We're all for shipping off to far-flung places. But there's something very satisfying about exploring your own backyard. San Francisco-based writer, blogger, and locavore adventurer Meg Taylor leads the way to Santa Cruz.
SANTA CRUZ – It's time for that summer getaway you've been needing but barely have time to plan. If you live in San Francisco, you can find your escape with a day trip to Santa Cruz. The best part about this quick California road trip is that you don't need overnight accommodations. In one day you can fit in a state park visit, boardwalk ramble, wine tasting, and musical performance under the stars.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Have your coffee in San Francisco. But hold out for breakfast at Spanky's, a quaint, no-nonsense diner in the woodsy town of Ben Lomond. Light and fluffy pancakes will satisfy the hungriest of travelers.
THE MOTHER LODE
Embark on an early morning adventure in Big Basin Redwoods State Park (dating back to 1902, it's California's oldest state park). Visitors from near and far come for the hiking (over 80 miles of trails to chose from), sites (access to waterfalls and beaches), and famous trees. Make your way to park headquarters and take the Redwood Trail, a short and easy stroll through the canopy. You can't miss "Mother of the Forest," the tallest Redwood in the park. A resilient force, she stands at a staggering 329 feet. On your way out, stop into secondhand shops for records and old jewelry in the town of Boulder Creek.
ON THE PACIFIC
Take a tally of all the banana slugs you spot on the trails as you drive a short fifteen miles to your next location. Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz has great lunch options, especially if you want to eat al fresco. Get your meal to-go from New Leaf, a community market that specializes in local and organic food from the Central Coast. There's a nice selection of prepared bites and a deli counter for made-to-order sandwiches. As you wait for yours (enthusiasts recommend The Hook, while vegetarians might lean toward the Surf City Club), pick out a piece of ripe fruit and a refreshing beverage. Set up for lunch outside as you people watch under the California sun. Want souvenirs for pals at home? Pop into Pacific Wave (for the surfers and skaters) and Om Gallery (for the yogis and mystics).
NOT JUST FOR KIDS
No one's too old for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, although you try and try to convince yourself that it is so. Take a foodie approach to sampling saltwater taffy and funnel cakes. For sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, ride the historic Big Dipper (the wooden roller coaster that is also a national historic landmark) and Logger's Revenge (on a hot day you'll welcome the big splash at the end). If thrills and heights aren't your thing, practice your footwork in the arcade with a round or two of Dance, Dance Revolution. On your way out, say "Cheese!" in the photo booth.
BE STILL MY HEART
Ease into the evening at Pizza My Heart, a take-out joint in Capitola that UC Santa Cruz alums talk about long after their college days. Create your own pie or order the Big Sur 40 Clove, their most popular pizza. Get it to go for the next leg of your journey, a picnic at one of Capitola's state beaches or parks (I like New Brighton State Beach).
THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR
There's still time for wine, and you don't have to go as far as Sonoma or the Napa Valley for a taste. Head back to San Francisco the way you came, making one last stop in the town of Saratoga. Visit Mountain Winery, a.k.a. The Vineyard in the Sky, for the Summer Concert Season. Highlights for 2012 include Ricki Lee Jones, Diana Krall, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Martin. Most shows start at 7:30 p.m., but get there early to enjoy the winery's estate and reserve wines. As the sun sets over the vineyard, follow the music into the amphitheater and take your seats. You'll feel right at home.
MORE SAN FRANCISCO
See all the locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)