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Travel review: Not so secret Santa Cruz

This stunning view will greet you from Steamer Lane This stunning view will greet you from Steamer Lane

Friday, November 2, 2012
3:00 PM

Locals in the beautiful California bay area town of Santa Cruz awaited the release of feature film Chasing Mavericks with baited breath and no little nervousness.

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Santa Cruz: Where we went

Kayak Connection

413 Lake Avenue #103 Santa Cruz

Offers kayak rentals and kayak tours every days, with paddling classes, rentals and wetsuits. Open daily from 10am to 5pm

Pasatiempo Golf Club

20 Clubhouse Road, Santa Cruz

Offers spectacular views of Monterey Bay. Open to the public

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

101 N. Big Trees Park Road, Felton

Self-guided trails, picnic areas, nature centre

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

Mark Abbott Lighthouse, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz

Open during the summer and winter

Downtown Association of Santa Cruz

Laidback shopping district

Roaring Camp Railroads

Heritage attraction offering visitors trip back in time and a lesson of the town’s heritage. Available for families, away days and weddings. Six miles north of Santa Cruz


Depicting the story of how surfing legend Jay Moriarity became one of the youngest natives to tackle the town’s big wave competition - it was filmed in and around its most recognisable landmarks, but would it do them justice?

In truth, it turns out the film makers have more to worry about than the inhabitants of this lesser known West Coast haven.

Ever imagined an idyllic life in peaceful, neighbourly place by the sea? Fancy wandering among a laidback, perennially pleasant atmosphere, or chiefly, want to take to the water on a surfboard or in a kayak to join the hundreds of other thrillseekers who have made Santa Cruz their second home?

Then what are you waiting for?

Head into Downtown for an alternative experience (or some shopping)Head into Downtown for an alternative experience (or some shopping)

The fall (autumn) period is dubbed Santa Cruz’s ‘Secret Summer’ because of the pleasant weather and the number of ongoing events, including the Monte Fireworks Extravaganza and the O’Neill Cold Water Classic.

But the truth is, this place is teeming with activities all year round - largely because of a temperate climate that means it stays pleasant for much of the year barring the winter months.

Located about 70 miles south of San Francisco city centre, it is something of an antidote to its bigger cousin - but there is nothing slow and small town about it. Our three days there went past in a blur.

By the way, try out the drive along Highway 1 to get there - you haven’t seen a more scenic route from a car window until you do.

A night-time view from the Santa Cruz HarbourA night-time view from the Santa Cruz Harbour

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, complete with Giant Dipper Roller Coaster and ride season passes costing no more than $70 per person, is only one of its attractions.

Walk a few miles to the right and you can find yourself watching surfers on Steamer Lane, overlooking the waves and the rocks from Steamer Lane.

I have never really been one for silent contemplation on a chilly Tuesday morning, but it certainly is a relaxing feeling watching others slap on their wetsuits and hit the waves for a day’s thrillseeking - just where do they get the time?

Once that’s done, visitors can head north to Downtown Santa Cruz, which contains vintage record stores, eateries selling cuisine from Mexico, Greece, India and Italy (none of your American diner stuff here Man Vs Food fans), as well as clothes stores, and independent outlets of the like you might not have seen before - like The True Olive Collection.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is perfect for families and thrillseekersThe Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is perfect for families and thrillseekers

Run by Susan Pappas, it offers a try before you buy service of a massive range of fused and infused olive oils.

She’s very hands-on without being overbearing, so be prepared for tutorials on what oils go with what foods, and how her dark chocolate flavoured balsamic vinegars can liven up a fruit salad.

Sampler packs are available in store for $29.95 and are easily transportable via hand luggage if you fancy bringing them home.

Oil and water don’t mix - but head west to the Santa Cruz Harbour and you might just find that you do.

Take a ride back in time with the Roaring Camp RailroadsTake a ride back in time with the Roaring Camp Railroads

Surrounded by hundreds of boats, the Kayak Connection sits on the shore.

Like Susan, owner Dave Grigsby bought the business because of his passion for the activity - effectively turning his hobby into a job. And his enthusiasm shows.

Quite simply - I am not a water person, but I somehow found myself out on the fringes of the Pacific Ocean - wet but undefeated - admiring the Santa Cruz county coastline from afar.

Had I hung out a bit longer I might have found myself nose to nose with a sea otter or dolphin, but I was thinking more great white shark to be honest and subsequently kept to the safety of the harbour.

The Kayak Connection offers boat rentals and tours of varying length and locations, and is currently selling some of its older stock at reduced prices.

And in the general tourist chorus, the coastline does also conceal some of Santa Cruz’s hidden beauty - namely its ancient redwood dominated forests up among the mountains.

By all means try and explore them unaided by foot, but you would probably be best served walking the Redwood Trail Loop in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, or by stepping onto a steam train.

Aimed at families and groups, the Roaring Camp Railroads combines a history lesson with a convenient cut through the acres of manned forestry. It comes with stunning views of the mountains and the meadows.

Playing up to the idea of a steam train as an anachornism, it sets off from a town set up to look like an 1880s logging camp. It’s fun - check it out.

If you are feeling a bit like stretching your legs, but not quite up to pounding the beachfront in your trainers - you can take a ten minute drive to the Pasatiempo Golf Course.

Ranked in the country’s top 100 courses, it is rich in history and splendour - overlooking the Monterey Bay and is not members only. This also applies to its classy Hollins House Restaurant right at the very top.

With some parts unchanged from when it was built in the 1920s, you can see why it is has been seen as ideal for weddings, banquets and events. Tiger Woods has played there - but ask the staff there why he has not been back.

Like most of the outside activities we sampled, a lot is weather dependent.

Fortunately - this does not go for all of the restaurants we tried - the newly opened Hotel Paradox’s Solaire Restaurant offering classy dishes at affordable prices while the Hotel Casablanca sells brilliantly cooked north-African and Mediterranean entrees - with its trademark tagines a particular highlight.

If you make it there don’t forget to order one of its specially flavoured flatbreads - and it always helps when the service is attentive and prepared to explain the menu.

Staying on the food theme, be sure to try out the Picnic Basket on Beach Street, yards away from the Boardwalk.

Zachary Davies and Kendra Baker also own the Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz and have branched out with sandwiches, soups and salads in their new venture.

Understated, down to earth, affordable and made with locally grown ingredients sourced from Santa Cruz farmers and growers, this is one for those with the discerning, health conscious platter. So it suited me down to the ground.

And I haven’t even mentioned the actual beaches. Not so secret anymore - Santa Cruz genuinely has something for everyone.

Where we ate

Hollins House Restaurant at Pasatiempo Golf Course

20 Clubhouse Road, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Fine dining with a choice of steak, prime rib, shrimp, pasta and salads. A full wine list is provided.

Excellent, attentive service, and creative meal presentation at reasonable prices in a beautiful setting.

Solaire Restaurant at Hotel Paradox

611 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

High class style dishes, including succulent prime rib, sweetcorn polenta and fried fish. Based next to the bar inside the revamped Hotel Paradox overlooking the swimming pool.

Casablanca Inn and Bistro

101 Main Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Mediterranean cuisine with a range of flatbreads, fish and tagines with vegetarian options. Be assured you won’t go home hungry after trying the Casablanca burger. Situated by the beach with a lovely ocean view.

Where we stayed

Holiday Inn Express and Suites

1410 Ocean Street. Santa Cruz

The town’s newest hotel. Free breakfast, WiFi, and cable. A few minutes drive away from the harbour, beach and Downtown Santa Cruz

Prices range from $155 - $395 in the high season and $115 - $295 in the low season.

Seaway Inn

176 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz

Offers spectacular ocean views, minutes from the beach, Boardwalk and Downtown

Prices: upwards of $149 in the high season, $79 in the low season

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