1. Shark Fin Cove
9 miles north of Santa Cruz after the Bonny Doon Road is an amazing little beach the locals like to call Shark Fin Cove. A short walk down the trail past railroad tracks and you’ll find yourself in a cozy secluded beach with room to run, rocks to climb on, and a cave to explore. While the cove is known for its geological formations, mostly the iconic “Shark Fin” (a large, fin-shaped rock formation smack dab in the middle of the cove) it has amazing views from every direction to watch the waves crash into cliffs while far from the public eye.
Located on Highway 1, just past Davenport is a little farm that advertises free jam tastings. Don’t let the country vibe fool you, be sure to stop here and get yourself one the best desserts in town. While their certified organic farm offers fresh strawberries and scrumptious jam, their “tasting room” is also filled with chocolate-covered strawberries, cheesecake, and the absolute best homemade truffles (I highly recommend trying the Tayberry Truffle).
With an extremely laid-back atmosphere, this mom and pop establishment runs on the honor system — you technically “check yourself out” using a little wooden till. While there is no cashier, there is staff around to answer any questions you may have so stop by and have yourself a delicious dessert at the end of a long beach-going day.
3. Beauregard Winery.
Only 5 miles down the road from Swanton Berry Farm, this family-owned winery has a warm and welcoming staff and an absolutely amazing Syrah. Word has it the winery is also home of the infamous “Pet Rock” where the creator, who was a bartender at the time, came up with the idea while serving a guest. There are some deals for $10 where you get a pairing of 5 wines for 2 people.
4. I Love Sushi.
Who doesn’t? Located in downtown Santa Cruz is the best little sushi restaurant you could ask for. The service is quick, the food is delicious, and you get FREE appetizers. They usually serve you 3 or 4 as soon as you are seated, 1 mid meal, and free sake with a purchase of a beer. While the restaurant seating is spacious, clean, and kid-friendly, there is also a large separate karaoke room (for those brave enough to get on the microphone) and party rooms for large groups. For those over 21 and looking to have a little fun, the owner will give you free meal if you beat him at a sake bomb challenge.
5. Greyhound Rock
Just 7 miles north of Shark Fin Cove is Greyhound Rock, is another cove little known to the public. It’s named for the large rock which protrudes into the cove, and offers an amazing aerial-like view when tides are low. Greyhound Rock also offers surf fishing, is dog friendly, and has paved parking and public restrooms on top of the bluffs where there are some great vantage points for whale watching. The secluded stretch of beachfront is down a short but steep trail. The waves can thrash pretty violently here so if you like to brave the deep waves, this probably isn’t the place but there are some amazing tide pools at sea level filled with sea anemones, crabs, and beautiful blue jellyfish. If you’re lucky you may even get to see a baby elephant seal or two. Be sure to bring a jacket, the wind can get rather gusty at times.
6. Cole’s BBQ.
Found in southern Santa Cruz, you’ll recognize this restaurant by the aroma of smoking meat on a grill. Cole’s BBQ is a great place to get an amazing tri-tip sandwich. The sandwiches are delicious and huge, so bring a friend, and don’t forget to try their awesome coleslaw and seasoned fries. While the indoor seating selection is limited, the casual outdoor dining experience with large umbrella picnic tables is an absolute win on the sunny California coast. It may get a little busy here from time to time but it is definitely worth the wait.