Santa Cruz, California has been listed before as one of the best places to be veg or vegan. And as far as I can see, that hasn’t changed. If you plan on visiting the area, make sure you manage your time wisely. There are so many things to see, so many places to visit, and so many great places to eat…the problem will be fitting it all in!
Here are some suggestions if you have a couple of days to spend in the area:
In the morning, head over to the Bagelry for some fresh bagels. Most of the bagels are vegan, just watch out for the ones with cheese (like the pesto). Order your bagel plain, but sliced and toasted. Then, stop by New Leaf Market on the west side of Santa Cruz, and get a container of Annie’s Cashew, Sesame and Pimento Non-Dairy Spread. This stuff is the ultimate in cheesy deliciousness, and just about impossible to find if you don’t live in the area (it’s made locally in Santa Cruz). From there, take your bagel a few blocks away to the Saturday Farmer’s Market on the west side, where you will find beautiful organic fruits and veggies, artisan breads, coffee and flowers. Load up on organic greens and sprouts. Sit at one of the tables at the Farmer’s Market, slather your bagel with Annie’s, top with greens and sprouts and devour! (If it’s not Saturday, don’t fear, as there are 6 other certified Farmer’s Markets in the area throughout the week). If a bagel doesn’t strike your fancy, head to nearby Kelly’s French Bakery to pick up some of their amazing olive oil and rosemary focaccia…and do the same thing that you would have done to your bagel!
Now that your stomach is happy, head out for a long hike. It’s really too hard to try and pick a favorite, as there are so many hikes in or near the Santa Cruz area. If you want to avoid the throngs of tourists that are present at all of the famous state parks, try a hike in the redwood forest at The Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, or at the Byrne-Milliron Forest in Corralitos.
The Land of Medicine Buddha is a Buddhist retreat center, but their trails are open to the public and are dog friendly. You won’t see many people here on the trail, and if you do, they are blissfully quiet, to respect the guidelines of the retreat center. Their first guideline is to not kill any living being while on their property, including mosquitoes. Love this place! You can even book a room at the retreat center (and three are dog friendly). Meals are all vegetarian and they can accomodate vegans with advanced notice.
The Byrne-Milliron Forest is another redwood forest hike in nearby Corralitos, and the property is owned by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. This hike rewards you with outstanding views of Monterey Bay, Adirondack chairs and benches at overlooks, whimsical art on the trails and even water for your pups at the overlooks. The Byrne-Milliron Forest is also home to a 1000 year old “Great White” redwood tree.
After working up an appetite, stop in at Charlie Hong Kong for lunch. An informal little place with limited seating, Charlie Hong Kong is best described as Asian street food. Ninety percent of their rice and noodle bowls are vegan and loaded with organic vegetables. Charlie Hong Kong calls their menu “vegan focused.” My favorite is their chow mein, followed closely by their Spicy Dan’s bowl with peanut sauce.
After lunch, if you want to see marine animals and have a great adventure, try stand up paddling. It’s fun and easy…truly anyone can do it. There are numerous places to rent stand up paddle boards in the area. Many people learn to paddle in the Santa Cruz Harbor, but nothing beats the adventure and wildlife spotting as paddling in the ocean. One of the calmest areas of the ocean and one of the best places to view wildlife is in Capitola, between New Brighton State Beach and the Capitola Wharf. You are almost guaranteed to spot sea otters, jellyfish, seals and sea lions. And you have a very good chance of spotting dolphins and whales. Just remember that the Monterey Bay is a marine sanctuary, so please give the animals their distance and privacy.
After your paddle, head out for dinner. Some of my favorites are Malabar (a Sri Lankan vegetarian restaurant with numerous vegan dishes), Café Gratitude (no explanation needed) and Dharma’s (a vegetarian institution in Santa Cruz, with many vegan options…from burgers to stir fry’s to salads to pizzas to soups to curries, etc.). If Mexican food and a view are more to your liking, try Palapas in the Seascape Village area of Aptos. A section of their menu is vegetarian, and they have three vegan options to choose from. If it’s a nice day, nibble on chips and salsa on the outside deck that overlooks the ocean across the street.
After dinner, head out to West Cliff Drive and enjoy some of the most beautiful coastline in all of California. West Cliff Drive is a five mile out and back paved path that’s popular with joggers, bikers, skaters and walkers (two and four legged).
On your second day, head over to nearby Monterey. Stop in at the local Whole Foods Market in Del Monte Center to get your groceries or to go items for breakfast.
Take a hike at a little known gem of a park called Jack’s Peak County Park. Set at 1000 feet above the city of Monterey, and a little inland, this park has fantastic overlooks and views of the Monterey Bay. Jack’s Peak County Park is also dog friendly, and it doesn’t have the large crowds of the more famous parks in the area.
After your hike, head down Carmel Valley Road for a few miles to the Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand and Organic Café. They have a small (but fantastic) salad bar here. They have six kinds of greens for your salad, along with tomatoes, onions, celery, beans, roasted beets, radishes, cukes, tofu, roasted sunflower seeds…and roasted pumpkin seeds…just to name a few. And it’s all organic. They also have a great little store with dried beans, nuts, hummus, salsa, bread and other little items…and great produce. Sit outside on their picnic tables (the ones closest to the road) and watch the hummingbirds feed on the plants, while you enjoy your salad.
Walk off your lunch by exploring Carmel Valley Village or by exploring the waterfront Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, which runs 18 miles from Castroville to Pacific Grove.
For dinner, head to Julia’s in Pacific Grove. This place is small and gets very busy, so reservations are recommended. Julia’s menu is vegetarian, but everything on the menu is vegan (except for the cheese on the pizza and one of the salad dressings). They serve bread with every meal, and try not to fill up on it before your dinner comes…it’s delish!! The bread comes in a shallow baking pan and looks very similar to pizza crust…half whole wheat and half white, topped with lots of garlic and olive oil. Try their raviolis, which are served in a savory and beautiful green broth, with chunks of mushrooms and zucchini.
As you can see, there is so much to do in the Santa Cruz-Monterey Bay Area…and I’ve only touched on a few suggestions. And as a vegan, you will definitely leave satisfied with the remembrance of some fantastic food and great adventures.