Tag Archives: Santa Cruz

Walnut Avenue Cafe, Santa Cruz

The Walnut Avenue Cafe in Santa Cruz, California

The Walnut Avenue Cafe in Santa Cruz, California

The Walnut Avenue Cafe is in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz. On Sundays it opens at 8 am and we were outside with half a dozen other hungry customers just before 8 waiting for it to open. Outside there are a few tables with bright red and white plastic tablecloths under red umbrellas. The doors opened just after 8 and we all trooped inside. Normally you have to wait to be seated but we could all sit where we wanted to. We chose a booth and almost immediately a menu was brought to us.

Tom was served his coffee almost before we opened our menus. He took a sip and immedieately proclaimed that it was good. When I opened the menu, the first thing that lept out at me was the fact that not only did they offer oatmeal but it was homemade steel-cut oatmeal – definitely my sort of place. It came with bananas, walnuts and raisins for $5.95. Tom couldn’t decide between French toast or a Benedict. In the end he plumped for the Blackened Ahi Benedict for $10.95. We gave our order to the server, Michelle, who was excellent because she was friendly, helpful and efficient.

The Walnut Avenue Cafe is well laid out with both booths and tables. The interior is bright and cheerful which is helped by the original paintings hanging on the walls. They were all very colorful. The one right next to my shoulder was done by Cale Broz and depicted a table, chairs, vase and pears; the main colors being red, orange  and yellow. All the paintings nearby were painted by different people.

We didn’t have long to wait for our food and were impressed with the presentation. Really enjoyed my oatmeal. The only criticism I would make is that it could have been a bit hotter. Tom’s Blakened Ahi Benedict was really good. When I asked him at the end what he thought he just smacked and lips and smiled. I might just add that he had three cups of coffee because it was so good.

The final test is always the restroom. There were two unisex restrooms with a small lobby outside. The actual restroom was perfectly adequate but the one I used didn’t have anything of particular interest to mention. There was, though, a large colorful poster in the lobby of two Mexican ladies washing their hair in a bucket of water in front of huge sunflowers. It was called Des Mujeres and the artist was Simon Silva.

Our final verdict – The Walnut Avenue Cafe is another gem in Santa Cruz and it will be added to our places to visit again there, along with Cafe Brasil and Zachary’s. We can certainly recommend it.

The Walnut Avenue Cafe
106 Walnut Avenue
Santa Cruz, Ca 95060

Zachary’s, Santa Cruz

Zachary's Restaurant, Santa Cruz

Zachary's Restaurant, Santa Cruz

Our visit to Zachary’s didn’t start too well due to GPS problems but all of that was soon forgotten when we eventually reached our destination. Zachary’s is on Pacific Avenue in the downtown area of Santa Cruz. From the outside it doesn’t look all that imposing but don’t be fooled by that.

Inside it is large and funky. Even at 7.30 in the morning it was pretty full. You are directed to go to the back and add your name to the waiting list. There is a little waiting area with an interesting collection of framed cartoons to keep people amused while they wait but we were there only for a few moments before we being shown to our seats. My first impression was that there was a lot of wood around: floor, panels and furniture, and it looked as though it had been around for a long, long time. For instance, there were grooves in the floorboards which had been made by my chair over the years. There were no booths but the seats along the walls were padded benches.

Perusing the menu, I spotted no oatmeal although they do an oatmeal and molasses bread which sounds interesting. In fact they bake their own bread on the premises so there was an good selection. Tom ordered the spicy Italian Scramble ($10.50) and I went for the fruit bowl ($4.75) with a plain yogurt on the side ($1.75). Tom drank coffee ($1.95) but I splurged out and had the hot chocolate ($1.85).

Time to look around at the interior decor. The main focus are the colorful photographs on the walls of the famous Santa Cruz boardwalk. There were a few other prints including Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ or ‘the Dutch Mona Lisa’. Green potted plants were everywhere.

The food was amazing. My bowl of fruit contained bananas, strawberries, three types of melon, oranges, pineapple, mango and grapes. Oh, and don’t forget the slices of kiwi fruit. Even the bowl of yogurt had a slice of kiwi on top. Tom’s plate was very colorful. The scramble contained Italian sausage, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and onions. His home fries with onions were scrumptious. The oatmeal molasses bread was moist and chewy. Even the coffee was good. My hot chocolate came in a jug along with a bowl of whipped cream and it was also great. The food itself got two thumbs up from both of us.

There were two unisex restrooms right at the back of the cafe which, in themselves, were very basic with very little room inside. What amused me greatly was the hand written notice on the door which read – ‘Door needs to be closed with force, then locked. (Don’t be caught with your pants down.)’

Our verdict on Zachary’s – a warm, lively, funky cafe with plenty of character. The food, wait staff and ambience were first class. Get there early or be prepared to wait. Definitely one of the best places we have been to and we will certainly be back.

Must just mention the note on the shop window of Moon Zoom which is almost next to Zachary’s which read ‘ Having an ugly Christmas sweater party or are you just ‘hip’ or ironic? Gives you a flavor of the Santa Cruz culture.

Zachary’s Restaurant
819 Pacific Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Año Nuevo

Año Nuevo visitor center looking towards the ocean

Looking out towards Año Nuevo from the visitor center

Año Nuevo is our main destination today. This is the best time of the year to see the elephant seals because both the females and the males are in residence. The females came ashore in December to give birth to their pups and the males arrived a bit later to start organizing their harems. Between December 15 and March 1 the only way to view the seals is to go on a guided tour which can be pre-booked online. Tom has visited during this time but I haven’t. We haven’t pre-booked but when we were last at Año Nuevo in November we were told that on most days it is OK to turn up on spec, especially for the early tours, because there are often spaces available due to no-shows. I did check the day before to see if we could book but there were no spaces available. Fingers crossed we can get on a tour!

This is the dawn of a new age because I’m using my new iPad for the first time on our travels. Hopefully it will save a lot of time. Before I used to take a notebook and write with a pen and then enter it into WordPress when I got back home. With the iPad and an app called Blogpress I can just sync it up when I get home and editing will be much quicker.

We left home at 6:30 when it was still dark and immediately I became aware of a couple more advantages of using the iPad. For one thing I can write in the dark because the screen is backlit. The second advantage is that every word is readable. A lot of times I would have trouble deciphering my notes because handwriting in a car suffers with every bump, twist and turn.

A thicket on our first little hike.  The morning light and dew made it sparkle.

A thicket on our first little hike. The morning light and dew made it sparkle.

We could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. As we crested the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains we could see no fog at the coast. Ahead we could clearly see the lights of Monterey clear across Monterey Bay – a rare phenomenon for us.

In Santa Cruz we stopped on Mission for coffee. It was called On a Mission Coffee and is little more than a kiosk but they also have a small range of breakfast items. We already had breakfast before we left home so we just bought liquid refreshment this time. Tom had coffee and I chose hot chocolate. We have bought coffee here before but then there was a huge range of magazines for sale at the side. I asked what happened to the magazines and the young girl told us they stopped because it wasn’t profitable.

We made another stop at Davenport Landing. Here there is a small secluded sandy beach. A couple of early morning surfers were already braving the elements and from where we stood they sounded as though they were having fun. A short walk on the beach, a couple of photos and we were on our way again.

There is nothing to beat an early morning drive along this stretch of road at this time of the morning on a lovely day like today. So many photo ops but unfortunately no time to stop again today.

Año Nuevo Sate Park opens at 8 am and we arrived a couple of minutes before. At the kiosk we paid the $10 entrance fee to the park and were given a standby number. We were the first standbys today so have a good chance to actually get on a tour. All guided walks start at the Visitors Center so from the car park that is where we headed. Along the way we paused to watch a flock of quail scurrying around. The males look particularly plump and handsome at this time of the year.

At the Visitors Center we gave our names and were told we would be called if there were still spaces five minutes before the published time of the start. If there were a lot of standbys and spare docents, they would lay on an extra tour.

We had a look around the Marine Education Center. Lots of interesting displays explaining not only the life cycle of events on the beach but also about the dunes and surrounding environment including the other wildlife which abounds here. While we were waiting a docent told us that we would definitely be on the 9:30 tour, which gave us enough time to have a look around outside.

Just outside the Visitors Center is the start of the New Year Creek Trail which we have never been on. This would is a good opportunity so off we set. The trail turned to the left and towards Cove Beach and Highway 1. At the bottom of a steep flight of wooden steps there was a parting of the ways and I kept straight on heading for Highway 1. I was curious to see where it came out. Pretty soon I was walking over an old concrete bridge which was probably the old Highway 1. After about a quarter of a mile of uphill climbing, I reached the main road. From the highway it is hard to spot the entrance to the trail. I retraced my steps to the concrete bridge and could see Tom down on the beach. When I joined him he told me there were a couple of seals on the beach. One was off to the right on the other side of New Year Creek and the other was our side and just around the edge of the cliff. This was a lone bull. The scarring on his back was very pronounced. At first I thought it was dead but by checking with my binoculars I could see that he was breathing so merely sleeping.

Our first encounter with a young male elephant seal

Striking a pose. Our first encounter with a young male elephant seal.

By 9:15 we were back at the Visitors Center in order to be ready to set off at 9:30. The earlier groups which set out comprised mostly of teenage students. Our tour though was mostly couples and small groups. At the staging post a park ranger laid down a few rules – no food, not even gum (bottled water is allowed); always stay behind the docent and never get closer than 25 feet from any of the seals. We were introduced to our docent Cheryl Wong. Along the way she dispensed lots of information spiced with humor.

Before we reached the sand dunes, Cheryl stopped and gave us a potted history of Año Nuevo, who discovered it (Sebastián Vizcaíno), the rise, fall and subsequent rise again of the elephant seal population over the years and some background of the Ohlone Indians who called this place home before the Europeans arrived and began to ‘civilize’ them. At a later stop Cheryl went into the life cycle of the seals, what they feed on and how they are able to hold their breath for such a long time under water. She circulated a small piece of hide covered in coarse fur and a whisker. The hide felt a bit rough but the whisker was amazing. I was astounded at the thickness of it.

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo. You actually get pretty close to these guys.

Our first close encounter with an elephant seal happened shortly afterward. A young bull had hauled himself out of the water and was stretched out on the path in front of us. Cheryl said he was about four years old and probably too young to breed yet. Even though we were the required 25 feet away he was aware of our presence and raised his head to look at us. Bulls this age can travel very fast and cover 25 feet in 3 seconds so we were very careful not to disturb him too much. When he opened his mouth to yawn we could see he only had a few back molars but this is quite common. Males start breeding when they are 5 years old and live until they are about 12 years old. Females on the other hand live for about 18 years.

At this point we deviated from the normal path and headed towards the beach over the dunes. We passed several other solitary seals who were basking some way from the shore. We were met by a park ranger – Officer Marty – who called herself a traffic cop. She told the docent which paths to take to avoid disturbing seals. There was another bull but much older than the first one we saw, probably nearly 12. All the while we watched him he didn’t appear to move at all and was certainly not aware of our presence.

We walked to the top of a bluff with a view down to the beach. Here we saw lots of seals – males females and pups. Most were stretched out with

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo

They called this guy, 'Mr. Bubbles'.

just the occasional movement of their fins to scoop sand over their backs. This is to protect them from the sun. The pups stayed close to their mothers and we saw several suckling. Only about 25% will survive their first few months. Some become separated from their mothers, some are attacked by coyotes and some are crushed by the huge males. Once they are weaned and take off into the ocean to fend for themselves they are at the mercy of Great White Sharks and Killer Whales which patrol just offshore waiting to snatch them. Only 25% of the pups born this year will survive to return to this beach.

We did not see any of the males  fighting. Cheryl said they were conserving their energy until the females came into season, which happens about a month after the pups have been born. From our vantage place we had a good view of Año Nuevo Island where we could see another colony of seals resting. Many years ago, when the light house was built on the island, it was possible to walk out to the island at low tide.  Now, due to erosion, that is not possible and the public has no access to the island at all.

We could not stay too long at this spot because another group was due to arrive very soon. Our next stop was to observe a lone bull in a small pond half submerged in the water.  Earlier Officer Marty referred to him as Mr Bubbles and we soon saw why. Elephant seals can hold their breath for a long time and when this male raised to head to take a breath and then breathed out he produced a lot of bubbles. He did this several times and it was amusing to watch. Cheryl said they like to practice holding their breath. When they are out at sea they dive very deep and have to hold their breath for about twenty minutes.

Male and female elephant seals at Año Nuevo.

Bull elephant seal courting a female.

Our guided tour was nearly done. Just one more climb to another overlook to see another section of the beach and more seals. This time we saw an abandoned pup that had died lying on the sand. It was distressing but that’s nature. The park rangers only intervene when the problem is man made, for instance if they get caught up in fishing lines. Apart from that they are left very much undisturbed. From start to finish the tours last for two and a half hours. One hour of that is taken up with walking from the Visitors Center to the staging area and back again. For $7 a head it is real good value and today we certainly got our money’s worth due to the fantastic weather. It was a wonderful experience to see the seals at this time of the year.

Our day was not quite over though. We rounded off the day by driving into Pescadero for lunch at Duarte’s where I enjoyed a delicious bowl of artichoke soup and Tom had a cheeseburger with fries and onion rings. Then across the road to Arcangeli Grocery where we bought a loaf of their freshly baked (and still warm) artichoke garlic herb bread. Just one more stop at Harley Farms to buy some of their lavender honey goat cheese before heading home. We took the scenic route along Stage Road to San Gregorio where we turned right onto Highway 84 and headed towards Highway 280. The end of another perfect day.

Samba Rock Acai Cafe, Santa Cruz

Now for a completely different experience. The Samba Rock Acai Cafe on Water Street looks unimpressive from outside, apart from the bright green and yellow mural on the wall.

At first glance the inside appears extremely basic. The floor is unpainted concrete and the walls and ceiling are painted bright red and are covered in large, unpainted plywood in a mutlitude of shapes and sizes. Just inside is a large area to park your bicycle. Along one wall there was an uncushioned wooden bench. The tables were attached to the floor on a concrete block. Do you get the picture? But there is a great sense of happy-go-lucky, take us as you find us ambience about the place and before long we could see the beauty of our surroundings.

We were the very first customers and were warmly welcomed. The first question we were asked was whether we had ever had acai before. Of course neither of us had and I had never heard the word before and had no idea what it was.  It was explained to us that acai is a berry which looks like a large blueberry but with a big pit inside and is found only in South America, especially in the swamps and floodplains along the Amazon. At Samba Rock Acai Cafe they buy frozen acai pulp as the base for their acai bowls.

Up on the wall was a list of the various combinations of acai bowls they serve, along with smoothies and yerba mate (what ever that is). Tom chose the Pele (after the Brazilian soccer player) in a regular size bowl for $8.22 whilst I went for the Mutantes (crazy Brazilian band from the 60’s and 70’s) regular bowl for $7.76. The coffee came in a very large mug.

We sat at a table and while I waited I checked the place out. Up above Tom’s head was the name of the cafe and underneath the phonetic pronounciation of acai (ah-sigh-ee). Several green potted plants were suspended from the ceiling and two vases of flowers and a potted orchid were on the counter.  There were four photos on the walls and the only other adornment were a variety of posters advertising events and services which summed up the whole essence of Santa Cruz.

Our food was served in large bowls and it did look very attractive. On the bottom was the acai pulp, then came a layer of granola and on top of that the fruit we had requested. Pele was blueberries, bananas and strawberries and the Mutantes had pineapple, banana and coconut flakes. It was wonderful.  The acai itself was very cold and had an interesting taste. The combination worked very well together.

By the time we had finished there were quite a few customers and they were very cheerful and friendly. One guy stopped and asked what we thought of acai and we chatted for several minutes. He is a real fan of acai. Apart from the portion he had eaten, he was taking another bowl with him and would eat it as he rode his bike hands free.

When I went to the restroom it was locked and waited outside for a few minutes. Then I thought that maybe one had to ask for a key to use the restroom and this turned out to be the case. The key is fixed to a hula hoop on the wall by the counter. Inside the restroom the walls were bare but as one wall was green, one blue, one yellow and the other neutral it didn’t seem to water. The facilities were OK and the water was hot.

Tom and I will certainly come back here again and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. We want to try all the different combinations of acai bowls.

Of course when I got home I checked online to get more information about acai. There is no doubt that it has a lot of good qualities but there are some wild claims out there that amongst other things, this is a superfood which can reverse diabeties and help you lose weight. I’ll wait for the scientific reports until I decide one way or the other. I also found out that yerba mate is a species of holly found in South America. The dry leaves and twigs are steeped in hot water and it tastes a bit like green tea.

Samba Rock Acai Cafe
291 Water St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Waddell Beach, Franklin Point and Pigeon Point

Today the weather forecast said it was going to be a nice day so we set off for the coast. Tom had rented an expensive Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8

Waddell Beach and lots of birds

Waddell Beach and lots of birds

Zoom Lens for three days and after spending time yesterday getting used to it in the backyard, he was itching to get out and use it.

We were disappointed to see fog as we backed out of the garage but by the time we joined Highway 17 and headed towards the Santa Cruz mountains, it miraculously cleared and with the sun beginning to rise, it looked like it is going to more than a nice day.

Along Highway 17, evidence of spring could be seen with lots of yellow and white blossoms brightening the roadside. After the recent rains we have had, it was nice to see the Lexington Reservoir with more water in it than we have seen for some time. The water had been so low recently that a bridge, along with a few house foundations from the towns of Lexington and Alma which were submerged when the reservoir was created, had been exposed. Let’s hope we will have lots of water for this summer.

We had planned to stop for breakfast at the Summit Roadhouse on Highway 17. When I checked online the opening time was supposed to be 6 am but when we pulled up outside at gone 7, the big ‘Closed’ sign was in the window. Thwarted again. As Tom was keen to start shooting, he didn’t want to travel around Santa Cruz looking for a breakfast place which was open, so we stopped at Peet’s in Scots Valley for coffee, hot chocolate and a muffin.

Soon we were back on the road again and heading north on Highway 1. Fog could be seen just offshore and we continually ran in and out of it.

Pelican riding the wind just over the wave tops

Pelican riding the wind just over the wave tops

We pulled into the small car park at Waddell Creek and Tom was off. Although the sun was shining where we were, the visibility was not great and the temperature was 45 degrees. I decided to sit in the car and write. The tide was in and the surf high but there were no surfers around. From my viewpoint onto Waddell Beach I could see lots of gulls and when they suddenly all took flight they momentarily blocked out the sun. Looking back towards the redwoods marching to the sea in Big Basin State Park, the fog hid the tops of the trees but rays of the sun were shining through. It was a beautiful sight.

When Tom got back in the car, the first words he spoke were ‘ beautiful lens’. He then went on to talk about a conversation he had with a guy who was parked next to us. This man had been to Mavericks the day before – the 2010 Mavericks Surf Contest was being held – and he commented that the waves out at the competition site did not look as high as the waves that broke onto the beach. Tom and I had considered going along to watch the competition but several things made us decide otherwise – there were bound to be thousands of people there and viewing spots are very limited plus Tom wanted to play with the lens. Just as well really because some of those waves which broke onto the beach were really big and submerged a lot of people. Nobody was killed fortunately but there were some injuries and lots of people soaking wet and very frightened.

Next stop Franklin Point. Once again, bright sun but visibility limited. The trail, which is just sand, was damp and the tips of the marsh grass which hung over the trail were wet and soaked my pants. Catkins and buds were beginning to burst on the small trees along the way.

Along the way I met a man with his small daughter. They were staying at nearby Costanoa. He said there was not much beach to see but he and

Just some reeds along the path to Franklin Point

Just some reeds along the path to Franklin Point

his daughter had bushwhacked their way along the top of the dunes and spotted a lone elephant seal in a small inlet a little way to the north.

Every time we visit Franklin Point there are small differences but today those differences were huge. As we crested the dunes at the edge of the beach, the sandy trail, which normally leads us straight onto the beach, abruptly ended. The high tides had wiped the path out. The waves were big and when they broke they lapped at the edge of the path 20 feet below us. No access to the beach today.

We avoided going too close to the edge. Sand is very volatile and can easily fall away under your feet. We didn’t fancy landing up in the water. We could see our favorite seat out on the point. To get to it we normally walk across the beach and climb up to it. Instead we decided to head north to see if we could spot the elephant seal but there was no proper trail. A beaten path of sorts could be followed for a short way but it was extremely difficult and highly dangerous.For Tom it was impossible. Not only was he carrying his tripod but the extra lens on his camera was very heavy. When I saw the footsteps in the sand right on the edge, discretion overcame valor and we gave up. Besides all this tramping off the trail is not good for the fragile environment.

We made our way back to the car. On the way Tom spotted a hawk perched on a tree stump some way away. With my binocular I could see it easily but could not identify it. It looked the same as the one we saw at Sacramento NWR just before Christmas.

On to Pigeon Point lighthouse a few miles down the road. The small car park was full so we parked on the road. Walking towards the lighthouse, I heard some people talking about Mavericks. They were staying at the hostel next to the lighthouse and had been on the beach yesterday. One man described the waves that hit the beach as a tsunami.

One last pelican off Pigeon Point Lighthouse

One last pelican off Pigeon Point Lighthouse

On the deck at the back of the lighthouse, the waves were up close and personal. Just offshore, huge waves were breaking over the rocks and the spray was spectacular. In fact, I could feel the spray and could taste salt when I licked my lips.

Tom was having fun with the rented lens. He’s so enamored of it, I’m worried he will want to buy one and I know it costs a few thousand dollars.

In between bouts of writing, I admired the view. Tom was still out on the lower deck and chatting away to the other visitors. One couple had a tripod and an odd looking camera, which they had trained on the lighthouse. When Tom returned to change his lens, I asked about the camera and he said it was a very old pinhole camera which is used to take long exposures.

For over an hour I sat on that bench, mostly watching over our equipment but it was a contented time;  the crashing waves, enormous swells, fountains of spray, the frothing, seething, churning waters and the thundering surf kept me spellbound and the sun shone down. Hey ho, time to head home.

Zachary’s, Santa Cruz

Zachary’s is on Pacific Avenue, which is the main shopping street in Santa Cruz. The town itself is a magnet for the footloose and fancy free and we do not often venture onto this street, which is a shame because there are some good restaurants here.

I’m always looking out for breakfast places and Zachery’s had good reviews. At 7.30 am parking was readily available outside. Zachary’s is housed in an old brick building and the interior is cavernous and funky with old wooden floorboards. At the door was a noticeboard showing the specials of the day and asking people to leave their name at the back of the restaurant and wait to be seated. It was relatively empty so a very nice server told us to sit where we wanted and suggested a window seat on the far side. Perfect choice.

The restaurant is divided into several sections and against the walls are built in high backed wooden bench seats. From our table we could look out onto the street, craning our necks slightly to look over the top of a green curtain. Our table was a bit wobbly though. I couldn’t count the number of tables as there were too many!

I didn’t see oatmeal on the menu but there was something called Hot Multi Grain Cereal. I asked the server what that was and told it was oatmeal. I ordered it along with raisins and nuts for $4.25. Tom ordered the Pancake Breakfast with Sausages for $8.25. The coffee was $1.75.

The walls were not covered with posters and photographs but there were a few prints scattered around. In our section there were four small flower prints. I noticed that there were some photographs on the other side and elsewhere a large painting. In our section, which has another entrance, is a noticeboard covered in advertisements and a bookshelf containing free newspapers.

The food arrived very quickly. My oatmeal came on a large oval ceramic plate in a small, deep ceramic bowl. The milk came in a small white ceramic jug and the raisins, brown sugar and mixed nuts – consisting of slivered almonds and walnut bits – came in small stainless steel containers. When they were emptied, they stacked neatly into each other. On the side of the plate was a slice of orange and a sprig of parsley. Tom’s pancakes were made out of sourdough so that made his day. I enjoyed my oatmeal, neither too runny or too solid. Tom’s verdict was not bad, he’s had a lot worse and some better.

My trip to the restroom was disappointing as it was very basic. Once again the only decoration was the words engraved onto the mirror with former users who had nothing better to do with their time. There were three restrooms all together, all unisex, and one was a disabled restroom.

Would we go back again? It’s likely but we want to try out all the many others places in Santa Cruz first. So far, the best one here has been Cafe Brasil.

Zachary’s Restaurant
819 Pacific Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens

Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens

Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens

I read an article recently (can’t remember which magazine it was in) about the botanical gardens at Santa Cruz.  I checked their website and looked at the map to see where they were.  I didn’t see the actual address but they were on Empire Grade and from its position on the map  it looked like, traveling from Santa Cruz, they were on the left side of the road.  As the gardens were part of the University of California Santa Cruz campus I expected that there would be signs from the university pointing us in the right direction.

We did see signs for the Arboretum and Norrie’s Gift Shop but it was on the right hand side, so we continued along scenic Empire Grade for several miles.  Eventually we decided to turn around and head back to the arboretum and ask there where the botanical gardens were.  Well, of course, they are one and the same thing.  If only I had printed a map from the internet I would have known that.  What threw me was the fact that I was expecting it to be on the left hand side.

We parked just inside and deposited our $10 in the post at the entrance.  There is no entrance fee as such and donations are much appreciated.  Near the post was a box with maps inside so I helped myself to one.

A short walk uphill took us to the gift shop where I wanted to pick up a leaflet on the Hummingbird Trail but it didn’t open until 10.  It was almost 10 so I took a stroll around the Aroma Garden nearby.  Tom also started in the same garden but he soon disappeared with his camera, on a mission of his own.  There was one plant which overpowered everything with its perfume but it took me a while to discover exactly where and what it was.  At first I thought it came from some white flowers growing over a metal archway.   It turned out to emanate from yellow flowers on a small tree.  Unfortunately I didn’t see a label near the tree which told me what species it was.

At 10.15 the gift shop still had not opened but I saw somebody inside.  He opened the door and apologized but the volunteer had not arrived yet.  I asked if there was a guide to the Hummingbird Trail.  He looked but could not find anything and then went ‘up the hill’ to see if he could find one.  While I waited I wandered around outside looking at the plants for sale.  Was nearly tempted to buy one but thought I would wait until we left, as I didn’t want to carry it around with me.  Ten minutes later the man came back but had no leaflet.  Once again profuse apologies.  He did tell me the best place to go to see hummingbirds though so off I trotted.

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Cafe Brasil, Santa Cruz

Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

We have wanted to try Cafe Brasil for some time but it has either not been open when we are passing (it opens at 8 a.m.) or there is a line out the door.  According to the reviews, it is worth a visit, so here we are.

The outside of the building is striking – painted bright green and yellow with banana trees planted outside.  There is a small car park at the back but the entrance is narrow and this roadway is also the exit.  We parked on the street round the corner.

Inside there is a counter where you can purchase drinks to go.  While we were waiting for our breakfast, there was a loud grinding noise.  We concluded it must be ice bring crushed at the drinks counter – at least we hoped it was.

The cafe itself is small with about 13 tables, mostly for 2 or 6 people.  The only seats at a counter are by the to go drinks counter.  There are no booths.  The tables are very close together.  At first we had nobody sitting at the next able but when it became occupied we heard every word of their conversation, so obviously they could hear what we were saying.

We were impressed with the menu, apart from the fact that they do not offer oatmeal.  Granola is there though.  The names of the dishes were different but each had a full description.  It was interesting just to read it all.   Tom ordered Orfeu Negro – black beans (veggie or chili) over baguette, topped with two soft poached eggs, Mozzarella cheese and Brazilian salsa.  Served with potatoes for $7.95.  As for me, I ordered a Veggie Fritada – three eggs scrambled over potatoes, mushrooms, green onions, onions, tomatoes and baked with Mozzarella cheese and topped with salsa for $8.25.

The decoration inside was bright and colorful. There were pictures on the wall with a definite feel of Brazil.  I particularly like the collage type art.  On the wall near us was a 2D sculpture of a vase containing tropical fruity.  Around it was a wooden picture frame – very unusual.  Also on display were Brazilian produce to buy like salsa, coffee, juices and so much more.

Before long our food arrived.  Both dishes were well presented and cooked to perfection.  Mine also came with a basket containing three slices of soft baguette with pats of butter.  Everything was really scummy.  Tom barely managed to finish his Orfeu Negro but he really enjoyed what he did eat.

The trip to the restroom was pleasant and I loved the artwork.  One was a cartoon picture of Rio de Janerio  signed by the artist Perry Foster.  The other was a bright print depicting Brazilian locals.

Would we come again – definitely.  We love the food, the service is great and the prices reasonable.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

It was a little foggy over the Santa Cruz mountains when we set out but it should clear by 8 a.m.  As we drove over the summit, the fog was thick.  It was remarkable how few cars had their headlights on.

First stop in Santa Cruz was the Boardwalk.  The streets around the Boardwalk are typical of most seaside resorts; small motels, cafes and gift shops.  The classier hotels are further out.  We parked at a meter opposite ‘The Hurricane Ride’.  By the way, parking is free before 10 a.m.  We’ll be gone long before then.

Last time we came here, we were able to walk through the Boardwalk to the beach.  Not any more.  Now there are locked gates manned by guards.

Dominating everything is the Casino building.  It is large and garishly painted but has a lot of history.  The original building was built at the beginning of the 20th century but it burnt down two years later.  In 1907 the new Casino was opened and two years ago it celebrated 100 years of being in business.  Although it is called the ‘Casino’, there is no casino.  Inside there is a large arcade called Neptune’s Kingdom and a conference center called The Coconut Grove.   The main feature in the arcade is the 18 hole miniature golf course with a pirate theme.  Originally a swimming pool, called The Plunge, occupied that site but it was closed in 1963.

We walk past the Casino to get to the beach.  Already there are small groups and families walking towards the beach with towels and coolers.  I guess you have to stake out your pitch early.  Later on this place will be heaving.

Rounding the corner of the Casino, we heard the sea lions, at rest under the pier, calling out.  The sound reverberated against the buildings on Beach Street.  Then we saw the beach with the pier stretching out into the bay.  It is not a large beach but it is sandy.  There are several volley ball pitches laid out which are a regular feature but today there were also some small soccer pitches.

I took a seat near the grassy area to the side of the Casino and start to write.  Tom wandered off to take photos.  I did spot him at one point down at the waters edge taking photos of the pier.

More and more family groups were arriving and most of the kids were wearing soccer gear.  It finally dawned on me that there must be some sports event taking place today down on the beach.

The fog had disappeared, though it is still a bit hazy.  There is a slight breeze but it is not that cold.  I see Tom at the end of the beach near the

Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf

Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf

pier but I turn the other way.  I wanted to find out what was going on at the other end of the beach.

The temporary soccer pitches were stretched all along the beach nearly to the end of the Boardwalk.  People were busy marking out the pitches with white tape and erecting small goalposts and weighting them down with sandbags.  In England we call this Five-A-Side football but here I discovered it is called Beach Soccer.  The event is the 2009 Pro Am Soccer Championship.

There was a large, small moving, brightly painted yellow tractor like vehicle clearing the beach of rubbish.  It’s turning circle was large and as I walked towards it, I had to make a huge detour to stay out of its way.  It was fascinating to watch though as it deftly scooped up both large and small objects from the sand.  When the tractor crossed the white tape, the conveyor pick up was lifted so it could be driven over the tape without damaging it.   Every so often the operator stopped to use a litter stick to pick up trash which had blown onto the white tape.  I could have stopped to watch for ages but it was time to move on.  There was now a steady stream of competitors and families arriving for the soccer competition and it was time for breakfast.

Walking back along Beach Street towards the car, I spotted a mural painted on the side of a building.   It depicted Beach Street in 1962, with  iconic cars, Anne’s Koffee Shop in the foreground and Casa Alto Hotel and the ‘Giant Dipper’ in the background.  The only thing that has not changed is the ‘Giant Dipper’ roller coaster, which still stands as a landmark and has done so since 1924.

Franklin Point, San Mateo Coast

Wetlands along Highway 1We are off to our favorite place on the San Mateo Coast – Franklin Point.  Let’s hope it is not fog bound this time.  According to the weather forecast, it looks as though Santa Cruz will be clear and bright but there is fog at Half Moon Bay.  Franklin Point is between the two, so we will just have to take a chance.

(Click on the image for a larger version)

The journey to Santa Cruz was more or less mundane until we were headed down the mountain on the other side of Scotts Valley on Highway 17.  Suddenly I saw a car on the other side of the road fly into the air and crash into the trees at the side of the road.  Tom saw the dust but not the car.  I was really shaken up but there was nothing we could do as there was a concrete barrier down the middle of the road.  I looked behind and there were cars stopping so knew someone would be calling 911.  I just couldn’t get the image out of my mind and was really concerned about the driver and any passengers there may have been in the car.  I knew I would be worrying all day.

We drove into Santa Cruz for breakfast – see previous entry – and were back on the road again by 7.40.  Our route took us back to Highway 1 where we turned north.

Just outside Santa Cruz we saw signs up warning of a bike race and soon we saw the cyclists.  We passed a lot of them between Santa Cruz and Davenport.  Most of them were serious competitors with their super bikes, Lycra gear, cool shades and space age helmets.  Some were making light work of the hills and some seemed to be struggling.  At the front of the cyclists were three motor cycle cops.  I wonder how far they are going.

It must be getting close to October and the pumpkin season.  We passed several pumpkin patches being made ready.  In one there was already a huge display of pumpkins all waiting to be picked out by excited children, although, of course, it was not open at 8 a.m.

Oh no! We can see fog ahead.  This looks like a repeat of our aborted visit last month when the weather was too bad to even walk to the beach.  Maybe it will clear – always the optimist.

We stop at Big Basin Redwoods State Park where the redwoods come all the way down to the coast.  Tom wanted to take photos of the fog over the creek and maybe the brown pelicans taking a rest in the lagoon on the beach.  I stay in the car and write.

Here the sun is shining which is really weird as we are surrounded by fog.  Out on the ocean I can vaguely see the die hard surfers waiting patiently to catch a wave.  The sea doesn’t look high today so maybe they are just beginners.

Tom has now left the creek and has made his way across Highway 1 to the lagoon.  There are several pelicans on the water but now dozens are on the sand and more fly in to join them.  I guess this must be their meeting place every morning where they catch up with all the gossip.

I’ve been siting here 15 minutes and here come the three motor cycle cops and not far behind the first two cyclists appear.  I guess we are going to have a bit of trouble getting away from here.  Tom is making his way back to the car.  Maybe we can get away before the bulk of them arrive.  I can’t see any more coming at the moment.  We were able to make our escape.  As we turned back onto the road I could see a few cyclists coming down the hill behind us.

We pass Costanoa and pull into the parking strip near the tree stump.,  There is one van already there and three surfers are getting ready to walk to the beach.  As I get out of the car I can smell the sea.  Mmmm.

I set off first.  Yes it is foggy but it is not as bad or as cold as the last time so we decided to go for it.  At the top first rise I paused as I could see on the path ahead a mother deer and her young fawn.  Both lifted their heads and looked at me.  I would have waited until they decided to move away but at that moment two of the surfers come by.  The two deer trotted off down the path and I never saw them again.

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