Often overlooked by its big sister San Francisco, Santa Cruz County offers visitors great surf, sandy beaches, redwood-covered mountains and a burgeoning beer and wine scene, not to mention the start of the iconic HWY1 dream drive. The picturesque town of Aptos is nestled between the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean and the towering redwoods in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Experience the beauty of northern California’s beaches and lush natural landscape in one of Santa Cruz’s Beach diverse neighbourhoods.
WHERE TO STAY
For families: Seacliff Inn Best Western
Located just minutes from Seacliff Beach, this charming Aptos hotel offers easy access to the areas many attractions. Kids can explore the historic Roaring Camp Railroads, get a glimpse under the sea at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium or pick berries at the U-Pick farm.
The locals favourite: Rio Sands Hotel
The Rio Sands Hotel is an easy two minute walk from the Rio del Mar and Seacliff State Beach, where you can stroll along 20 miles of golden sand. Watch whales breach and dolphins play before settling into your heated pool or Jacuzzi.
Tucked beneath giant Californian Redwoods, Sand Rock Farm is the perfect place to wander through lush landscapes and fountains before retreating to a cosy farmhouse. Originally a 1,000-acre ranch and winery, it was lovingly converted to a bed and breakfast that soon earned its reputation as a world class stay.
Fine dining: Seascape Beach Resort
From sunrise to sunset, Seascape’s two luxury restaurant offerings provide elegant meals with spectacular ocean views for the ultimate Santa Cruz dining experience. Try traditional tropical dishes of Mexico at Palapas, or contemporary Californian cuisine at Sanderlings, specialising in skillets – a traditional egg tortilla breakfast dish.
Local flavours: Persephone
Named after the Greek goddess of springtime, Persephone features the amazing bounty that the Central Coast of California has to offer and works closely with locals to do so. With a menu that changes with the season, Persephone serving pomegranate glaze stuffed chicken, catch of the day and a vegetarian alternative of the traditional surf and turf.
Seaside Dining: Cafe Rio
Just steps away from the sand and waves of Rio Del Mar Beach, Cafe Rio is known for its fresh fish and picturesque sunsets. Working only with the best quality sustainable seafood and local organic produce from their own seasonal garden, Cafe Rio also offers an extensive wine list from many local wineries.
THINGS TO DO
Visit the SS Palo Alto
This concrete ship has had four lives – World War I tanker, floating amusement park, fishing pier, and now artificial reef. The SS Palo Alto was one of three concrete tankers built to serve in WWI, unfinished it spent a decade in neglect it was transformed into a floating theme park. After two years of dancing, dining, and swimming, the ship was stripped bare and turned into a fishing pier and is now home to an array of marine wildlife.
Stop by the egg vending machine
Anyone can buy eggs from the grocery store, but what about purchasing cage-free eggs from a vending machine? For just $4, the egg vending machine at Glaum’s Egg Ranch will receive 18 eggs as well as a musical number from singing animatronic chickens.
Picnic on Seacliff State Beach
A long and sandy beach, Seacliff is a great place for sunbathing, picnicking, or walking along the peaceful sandy shores of Monterey Bay. Stop by the visitor centre and learn about the Pacific wildlife migration or camp under the stars on the long stretch of sand that also serves as a popular spot for campervans travelling the iconic HWY1.
For more information visit santacruz.org