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Eat, Surf and Be Merry in Santa Cruz

If you're in Santa Cruz this weekend for the half marathon you, like me, might be wondering just how to spend your downtime. This hippie seaside enclave is far from boring, but can be overwhelming for visitors, as its many offerings aren't well-publicized. Nevertheless, I've scoped out the scene for you in advance; here's where you'll find me in the coming days.

EAT: A Saturday Santa Cruz brunch is best enjoyed at popular downtown spot Walnut Avenue Cafe (106 Walnut Ave., 831-457-2307), where classic dishes are dressed up and artfully presented (e.g. eggs Benedict may be served with shrimp and tomato or blackened ahi tuna). Racers should also consider dropping by Hoffman's Bakery (1102 Pacific Ave., 831-420-0135) post-run for gourmet breads, pastries and the like. Surprisingly, two of Santa Cruz's finest dinner options are both Italian (one might think it would be seafood, given the locale): La Posta (538 Seabright Ave., 831-457-2782) and Ristorante Avanti (1711 Mission St., 831-427-0135). For smaller bites and a lounge-y type atmosphere, hit Soif Wine Bar (831-423-2020).

SURF: For those afraid of the Pacific's shark-infested waters, there's no better place for first-timers to tackle the swell than Santa Cruz's protected coves and inlets, where no shark has gone before (or dares to venture, for that matter). Get hooked up with rental gear and maybe even a lesson or two at the city's most revered surf shop, Cowell's (30 Front St., 831-427-2355), which takes surfers out both indidivually and in groups (remember: there's safety in numbers!).

STAY: Last summer, California-based grassroots hospitality group, Joie de Vivre, rolled out Santa Cruz's first luxury beachside stay, the Dream Inn (175 West Cliff Dr., 866-774-7735). Amenities include a pool, jacuzzi and children's wading pool; all rooms have large flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and oceanviews. For a different ambiance entirely, check out Chaminade Resort, perched high atop a hill, with its bold color palette and chateau-like feel. Just don't forget to book your treatment in its new-and-improved spa.

PLAY: Celebrating 100 years, Santa Cruz's boardwalk is a can't-miss--if a bit kitschy--day of fun. Ride the rickety rollercoaster, test your video game panache and/or golf putt at the monster-sized arcade and mini-golf funland Neptune's Kingdom, or grab a bite to eat and wander down to the end of the pier and laze about with the sunbathing sea lions.