by Christina Morgan Cree
Santa Cruz has many spots that, because of their beauty and very low (or no) cost, are favorites among the locals. Most of these can be visited for free or for a slight fee if you choose to park in the parking lot. Go for an hour or two, or bring a picnic and hang out longer-and they’re all great for photo ops. (And they’re family friendly if you’ve got kids in tow).
The cement ship at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos has always been a favorite of locals and tourists alike. The S.S. Palo Alto, which was brought to Seacliff in 1930, was originally turned into hot spot with a dance floor, café and heated swimming pool. Nowadays you can no longer walk out onto the ship, but fishing is still allowed on the pier. The stairs leading from the parking lot to the beach will give you a workout; luckily the designers included several landings with benches. The beach can also be accessed via a lower parking lot. Wear layered clothing.
Gizdich Farms located in Watsonville is local favorite for “Pik-Yor-Self” berries and apples. Depending on the season there are strawberries, olallieberries, boysenberries and in the fall, apples. The Bake Shop serves up nine different pies (order yours a la mode!). There are dumplings, shortcakes, cobblers and my favorite, the apple slush made with freshly pressed apple juice. It’s all made fresh daily, so get there early because nearly everything is sold out by the end of the day.
Hidden in the hills of the San Lorenzo Valley, Loch Lomond is peaceful and picturesque. There are row boats and paddle boats to rent. The small island in the middle is perfect for a picnic, which is why I’ve always called it “picnic island”. Actually the island is called “Clar Innis”, after an island in the Scottish Loch Lomond. A beautiful getaway in a very short trip up the mountain.
Perched near the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the west side of Santa Cruz, Seymour Discovery Center is a small scale aquarium with plenty of hands on activities and interesting exhibits…and boasts the world’s largest whale skeleton! Touch a starfish, take a behind the scenes research tour or just enjoy the gorgeous views of the Monterey Bay.
With 34 miles of trails, Wilder Ranch is favorite place among locals for a hike or bike ride. Located just north of the Seymour Discovery Center on Hwy 1, Wilder Ranch offers a wide range of beautiful scenery including lush valleys, Victorian homes, beautiful vistas from the coastal trails and plenty of interesting spots to explore. Be sure to bring a camera!
Come hang out and listen to great music as you watch the sun set on Capitola Beach. The best of the local bands offer free concerts on Wednesday nights on the esplanade. Later in the summer, movie nights are a family favorite. Bring a blanket and bundle up on the sand–don’t forget to grab a slice at Pizza My Heart! It was recently voted “Best Pizza in the World”.