An April 2002 trip
to Santa Cruz by Armed With Passport
Quote: Santa Cruz is one of the first places that you will encounter on the on the Monterey Bay when heading towards the Monterey Peninsula from San Francisco. It has natural beauty, a fun boardwalk with an amusement park, and everything that a reasonable-sized city has to offer.
I had never heard of it before, but the Santa Cruz boardwalk is quite a substantial commercial enterprise. Following the ocean road from Natural Bridges, you will pass a pretty lighthouse and then see the top of the boardwalk's rollercoaster, built in 1924. If you can find a place to park, this is a great place to spend the day, especially if you have kids, or in our case, if you are a kid at heart. The beach under the boardwalk is very nice as well.
If you are interested in watching great surfers, head to Steamer Lane near the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, which is actually in the lighthouse that I mentioned before.
Parking is a little tricky; there are metered spots, but they are sometimes hard to find on weekends. Be prepared to hike a little to get to the boardwalk. If you are staying all day, it might be smart to take up one of the locals offers to park your car in their lawn all day.
Boardwalk rides require separate tickets for each time you get on. If you are there all day and if you have children whose energy never seems to flag, it may be worth it to pay for the .95 "unlimited rides" day ticket. Admission to walk around the boardwalk is free.
More information can be found at www.santacruzca.org.
Once in Santa Cruz, park your car and walk around the boardwalk on foot. If you want to go into town, it is best to use a car.
We arrived at a parking lot on a bluff overlooking the ocean. In front of us was a large rock in a little inlet. To its right was a sandy beach which was full of sun-bathers.
Upon closer inspection of the rocks in the ocean, I noticed two things. The first was that the largest rock was actually the natural bridge which the state beach is named after. There is a better view where you can see the entire hole in the rock from the beach below. The second thing was that some of the farther away rocks looked as though they were moving. This turned out to be some lazy seals taking a break some their sea frolicking to enjoy some sun. We took a photo of about twenty of them on one rock.
We entered the park, not paying the fee as the entry booth was temporarily unmanned. Out of butterfly season (Mid-October to end of February) there is little reason to go into the park facilities. We drove in to the information area, which was closed. There was only a bulletin board available to tell us that we were too late into spring to see the orange monarch butterflies. They had left to go to the Rocky Mountians were they spend the warmer months feeding on milkweed.
State Beach Vitals
65 acres located West of Santa Cruz
Follow signs from Route One as you get close to Santa Cruz heading from the north. The exit street is Swift Avenue and it will lead you to West Cliff Drive where the state beach is located.
There is a fee to bring your car into the main lot inside the park (not the lot where you can view the natural bridge from). If you want to see only the rock, you can park in the lot outside the park and then walk into the park and down a hill to the nearby beach to see the natural bridges properly.
In the winter there are docent-led butterfly and tidepool tours. Strict measures are enforced in the butterfly areas, such as no loud talking, no touching butterflies, and, of course, no smoking (this is California).
There is a "Welcome Back Monarchs Day" celebration in October and a "Migration Day" in February.
Inside the park are picnic and barbeque areas.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 3, 2002
Natural Bridge State Beach
West Side of Santa Cruz on West Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz, California
The original lighthouse was built with state funding back in 1868. It was made of wood and has a tower containing a white light to warn boats of the dangerous rocks below. The light was changed to red subsequently to distinguish the lighthouse beacon from the redidential lights nearby. During World War II, the lighthouse tower was used as a lookout base. In 1948, the United States Coast Guard took down the original lighthouse.
The most interesting thing about the lighthouse is actually not its history, but the Santa Cruz Surfers' Museum lodged inside. The beach directly below on the grounds of Lighthouse Field State Beach is home to one of the most fabled surfing spots in the contiguous forty-eight, "Steamer Lane". It was only fitting that this quirky town of surfers and unconventional Californians start a surfers museum near this spot.
Inside you will find gnarly artifacts from over 100 years of surfing, including an old longboard made from a redwood plank and old photos and videos of our surfing forefathers (and mothers).
You can make your way down through Lighthouse Field State Beach after your visit and watch the surfers ride in on some of California's best waves.
The museum is open from noon to four p.m. Thrusday through Monday. Admission is free.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 4, 2002
Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse
West Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz, California
California Route One, or The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), started as a six-lane super highway and then gradually turned into two-lanes as it went through some pretty woods (we rolled down the windows to catch the pine scent) and then spilled out toward the ocean.
We encountered some beautiful ocean vistas and steep sea cliffs as we drove down PCH at a pretty good clip (about sixty miles per hour). Things slowed down at a series of stoplights at Half Moon Bay along the San Mateo coast. We went by some strawberry and artichoke roadside farmer's stands, but didn't stop. We were also tempted by the Half Moon Brewery, but we kept on.
We continued down through Pescadero with steep and jagged coast on our right and horse farms and ranches on our left. A couple of hours later we came to the city of Santa Cruz.
I got off of ROute One a bit early when I saw a sign that read "Natural Bridges State Beach". This to me sounded like a great photo waiting to happen and since it was a clear day and the park was apparently around the corner. I followed the brown signs. In about five minutes, I had the car in a large parking lot overlooking a beach and the crashing sea.
It took me a while to find the natural bridge because we were standing at an angle where you couldn't see completely through the hole. On closer inspection, I could see the waves crashing through the middle of a great rock quite a ways out into the ocean. To the right of the rock was a sandy beach where people were enjoying the sun.
I asked the guy at the park collection fee booth for some information and he hurriedly threw some pamphlets at me and said he really needed to go to the bathroom. I took this as a cue that we could get in the rest of the park for free while he left his post unguarded. We got in the rental car Escort and whizzed by the gate.
There wasn't much to the park. We parked next to the closed "Information and Welcome Center" to learn that the famous monarch butterflies only stayed in Central California from OCtober to March at the latest. That meant that we wouldn't be able to see them in Pacific Grove, a.k.a. "Butterfly City", either.
We exited the park, going the other way past the ranger gate. The guy still wasn't back from the bathroom. He must have been sick. We headed along the shoreline past a lighthouse where we parked and took a photo. In the distance I could see the Santa Cruz Fisherman's Wharf and Boardwalk. You could see the outline of the rollercoaster from far away.
We went along a nice residential drive with cool houses until we were in Santa Cruz proper. I reversed and circled, finally settling on a parking spot three blocks away from the Boardwalk. Toni dumped a bunch of quarters in the meter and we walked the distance to the the Boardwalk.
We entered through a huge building labelled "Casino" that contained all kinds of arcade games and an eighteen hole putt-putt course. We uncustomarily skipped the mini-golf (my wife and I have an ongoing battle of putt-putt tournaments) and headed out onto the crowded Boardwalk.
The Boardwalk had all sorts of amusement rides: a chairlift that sails you over the Boardwalk, three rollercoasters, a haunted house, and a scrambler thing that flipped you upside down, just to name a few.
There were also many games of chance, such as the baseball/milkbottle throw, squirt-gun in the clown's mouth to pop the balloon, the rubber balls to make your thoroughbred horse run game, and the basketball shot. Toni, of course, spied the skee-ball machines and immediately traded a five dollar bill for a kajillion tokens. I have to admit that she is really good (she was varsity at college). Unfortunately, the machines that we were using were from the time of the Truman Administration and didn't always work in our favor. In the end we had fifty-three tickets, which was still short of the sixty needed to get some really ugly beads. We donated our tickets to the next little kid.
We had planned to go to the Fisherman's Wharf for food, but we instead decided to eat from one of the Boardwalk vendors. We got a sausage and peppers sandwich, a foot long cheese bread stick, a corn cob on a stick, and a diet Coke (watching my weight) from one vendor and ate then in the blazing sun on picnic benches next to the basketball shot. After that we got some cut green apples with gooey caramel sauce from a different place and ate that at a table near the beach itself.
We walked a bit on the beach and then headed back to the car. It took me about ten minutes of heading into an unknown direction before I linked up again with Route One south.
Armed With Passport
Miromar Lakes, Florida