By the time our anniversary rolls around each Jan. 2, we’re usually too holiday-frazzed to celebrate.
“Happy anniversary, honey.”
“You, too, love. G‘night.”
But in 2011, we actually kept the promise we make every year but rarely honor, to take time to recover from our post-holiday exhaustion and then mark our anniversary by escaping to someplace special.
With the unusually summertime-like weather this January, we decided to redefine “free time.” On the spur of the moment, we ran away to Santa Cruz.
Having some “just us” time is really rare for us, given the erratic demands of my job, cherished visits from and with family members and friends, and a never-ending “to do” list of errands and chores.
Do we know Santa Cruz? No. Do we know anybody there? No. Had we planned out what we’d do once we got there? No.
That was the point.
We weren’t going to hit the vacation “redial” button this time. We’d vowed not to repeat anything we’d done in that area before. No returning to shops, restaurants or bakeries we’d liked, no seeing sights we’d already seen, We wouldn’t even go back to the Boardwalk, because our granddaughters weren’t with us.
We allowed ourselves one repeat — a Capitola hotel where we’d stayed before. It’s quiet, clean, comfortable and we like it. There’s no point reinventing a wheel and winding up with a wobbly skateboard instead of a sports car.
What did we do? We played tourist.
We went through UC Santa Cruz and walked around the arboretum. I want to go back in spring!
We drove around the beachfront and downtown areas, which feel somewhat like Sicily or Greece, especially with so many vivid paint jobs on the interesting old houses, bungalows and cottages.
We played our long-standing family game of “I wonder where that road goes?” First, we toured 7 twisty miles of s-turns and hills out Trout Gulch and Valencia roads, which are rather like Santa Rosa Creek Road with added patches of redwood trees. The old ranches, hills, meadows and fruit-tree groves were charming.
We took an even curvier, steeper road to Felton, and felt as if we’d dropped back into 1970s-era Big Sur, grown larger but not up, with some residents still in long skirts, hair or beards and probably with weed, not weeds, growing in the back yard.
Restaurants? Pressed for advice, hotel clerks recommended Café Cruz. Good call! Husband Richard and I shared romaine salad with fresh beets and Gorgonzola, topped with lightly breaded and quick-fried fennel. He had penne with Floridian prawns and Italian sausage; and I dined on grilled salmon with creamy polenta and garlic spinach. Yum.
The next day, we parked in downtown Santa Cruz (an astonishing accomplishment!) and wandered into galleries and shops just to see what was there. We stumbled upon a little bistro on the side street where we’d parked — Gabriella’s Café. We split a bowl of lushly creamy cauliflower soup with truffle oil and a plate of bowtie pasta with a light wild-mushroom sauce. Mercy. Later, we learned Sunset Magazine had selected the café as “the most romantic spot in Santa Cruz.”
Another night, we’d remembered a previous recommendation for a nearby pizza place (Tony & Alba’s). Their small vegetable-laden pizza with spinach cheese was perfect for two not-too-hungry patrons.
Breakfasts? Zelda’s on the Beach in “downtown” Capitola offered breakfast with a view. Another morning, we drove north on Highway 1 to the much-lauded Davenport Roadhouse, where we now recommend assembling your own combo omelet. Richard’s had smoked salmon, crisp bacon, red onions, mushrooms and spinach.
Our only mediocre dining experience was at a vegetarian restaurant with vegan and raw cuisine leanings. By the time we were halfway through the Thai-style spring rolls and salad, our jaws were exhausted. I can only tackle so many coarsely shredded carrots in one sitting. Even the soup was chewy.
All in all, it was an amazingly relaxed weekend get-away. If one of us wore out, we headed back to the hotel for a rest. If we wanted to sit on a bench and people watch, we did it. Walk? Let’s go. Movie? Nah. Dress up? Wear jeans? Whatever. There was nobody to impress.
This mini-vacation had been just for us, and it was perfect.