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A week of vacation with the family in Santa Cruz - three squares a day and Chow-worthy?

We're coming up from LA and will be based around the 26th Avenue Beach area for a week. We are open to just about anything (really) as long as it's Chow-worthy - ethnic, local, seafood, high-end, low-end, mid-range, etc. Two adults, two open-minded Chow-pups (eight- and ten-years old), and our family dog.

- We will consider any eateries within about an hour of where we are staying. Staying in the Santa Cruz area would be great, but is there anything in the outlying areas we should consider?

- Our kids will eat most things, but kid-friendly is fine as well. We've spent a couple of summer vacations up in Marin, Sonoma and Napa, enjoying the offerings up there, and they were fine with almost everything. They of course love their burgers and fries, but will also eat raw oysters on the half-shell and most cheeses as well, and just about anything in between.

- Does Santa Cruz have any eateries where we can bring our dog? In LA, many cafes have outdoor eating areas where dogs are "allowed" on the outer perimeter. Anything similar in Santa Cruz?

- We'd like to take in a couple of eateries that have reference to local wines. We've heard about Bonny Doon's Cellar Door Cafe. Any word on this place? Any others we should consider?

- Speaking of wines, we'd also like to purchase some local wines. Bonny Doon seems to be the 800-pound gorilla in these parts (and we do like their wines), but should we consider any other cellars? We don't have to actually visit the wineries - getting them from local shops is fine with us. But of course, if there are tastings, we're there! We also enjoy good beers on tap. Breadth isn't important - a good selection of well-chosen beers is what we'd appreciate.

- The kids will want to spend at least a day or two at The Boardwalk. We hope there might be some decent food choices within walking distance. If not, we can always grab breakfast or lunch elsewhere.

- Is there anything around the 26th Avenue Beach area that we should consider? We have no idea what's around there. Walking somewhere to eat would be wonderful, but we have access to bikes, and of course our car.

- We do like to cook as well. Which stores/purveyors should we consider for our grocery needs?

Thank you very much

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  1. Here is my short list for you to try:

    Carpos- Soquel on Bay Ave. Great family burger/fish/salad bar joint. Outside patio, but I'm not sure if you can bring your dog.

    Gayles- Capitola/Bay: The best bakery/rotisseria-
    breads/sandwiches/blue plate specials, pastries, wonderful coffee/tea drinks. They have a new covered patio and they allow "well behaved" dogs now. Crowded but very fun.

    Kellys Bakery- on the west side near the Bonny Doon Cellar Door Cafe. A very delightful patio- yes on dogs. Great breads, pastries, sandwiches, breakfasts, and now they sell the most amazing homeade ice cream from a special door- with about 8 different flavors a day.

    Seabright Brewery - on Seabright. Passable burgers, fries, fun beers. OK for the the dog on the patio. Good beach vibe- close to 26th Ave.

    For your night at the Boardwalk (Mon & Tues after 5 all rides are $1, including hot dogs, candy apples & cokes.) Riva's is on the wharf and has the best seafood in a casual atmosphere.

    Best Mexican- Palomar Taco Bar on Pacific Ave. Hand-made tortillas, very fresh ingredients. Make sure to go to Taco Bar and not the restaurant.

    These are my favorites (except for the Seabright Brewery which I included because of the patio). Of course there are a lot more, but IMO these would definitely be the most fun especially with kids. Enjoy yourself!

    -----
    Seabright Brewery
    519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    Carpos Restaurant
    2400 Porter St, Soquel, CA 95073

    3 Replies
    1. re: caldance

      Day Six: Because I tend to show little restraint when faced with choices, I've been "overstocking" at Kelly's on our last visit (Saturday morning). We enjoyed the consequences of my bad habit in the form of a croissant, blueberry danish, raspberry-coconut scone and some cookies. Even being a day older didn't pull Kelly's goods down very far. I actually warmed up everything in the Weber and they were almost like new. I really like this place.

      We headed out to lunch at "burger." before visiting the Seymour Marine Science Center at the north end of SC. Order at the counter, get handed a sign with the photo of some celebrity to put on your table, and the food comes to you. Beers and wines are ordered at the separate bar.

      None of us ordered traditional burgers - we all ordered sliders - Lamb, Kobe and lobster roll. Each is served on a bed of either fries, sweet potato fries or tater-tots in a pound cake pan. The serving size of potatoes is generous, and the sliders were average in size. I was pretty impressed with my lamb sliders - moist, flavorful and just enough game on the tastebuds. The Kobe sliders were quite spectacular as well. Very rich, beefy and juicy as well. While the lobster roll was good, East Coast transplants shouldn't expect what they'd get back home - more like lobster salad in a trio of connected slider buns.

      What really blew me away was the beer. burger. carries a decent selection of bottles, but the numerous beer taps is what it's all about. I'm guessing between two to three dozen really nice beers on tap, including a great rich deep and earthy Russian Imperial stout. The pours are pint-sized and average about $5/per. Based on only one visit, I'd have to say this place has a great formula.

      As we enjoyed our meal, we peeked across the street and noticed, "Donnelly Chocolates." We dropped by and were immediately greeted by the owner, who offered up samples based on our preference for dark or milk chocolate. Really. Good. Stuff. We picked up half a dozen bars and then our kids noticed the gelato in the adjacent case. Their gelato is well-crafted as well. The owner is eager to offer samples here as well, and of course we ended up getting scoops of milky bliss for our kids. We will definitely be back to burger. and Donnelly Chocolates on our next visit up here - great one-two punch at the intersection.

      We finally made it out the Bonny Doon's Cellar Door Cafe for dinner. A very casual but slightly whimsically-designed wine-tasting counter and dining area greets guests here, and the service in both is extremely good. The choice for meals here is either prix fixe three-course, or individual items from their small plates menu. The prix fixe is brought to the table family-style, which can be a mixed blessing. It can get a little sloppy and kind of takes away from the otherwise wonderful plating, but at least the food can be divvied up according to each eater's appetite. The three courses consisted of:

      - Watermelon soup
      - Lemon/basil chicken w/ panzanella (think giant croutons, corn, squash in a creamy sauce), heirloom tomatoes, romesco sauce and smoked chevre
      - Rosemary panna cotta with roasted strawberries and oats

      We chose to pair this with a wine flight of the three suggested pairing from the menu: 2008 Ca' del Solo Muscat, 2001 Le Cigare Volante (Chateaunuef du pape-style), and 2007 Le Vol des Anges (late-harvest/botrytis).

      Our kids being kids ordered the pizza, but we also got them a really nice squid and grilled melon app as well as the hanger steak. We all shared everything, and I must say - everything was really good. This was a real stand-out food experience for us. The prix fixe is a pretty good deal at $35/per. The food is excellent, the execution was perfect, the plating had just enough whimsy without looking like a major architectual project, the portions are good to generous and the service was exceptional without being overbearing. I tend to be very casual in my dress and attitude toward life but enjoy good food - any good food - just the same. This place scores high in my book because I can dress casual but enjoy a very nice dining experience with some really good wines that have been expertly paired with the various courses. This is a great place to take a first date, a special occasion, or just a nice experience hosted by true professionals. Santa Cruz is great!

      1. re: bulavinaka

        gee, your reports are making me want to spend my summer vacation in Santa Cruz too! Glad you liked Burger, and hmm...my sister neglected to mention that beer selection. I love really good beer and burger places and put it on the list for my next visit.

        1. re: susancinsf

          The beer selection here is very very good. There's no shortage of ambitious brewers in this region of California, and I'm glad to see this place showcase many of them through the taps that they've installed. The one drawback to their tap system is that because they are all bunched up in one small portion of a wall adjacent to the bar, all of the spigots are too close together to showcase the individual beers' handles - some can be very creative and eye-catching. Whatever the case, they beers are listed on their menu. Oh yes, their website needs serious updating as well. It still indicates that they hope to have their draft system up by summer - well, it's almost the end of summer! C'mon, burger. - update your website! :)

    2. 26th ave is a mostly a residential area, not much commercial. Both the Capitola and Seabright Aptos beach areas just south of 26th ave are nice kid-friendly beaches with places right at the beach to eat. You'll probably want to pack picnics, though. Even though the eateries are snad-firendly, who wants to leave the beach once there? Be sure to take leashes and mutt mits for Rover, they are required everywhere! Lots of dogs everywhere.

      Just to the south of 26th Ave area is the 41st Ave commerical corridor which runs between the freeway (Hiway 1) and the ocean, mostly neighborhood commercial, with about anything you'd need foodwise. A treat for the kids might be to get a slice at Pleasure Pizza and watch the surfers at Pleasure Point, although it has been very foggy and cold; bring the windbreakers.

      Since you are so close, you might want to wander up the coast a bit to Swanton Berry Farms to see if they are still offering strawberries; some of the best ever. Nice and more isolated beaches up there, too.

      For groceries, Shopper's Corner market and Staff of Life Natural Foods are SC institutions; there are also New Leaf Natural Groceries, one downtown on Pacific and one out north on Mission St. in the West Cliff area. Also the wonderful Saturday Morning Farmer's Market (I'd rec going even if you don't need groceries) at Cabrillo College on Soquel Ave in Aptos. There is a FM in the Live Oak district too. Maybe local hounds can fill you in on that. Pick up a copy of Good Times, the weekly newpaper for a comprehensive guide to all things happening in SC area.

      If you are in the downtown area doing some boutique-hopping on Pacific Street, there is a great little kiosk on the sidewalk serving wraps, salads, rice bowls that are "healthy" and delicious, and cheap. And Quick! 'Chocolate', next to Bookshop Santa Cruz, serves on the sidewalk, though not sure if dogs are allowed.

      Corralitos is a small valley just south of Aptos and to the east of Hiway 1. Largely rural, it is home to the wonderful Corralitos Market & Sausage Company and their delicious smoked meats. Don't miss these; it's a pleasant rural drive along Freedom Blvd from Highway 1; turn onto left from Freedom onto Varni then left again onto Corralitos. Drive to the market. Take a cooler and ice with you!

      Remember to layer clothing as nothing is as miserable as eating outdoors when you're cold. Watch for slow and go on the freeway at commute hours and on weekends--everyone's got their minds on chow!

      -----
      Chocolate
      1522 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

      Swanton Berry Farm
      25 Swanton Rd, Davenport, CA 95017

      Corralitos Market & Sausage Co
      569 Corralitos Rd, Watsonville, CA

      Pleasure Pizza
      4000 Portola Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

      1. Hard to find better ethnic than in LA, but you can try Tacos Vallarta (one on 41st Ave, another on Soquel next to Shopper's Corner Mkt.). I eat there 3 or 4 times a week when I'm in town. Excellent carnitas tacos. You won't be disappointed.

        Try Zameen's on Soquel east of Cabrillo College-- decent middle eastern food.

        next to Zameen's is Heather's Patisserie...Good morning stop.....very good baked goods...

        Panda in the Rio Del Mar shopping center for Chinese.

        Linda's on Seabright near Seabright Brewery for breakfast, but go early, or go midweek.

        A good traditional breakfast; eggs, bacon, crispy, real, hashbrowns, is at Jefferies (Soquel and Capitola Road). --

        Enjoy.

        -----
        Vallarta Restaurant
        563 W Ventura St, Fillmore, CA 93015

        Seabright Brewery
        519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

        1. Good suggestions by earlier posters.

          To answer you query about local wines, the Swift Street Courtyard (where Bonny Doon Cellars and Kelly's Bakery are located) has several tasting rooms for local wineries and a local brewery (see link below) and the New Leaf store mentioned earlier at the other end of this block carries a number of local wines--many at below list prices.

          http://www.winecountrygetaways.com/sw...

          Also, Vinocruz in downtown Santa Cruz specializes in local wines and has a small tasting bar and a very friendly and knowledgeable onsite owner.

          As for dog-friendly dining, there are a fair number of places with outdoor eating areas that welcome dogs, but dogs are not allowed on Pacific Avenue, so Chocolate is out. However, a block away on Cedar St., Cafe Limelight (pannini sandwiches, salads, etc.) has a dog-friendly patio, and Aldo's at the Harbor is another popular spot for dining with your dog.

          The Live Oak Farmer's Market is on Sunday's from 9-1 on the corner of East Cliff and 15th St. A nice option if you don't make it to one of the Saturday Farmer's Markets (there is also a Saturday market on the Westside, not far from the Swift St. Courtyard that runs from 9-1). I'd highly recommend getting to at least one farmer's market while you're in town, they are all really great and offer a wonderful array of local produce and prepared foods. (The downtown market is on Wednesdays from 2:30-6:30.

          )

          Hope you enjoy your visit.

          -----
          Cafe Limelight
          1016 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA

          1. Santa Cruz-area Hounds, thank you for your generous posts, and sorry to be so long in responding - work has been consuming my time and energy for the past few weeks. We look forward to our trip and enjoying as many of these places as we can.

            I did a preliminary search for dog-friendly eateries and DogFriendly.com came up with this list of Santa Cruz-area eateries with outdoor eating areas, which (I guess) implies we can consider taking our dog with us for some eats. I don't know if this list is current, and I'm glad to see a couple of familiar places mentioned in your posts (Kelly's, Gayle's). Should I consider any others on this list?

            Outdoor Restaurants

            Britannia Arms Restaurant -8017 Soquel Drive Aptos
            Cole's Bar-B-Q -8059 Aptos Street Aptos
            Ma Maison Restaurant -9051 Soquel Drive Aptos
            Spanky's -9520 H 9 Ben Lomond
            Cafe Misk at Capitola Village -201 Monterey Capitola
            Gayle's Bakery and Rosticceria -504 Bay Avenue Capitola
            Whale City Bakery -490 Hwy 1 Davenport
            Rocky's Cafe -6560 H 9 Felton
            The Trout Farm -7701 E Zayante Road Felton
            Aldo's Harbor Restaurant -616 Atlantic Avenue Santa Cruz
            Black China Cafe and Bakery -1121 Soquel Avenue Santa Cruz
            Cafe Limelight -1016 Cedar Street Santa Cruz
            Cole's Bar-B-Q -2590 Portola Drive Santa Cruz
            Engfer Pizza Works -537 Seabright Ave Santa Cruz
            Firefly Coffee House -131 A Front Street Santa Cruz
            Harbor Bay -535 7th Avenue Santa Cruz
            Kelly's French Bakery, -402 Ingalls Street, Santa Cruz, Ca 95060: Santa Cruz
            Las Palmas Taco Bar -55 Front Street Santa Cruz
            Pleasure Pizza -4000 Portola Drive Santa Cruz
            Michael's on Main -2591 Main Street Soquel

            -----
            Cafe Limelight
            1016 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA

            Kelly's French Bakery
            402 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz, CA

            1. We hope to get some seafood meals in. Being around Monterey Bay tells me that there must be some very good seafood to be had. At the same time, we are conscious of the dilemma between enjoying seafood and the issues of ocean species that should not be considered because of their dwindling numbers. And being within a reasonable distance from Tomales/Drake's Bay for oysters keeps my hopes up for some fresh sweet oysters. Any particular seafood places that are Chow-fav's and are hopefully respectful in their offerings?

              1. We enjoy bakeries, and Kelly's and Gayle's are looking very promising. We love all things that bakeries have to offer. LA has some mighty fine bakeries that offer up just about everything one would want, but bread can be a fickle thing. Finding European-style breads like good baguettes, batards, boules and ciabattas can take a little knowledge, timing and a car. I checked out Kelly's and Gayle's websites and they do offer breads. Are they good sources for bread, or should we be considering anywhere else?

                Part of my desires for breads is we will probably be picnicking. With so many parks, beaches other beautiful areas around Santa Cruz, a picnic (foggy or not) just seems natural. We're hoping that trips to places like Corralito's, Swanton, the bakeries, Swift Street Courtyard and the local FMs will produce some good eats. Any other places to consider for cheese, charcuterie, or anything else that goes well with bread?

                1. I have not been, but my sister who lives in Santa Cruz was raving about the new Burger. Said she loved the ketchup, which I gather was homemade, and that the burger with grass-fed beef was quite good. I found one report on CH, from Burger Expert, see below. Definitely sounds worth checking out for a family:

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6395...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Thank you for the rec on Burger, and the link that leads to the post about burgers in Santa Cruz. Very good info!

                  2. Day One in Santa Cruz: We arrived in town around 2PM - our place wasn't available until after 3PM, so we burned some time getting refamiliarized with SC. We really like the local vibe - lots of cyclists, friendly folks, local pride, social openmindedness in general. What drives us crazy is how the street names seem to randomly change, how one has to zig and zag to stay on the same street, and how on street can all of a sudden split off into three streets! In other words, it really helps to be a local to navigate this town. Despite this, we were able to hit up a few noteworthy places already.

                    Kelly's French Bakery: Dog-friendly was our draw since we hadn't checked into our rental yet. The wonderful courtyard was quite inviting for us and our pooch, and the baked goods were all excellent. We picked up a sweet baguette, some various pastries, and our kids really enjoyed their ice cream. I'd put Kelly's on par with the better bakeries in LA. Excellent ingredient, execution and service. The courtyard puts Kelly's above any place I've experienced in LA. This is a huge added plus - dog or no dog. How can one tangibly measure the added joy of taking in some wonderful food in a well laid-out courtyard like this? We will be back.

                    Bonny Doon Cellar Door Cafe and Wine Tasting Room: We only went in to grab a couple of bottles - no tasting since we were going to be driving within a short period. The staff was really nice, very knowledgeable and gave us some recs on BD's rosé (which we've tried before and really like) and their Clos de Gilroy. Haven't tried them yet but are keeping them handy. We didn't realize the other wine-tasting shops would be close on Tuesdays. We will return some time within the week. The local brewery in the same complex is on my radar as well. We saw that a local charcuterie shop will be opening up a couple of doors away from Kelly's. Wish they were open now!

                    Whole Foods on 41st Avenue. We were planning to go out for dinner, but I always like to have some sort of back-up plan. I mentioned that we picked up a baguette from Kelly's, and my plan was to have some cheeses and charcuterie ready in case we fizzled out and were too tired to head out for dinner. I didn't know of any local places that had any kind of selection for stuff like this but knew that Whole Foods in general does. The selection at this Whole Foods was relatively small but suitable for me. All I need is a decent selection and I'm happy. I picked up a couple of California cheeses (Bellwether Carmody and Humboldt Fog) and Applegate Farms herbed salami. Again, the staff here, like in Santa Cruz in general, had a great disposition.

                    Cafe Limelight on Cedar Avenue. Being that our pooch is an old guy, had just finished the longest road trip that he was ever on, and is always game for good food like us. A big part of our decision-making process of where to vacation was the fact that Santa Cruz was dog-friendly. We had always intended to bring our pooch along with us on other vacations, but it never materialized for one reason or another, so we were determined this time. Because he was kinda beat like we were and was obviously unfamiliar with his surroundings, we thought it better to have him with us as much as possible. We don't intend on bringing him everywhere with us, but we want to fit him in as much as possible. We looked over the list of dog-friendly eateries and found Cafe LImelight. Two things hooked me. First, they seemed to have a beer list that took some serious thought. This told me that as simple as the menu was, they took pride in what they offered. Another aspect that caught my attention was the "Dog Menu" portion. I've never seen this offered elsewhere so far. We all ordered various paninis (club, brie and pepper, Cheese Dream and salami/kalimata/cheddar), along with the tomato bisque, for three of us, and the garden salad for one as sides. We also ordered Farouk's homemade hummus as a starter and the roast turkey off the dog menu for our pooch. The serving sizes were generous, the ingredients were fresh, particularly the produce and breads, and the roasted turkey for our dog was a much larger portion than we expected and it was garnished with fresh chopped parsley! Our server was excellent. He was very friendly, made some good suggestions, accommodated us in every way and checked on us regularly. He also made sure that our dog's water bowl was serviced regularly. The waiter explained to us that the whole dog-friendly thing started out just as as matter of fact. Santa Cruz in general has a major dog culture. The owners love dogs. Many of the patrons brought dogs to eat in the patio area. The patrons started bringing treats for their dogs as well as the owners'. Patrons began asking for dog-friendly food items for their dogs. The rest is, you know...

                    We might be hitting the Boardwalk today. Personally, I want to hit the local farmers market. I think the kids might win on this one. :)

                    -----
                    Cafe Limelight
                    1016 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA

                    Kelly's French Bakery
                    402 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz, CA

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      Thanks for the report back, and looking forward to more! I am glad you went to Kelly's; had meant to mention it above. I really like their baked goods. Indeed, I once almost took a job nearby, partly on the strength of their baking (and that great patio) :-)

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        My pleasure. I really appreciate the recs, particularly when we are essentially blind without them. I did do some preliminary searches on the CA board, but will ultimately depend on local Hounds for current info. Yelp (sorry for dropping four-letter words :)) is great for basic info and getting a general feel for a place, but the real pros are on CH.

                        For your sake, I'm glad you didn't end up taking a job around Kelly's. A year and 50 pounds later, I'd be a wreck. A happy satisfied wreck. And with all the wine and beer around these parts now, a happy satisfied wreck with no reason to go home. :)

                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          True enough. I ended up in Merced instead....much better for my waistline, I'm afraid, though it does have other charms.

                    2. For me, it wouldn't be a trip to Santa Cruz without a stop at Tacos Moreno.

                      -----
                      Tacos Moreno
                      1053 Water St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: E Eto

                        What are the standouts here for you? Thanks...

                          1. re: E Eto

                            Thanks very much. I hope to hit them up for lunch within the few days.

                      2. Day Two: Not much going on Chow-wise. It was our son's birthday. His day - his choice for what to do: The Boardwalk. We had lots of fun watching my wife nearly losing her tea and pastries from Kelly's, but other than that, not much Chow-worthy at The Boardwalk to report. The one thing that I've found some Hounds looking far and wide for is Dole's Pineapple Soft Serve, which can be found here.

                        Because we didn't leave until 7:30PM, our choices for good food seemed limited. On top of that, our son wanted steak, then lobster, then prime rib for dinner. I thought of the Crow's Nest, since they seemed to have all three, was a relatively safe choice, and was open late enough to sneak in a decent dinner. He finally decided on the Porterhouse medium-rare, my wife ordered the seafood fettucine, I ordered the grilled halibut with a mustard-based sauce, and our daughter devolved into chicken tenders and a decent cup of clam chowder. We all shared some steamed clams.

                        The steak came as ordered, which I was somewhat impressed with; my grilled halibut was actually very good - expertly grilled; my wife's fettucine was al dente and the seafood was cooked just through, and the steamed clams were plump and tender. I have to say that the food here was better than I expected. My bias against such places in LA were unfounded. Big seafood houses in LA tend to be a lot of hype, overpriced, and short on delivery when it comes to food. The service can be okay, but even then, a phony saccarin delivery by the lounge-singer like college-age waiters can get schlocky pretty fast. Our waiter, while kinda schlocky, delivered on all other aspects, and the support staff were just as good. We also liked the reasonably-priced wine suggestions with the various entrees. They actually were pretty decent and paired well with the entrees (viogner with my halibut; chard with my wife's seafood fettucine). I think my only complaint was my son's baked potato - been in the chafing dish for too long. It was kinda burnt under the skin. Conversely, the next table over complained to the waiter that his potato wasn't hot enough to even melt the butter. Other than that relatively minor quibble, I wouldn't be afraid to bring anyone there except the more discerning of Hounds in search of shear excellence and/or uniqueness.

                        -----
                        Crow's Nest Restaurant
                        2218 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                        1. Day Three: We had yet to visit an eatery known for their breakfasts and recall a local mentioning Harbor Cafe had good breakfasts and an open patio (for our pooch), so we headed over there with no expectations. The place is super-casual, and the patio area is particularly large relative to the indoor dining area. We were seated promptly - actually told we could choose any table - and our dog was not an issue. In fact, three other tables ended up having dogs through our meal. Love Santa Cruz and the laid-backness of it all.

                          First, I'm surprised that a little unassuming cafe like this has beer, wine, and mixed drinks. What's the deal with Santa Cruz and its alcohol-related permits? :) Bloody Marys and coffee & Kahlua were making the rounds on Thursday morning? I'm setting up shop over here!

                          I ordered the Cali Bene, my wife got the Mexican Tofu Scram, son got the Belgian Waffle w/ fresh fruit, and daughter got the bacon & eggs and the home fries. The portions on the first two were huge, the Belgian waffle was crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the fruit was amazingly fresh and delicious, and the home fries were very good. The only issue we ran into was that the service was kinda slow and inconsistent. A large part of this was the local factor. Locals love this place. Locals work here. Locals know other locals. Locals walk in, local workers greet and hug each local customers, sit down and talk with each other, and locals therefore get the attention. I think I counted six members in the waitstaff, but you'd swear by the slowness in service that there was but one. Had I been a local, I would have had my own man-servant and treats for our dog - literally. I don't ask for much. Just check on me within a reasonable time frame, and at least be a little prompt in accepting payment for our meal. I think we waited another 10 to 15 minutes before we got up and handed our tab back to the waitress who was about to sit down again with her local buddies for some more yacking. The food scored relatively high for this kind of place. The service needs some policing by the owner/manager.

                          We drove up to the train to Bear Mountain. I felt supremely touristy, but at the same time, Santa Cruz has some mighty fine forested mountains. The stretch between Big Sur and Marin/Sonoma (and beyond) is blessed by these stands of Coastal Redwoods. The Mystery Spot is sorta mind-bending, but even more trying on one's equilibrium - at least to my motion sickness-challenged wife. Combined with her coming down with a cold, we skipped lunch.

                          My wife's onset of the sniffles didn't deter me from making another trip to Kelly's for my son's belated B-day cake and a stroll across the parking lot to Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. A very modest space with a cordial and knowledgeable person behind the table made for a nice tasting of about 10 wines. They're currently offering some wines that are typically found on the Iberian Penninsula. Really nice noses, nice front and back palates, and reasonable prices filled up a case pretty fast. We are pleasantly surprised at how reasonable the prices are for Santa Cruz juice. The price/quality ratio is very favorable, and to have so many tasting rooms within steps of each other is a big bonus. You folks really have some great things going on in this town.

                          With my wife's cold taking hold at a rapid pace, we nixed our plans to hit Gayle's or Cellar Door, and started our search for something with Chinese penicillin. We know Santa Cruz is not the epicenter of great Chinese, but my wife (Chinese-Malaysian) really wanted some sort of soup - any soup - that was even remotely Chinese. Yelp was our friend tonight. We searched for Chinese eateries in the area, and found Peach Garden on Seabright. What drew us to this place was a Yelper from San Gabriel (one of the many towns in the San Gabriel Valley that is THE epicenter of SoCal Chinese) who felt after trying many Chinese eateries in SC, that this place was acceptable to him.

                          Peach Garden's menu has many of the typical generic "Chinese" menu items, but we found a few more slightly distinct items, like wor wonton soup, fried tofu/veggies, scallops, and salt & pepper pork ribs on the menu. Nothing challenging, but not the typical brown sauce prefried noodles kinda stuff. They also don't use MSG. I'm ok with it but my wife seems to be developing an intolerance to this stuff. The food was not over-salted/over-sauced, the produce and other ingredients were very fresh, and the execution was pretty good. I was hoping for more wok qi, but other than that, the food was more than acceptable, and in classic Chinese restaurant fashion, the food came out quickly. We haven't tried any other Chinese restos in SC, so we don't know how Peach Garden compares, but this quaint little mom&pop (and hard-working daughter) place might be worth other Hounds checking out to see how it does compare.

                          I can't yet comment on the cake we picked up at Kelly's. The family had faded into nighty-night after a long day and I didn't even get a chance to break the cake out. Maybe for breakfast? Heck, I never say no to cake.

                          The food itself reminded me of some places in LA and San Diego. Good to great ingredients, scrambles, ripe avocados and some generous portions. Santa Cruz is blessed to be so close to the San Joaquin Valley and the surrounding ag areas. LA has a decent amount of eateries with good to great produce. It seems just about everywhere we've tried has had great produce for the most part.

                          -----
                          Peach Garden
                          1733 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: bulavinaka

                            Great feedback on your trip. I'm a "local" and I have never even heard of Peach Garden. As for your service experience at Harbor Cafe, yes, that happens. And I hope someone tips off the manager for a gentle reminder to staff.

                            And although Santa Cruz is blessed to be near the San Joaquin Valley, much of the produce and other products you've sampled this trip probably came from small farms much closer than that.

                            Thanks again for your great on-the-spot reporting. Happy trails!

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                            Peach Garden
                            1733 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                            1. re: spiltinky

                              I wasn't so irritated about the Harbor Cafe thing. I'd probably have done the same if I was working there and was in my late teens to early 20s - just not as much. By infusing cash intot the tills, customers - local and tourons like me alike - enable workers to have their lifestyle in towns like this. Youth with all of its impetuous energy and often-times singular views on life can be hard to channel at times - we all know that, right? :)

                              I'm glad to hear that much of the produce comes for smaller farms that are more local. We experienced the same up in Marin/Sonoma/Napa area the past couple of summers, and I'm all for sustaining and supporting small farms. They take tons of effort and pride in delivering exceptional products to an ever more demanding customer base. Without them, I think mediocrity would be the standard.

                              Peach Garden appears to be operated by a Chinese family with Cantonese origins. The kitchen speaks Cantonese, and the waitress (we think she is the daughter of the owners) speaks English, Cantonese and some Mandarin as well. Cantonese folks usually excel at seafood. Our scallop with ginger dish was quite good for a little unassuming place like this, as was the shrimp fried rice - shrimps were plump and juicy, rice was seasoned and wok fried perfectly.

                              We are blessed in LA to have the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) as a source for some excellent Chinese cuisines. Comparing Peach Garden to SGV eateries wouldn't be fair, as the competition in SGV is so so high, the customers are extremely demanding in terms of price points and quality, and the demand for authenticity is a given. But to have a Chinese eatery in a low-density Chinese area like SC that at least tries to offer good produce and proteins that are seasoned with restraint and prepared with a steady hand is a gift for your community. Again, I haven't tried other Chinese places here, but I'd find this place perfectly acceptable for the niche it serves. I'm just glad to have found it for my wife's sake. The Chinese penicillin seems to be working. We had a simple egg drop soup last night, and she had a wor won ton soup this morning for breakfast and feels leagues better. :)

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                              Peach Garden
                              1733 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                            2. re: bulavinaka

                              Was this the place?

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                              Peach Garden
                              1733 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                              1. re: Stephanie Wong

                                Yup, that's the one. It's just off Soquel.

                            3. Day Four: Since my wife's cold was on the retreat, we took an easy day on the beach and went for lunch/supper later on at Gayle's in Capitola.

                              Gayle's is a decent-sized place in centrally located section of Capitola. Nice neighborhood, folks visiting here definitely not the same as in Santa Cruz. As laid back as Santa Cruz is, I found at least a good handful of diners at Gayle's that could use a chill-out card. Whatever the case, the excellent staff here seamlessly accommodates those folks with ease - I think they get a fair amount of practice. :) The staff here impressed me with their patience, knowledge and foresight. My hat off to them.

                              Gayle's is like a Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, or Gelson's, but without a grocery section - just service counters - and much better food. The beer and wine are a bonus. Not only is the food very good, the breadth of their selection makes the possibilities for combinations endless. This is a great feature when two adults and two kids can't agree on where or what to eat. We ordered the penne pasta and wings for our daughter, the turkey/pepper ficelle for our son, the hot/sour soup for my wife, and I did a mini-picnic by ordering some paté, salads and a baguette, along with a good Russian River chard. The hot and sour soup could have been hotter (spicier) - I know - subjective, particularly given the clientele), but other than that, everything was excellent. Their broccoli/apple/gruyere salad was even good enough for my daughter to munch down. She hates the really green flavor of certain raw veggies, but she totally took to this salad. The kitchen here has a deft hand at combining flavors.

                              We picked up some desserts/pastries to go. Chocolate pudding, chocolate-coconut macaroons, alligator and ollalieberry turnover. The chocolate pudding was smooth and rich, but could have used more umph in the chocolate flavor. Other than that, I'd say the other goods were at least very good. A place like Gayle's doesn't come across to me as having really good bread, but we enjoyed the baguette during our meal, as well as when be brought it home and enjoyed the remainder later with some fruits, cheeses and salami. The ficelle on my son's sandwich was very good as well.

                              We noticed Capitola Village Produce across the street from Gayle's and checked them out as well. A small produce stand with excellent produce, this place is a real plus for this neighborhood. The strawberries we picked up were some of the best we'd had in a long time - so good, we came back and picked up some more. The clerk said these were from Watsonville - didn't get the farm's name or type, but if I had to guess, I'd say the variety was Chandler. Great bouquet and almost as sweet as candy. I can't help but mention this again - the produce both at the eateries as well as at the stores - is excellent. Everything we ate that grows from this earth has been excellent.

                              I mentioned that we enjoyed the rest of that baguette with some cheeses and salami. We cracked open a bottle of the Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy, a granache-based red that is served slightly chilled. We didn't take to it. As much as I like this winery's offerings, this one didn't do it for me. It had a nice nose upon opening it, but seemed to change and fade fast within a few minutes. The tannins were on the stronger side, but it was kinda wet but not sweet as well. I felt it was just kinda sloppy and didn't even finish my second glass. That's rare for me...

                              1. Day Five: I'm buzzing from not only the very decent Pinot Noir from Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards (Branciforte Creek '07) we enjoyed with dinner tonight, but from the treasures we collected throughout the day.

                                We had breakfast at home - great local eggs from Capitola Village Produce - we had also enjoyed some pastries from Gayle's Bakery and Roticeria from the day before.

                                We decidedly hit the farmers market off Mission and Western. By LA standards, it was a medium sized market. By LA standards, this would kick some ass. Every stand had either something unique, artisan, or just extremely good to outstanding in terms of quality. The produce was outstanding, just like just about everywhere we ate. All the standards were there, but we saw something that wasn't typically found in LA - padron peppers, organic to boot. We can find Japanese shishito peppers in LA with some regularity, but the padrons are almost unheard of in our parts. A little deeper in flavor, and not nearly as piquant except for the odd one or two that padrons are known for, we were happy to find these. A quick sautée in olive oil, a light sprinkle of kosher or sea salt, and these gems are set. A little sprinkle of bacon crumbs or a good cured ham and that's over the top, but in a great way. Guild the lily? Any grated aged cheese will do. The same stand had some wonderful Seascape strawberries. Perfectly ripe and flavorful, these Seascapes had more strawberry flavor than the Chandlers we picked up the day before at Capitola Village Produce, but with more tartness. We would take either on any given day, since the quality on both were supreme.

                                The bread stand (I think it's Companion Bakers) was also a stand-out. The ficelles were flying out of the basket, but the quickbreads were outstanding as well. We also tried a lemon cream tarte that was really good.

                                Condor's Hope from North Santa Barbara County had a stand with some wines and olive oils. We didn't try those, but they offered us samples of their Zinfandel wine jelly and that was some delicious stuff. They rec it with some goat cheese or brie - preferably baked - and some good bread. We will save this for when we get back home. Really good stuff.

                                The Mexican food stand offers everything from sopes to gorditas to tamales to agua frescas made with strawberries and raspberries. I thought offering agua frescas in these flavors was great focus on their part. Offering the typical flavors in agua frescas would be okay, but the stand's owners obviously understand seasonality, and the raspberries and particularly strawberries are kickin' right now. Our kids downed there drinks, only offering their pleading parents a sip. :)

                                This next stop is just an observation on my part. We had to make a stop at Costco off the 1. We weren't expecting a whole lot since Costcos are big-box by nature, with a few gems to be found. Your Costco is far better than the typical Costcos in LA. Great wine section. Great artisan beers offered by the case - most from this general part of CA. Even the cheeses are pretty good. And carne asada bakes? No such thing in LA Costcos that I've been to. I didn't partake in any of the above, but if we had the space to bring back to LA, I would have picked up a case of wine and a couple of the beers.

                                Across the street from the Costco is Dave's Gourmet Seafood (?). We only made a quick stop, but it appears they have all sorts of fresh-frozen, canned and smoked seafood products. They also have a food counter with things like chowders, crab rolls and seafood quesadillas as well. We didn't have time to get any food, but we picked up a couple of packs of crab cakes. They sure look heavy on the crab - we hope to either enjoy these over the next few days, or will bring them home.

                                We headed out to Corralitos Market & Sausage out in the countryside. Since we had found bounty at the farmers market, we thought a great meat counter would do us well to complete a great dinner at home. For being in the middle of nowhere, this market is one popular place. Customers make a bee-line to the meat counter in the back. This place obviously has great smoked sausages. But we were also impressed with some of the marinated meats that were offered. We picked up a nice 3-pound house-marinated tri-tip, a whole lot of sausages, and we also had our lunch here. The smell of the sausages in sweet perfume for carnivores. The smell of hot sausages nestled in buns is the coupe de grace. Two all-beef hotdogs, a tri-tip sandwich and a lamb sausage sandwich with drinks and chips were thoroughly enjoyed at the little park directly across the street from the market. This place is a gem. The folks behind the counter couldn't be more helpful and friendly (and pretty humorous as well), and the lady at the register was sweet as your favorite aunt. I highly recommend this place for locals and visitors alike. I think from the 1, it's about 10-15 minutes. The drive is particularly nice if you take the Freedom/Hames Road route.

                                For dinner, we had the bottle of Santa Cruz Valley Pinot Noir, organic corn (think real corn pre-supersweet genetic corn), heirloom tomatoes, padron peppers, seascape strawbs, bread from Kelly's, all centered around the tri-tip that we grilled on the Weber. Wow - this was our favorite meal so far. It just represented a very decent cross-section of the wealth of great foods you folks have here in the Santa Cruz area. We were toying with the thought of cooking up the crab cakes for a surf & turf, but were overwhelmed with the bounty on the table already. While Santa Cruz has been awful on my waistline, it's been really good for my soul.

                                1. Day Seven: This is our final full day in SC. We will pack up and leave some time Tuesday morning. We book-ended Monday with a visit to The Buttery on Soquel for breakfast, followed by a visit to Shopper's Corner Market across the street.

                                  The Buttery is another impressive bakery that doubles as a great eatery. Relatively small but excellent breakfast menu that is backed up by a nice coffee bar and bake counter. We ordered the huevos rancheros, quiche, the "Basic Breakfast," and the fritatta of the day. Everything delivered. The quiche was a masterpiece - about 2 1/2 inches high, the filling super flavorful and fluffy, and the slice was extremely generous. The huevos rancheros were served in a broad shalllow soup bowl layered with refried beans, a couple of corn tortillas, a generous portion of salsa and a couple of poached eggs. The "Basic Breakfast" was exactly that. A couple of eggs, bacon, smokey home fries and a generous portion of rosemary focaccia fresh out of the panini press. The fritatta was filled with veggies and blanketed with a bit slice of cheddar. I opted for the fruit salad and the fruit scone. We didn't hit a lot of breakfast houses, but this was voted the best by our family.

                                  The bake counter is impressive. One longer case is where the unrefrigerated goods are, and a shorter case filled with refrigerated desserts and pies is adjacent to the first case. The assortment of breads are behind the counter against the wall. Lots of delicious choices - so many that it truly is hard to decide what to pick. I grabbed about a half-dozen items but of course we didn't have a chance to try them yet. I am sure we won't be disappointed.

                                  As we were leaving, a senior citizen approached us and explained that he was kind of lost (I can believe that in this town :)). He was looking for a doctor's office, we gave him directions and he in turn offered us a ride to where ever we were headed. We politely and gratefully deferred, explaining that we were parked just a few cars away and were going to ask him the same. I really like this town. As we turned the corner toward our car, we passed a market entrance to
                                  Shoppers' Corner Market, peaked in, and thought we should give it a lookover. This place is basically a mom & pop market done in the way people who enjoy great food and drink would appreciate. The produce and meat counter looked fresh and clean, the aisles were stocked with a lot of top shelf and gourmet items, and the wine and beer selections were quite expansive. We had been looking for a representative selection of local Pinots, and here they were - probably at least three-dozen choices! Like yesterday where we started out with a place that delivered a great meal, all we had to do was walk across the street to find another place that was very Chow-worthy.

                                  Since today was our last full day, and since the kids had been very tolerant of our many side trips to seek out good food and drink, we decided to spend the afternoon at The Boardwalk one more time. This nixed any lunch plans - I was really hoping to try Tacos Moreno. Furthermore, it was really warm today. Between being dragged around from ride to ride and the hot weather, we were pretty burnt out.

                                  After recharging our batteries with a trip to the beach off 26th, we cleaned up and headed over to Seabright Brewery for a really casual dinner and some nice brews. One major consideration we've been making all vacation long is where we could go that would accommodate our pooch. Seabright Brewery loves dogs, just as many of the places around this town. On top of that, this place has some really nice brews. We tried four tonite, and the standout for me was the oatmeal stout. Not too serious but still has just enough roast, body and taste to satisfy lovers of stout. We also gobbled down a po' boy, burger, steamed clams and an mixed appetizer dish. The portions here are extremely generous and the food itself varies from good to great. Seabright Brewery is just a nice place to gas off, relax, talk and sip down some really good brews along with some tasty food.

                                  Santa Cruz has offered me more than I'd expected. I already knew about the nice folks, the progressiveness, and the laid back attitude. What really surprised me was the amount of great eats and drinks that are so readily accessible here. I now know why so many alums from UCSC find it hard to leave this town and always seem to find their way back in one form or another. We hope to return - if not for the holidays, then next year for at least another week. I really appreciate the help of you local Hounds. Our trip wouldn't have been half as much fun without you folks!

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                                  Tacos Moreno
                                  1053 Water St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                                  Seabright Brewery
                                  519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                    Your report (s) deserves a spot in the chowhound hall-of-fame. A pleasure to "travel and eat" along with you. Your details make the report shine; they recall all the little human touches that make sharing great food and good times so special.

                                    Many thanks.

                                    1. re: toodie jane

                                      Thanks - it's my pleasure. Lucky for me my wife and kids tolerate me with my Chow fever. I've found that while Chowhound is the site for more serious food folks, it can be somewhat cumbersome to find info in a timely manner. While I take Yelp reviews with a handful of salt, I do like it for finding info on places, categories, etc. Because of this, I've been approaching threads that I start from a different perspective - trying to make them more user-friendly for those who are seeking information on food (as in this case, food in Santa Cruz from a touron's perspective). I'm hoping others visiting SC who fall upon this thread will build upon it so others can follow suit.

                                      Santa Cruz seems to fall in the shadow of the counties to the north (I've been guilty of this) because of their reputations for great food and drink. But there's definitely a lot going on in this town as well, and it's concentrated within a 30-40 minute radius, but most within 15 to 20 minutes (once one learns to navigate these crazy streets!). Great food, great ingredients going into the food, great wine and beer, and no sense of pretense here. One can easily spend an hour getting to destinations up in Marin, Sonoma and Napa, plus they're about another three hours away from our home in LA. Santa Cruz is dog-friendly and bike-friendly as well. And it seems that area around the Swift Street Courtyard has become a nucleus for more Chow-worthiness. I'm guessing when we return and the economy hopefully continues to recover, this area will be a major attraction to showcase the local bounty. Great great times here.

                                      1. re: bulavinaka

                                        Thanks for the great feedback, I think those of us who have spent decades sniffing out the best in our favorite little vacation spots ALWAYS benefit from a fresh pair (or two or more) of eyes. I'm always impressed by the hidden gems that are "discovered" by the handful of quality posters new to areas, such as yourself.

                                        Being one of those decades long explorers, I still prefer the "lesser" known locales (central coast, Healdsburg and the Russian River Valley, Mendocino's and Del Norte's north coast). Of course, SF, Sonoma, and Napa are always fun to do occasionally, as is LA, Vegas, etc.

                                        Thanks again and Cheers,

                                        Dave