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09.23.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Gearhead: Loren Mueller fine-tunes his ride at the Bike Church.

The Essential Santa Cruz

Don't be a kook! Get to know the city where you live in seven easy days.

By Rula al-Nasrawi, Curtis Cartier, Traci Hukill and Jessica Lussenhop


WE UNDERSTAND the temptation to hole up there on campus, lurching from party to party and charging way too many muffins on that meal card. But we assure you, a newly emancipated young adult, can get into just as much interesting trouble down here off the hill, and the mean local kids are less likely to call you a tranny if you've earned some cred by venturing beyond Uncle Charlie's safety zone. Our handy cultural immersion program will have you dropping local references like a native in just one week.

Day One
Wake up and smell the anarchy this morning at Santa Cruz's left-most coffeehouse, Caffe Pergolesi (418A Cedar St., Santa Cruz; 831.426.1775). The massive Victorian-mansion-turned-cafe has a maze of rooms, a gargantuan patio, a beer license and perhaps the rankest bathroom in town. Any self-respecting student looking to assimilate into the Santa Cruz doctrine would do well to spend a few hours chain-smoking over a pint glass of black coffee and a stack of alt-rags from within its Guevara-garlanded halls.

If you're going to live in Surf City, you'd better at least make an effort to learn the preferred mode of transportation. Richard Schmidt Surf School has been teaching folks to hang 10 at Cowells Beach for more than 20 years. For $130 an hour, Schmidt will personally teach you the difference between a clidro and a fakie and show you new regions of your sinuses that you never knew could contain seawater. (236 San Jose Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.423.0928; $80 one-hour private instruction or two-hour group class/$130 one-hour private instruction from Richard himself.)

Anyone not on a surfboard in Santa Cruz had better be on a bicycle. And nothing says "I live in the Bay Area" better than a sleek and slim road bike. But since a new one of those costs a couple G's, and not every UCSC student is on daddy's dime, enterprising types can pick up a used one at the local cycle co-op the Bike Church (224 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.425.2453). Besides selling bikes for $20 to $200, depending on their level of prior abuse, they teach folks how to fix them and even share some opinions on why automobiles are the world's great evil, all at no extra charge.

Far enough off the beaten path to be a locals' secret and close enough to Pacific Avenue to get shots at another bar without closing your tab, the Poet & Patriot Irish Pub (320 Cedar St. #E., Santa Cruz; 831.426.8620) is a Santa Cruz institution going back 27 years. Besides offering the best Guinness in town and a bevy of other European and micro brews, the pub maintains three old-school dartboards that provide endless and entertaining ways to combine alcohol with throwing sharp objects. Average pint $4, darts free.

It would be amazing if UCSC hasn't by now added a keg party at Panther Beach to the official schedule for Orientation Week. Located about 10 miles north of town on Highway 1, the idyllic cliffside beach, with its treacherous entrance path and ample parking lot, is a freshman-year nirvana, and plays host to several bonfire bashes each quarter. Remember, SCW says: bring a flashlight and don't drink and drive! Highway 1 between milepost 26.86 and 26.4, just south of Davenport.

Day Two
Living in Santa Cruz is expensive. But if times get extra tough you can always get on the Jesus diet and hit up Mother Ocean for your next meal. You don't need a fishing license to fish off Municipal Wharf, and there are a couple booths that sell bait on-site. Bring a strong pole and be ready to fight off a few seagulls though!

Santa Cruzans are known to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They're also known to wear their battleships, skulls, fairies and screaming demons on there as well. Staircase Tattoo (628 Ocean St. and 52 Front St.; Santa Cruz; 831.425.7644) has been dermatologically festooning the locals for decades, and when it comes to turning boring old skin into awesome art, they can't be beat. Tattoos $150 per hour.

Protest at High and Bay Streets: Folks here don't even need a reason to protest; they'll do it for the upper body workout. The corner of High and Bay streets, in front of the UCSC southern entrance sign, is the most popular place for students to voice dissent, be it based on skyrocketing tuition costs, gutted academic staff or a threat to their favorite campus redwood. You may have paid for classes, but you can't call yourself a true Slug until you've hoisted a sign with the words "equal," "people" and "now!" scrawled somewhere on it.

One of the oldest roller coasters in America and the most celebrated attraction on Santa Cruz's Beach Boardwalk (400 Beach St., Santa Cruz; 831.423.5590), the 85-year-old Giant Dipper is a certified historical landmark, not to mention a damn scary ride! And since after 5pm, Monday and Tuesday evenings, all the rides are 75 cents apiece, you've got no excuse for not losing your lunch on this Central Coast icon.

By day, a mild mannered French-themed breakfast and lunch joint, but by night, an absinthe-slinging, weird-movie-screening indie rock citadel, no one brings more up-and-coming bands to the local stage than the Crepe Place (1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.429.6994). It's here you can also find 138-proof absinthe served from fancy crystal vases over flaming sugar cubes, and where you can meet up with the rest of the local hipsters who are also into that kind of thing.

Day Three
Nature calls! Beautiful Wilder Ranch State Park is just a short jaunt north of town on Highway 1, and sublime in the morning. About two miles past the city limits on the left side of the road is a dirt lot with little footpaths where others have opted to sneak in and bypass the $10 park fee. But honest injuns go in the proper entrance, park, then hoof it over the railroad tracks to one of the most spectacular cliff overlooks in the county, which helps clarify why people pay so much to live here. Cyclists and energetic hikers can also get there from campus via Chinquapin Road, which crosses Empire Grade into Wilder Ranch and rewards power pedalers with a stunning ocean view at the Eucalyptus Grove.

Right on the way back into town is Ferrell's Donuts (2227 Mission St., Santa Cruz; 831.457.2760), an Edward Hopper-esque donut shop that has been a favorite with students and other local characters for decades (and which also stocks Marianne's ice cream). About 15 minutes across town, Branciforte Drive leads to the famous Mystery Spot (465 Mystery Spot Road, Santa Cruz; 831.423.8897), tucked away in the fragrant redwoods. Everyone needs their own personal theory on the kitschy, physics-defying tourist trap, which has drawn gawkers since 1940. You'll also want the bumper sticker.

They say oysters are good for a blown mind, and they shuck 'em fresh at the Santa Cruz Farmers' Market (Lincoln and Cedar streets, Santa Cruz; 831.454.0566) every Wednesday afternoon downtown. All the best produce from local farms is on offer along with the best pickles, pastas and perennials, all to the infuriating cacophony of the world's worst drum circles. And since no day is complete without cocktails, and no place in town serves 'em up with quite the panache of the Red Room (1003 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 831.426.2994), then it's time to get to this watering hole that feels like an old bordello with drinks just as powerful. Now, true, they do card pretty aggressively, so if not of age, students can just toddle on home with some mammoth burritos from Planet Fresh Gourmet Burritos next door (1003 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; 831.423.9799), get high and call Nite Owl Cookies (831.423.NITE) for ice cream sandwich delivery.

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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Shore Thing: A party at Panther Beach is an adventure, guaranteed. Just keep an eye out for cops and rogue waves.

Day Four
Watsonville is just 20 minutes south on Highway 1 (past the dreaded "fishhook," which is pretty much a 24-hour traffic jam), but it feels worlds apart and deserves a day of undivided attention. In a town with such a large Mexican-American population, obviously it's not too difficult to find a gen-yoo-wine taqueria, but the easy-to-miss Real Colima (1101 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville; 831.728.2971) is arguably the best, a tiny joint that looks like somebody's house. Everything is fresh and cheap, from moles to sopas, but the tacos are to die for. In the early evening, Soccer Central Indoor Sports in Ramsay Park (34 Harkins Slough Road, Watsonville; 831.768.8961) starts to fill up with players and fans, and most nights it's possible to watch some top-notch up-and-coming soccer talent battle it out for free. On Fridays and Saturdays, Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds' Ocean Speedway (2601 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville; 831.476.9466) gets motors running for a badass way to end the day. Tuck into hot dogs and beers while four-bangers, dwarf cars and micro 600s tear up the mud in a battle for ultimate supremacy. Earplugs and a cushion are advisable, cuz these things last well into the night.

Day Five
Since patty sausage and nonironic trucker caps are in short supply on campus, may we suggest the Silver Spur (2650 Soquel Dr., Santa Cruz; 831.475.2725) for a delicious and educational outing. This is no-holds-barred big-ass breakfast territory, where men are men and a biscuit is a marked man. Closed Sundays. That's not ironic either.

The average freshman wasn't even a twinkle in Daddy's eye when the deadly 7.0 Loma Prieta Earthquake struck on Oct. 17, 1989. Speaking for ourselves, we're mindblown that there's a place called the "epicenter" of this monster that's accessible through a moderate expenditure of effort. To get to the Loma Prieta Epicenter, go to Nisene Marks State Park and park at the entrance. Bike or walk up the dirt Aptos Creek Road, bear right after the steel bridge, and continue past the Porter Picnic Area. Just before the road turns into switchbacks (about four miles in), the Aptos Creek Trail heads off to the left. Cross the stream and follow the trail up about five to eight minutes to see where the quake was born that brought down the Bay Bridge.

While in the neighborhood, the discriminating student will take advantage of fancypants garage sales in Aptos and Capitola (at least if it's a weekend day). It's all well and good to pick up some student's cruddy castoffs at a sale in the student ghetto, but the quality out here can be oh, so much higher. Finally, to wrap up this adventurous day, nothing enchants like a rock show at the haunted Brookdale Lodge (11570 Hwy. 9, Brookdale; 831.338.1300). Little Sarah Logan drowned in the creek that runs through the main (now seldom-used) dining room; legend has it she shows up now and again in her Sunday-best asking where her Mommy is and such. We can't vouch for that, but we can promise that a show at this quirky inn under the redwoods (accessible by car and bus) is good, oddball fun.

Day Six
OK, OK. We can now return to campus, having done a respectable job of exploring the rest of town. Part of Banana Slug initiation involves a thorough exploration of the bizarre sites of Upper Campus. Nestled comfortably between the pines and the redwoods stands Tree Nine, a colossal timber with climbable branches circling all the way up to what feels like the top of the world. After braving Tree Nine's braches, the typical Upper Campus pioneer takes a moment to visit the Wishing Tree, a smaller tree located around the corner from its potentially dangerous big brother. Hundreds of hand-written wishes adorn this tree, which date back from the '70s, and with a pen and nearby leaf, it's possible to add to the tree's historical décor. Before journeying back to civilization, paying respects to the creepy Cat Shrine is an absolute must as well. Feline fans and haters alike are invited to observe the photos and trinkets, which surround this mini kitty temple, and maybe even leave a catnip donation. All of these sites and more are within close proximity of each other, so slugs in training must keep eyes and antennas peeled for a memorial here and a rope swing there.

Although late-night dining at College 9/10 dining hall is infamous for its fabulous munchies, one way to avoid the "Freshman 15" would be to take the secret stairs on the left to Terra Fresca. This delicious coffee bar and restaurant has a lot to offer, from a gourmet grilled chicken sandwich to a heavenly artichoke cheese dip. Meal cards can be used here for those with a meal plan, and the fresh produce is picked directly from the UCSC farm. If there's a better way to show school spirit than by indulging in a campus-grown carrot or celery stick, we don't know what it is.

The trek to Porter College and through the Porter Meadow--a popular site for many a campus celebration--consistently proves to be quite the experience. By following one of the trails at the end of the meadow, Slugs face the mighty Porter Caves. Caverns can be muddier than a landslide after the rain, but any other day is safe to throw on some comfortable shoes, climb down the rabbit hole and have fun exploring UCSC's underground rumpus room. The mud-caked rooms inside could house a freshman and all of their hall mates, so journeying with a large group is advisable to make the adventure less lonely.

Day Seven
Before setting off on the standard afternoon hike, sleepy Slugs grab a coffee and a freshly baked cookie at the Express Store and walk up the wooden stairs outside to the Student Union. This place is great for relaxing and playing pool and ping pong in between classes, and there are plenty of students to meet and get to know.

An interesting point to remember is that the Upper Campus has trails linked to two different parks: Pogonip, a city park, and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. One way to enter Pogonip is by trekking down from the Stevenson Knoll, which is, naturally, located in Stevenson College. Pogonip has about eight miles of hiking trails, so comfortable shoes are a must. For the daring adventurers out there, the long trail out to Henry Cowell leads to one of Santa Cruz's best kept secrets: The Garden of Eden. This swimming hole by the San Lorenzo River is the perfect temporary getaway from the hustle and bustle of campus life. Remember thy swimsuit and keep it handy.


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