Mix a hippie vibe, grunge undertone, and a few yuppies like us and you’ve got Santa Cruz’s base flavor. Churn in street punks bumming change, plus some hardcore cyclists and surfers, and you’re almost there. All you need is handful of old timers complaining about real estate prices and the North Coast Smoothie is complete.
On big surf days, it feels like the waves practically crash into the Santa Cruz mountains. You can walk to the beach and surf in the morning, then roll out of your garage on your mountain bike onto sweet singletrack in the afternoon, finishing with a coastal sunset walk perfumed with reefer smoke.
All that makes for an interesting place to call home for six weeks, which we did starting mid-December. Our time included some side trips in the area and house sitting in nearby towns, but we spent the majority of our time near downtown.
There’s a ton of pictures in this post because, well, who doesn’t love pictures? Let’s kick it off with dropping holiday pounds.
The Ultimate Diet Plan
I don’t know about your family, but my Italian grandmother’s favorite nine-letter word is “EatEatEat,” and she doesn’t take no for an answer. In the new year, you can hit the gym to burn off grandma’s holiday meals, OR you can make like an elephant seal and follow their ultimate diet plan.
Traveling north toward Santa Cruz, we watched these awesome creatures piled in snoozing groups on the beach near San Luis Obispo. For three months, the seals sleep on the sand not eating, losing hundreds of pounds in the process. How they do this is a marvel of evolution.
When they’re in the water, which is almost all of the year, elephant seals get fresh water via their food and by metabolizing fat. On land, their bulbous noses act like a rebreather and absorb moisture from the animals’ exhalations, condensing water for their needs (they have a cranial cavity that stores the water). It’s the ultimate helmet sippy cup.
For food, the seals rely on hundreds of pounds of blubber that they pack on during the holidays…errr previous months of eating more fish, octopus and squid than you’ll eat in your entire life. Lying on the beach, they can drop their breathing rates to once every 30 seconds, snuggling close with their buddies in a motionless slumber party. Check out my post from 2014 about these cool animals if you want to learn more about these badass beasts.
I came to Santa Cruz for the mountain biking. El Nino, who doesn’t give a damn about cycling aspirations, decided to drown my plans and turn most of the trails into muck. I parried with runs along the waterfront and into the hills, though I did sneak in a fair number of rides between downpours.
Instead of hanging in the van, we opted for Airbnb rentals and also spent a couple weeks of our time house sitting. This doesn’t mean just drinking all their wine – we (ok, Chelsea) also took care of our host’s animals.
House sitting is something we’ve been doing occasionally, since it’s great fun to have some furry creatures around when we stay in one place. Need someone to watch your pets while you travel? Drop us a line. We’ve got references!
As part of the house sitting, I used my new full-frame Sony camera (I’ve wanted to upgrade for-ev-er) to snap fun portraits of the dogs. They were only stationary because Chelsea backed me up with treats, of course.
Friend, Friends, Friends
We were stoked to hang with various friends who live in or visited during our stay. Trips to Big Sur, exploring Santa Cruz, and hanging out with Portland buddies was most-excellent fun. A formal photo shoot with Reese takes The Random Prize, and our four friends and their two toddlers rampaging around was hilarious. Two years olds are impossibly cute…and an incredible amount of work!
Tour of Ibis Cycles
One of the dudes I met works at Ibis Cycles, the manufacturer of my mountain bike. Josh was kind enough to give me a tour of their facility on Santa Cruz’s westside. I dug checking out all the new bikes, but especially liked the museum dating back 30 years. Bike tech has come a long way from the no-suspension days of yore.
Santa Cruz Fun
We dug the big Wednesday farmer’s market, the excellent grocery store Staff of Life, the giant waves crashing on West Cliffs, and the VERY serious Hidden Peak Tea House (no electronics allowed). There are also 30 city-sponsored murals that local artists were paid to create on the walls of many buildings. The old Victorian houses on Walnut Street near downtown are a cool historical aspect of city too.
My favorite part of traveling is hanging out with great people along the way. Santa Cruz was no different. I made new friends during bike rides, via our blog, at the barber, and also at a vegan MeetUp group we attended. We also hung with friends from past visits. Santa Cruz is officially sparring with San Diego as our California epicenter.
And that…is the story of our recent visit to Santa Cruz. If you’re looking for biking, surfing, and running in an amazing setting, hit the road to this coastal paradise. We’ll be back!
As for us? We’re currently engaged in a new adventure for all of February in Northern California that I’ll write about soon.