Andrew Burke

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Back in Santa Cruz
Posted on: 2007-04-06

I was recently in California to visit with my family and spent a day in Santa Cruz - my first time back since we moved back to Toronto in December. I realize that my last post about Santa Cruz was mostly negative - the things on one's mind when one is leaving a place, I guess - so here are things that I like about Santa Cruz, and which I was glad to see again:

  • The Beach Even though we lived only a few blocks away from the beach and the pier, we didn't spend as much time there as we should have. What's nice about the beach, pier, and boardwalk is that they're fun for everyone. Unlike much of the rest of Santa Cruz, you don't have to be independently wealthy or a junkie to be part of it - so all kinds of people are there, and they all bring their kids. Dot com code monkeys, sorority girls, surfers, migrant labour from Salinas, Korean tourists, philosophy students, salsa dancers, and the usual eccentrics and nutbars that make Santa Cruz what it is. There are also birds, sea lions, seals, and the occasional otter just off shore.

  • Coast Hotel It's expensive and kind of ugly at the base of the pier, but all of the rooms face out over Cowell beach and the pier. Leave the window slightly open and go to sleep to the sound of the waves. Be woken by the dawn streaming directly into the windows. Santa Cruz faces south and slightly east over the bay, so this is one of the few hotels in California where you can watch the sun rise over the water. Now if they could just paint the building a Greek-Islands white and blue instead of brown, they could have something that looks as nice outside as it does inside.

  • Ideal Bar and Grill If you're staying at the Coast Hotel, skip the expensive restaurant in there for breakfast and instead cross the street to Ideal. It has a nice and cheap breakfast special, cheerful staff, and big bright windows overlooking the beach. Not sure what it's like for other meals - probably not so good - but for breakfast it's, uh, ideal.

  • Bookshop Santa Cruz The first day I'm in town, I go here and buy a book. Usually something from their excellent computer collection, or sometimes something else - this time they didn't have Rails Recipes, so instead I got Old Man's War (pretty good, by the way). This place is a mere four blocks from a Borders mega book store and it seems to hold its own just fine. When Terry Pratchett or any of dozens of other authors come to town to do a reading, they do it here. Also out front is the only statue anywhere of a member of the Wobblies - and he's playing a saw with a violin bow.

  • Taqueria Vallarta Toronto has cuisine from around the world, but we don't have good Mexican food. Santa Cruz has several Mexican places, from The Palomar at the high end and Tampico in the middle, to Taqueria Vallarta, a great place for take-out, and, as I've been told by several reputable sources, the best burritos in town.

Toronto is way ahead of Santa Cruz in Indian cuisine, though - although a new place just opened up on Pacific that may change that a bit. Haven't tried it, but it's about time they got a place for fresh Naan and a decent curry.

  • Saturn Cafe A unique Santa Cruz institution - a grungy space-age diner that serves greasy vegetarian food. Imagine if the kid from the Jetsons grew up and joined a punk band. Ever since I planned my visit to Santa Cruz, I've been craving the Space Cowboy: a completely vegetarian bacon-burger smothered in BBQ sauce, with a side of fries or an organic salad, washed down with a pint of local organic beer. It's organic and vegetarian food for which you don't have to make any excuses. The place reminds me of a quote from Iggy Pop:

When the Rolling Stone review of the first Stooges album came out, I think it was written by Lenny Kaye, I think it also contained the first reference to the word 'punk.' I think it happened from that review. To paraphrase, 'This is the music of punks cruising for burgers.' And I was so furious because I was a macrobiotic! (laughter) But he had a point -- I was a macrobiotic with a burger mentality.

There are a few places I didn't get around to seeing again, although I enjoyed them before. They include:

  • The Attic the best place to get some work done in the afternoon, and a great art and live music venue

  • The Red Room where all the graduate students hang out to drink and smoke, and upstairs is a fancy restaurant, Red.

  • If you're looking for a nice place for fine dining, there are lots of expensive, flashy, and uppity places around town - but Gabriella Cafe is tucked into an old house a block away from the crowds on Pacific. Excellent food and wines, and if the weather is nice you can eat in the small entrance courtyard.

  • Santa Cruz has no shortage of bars, but by far the least annoying is The Poet and the Patriot. It's not very flashy and wears its working class (even socialist) and New Jersey and Irish roots proudly. They had a fire a year or so ago but have rebuilt and seem to be doing fine.

So it's not all bad in Santa Cruz - the police have been patrolling more along Pacific Avenue, so walking downtown doesn't feel like running the gauntlet any more. If you're ever in the area, be sure to try these places - and enjoy the sunshine.

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