By Diane Ako
I finally went back to Santa Cruz, California, a place I haven't spent much time in since I was here for a year during university. I like it more now than I ever did.
It's a shame I couldn't appreciate it as much when I actually lived here, but college was full of distractions and other decisions that felt more important at the time. I transferred out of UCSC to Menlo College after my first year, and my path of travel thereafter really never included Santa Cruz.
It's like a time warp. Memories and feelings were much sharper when I was standing in the exact place that these things happened. It was interesting to revisit decades old memories.
As I remembered, Santa Cruz is still a totally mellow place and a great choice for a family - kind of like a California version of Kailua. We took in an activity or two per day, and did it at a very leisurely pace.
A couple mornings in a row we ate at bakery called The Buttery, which lives up to its name. Oh, yum. Olivia asked me if I could work at a bakery like that if I do have to get a job. I guess that's the big seal of approval, huh?
I liked walking along Pacific Avenue and the wharf. At the latter, we walked to the end to see sea lions. They sun on the pilings under the pier and raft in the water. They bark at each other. The whole thing is entertaining.
We spent half a day at Natural Bridges State Beach, so named for a bridge like rock formation created through years of erosion. "This beach, with its famous natural bridge, is an excellent vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, tidepools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life," describes the website. Olivia loved running along the shore and finding sea life (mostly dead, some alive).
This park offers a hiking option as well. If you head inland you can take a very short walk along a well-maintained walkway to see the Monarch Grove, which "provides a temporary home for up to 100,000 Monarchs. From late fall into winter, the Monarchs form a 'city in the trees.' The area's mild seaside climate and eucalyptus grove provide a safe place for monarchs to roost until spring," further explains the website. When the weather gets warmer, they migrate again.
Unfortunately, we had just missed the hibernation by a month, so by now, all the butterflies had woken up and flown off. There were still a few fluttering around the forest but nothing noteworthy.
The ocean is always cold there, even in the summer. However, our hotel had a nice, heated pool, which may have been someone's highlight of the day!
All in all, a relaxing day in a lovely beach town.
If you go:
Natural Bridges State Beach is a day use beach. Parking is $10. Information at http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=541.