File this under “When did that happen” because Santa Cruz got hip. In the past, we’ve used this laid-back beach town as a sunny escape from the — and we employ the PC term here — marine layer that plagues San Francisco. But food options and appearances always left us feeling a tad frumpy. Sure, Santa Cruz maintains a breezy surf town vibe that we love, but for those of us who appreciate current trends in food + design, there was nothing to rival what was happening in urban centers nationwide. That’s all changed thanks to a recent outcrop of smart new restaurants, wineries and shops bringing style and good taste to Santa Cruz’s Westside. What was the catalyst for this seaside-change? A former brussel sprouts packing facility, of course. The renovated warehouse complex, dubbed the Swift Street Courtyard, hosts a burgeoning food & craft movement that’s a convincing reason to check out Santa Cruz anew.
Sitting at the heart of the Swift Street Courtyard is Kelly’s French Bakery, patient zero for the renaissance bug. Owners Mark & Kelly Sanchez are the godparents of the Swift Street complex, responsible for renovating the old packing house and fostering the current scene. If the Westside had a visitors center, it would be Kelly’s. But instead of maps, they hand out delicious pastries, ice cream and sandwiches. Take your treats outside to enjoy on the courtyard patio that is strung with lights and acts as the soul of the complex.
Wine tasting in Santa Cruz once meant you had to brave treacherous single-lane mountain roads that held a lonely winery every 100 miles or so. But now you can easily stroll from one tasting room to the next, sampling pinots with reckless abandon. Nearly all local tasting rooms are located in the Swift Street Courtyard and its immediate surroundings. Sones and MJA are crowd-pleasers with an inexpensive red blend and seated tastings on the patio, respectively. We like Santa Cruz Mountain Winery for their unique Spanish/Portuguese varietals and amazing brandy. Across the street, Rexford pours good Pinot and a nice, lean Merlot. And don’t miss Odonata just a couple blocks away. Check out Surf City Vintners for a comprehensive list.
Feeling more porter than pinot? Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery is a local fixture that’s been brewing organic beers since 2005. The sound of a happy crowd will lead you to their convivial beer garden and funky, cool tasting room whose decor happily reminds you that you’re still in Santa Cruz. Just across the way, a new gastropub dubbed the West End Tap & Kitchen is scheduled to move in sometime this year.
After five wineries and a brewery, carefully head over to the shops to see how easy it is to find something you can’t live without. Cameron Marks is that breed of designer boutique that may be commonplace in SF and LA, but is a rare treat in SC. Pop in to browse a choice selection of housewares, apparel, and accessories from Muji, Apolis, and Deus ex Machina. A second store for women’s apparel sits just opposite the courtyard.
If the California coast had a gift shop, it would look a lot like Sawyer Land & Sea Supply. We fully embrace the aesthetic and ethos that drives this stylish outfitter: an essence of the sand-flecked, sun-kissed California lifestyle, from the Redwoods to the shore. Drool over (please not on) handmade wooden paipos from longshipdesign, gleaming handshaped surfboards, hip men’s and women’s apparel and those ultra-desirable Woolrich blankets. To Sawyer Land & Sea Supply, we award our coveted Solie.
If you ask us, the best way to experience the sunny, surfy Santa Cruz lifestyle is via a rental from Airbnb. Just make sure your temporary abode includes a BBQ so you can indulge in El Salchichero’s vivid case of homemade sausages, cured meats, and assorted steaks & chops from local, high-quality and humane providers. Or just take home a jar of their killer BBQ sauce or spicy pickles for later. Either way, these guys are awesome. Find an excuse to say “hi.”
Need some summer squash for your cookout? The Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market is everything that San Francisco’s crazy-crowded Ferry Building farmers’ market is not: intimate, affordable, and relaxed. Stock up on seasonal flowers, fruit and true farm fresh eggs. Then grab a breakfast taco from Back Porch or a slice from Uncie Ro’s (whose name fondly recalls this) and enjoy the live music that has folks nodding along in the sunshine. During the summer, check out their pop-up breakfasts with local chefs and farmers. Market hours are every Saturday from 9am – 1pm.
One of the regular vendors at the Saturday market, Companion Bakeshop, recently opened a brick-oven-and-mortar shop to churn out their wholesome organic breads and pastries. Their morning pastry counter is a national treasure: tea cakes, chocolate croissants, and fruit galettes inspired weeping from one especially sensitive member of our staff. Added bonus: Blue Bottle Coffee. Come Sunday when they team up with neighboring Odonata Wines for a kick-ass brunch of savory breakfast pizzas and sparkling wine.
Another neighborhood bakery that we adore is Cafe Iveta. It’s hidden away in a business park, but don’t let that deter you from seeking out their drop scones. Chicago transplants John & Yvette (her Italian-accented father called her “ee-vay-tah,” hence the name) conceal a thriving scone mix business in the back of this serene cafe with a gorgeous patio. A rack of fresh-baked scones greets you as soon as you walk in the door. You get to play a kid-version of yourself as you stand giddy and indecisive in front of options that include apricot, white chocolate lavender, ginger and lemon.
Bow down to Flickr for more Westside connection.