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Want California sampler? Santa Cruz is the place
By CARY ORDWAY
If you don't happen to have time to tour the entire state of California, we found a place that almost seems like a microcosm of the state. You have your beaches, your surfers, your Redwood forests and, just an hour away, one of the state's largest and most cosmopolitan cities.
Give up? Try Santa Cruz. Hugging some of California's most scenic coastline, this city offers a sampling of some of the state's most interesting attractions all in one relatively small area. If you're planning a Northern California vacation, don't overlook Santa Cruz.
We were amazed, for example, when we topped off a morning of beach sightseeing with a little seven-mile drive up to the sleepy town of Felton. Almost instantly we were taken from a bustling beach town to a forest so thick you could hardly see through the trees. It's no wonder that the famed "Bigfoot" was spotted in the Redwoods not too far from here, and that today there is a Bigfoot Museum beckoning both the curious and the amused.
Fifteen minutes later we were back in Santa Cruz, enjoying the sweeping coastal views and watching as visitors and locals basked in the winter sun while enjoying lunch at one of the city's many outdoor cafes. Most likely their menu choices included lots of fresh produce - apples, berries, spinach, squash, tomatoes, etc. - as these and other fruits and vegetables are all grown right here. In fact, there does seem to be a lot of attention paid here to diet and exercise. It's hard to be unhealthy in a place where you can easily jog along spectacular ocean cliffs or hike the trails of a half-dozen area state parks.
If we were so inclined - and we weren't on this particular trip - it would be a reasonable day trip from here into the San Francisco Bay area. And that's why you'll want to allow plenty of time for your visit: there is something new every direction you turn.
If you have the opportunity, we'd suggest a view from Santa Cruz boardwalka midweek visit. That's what we did and, while it's not exactly a ghost town during the work week, there do seem to be plenty of wide-open spaces to explore with little or no concern about traffic. Motels and inns had big empty parking lots during this January visit, and we're told all of that changes on weekends.
Our base of operations was the Hilton Scotts Valley, a good choice for travelers who want their lodging a little ways away from the bustle of the beach. It's just a 10-minute drive from Scotts Valley to the main tourist attractions in the area so it's not at all remote. Yet this particular hotel offers oversized luxury rooms with all of the Hilton amenities and, we might add, some of the most courteous and helpful hotel employees we have encountered. Since the hotel is just a little north of Santa Cruz, it's a convenient location for doing daytrips in all directions. In addition to the Redwoods and Santa Cruz attractions, there are about 40 Santa Cruz mountain wineries also within an easy drive.
Driving into Santa Cruz, you first wind your way through the downtown area where it soon becomes apparent that this is a beach city in every sense of the term. Like many other coastal cities, this beach berg does attract down-to-earth non-conformists who, for example, don't have any hesitation using hair colors that looked like they were chosen from a box of crayons. Think about your worst fashion nightmare for your teenage kids, and that's what you sometimes see on the streets of Santa Cruz - which, of course is part of the charm. You don't travel just to see places exactly like home.