Friends give the best travel advice (naturally). So that's why we asked San Francisco-based interior designer Cecily Mendell for her favorite getaway within driving distance of SF. Her recommendation? Santa Cruz. Mendell packs up the car and heads south with her twin boys for laid-back beach weekends on the regular (it's basically her second home). Here's the inside scoop on where to go and what to do so you can beach it in Santa Cruz like a local.
Most scenic surf
Head to Pleasure Point (locals call it “the point"), the most iconic surf spot in Santa Cruz, to catch some waves. It's best for seasoned surfers, so don't test the waters here if you're a newbie. And be careful getting out to and in from the break--you'll be battling thick kelp, sharp rocks, sea urchins and coral shelfs. Non-surfers can take in all the action from a safe distance at the top of the bluff-side stairs.
East Cliff Dr. at 37th Ave., Santa Cruz; santacruzca.org
Best sunset stroll
Just south of Santa Cruz, Manresa State Beach is a hidden gem with soft sand and no crowds--just friendly fishermen and surfers. Watch the sunset as waves crash against the shore in the foreground.
1445 San Andreas Rd., Watsonville; parks.ca.gov
Best sleepover option
Manresa State Beach has campgrounds right on the bluff next to the beach. It isn't every day you find an oceanfront spot to pitch your tent.
1445 San Andreas Rd., Watsonville; reserveamerica.com
Bring your freshly caught crabs to The Fish Lady when crabs are in season (November through May) and they'll crack, clean and cook them for you--on the house. And if you're not down with catching your own, buy some at this awesome mom-and-pop market.
2510 S. Main St., Soquel; 831-475-6044 or thefishladysoquel.com
Best seafood dinner
Fishing not your thing? Get a table at Stockton Bridge Grille instead and order yourself the cioppino or clam chowder, which loyal patrons call the best in the country.
231 Esplanade, Capitola; 831-464-1933 or stocktonbridge.com
Best animal spotting
Año Nuevo State Park is one of the largest breeding grounds in the world for the northern elephant seal. You can see them year-round, but plan a trip for Valentine's Day, which the locals call “Love on the Beach." (Yup, mating season.) And plan ahead: The only way to get close is through a docent-led tour or self-guided permit.
1 New Years Creek Rd., Pescadero; 650-879-2025 or parks.ca.gov
Best cocktail by the sea
The Crow's Nest is nothing fancy, but they have the best Bloody Mary around. Mendell always brings guests for a drink here on the way to the beach.
2218 East Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz; 831-476-4560 or crowsnest-santacruz.com
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