Your Weekend Drive to Santa Cruz: Beach, Boardwalk and Beers by the Pool


We here at are becoming addicted to this summer escape idea. Last weekend I gave Santa Cruz a whorl and decided it is the perfect weekend destination right now. Just as summer begins to wind down, and your East Coast friends are talking about the Shore and Cape Cod, you can get your very own beach-fix a mere 79 miles south of SF.

Santa Cruz is actually like a combo of kick-back California beach town—surfers, aging hippies, a kind of geographically-imparted laziness—and East Coast “shore”—taffy, rollercoasters, arcades. We stayed at the Dream Inn, a 165-room hotel right on the beach (and next door to the boardwalk) that SF-based Joie de Vivre hospitality just refurbished in retro-mod shades of tangerine, avocado and sunshine-yellow. It’s got a basic beach-motel vibe but all the necessary new touches: iPod docs, flatscreen, rain-showerheads, balconies overlooking the water. Its new restaurant, Aquarius, focuses on sustainable seafood. Start with a shimmery prawn-avocado-tomato napolean and charred-sweet hearts of romaine before moving on to seared Pacific cod or white bass. The chef’s touch is light but skilled and the sinful desserts are followed by homespun tangerine cotton candy, which arrives in a little bucket with your bill.

It’s these things like this that cheer up a foggy and overworked soul. The pool also helps. Heated just enough to take the sting out of your first cannonball (OK, you’re not supposed to cannonball; it sets a bad example for the kids), it too overlooks the crashing waves. Sun, read, nap, swim and order piña coladas or Tecates while keeping an eye on dozens of wet-suited surfers and nonstop beach volleyball duels.

When you’ve had enough of that, the mid-century Santa Cruz Boardwalk is a short walk away, teeming with old-school rides, pubescent sourpusses and elementary-schoolers shrieking with delight. Each Friday night there are free concerts on the beach. Imagine stumbling off the Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster straight past the soft ice-cream cones to the Greg Kihn Band.

I’m telling you: They just don’t write ’em like that anymore.

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