Natural Bridges State Beach is a great place to unwind near the bohemian surfer town of Santa Cruz
Blue Whales can reach eighty feet in length. First we hear the slate blue whale’s bellows-like blows. The dramatic plumes of white water last for about three seconds, as the graceful back that goes on forever slowly reveals itself. When the whale has had enough air, it dives into the water to feed on krill, lifting its twenty-foot wide fluke out of the water completely. Once the whale enters the water, it could resurface in any direction. The boat bobs around and the crowd waits expectantly. Each time the whale resurfaces the person who spots it yells out in joy and points so everyone else can spot it quickly. Whales have an otherworldly quality that leaves me shaken. Their massive ancient presence reminds me how little I will ever understand the world that I live in. I was raised on the Monterey Bay, yet I could not grasp the majesty of these animals until I witnessed them with my own eyes. I went out on Sanctuary Cruises' boat out of Moss Landing on a recent Saturday. We saw a Blue Whale, three Humpback Whales, Albatross, an Elephant Seal, jellyfish, and Sea Otters. Our naturalist Dorris's contagious excitement and knowledge of the Monterey Bay and its inhabitants made the trip a joy.
I had pulled off the highway to check the surf out. As it turned out, there were a bunch of people gazing out to sea from the sand dunes. It took me awhile to realise what everyone was looking at! What an amazing experience.
There’s nothing like a cold creamy treat on a warm day, and one ice cream shop in the cozy California beach town of Santa Cruz is doing it so, so right. Penny Ice Creamery isn’t your average ice cream joint; you won’t find Ben & Jerry’s-style over-indulgence, nor will you taste artificial flavors and colors (think: green mint chip). Gathering all of their ingredients from local organic farms, owners Kendra Baker and Zachary Davis are committed to bringing small-business practices back to basics. Their passion for local, organic food and sustainability is palpable. Pop in to this downtown gem after a day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. You’re greeted by the of smell freshly made waffles cones and smiling employees working busily in the open kitchen and showcased production room cracking eggs, sifting sugar, cutting fresh fruit, even churning milk and cream (they’re licensed pasteurizers!). Every lick of this dangerously delicious stuff is made from scratch, and at one glance, you can appreciate the skill and care that goes into every batch. Take your pick from the handwritten menu, whose flavors change daily. Try a holiday favorite such as mascarpone hazelnut, black pepper quince, sour cream gingersnap or parsnip nutmeg. On this day, I opted for dark chocolate, and my boyfriend went with his favorite: vanilla (or more accurately, Tahitian Vanilla Bean). It was the perfect compliment to our lazy afternoon stroll, reminding us of life’s simple (and sweet) pleasures.
The Monterey Bay area on California's central coast is possibly my favorite part of California--it is that beautiful. On a recent cold January morning, I took my dogs to Asilomar State Beach at one end of the town of Pacific Grove. As the clouds and light changed every few minutes, a few surfers braved the cold waters, and dogs ran along the adjacent paths, I realized this is what locals get to experience as part of normal coastal life...peaceful and beautiful. The state beach has walking paths that go on and on along the ocean. On the other side of the street sits Asilomar Conference Grounds, with picnic areas, beautiful lodging, and walking paths that take you through the dune areas. In all there are 107 acres to explore with 4 self-guided walks to choose from, and plenty of wildlife can be seen along the way.
Santa Cruz and Monterey both make great day trip destinations from the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the best places to stop for brunch/lunch/dinner when doing this road trip is at "The Haute Enchilada" restaurant in Moss Landing! With a surprisingly eclectic menu and eye-popping interiors, they offer everything from paella to ceviche and several other Peruvian dishes and Spanish tapas. Everything is organic, including the finger-licking "Chicken Mole Enchilada" we ordered, which came with a unique and delicious quinoa & guacamole salad. I saw "Crab and Black Truffle Mushroom Enchilada" on the menu and had to absolutely get that! A clear winner, this came with delicate dungeness crab meat and black truffle mushrooms whose earthy taste absolutely hit the spot, accompanied by flavored spanish rice, beans and a spicy habanero salsa .... verdict: DELICIOUS! "The Haute Enchilada" is conveniently located midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It doubles as an artist galleria with several interesting paintings hung up on the walls, look for the colorful one of "Frida". And there's no way you'll miss the come-hither painting of Marilyn Monroe hanging right above your table. All in all, this place makes for a great experience after spending the day at Santa Cruz or Monterey. Oh, don't confuse this with "The Whole Enchilada" which is another restaurant in the same area specializing in Mexican food.
Behind the Moss Beach Distillery is a beautiful beach with wildlife surrounding you. Baby seals, cranes and hermit crabs are a few of the creatures you may see in their own habitat. The tranquility of this beach had me mesmerized.
Phil's Fish Market is one of the destinations you shouldn't miss out on if you are cruising up or down the Coast Highway 1. With a wide variety of seafood favorites, devilish Bloody Mary's, live music 3 nights a week and a nice beer selection there is no reason to miss a meal at this spot. Stop on the small bridge just before the big cement one on your way in and you might be able to spy a crew of Sea Otter 's taking it easy in the water just a few feet from where you stand. Insiders Tip: If you're pressed for time grab a drink at the bar and enjoy the full menu selection without having to wait in line!
On a 10-day road-trip starting in Los Angeles driving along the coast, ending in San Francisco, we stopped in Santa Cruz to check out the Marine Discovery Center near Natural Bridges - totally AWESOME for those of you who love learning about marine life. The staff were knowledgeable and I loved the hands on touch-tanks. Yes, we have two daughters to 'entertain' but I got just as much out of the experience, if not more!
This food truck in Watsonville will not be at the address provided, but instead in the general area right off Highway 1, along Strawberry Road. I found the truck parked on a dirt patch right off the freeway—it will be hard to miss. Just a disclaimer: this is not your trendy, fusion, food truck that sells Indian/Korean/Italian burritos. Instead, this is serious Mexican food on wheels. Orders are not whipped out as quickly as possible but instead are made to order and prepared with care. My tripe taco ($1.90) was very good. The tripe was crispy and nicely seasoned, without being too salty as some of my previous experiences with tripe have been. The taco was nothing fancy, complete with just green salsa, cilantro and onions sprinkled on top, but often simplicity is key. The chicken taco ($1.75) was simple but flavorful as well. Top off the taco with some onions and extra salsa from the salsa bar for a spicy, traditional Mexican taco. 593 Strawberry Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076, (831) 763-1094
David Wright introduced me to pu-erh tea at his happy, mellow, stimulant-infused palace of tea culture in Santa Cruz. I went to the city with this stop in mind, and am so glad we made it a priority. David let me taste teas, and even made "tea" (a whole drop of tea at a time in tiny cups of hot water) for my young daughter. She felt like a Chinese princess. I took some pu-erh home, along with a tiny Chinese tea pot and a few teeny cups. It became something that I cherished, and relished. Now I see why it is called "tea culture." Not only does Wright create a gathering place for reflecting and socializing at his shop, but the tea itself--even when enjoyed alone--brings about a mellow state of mind, even as it stimulates. I love it! Wright is knowledgable, approachable, and good-humored. A bit of his wisdom rises in the interview, below. The interview is quirky. I like Wright's presence on his feet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atGJIK6ZeEE Here's the website for the shop: http://hiddenpeakteahouse.com/
A Taste of Monterey is kind of hard to find, it's located on Cannery Row in Monterrey- you have to go to the back of a little shopping square beside the courtyard to find it. Because of this, it's rarely crowded since many tourists probably don't find it. This is the perfect place to chill- even if you're not a wine drinker. They do feature all local wines and you can sit at one of the tables made from wine barrels to let your mind relax while you take in the gorgeous view of Monterey Bay. Sit there long enough and you're sure to spot a sea otter. Once, we sat and watched a sea gull trying to steal the food from an otter as it ate. The otter would dive down, grab a meal and then come up and float on its back while eating. The seagull swam circles around it taking whatever crumbs it could get. If you're looking for a spot to relax without the tourists- this is the place to be. Tip for rockhounds: In this same little shopping center there's a little gem and mineral shop. It's run by a geologist, so you can find some beautiful specimens for a great price -http://www.jewelryartnstone.com/index.html.
Having lived in France and worked in Switzerland I can tell you I have had my fair share of croissants. The best one I have had is *outside* France! A tiny little bakery in Pacific Grove, CA, Patisserie Bechler beats everything I have had hands down. Of course the owner, chef Bechler is from Alsace...which my have a little tiny something to do with it! If you have any plans to visit the Monterrey, Carmel, Big Sur area, make this a stop off during your trip, you won't regret it!
Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey is a touristy hell, where cotton candy grows like kelp and soup only comes in bread bowls. But just beyond the madness is a beautiful little bike path that goes all the way to Cannery Row and the aquarium. There's a spot right next to the wharf where you can sit by the water, poke fingers into tide pools, and bark back at the seals. Great spot for kids.
AFAR Ambassadors are in-the-know bloggers who have a passion for experiential travel.
On the ground and in the sky, technicolor delights on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. You can catch the sky tram from one end to the other or walk through the psychedelic amusement park.
The beaches and coastline of central California is not what one might imagine when hearing "California." They are rugged, rocky, and often cold or even foggy. Carmel Beach, at the end of the super-cute town of Carmel, is a bit of an exception. Tons of white sand pour down a long hill to a beautiful stretch of the Pacific. Cypress trees and colorful ice plant grow in some places, and small walking trails extend beyond the beach. If you're fortunate to have a sunny day in the Carmel/ Monterey area, grab some picnic supplies and beach chairs or towels and spend a couple of hours looking at the ocean from this beach. This place is gorgeous! Carmel Beach is at the end of the wonderful 17-Mile Drive. Free street parking is nearby, and the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is an easy walk uphill. Wearing layers is always recommended in this area.
East Cliff Drive in the Pleasure Point neighborhood of Santa Cruz overlooks the expansive Pacific Ocean and some of the best surfing in the country. Jack O’Neill lives here, along with many neighbors who live to surf. This is a side of Santa Cruz that many tourists never see. Park at the free lot at the end of 41st Avenue and walk along the ocean. Take the stairs down to the cove beach at 38th Avenue for the calmest swimming in Santa Cruz. Once you’ve had your fill of ocean air, shop at the surf and vintage stores on 41st Avenue and Portola. Grab a coffee at Verve Coffee Roasting, sushi at Pink Godzilla, or pizza at Pleasure Pizza. You can easily spend a day exploring Pleasure Point, and you’ll probably wish for more. http://www.vervecoffeeroasters.com http://www.pinkgodzilla.com http://pleasurepizzasc.com
Gizdich Ranch located off the Hecker Pass Hwy (Hwy 152) is a must stop if you're headed to the Santa Cruz – Gilroy area. The Barn, open from 9–5 every day, sells pies made from freshly picked fruit. They're know for their apple pies because they are an apple ranch but I love the olallieberry pie. On sunny days sit out back and enjoy the view. There's also a shop where they sell apple juice, jams and fruit. Seasonally you can join their Pik-Yor-Self program - Stawberries, Olallieberries, Boysenberries, and Apples are available for picking. Nice spot for some delicious pie!
Pacific Grove is a quaint town on the Monterey Peninsula and a tranquil place to admire Pacific views of the ocean or the monarchs when they're traveling through the area. The coastal landscape was swarmed by fiery ice plants when we visited in the fall. These plants are actually not native to California and are an invasive species that have run rampant through the state.
The Cheese Shop has been here in Carmel since 1973 and is a delightful place for lovers of cheese. They have every kind you can imagine- hard, soft, creamy, cow, goat, sheep, Swiss, French, Italian, beer, truffle, honey, etc. You're bound to discover something new! I really like this shop because not only do they have a huge variety of cheeses, but they support many local cheese makers whose cheeses you can find here. They will let you sample as much as you want. While you nibble the samples, check out the stacks of wines to find the right one to go with your choice of cheese. If you're unsure what to try, the employees are extremely helpful and knowledgeable. Whenever we are in Carmel, we always stop here for picnic supplies- cheese, baguettes, wine, olives and date bread make an awesome picnic for anywhere along this part of the beautiful central coast of California!
Had a great seafood at this somewhat touristy restaurant. Service was great and view of the monterey bay was just amazing!!! recommend dining in the patio. Order their local red wine from monterey region - so good.
Perfect latté every time! On the East Side of Santa Cruz near Pleasure Point you'll find Verve Coffee. Very cool, laid back surfer vibe where locals hang out. A local turned me onto this place and every time I visit Santa Cruz I head straight to 41st Avenue. They have a downtown location as well. Great coffee roasted by hand with care. These folks know coffee. Baristas are spot on and have won awards! Friendly place to start your day.
Whenever I'm in the Salinas valley I make sure to stop at Pezzini Farms to get a big bag of their green globe artichokes -- the best! Lots of local produce, artichoke spreads and an outdoor stand where you can buy fried artichokes. Pezzini has been selling their artichokes here since 1929 and there's good reason folks keep coming back again and again. Just off Hwy 1 so pull over and load up on artichoke goodness. Open daily 8 - 6pm.
Further south, in Santa Cruz, Taqueria Michoacan is located on a busy street and very hard to miss. This bright yellow taqueria, complete with festive murals on the exterior was a great setting for the exceptional taco I devoured here. Look out for an illustration of a small man eating a huge taco and you’ll know you’re in the right place. Parking is available directly in front of and behind the restaurant. Once inside, the kitchen is small, and there is just one cashier who knows all of the locals’ orders. My taco-pal and I both got fish tacos, which included heaping portions of succulent, seasoned tilapia, topped with rice, cabbage, a great red salsa and hot sauce. I don’t think I spoke once during the fifteen minutes in the restaurant because I was just too occupied with my food. One fish taco ($3.25) was plenty for a meal but if you’re ravenous, grab a side of rice or chips and an Agua Fresca. 21401 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062 (831) 465-8290
Casanova restaurant located in the downtown area of Carmel by the Sea in California. The food is delicious and they are famous for their spinach gnocchi which is absolutely decadent! I'm sure there are about five sticks of butter in the cream housing the hand-made gnocchi. The vegetables are served with just the right about of crunchiness and the meat is well prepared and flavorful. This place was transformed from a run down house into a French country farmhouse and has a European feel to it. They have a huge wine selection....in fact, there is a cellar underneath the restaurant that holds close to 30,000 bottles of wine. If you ask your server- you can get a free tour of the cellar after your meal! If you time your dinner right, you can stroll 6 or 7 short blocks to the ocean and finish off your romantic dinner with a beautiful walk along the shoreline to watch the sun set.
My mom and I went out on a whale watching charter boat early in the morning and saw so many whales! It wasn't very much money either. The water wasn't too choppy, so we had really good luck and saw a dozen whales. I was lucky enough to capture this picture of two whales fluking at the same time. Monterey is a great place for whale watching. We saw them in June, but not every season is so good for whale watching.
© 2015 AFAR Media