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Visiting San Francisco? Take a Side Trip to Santa Cruz

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While I spent a month in San Francisco drinking coffee and exploring the city, I had the chance to catch up with a friend I met in Bali a few years ago. She lives in Santa Cruz with her family and had invited me down to spend a few days exploring the area. I, of course, said yes.

I took the Caltrain from San Francisco to San Jose and then a bus from there to Santa Cruz. For me, I love taking public transportation for long durations. I get to unplug, read, and catch up on my writing. The three-hour trip was a perfect length of time for me to relax.

For two days I saw some of the best destinations in Santa Cruz, all with a local’s help. If you find yourself wanting to get out of the city and are up for a mini trip, head to Santa Cruz. Here’s my favorite spots in the laid-back, oceanside town.

Beach + Burritos

I started my little adventure at the public beach where we stopped off at El Palomar Cafe to have some fish tacos and burritos. I had a burrito the size of my forearm and I ate it all. It was that good. We sat outside on the patio and watched the beach volleyball players bump, set and spike as the waves crashed to shore. It was a perfect start to my trip.

Land of Medicine Buddha + Enchanted Forest

I’m going to straight up say this was by far the best and most magical spot I saw in the area. The temple is only minutes away from the beach, yet seems like a different world. The quiet and serene atmosphere of the Redwoods surround the Buddhist retreat, instantly putting you in a meditative state. Unfortunately, the temple was closed when we got there, otherwise you can go in and sit in silence, center yourself and have your own mediation session.

We ended up walking around and down a trail that led us to the Enchanted Forest. If you know me, you know I love trees. This was the jackpot of all forests. Sky-high mammoth Redwoods blocked out the lingering sun from above, creating a dim, quiet space to soak in all the goodness of the forest. The entire time I spent in that place, I didn’t even hear one bird, one voice, one inkling of sound. It was that quiet and tranquil-like life stood still.

Santa Cruz Wharf

Every beach town should have a wharf like Santa Cruz. It’s filled with fresh seafood restaurants, tacky souvenir shops, and perfect views back to the Boardwalk and out to the ocean. But the best attraction to the wharf is the sea lions. These massive animals were the highlight of our mile-long walk. You can check them out at the end of the pier frolicking around, or head down the stairs on the left-hand side about half-way up the wharf to get the full experience. There were close to 50 sea lions playing and napping when we ventured down the steps to take a look. They sung out to us and each other, some swimming around and some slipping and sliding from one pack to the next. We were protected by a fence, but they were still only inches away from us!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

This may be the most popular and touristy attraction in all of SC, but it’s still cheesy and fun. There are a variety of roller coasters, death-defying rides, and a lot of stuffed animals to be won. I went on a roller coaster that I was surprisingly really scared to go on. But I lived to tell the tale and it was a blast. Even if you don’t want to partake in the rides and carnival atmosphere, it’s still a great walk for people watching. It’s also on the beach- a win-win regardless.

The Penny Ice Creamery

We were lucky to be there during their birthday and we were given complimentary ice cream cones. This local ice cream shop uses local ingredients to make some of the creamiest and tasty ice cream I’ve ever had. They make every one from scratch and in small batches.  It’s a huge hit with both the locals and visitors. I went basic and had the Vanilla Bean. But from how fast I ate it, there was nothing basic about it.

Walnut Avenue Cafe

I got to Walnut Avenue Cafe right when it opened. I had the nicest server, who treated me like a daughter more than a customer. The layout decor and reminded me of a traditional casual American breakfast joint with booths, drip coffee stations and a breakfast bar. I ordered a big breakfast omelette, knowing I was going to miss lunch being on the train. It was delicious, hot and decently priced. I will definitely be back the next time I’m in SC.

Verve Coffee

I’m a sucker for pretty coffee shops and Verve definitely made that list. Offering up hand-crafted artisan coffee, Verve specializes in small-batch beans sourced from the best of the best around the world. I spent my morning there writing before I was to catch the bus back to San Francisco. It was a nice mix of people and the staff were really nice.

Although it was a short trip down to Santa Cruz, I felt like I was able get a good feel of the town and left me wanting to come back and explore more. Remember to look outside the city limits of your next destination-You might be able to experience more than just one place!

*** Side note: If you have a car, it only takes around 1.5 hours to drive to Santa Cruz from SF!

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