Santa Cruz, California is my adopted hometown. I am what is called a “Trannie” here, which means that I was not born in Santa Cruz and didn’t attend elementary school here either. It also means that I am not a “Local” and never will be considered one, but it does not mean that I love it here any less than a Local does. And, since all of my kids were born and are attending elementary school here, they are in fact Locals and will always be considered such no matter where their life’s travels take them. They will even be able to put it on their resume if they want to and no one will dispute it.
Why is this important, you ask? Well, because we know that we are pretty cool over here, and that lots of people who don’t live here want to, so we can be this way about it. No, this is not a joke, though part of me understands why you might find it funny and that same part of me chuckles a little right along with you : ) But, many of my friends in Minnesota are not chuckling at all when it is January and they have been locked in their houses for 10 days straight trying to live off of stored food and drink so they don’t have to open the door. That is not a joke either.
OK – so anyway, enough preface. Let’s get down to business!
Here are a few do’s and don’ts when you come to Santa Cruz, as well as a slew of personal recommendations on things to do, see and eat. Over time, I will try to buff out the details and keep this up to date. I sincerely hope that you will take heed and find that this is a way better resource than Yelp.
Do’s & Don’ts:
Pack Your Trash – The number one peev of all real Santa Cruzans. Come over and visit. Enjoy the beaches, restaurants and local color, but for cripes’ sakes pack your trash and deposit it in a proper receptacle! And hey, while you’re at it, how about recycling what you can so that giant floating continent of plastic smack-dab in the middle of the Pacific doesn’t get any bigger… PLEASE. If the wrong people see you litter here, you could get slugged. No, I am still not kidding.
Don’t Block Driveways – Oh, the fond memories of living in bliss only 300 steps from Seabright Beach and walking my bulldog Chester down there every day (R.I.P. Chessie…). And, the not-so-fond memories of having to go DJ some wonderful person’s wedding and going to back out and… and… some, ahhem, inconsiderate individual beach-parking his or her car 3/4 of the way through my driveway. Where could they be? Hmmm, I don’t know… there are only, say, 2,000 people down at the beach… maybe if I yell out the license plate? AGGHHHH! Just saying that cars can get damaged in situations like that. I have seen it happen. And the slugging thing too. Bad, bad, bad tourist! You? Be a good one : )
Learn Surfing Etiquette – This is just KEY. Surfing is a sport here, but even more, it is a culture and a way of life, and the Locals run things. There are actual rules of surfing etiquette on file at the city offices, and if I remember right, they were ratified in a city council meeting. Again, I am not kidding. Stop laughing! OK – so these Official Santa Cruz Surfing Etiquette rules can be read here (.pdf). If you are going to surf here, knowing these will be the difference between having a great time surfing some of the tastiest waves in the world vs. getting a bunch of locals mad at you and possibly having… well, you have see what can happen in previous paragraphs.
Respect Nature – This here riffs off of “Pack Your Trash”. It means to not steal sand or rocks, trample indiscriminately through and over beach foliage, torment banana slugs or seagulls, etc.. You know, just be nice and leave things be.
Don’t Try To Drive 17 If You’ve Had A Few – Highway 17, the road that takes one from the Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz, is treacherous even in ideal conditions. If it is foggy or rainy, or worse, really cold and rainy, it is downright deadly and should be approached with serious caution. Many people like to go to the beach and have a few beers. Can you blame them? (reminder: Pack Your Trash. Even if you’re tanked, that’s no excuse!) But the mixture of 17 and alcohol is just plain suicidal. When I was a high schooler, we had a kid die on this road for this reason, and other kids from other schools did too as I recall. It still happens. Please – be responsible for your life and those of the innocent folks driving around you.
Careful In Certain Areas – As cool as S.C. is, there are parts of it that get a little to very dicey at night. The Beach Flats area just inland of the Boardwalk is one of these areas, and Downtown late at night, unfortunately, is another. If you are not sure where these areas are, make sure to find out and choose wisely where you will go and when. Don’t get me wrong: Downtown at night is also really fun… but just be careful walking home or back to your hotel late at night. And, stay off the path that runs along the San Lorenzo River levee.
Get Married Here! – Heck, I did! It’s the best!! We have lots of great venues and vendors who can hook you up with the celebration of a lifetime. Whatever setting you want, we have it: mountain retreats, oceanside resorts, wineries, hotel banquet facilities or just a big hall. And, (pluggGGGG!) I would like to remind you that – well, I am a pretty good DJ and our company, Sound In Motion DJs & Video, can help you plan all of your wedding day entertainment. Call 831.427.0700 any time or see our website at simdjs.com. I’ll be more than happy to recommend all the best venues and vendors to check out!
Things To Do / Places To Go:
West Cliff Drive
The Yacht Harbor
Seascape Beach Resort
The Mystery Spot
The Blue Lagoon
Places To Eat:
Zachary’s – 819 Pacific Ave (831) 427-0646
Santa Cruz, California is the Breakfast capitol of the world! There are more great – and I mean GREAT, not just good – breakfast places in this little town of 50,000 that anywhere I have ever been… and I’ve been a few places. Zach’s is one of the SC standards. Excellent food, good prices, pretty down-to-earth atmosphere. If you go, highlights include the homemade sourdough pancakes, the legendary, unique homefries and a dish called “Mike’s Mess” that you have to see to believe. Great coffee too. Just a WINNER. Beware long lines on weekends though.
Cafe Brasil – 1410 Mission St (831) 429-1855
The most unique breakfast and lunch joint in town. Full-on Brazil experience w/ Brazilian groceries, etc too. And, during the World Cup, a great place to hang and watch the games… unless you are an ITALIA fan like me (FORZA ITALIA!!!). But even if you like another team, there is no denying that the Brazilians play the most exciting soccer in the world. So anyway: you must try the Caipira omelette, and the Orfeu Negro (my wife’s fave), as well as the Beef A Cavalo, but their signature dish is something that you have never tasted anything like: Feijoada Completa. It is unbelievable! Also – their coffee is off the charts too. Here’s their menu!
OK – getting tired now. Will add more detail later. Here are a few just snippets for now:
Silver Spur – Biscuits & Gravy!
Taqueria Vallarta – Our best local taqueria, I think, though Super Taqueria in Watsonville and San Jose beats all comers – end of story! (If you go to Super Taq – which is well worth the trip to Watsonville – go on a weekend and try their Cabeza Super Taco special – nirvana! And, if Cabeza won’t work for you, go with a Super Burrito or the all-time classic: Flour Quesadilla w/ Carne Asada, Avocado and salsa – humna humna humna!) OK, back to Vallarta – they do everything pretty well: Pollo Asado burritos are very good and filling, also their tacos are good w/ pretty much all of their meats, but if you like Menudo (traditional beef tripe soup), these guys make a fantastic one! GO FOR IT! You only live once!
Lillian’s Italian Kitchen – Nice quality for a relatively inexpensive little joint. These guys do it from the heart and it shows. The Pasta Fagiole (Pasta Fazool) is quite good and their signature sandwich, the “Yonkers Deli”, is the best sandwich you can buy in Santa Cruz. Real Italian deli style.
La Posta – Currently the best higher-end Italian restaurant in town. Great food, great atmosphere in the Seabright neighborhood.
Shogun – Best sushi in town, hands down. And, try the broiled yellowtail cheek – it is incredible!
Falafel Hut – You wanna talk unassuming decor? OK – well, I’ll grant you that, but let’s talk world-class Mediterranean food! A-ha! And, let’s talk great people – the owners Rita & Elias. They know their stuff big-time. Killer Baklava? Check. Best Babaganoush I have ever had (the smoky flavor is heavenly) – check. Awesome, strong Turkish coffee? Check! Incredibly light, crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside Falafel balls? Check check check! Even the hamburgers and fries are special here – probably the best in town, in fact. The prices are modest and the location? Look across the street at the Cocoanut Grove lawn and gaze upon the Main Beach just beyond it. Go there – NOW!
Peachwoods – Great steaks and chops and an owner and staff with lots of personality make this a local favorite.
Shadowbrook – Most romantic restaurant in the area by far. Wanna propose and have her say yes? Hedge your bet and do it here! More coming…
Crow’s Nest – Quintessential Santa Cruz surfer hangout at the Twin Lakes Harbor. Great staff… and hey, I used to DJ there : )
The Kind Grind – Also at Twin Lakes Harbor. Good coffee and baked goods and a great place to hang out on the back porch overlooking the beach.
Fins Cafe- Great cup of coffee and ambience. And maybe the very best place to sit, relax and catch the show of all the tourists streaming in to town on a weekend morning.
Marianne’s Ice Cream – Another old-school Santa Cruz legend. Catch it on the way home right on Ocean St. before you hit Highway 17. If they have their Spumoni flavor handy, you scored! And, the old-fashioned milkshakes are hard to beat (served in a thick, chilled glass, the ice cream actually starts to re-form at the outer edges!)… just don’t tell your cardiologist.
El Palomar –
Carpo’s – Only locals know about it. One of the best values you’ll find and the food’s great!
Hanks At The Hook –
Gilda’s – On the wharf, presided over by the original Stagnaro family here in Santa Cruz since 1879. Great, gracious people and hosts. Step back in time, folks. Wednesday is the legendary Prime Rib Special: You get a huge, juicy cut of Prime Rib cooked however you like it, a nice fresh vegetable mix on the side, baked potato or rice, bread and butter – for $8.95. Yes, I said $8.95. The place is packed, packed, packed, but everyone’s smiling! Seriously, this place is from a different time – it’s just neat. And if you’re lucky, you might even catch “Big Boy” Stagnaro himself running the register or tending the bar… wait, did I just say bar? You bet. Best kept secret in Santa Cruz. I won’t say any more…
Hoffman’s – Another excellent breakfast and lunch haunt. Less earthy than most of the others listed here – my parents like it, and most UCSC students who bring theoir parents out for b’fast in town will bring them here first. Best scones you’ll ever have in your life. Bakery highlights include top-notch eclairs, Princess cake and fruit tarts.
Sound Like A Local… sort of
OK, don’t go overboard or reach for the stars here, but if you use the word “stoked” in place of “happy”, “satisfied” or “excited”, you’ll have a good start. If you want lessons, hang out at Arrow Surf Shop and pretend you are browsing for a while, and just listen… actually, no, I take that back – BUY something – we sure could use the revenue here in SC!
Welcome and thanks for visiting : )