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Santa Cruz County getaway

From the redwoods to the shoreline, Santa Cruz County has so much to offer vacationers and day-trippers alike. You will never run out of fun things to do. Here’s a snapshot of a fun-filled weekend getaway. We start at San Juan Bautista and head over to the very colorful Santa Cruz County and finish the trek at California’s oldest state park at the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Enjoy your trip!

San Juan Bautista

Right off Highway 156 stop and see the beautiful and historic San Juan Bautista Mission built in 1797. The San Andreas Fault line runs right down the middle of the mission. Dine at the romantic Jardines de San Juan for authentic Mexican cuisine. They have a charming outdoor patio with fountains and amazing gardens.


The famous Corralitos Market & Sausage Company is located in quaint Corralitos, just outside Aptos and Watsonville, and above the fog. If you like fresh beef jerky this is a MUST stop. They also make a killer sausage sandwich. Grab a sandwich and head up through the redwoods to visit Windy Oaks Estate Winery for their pinot noir and beautiful views of Corralitos and the bay. A table sits on top of a ridge for your picnic and vino enjoyment.


There are four communities in Aptos — upper scale Seascape, artsy Rio Del Mar, Seacliff, which is home to the cement ship, and, on the east side of Highway 1, you’ll find old Aptos. All areas have great adventures, hotels, hiking, restaurants and pubs. In Old Aptos you can hike through Nisene Marks State Park – epicenter to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake – there’s a trail that takes you to the heart of the epicenter. The park is lush with redwoods, ferns and creeks — and an occasional mountain lion. Rio Del Mar has its famous Café Rio for steak and seafood – this place has been around forever for good reason. For pure pampering try the Seascape Resort in ritzy Seascape. Accommodations start with studio suites and go up to 3 bedroom two-story villas – and every room has a kitchen, fireplace, private balcony and an ocean view. Resort options include bike rentals, golf, tennis, in-suite spa treatments and, at night they’ll build a roaring beach fire for you and give you all the fixings to make s'mores. The hotel’s restaurant, Sanderlings, serves up fantastic meals that you can enjoy in the restaurant or on the beautiful terrace overlooking the bay. If you’re in the mood for Mexican food, Palapas is right across the street. The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining with ocean views from every table. This place is packed seven days a week so make reservations early or plan on an hour wait. If you plan on bringing your RV then check out Seacliff State Beach for a night's stay and enjoy fishing off the cement pier.


One of the most popular restaurants in this seaside town is the charming Shadowbrook, which features a tram that takes you down a hill to the restaurant. It has multiple dining floors, a dining room made of glass, and a charming brick patio on the Soquel River. This place has all the ambience of wonderland and the food is equally fantastic. If you’re looking for an upbeat younger crowd with live music visit Margaritaville or Zeldas in the heart of Capitola on the Esplanade. There’s a cozy coffee bar, Mr. Toots, above Margaritaville that’s a great place to wind down after dinner. Their piano is open to anyone who wants to play and they have an ocean view balcony. For breakfast or brunch try Gayle's Bakery for yummy breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and desserts. The place is always packed so remember to take a number.


If you want to get away from the crowds Soquel is the best kept secret, maybe because it’s on the east side of the highway. It’s definitely a town worth adventuring. If you love antique stores, Soquel has you covered, and the most popular shop is Wisteria Antiques & Gardens. It takes an hour just to see the gardens and, once you enter the charming old home, plan on another hour of antique adventures. Soquel also offers great wine tasting at Bargetto’s, Soquel Vineyards and, in the Soquel mountains, Hunter Hill Vineyard. You’ll also find numerous restaurants worth your attention. A favorite local Mexican restaurant is Little Tampico’s with its tiered dining floors and huge windows. The restaurant sits on a quaint creek and is a great spot to hang out during a rain storm – shorts and berks are welcome attire.

Santa Cruz

Right off Soquel Avenue, where the town of Soquel ends and Santa Cruz begins, you’ll find a beautiful hidden gem — the Chaminade Resort & Spa. It’s an idyllic place to stay or visit for an appetizer and bottle of cab. The mission-style Chaminade is about two minutes from the highway but you’ll feel like you’re miles away from civilization while enjoying the meadows and sweeping coastal views. Another must-do off Soquel Avenue is the historic Santa Cruz Flea Market where you can pick up a gem of a surf board or some hippy jewelry – it’s funk at its best, it’s huge, and it remains one of the most popular things to do in Santa Cruz on the weekends.

After a morning of flea market bargains head over to Aldo's for the best fugasa French toast in the world. This little locals-only restaurant sits on the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor across the channel from the famous Crow’s Nest Restaurant and is one of the best breakfast joints around. Ninety percent of their tables are outside, so layered clothing is advised. Their dining deck extends over the harbor giving you great views of the fishing boats and the UCSC crew teams. Get there before 9 a.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. on Sundays or plan on an hour wait — also dog friendly. While you’re at the harbor check out the Chardonnay II for a brew tasting cruise or whale watching – they have over a dozen themed cruises from brunch to sushi Sundays and sunset sails to wine tasting trips – and, you’ll love the captain. Bring your camera!
The west side of Santa Cruz gives you the Pacific Garden Mall with the historical Catalyst and unique shops, the wharf, the boardwalk, the light house and the surfers at Steamer Lane. Take a bike trip from the Dream Inn to Natural Bridges State Park for breathtaking views of the ocean and historical homes. Just north of Natural Bridges is UCSC’s Seymore Center – a worthy destination for children. It has aquariums and touch tanks. Your kids will be able to hold sea critters and touch sharks.
This is not Disney or Marine World – it is funky and it is a working marine lab, but your kids will love it.

Santa Cruz Mountains

From the west side of Santa Cruz you can approach the redwood clad mountains via winding and scenic Hwy 9. Felton has its historical covered bridge that was built in 1892, and Henry Cowell State Park offers large campsites and numerous hiking trails. At Roaring Camp you can board a train that will take you all the way to the boardwalk – will drop you off, then come back for you in the afternoon. Ben Lomond has a wonderful park along the San Lorenzo River just off Mill Street. If you love German food make sure to visit the Tyrolean Inn just of the highway – it’s the oldest restaurant in town. Three miles up the highway you’ll come across the quaint little town of Brookdale and its Brookdale Lodge that was built in the early 1900s and features a creek that runs through the middle of the restaurant. Three miles from Brookdale you’ll run into Boulder Creek.

If you like golf, the Boulder Creek Country Club is open to the public and has a challenging 9-hole course and you can rent villas by the week. After golf whet your appetite at the legendary Scopazzi’s for great Italian. Scopazzi’s was built in 1915 and has always been a local favorite. Both the golf course and Scopazzi’s are located on Big Basin Hwy.

Last stop —California’s oldest state park, Big Basin, founded in 1902. You can enter via Big Basin Hwy or route 236 off Highway 9. The park offers over 80 miles of hiking, equestrian and bike trails. A campers' and backpackers' paradise, Big Basin hosts three spectacular waterfalls — Berry Creek Falls, with its 70 foot drop, Silver Falls and the Golden Falls Cascade.

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