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Santa Cruz, California

Paradise Found

Article by Pamela Kleibrink Thompson

Photography by Pamela Kleibrink Thompson and others

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

“It’s another day in paradise,” my dad, Paul Kleibrink, would say when I asked him how things were in Santa Cruz. We discovered the California resort town when I attended school at UC Santa Cruz, a creative powerhouse that combines the intimacy of a small liberal arts college with the rigor of a major university. The beautiful setting in the redwoods made me feel like I was going to camp there. I understand my parent's desire to relocate to Santa Cruz. Other species also feel compelled to migrate there.

It may take four generations of monarch butterflies to complete their journey from Idaho to Santa Cruz. View the over-wintering Monarchs at Natural Bridges State Beach between mid-October and mid-February by walking down the wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to an observation deck in the eucalyptus grove.

Leatherback turtles swim thousands of miles from Indonesia to Santa Cruz to feast on jellyfish. Look for them in Monterey Bay from June through October before they head back on their nearly 8,000 mile journey to the Coral Triangle.

Whales also migrate to Santa Cruz. From April through November keep an eye out for humpbacks. In summer and fall, you might spot blue whales. From December through April, more than 20,000 gray whales migrate between the Bering Sea to the Baja Peninsula, passing Santa Cruz both ways.  My dad and I once spotted a whale spouting while we walked on West Cliff Drive, but we don’t know which kind it was.

Boise has its greenbelt and Santa Cruz has West Cliff Drive, featuring views of Monterey Bay where you can spot California sea otters floating in kelp beds, Pacific White-sided Dolphins leaping from the ocean, and California sea lions frolicking in the water. You’ll also find every breed of dog walking along West Cliff Drive or playing on the beach just north of the lighthouse.

Inside the lighthouse you’ll find the first Surfing Museum in the world, established in 1986,  (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) featuring surfboards and photographs tracing over 100 years of surfing history. Surfing was introduced in 1885 by three Hawaiian princes (David Kawānanakoa, Edward Abnel Keliʻiahonui, and Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole) who rode the waves on redwood planks at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. If after watching the surfers at Steamer Lane you are inspired to try it yourself, check out the Richard Schmidt Surf School.

Monterey Bay is one of the most robust coastal and marine ecosystems on the planet and the marine biology program at UC Santa Cruz capitalizes on this with its marine labs.  

As you walk to the end of the wharf built in 1914, you’ll hear a chorus of barking from California sea lions. My dad and I used to visit the wharf to watch the sea lions lunge from the water to bask in the sun on the wharf’s pilings. Enjoy concerts on the wharf the second Tuesday of the month from May through September. An extra large audience attended the concert by Extra Large.

Fish or leave the fishing to others and enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants on the wharf. If you want to cook it yourself, Stagnaro Bros. Outdoor Fish Market, which has been in operation since 1937, offers over 20 types of fresh fish from salmon, cod, sole and halibut.

Stroll past the wharf to one of the last seaside amusement parks on the west coast of the United States, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The Boardwalk has been open since 1907, making it the oldest amusement park in California. In 1911, Charles I.D. Looff, delivered a new merry-go-round with hand-carved horses to the Boardwalk. The red and white wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster, built in 1924, is the fourth oldest coaster in the U.S.  Both the Giant Dipper and Looff Carousel are National Historic Landmarks and the entire Boardwalk property is a California Historic Landmark. Enjoy a movie on summer Friday evenings in front of the Colonnade near Neptune’s Kingdom. On Thursday nights rock out to music provided by Bay Area bands.

End your day and dream in The Dream Inn, an iconic hotel built on the beachfront in 1963. The retro feel is emphasized throughout the hotel in a palette of teals, tropical blues and shades of tangerine featured in vibrant fabrics and wave-inspired patterns. Every room has an ocean view so pack binoculars.

Visit scenic Santa Cruz. Two hundred and fifty thousand monarchs can't be wrong.  

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