffins or orange-cranberry scones, or pick up some of its delicious cookies for a snack later in the day. Its famous cupcakes, perfected since 1985, promise a special treat anyone will love. For those with dietary concerns, ask about Icing’s wheat-free, flourless and vegan products.
Kayak Connection – Santa Cruz Harbor
413 Lake Avenue #3
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Price: $35 single kayak rental/$55 double for up to four hours
Santa Cruz sits on the edge of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest in the United States, and a federally protected area encompassing 276 miles of shoreline. Rent a kayak for your own tour, or take a three-hour guided tour every Wednesday and Friday morning at 9 a.m. Paddle through kelp beds while watching for sea otters, and enjoy the view of Seal Rock, home to fun harbor seals. All activity participants and kayak rental users must sign a release form before getting in the water, so be prepared for a little adventure on this one.
Pono Hawaiian Grill
120 Union St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Skip the standard lunch fare and visit the home of the original Loco Moto Burrito. Whether dining in or ordering take out, Pono Hawaiian Grill offers everything from Kalua pork sliders to traditional poke. Try a katsu chicken wrap with its special pineapple salsa for a quick, delicious lunch, or relax on its outdoor patio and enjoy traditional Hawaiian music, culture and aloha spirit.
Natural Bridges State Beach
2531 W. Cliff Dr.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Price: $10 per vehicle day use fee
Natural Bridges State Beach is the place to work off that lunch and enjoy one of the best views in the area. Explore the wonders of the tide pools during low tide to look for giant, green sea anemones. Bring binoculars to watch seals and otters play in the surf, and don’t forget the camera to take pictures of the Natural Bridge. Stop in at the Visitor’s Center for more details on guided nature walks. The weather is ever changing here, so dress in layers and check the forecast.
Well Within Spa
417 Cedar Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Price: from $13 per person/massages start at $80 for 50 minutes/$100 for 80 minutes
After a long day of outdoor fun, take a relaxing soak in the spas at Well Within Spa. Choose between indoor, outdoor or the unique Onsen Retreat Room, which includes a cedar-lined sauna and a Japanese-style soaking tub. Add a specialty massage to the appointment for sore kayaking muscles, or try the head to toe bliss package. Grab a care package for the road, choosing from everything from Burt’s Bees to top-of-the-line skin care products you won’t find elsewhere.
Susan Dusterhoft’s love for all things outdoors can be traced back to her childhood. She was born and raised in Southeastern Wisconsin and spent her holidays and summer vacations traveling across the eastern half of the country with her family. Looking for a change, Susan and her husband moved to Arizona, and used their free time to tour the western U.S. Finally settling in San Francisco’s North Bay, Susan continues to travel throughout the Pacific region where she enjoys hiking, exploring and photographing the great outdoors. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.