Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Favorite Cities in California

Santa Cruz is a lovely little town about 2 hours south of San Francisco. Although it is known mostly for its boardwalk, it has one of the loveliest downtown areas in California filled with beautiful art deco buildings, fun & funky shops and great restaurants. Also, the downtown sidewalks are filled with outdoor seating, and year round, Pacific Avenue is alive with musicians and street performers.

One of the things that makes downtown Santa Cruz special is that there is wonderfully laid-back atmosphere to the city and the vibrancy of being a university town. Some of my places in Santa Cruz are book stores that sells used books and vinyls, my favorites being Logos and Bookshop, where my son and I have sat for hours browsing through and reading their extensive collection of children's books.

I especially enjoyed the festivities on Halloween when the Pacific Avenue is closed off only to the pedestrians, the entire town comes out dressed up in costumes, and the shops keepers hand out goodies to trick or treaters, and I also like visiting the West Side, which less known to tourists that has excellent bakeries, wineries, a gin distillery and a cluster of small businesses making everything from surfboards to guitars, and studio microphones to body jewelry. My favorite is Kelly's French Bakery and the design stores nearby.
Also known as the surfing capital, Santa Cruz has a museum dedicated to the sport, which is definitely worth a visit considering it is housed in the beautiful Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse overlooking Steamer Lane, an internationally known surfing site, and the drive from Santa Cruz to San Francisco on Hwy 1 is absolutely breathtaking, not to be missed around sunset.
Monterey is one of the most popular tourist destinations in California, and it’s easy to see why. Nestled on a peninsula of sandy beaches and cypress-dotted bluffs, Monterey is rich in marine life, Hispanic heritage and top-notch restaurants. Also, it is without a doubt one of the most kid-friendly cities in California offering abundance of fun-filled activities for children and adults alike. Of course, there’s the ever so famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, but I prefer to go to one of the many beautiful beaches along the bay where the water is so clear that you can see and experience the ocean life in its natural habitat … and for free!

As touristy as it is, a walk down Cannery Row is a must, if not to see the place that has been immortalized by John Steinbeck’s novels, but also as it offers one of the loveliest walking and biking path along the ocean that is part of the 18-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail.

Without a doubt, my favorite place in Monterey is the Dennis the Menace Park, which is a mother of all playgrounds. Created in 1956 by cartoonist Hank Ketcham, it is a favorite of local and visitors alike filled with whimsical equipment such as a drinking fountain inside a lion's mouth, a roller slide and a life-sized hedge maze, and it’s one of those places that your child will remember forever.

Restaurant recommendations: Paris Bakery Cafe, Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurants (598 Foam St)

A friend of mine from Europe who’d visited Santa Barbara told me that it reminded her of a city in Spain; however, to me Santa Barbara is a uniquely Californian, filled with white-washed stucco buildings and red-tiled roofs, situated in the beautiful setting between the mountains and the sea, and of course, all year round sun and near-perfect weather, as this is after all Southern California.

Also, the drive from Monterey to Santa Barbara is nothing short of spectacular, and there are many scenic areas and drives within a short distance as well. My favorite is the drive from Santa Barbara to Santa Maria and Ojai through the Ojai Valley. There are several little vineyards that are a lot less touristy than in the Napa/Sonoma region, and the scenery is serenely beautiful. It truly is one of best kept secrets in California.
San Diego is a big city that has a small town feel. Although it’s not most scenic city in California, it offers travelers a lot of fun activities, and every attraction and neighborhoods has its own charm.
And last but definitely not least, San Francisco ... I can't enough great things about my beautiful hometown; so, I have dedicated an entire blog post to it.  Insider's Guide to San Francisco


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