We moved to the San Lorenzo Valley for a few reasons. Yes, it’s less expensive than most of the South Bay, which is where we lived previously. But my husband also loved visiting Roaring Camp Railroads as a kid, and we both love the beach. I also grew up in Humboldt County, an area filled with redwood trees and surrounded by the Humboldt Bay coastline, so moving closer to the Monterey Bay felt like coming home to me — only much warmer and a little less rainy than what I knew as a child.
Initially, I wasn’t very familiar with the area. My sister had lived in Santa Cruz, so I had driven some parts of it, but even when we were house hunting, I generally felt lost. It wasn’t until after my son was born and I met some other local moms that I started venturing out more and exploring more of what Santa Cruz County and the Santa Cruz Mountains had to offer.
Both of these spots have become favorites of my son, who loves nature and would dig in the dirt with construction trucks all day if I let him. Henry Cowell is a great spot for shade when it’s hot, there is river access, hiking paths are plentiful, and there are massive redwood trees. The loop trail is especially great for toddlers and strollers because it is flat and enclosed by fencing.
Fall Creek is where we go to tromp in the creek, throw rocks, build with sticks, and generally just get wet. I don’t partake in that so much, but my son is all over it.
The local farmers markets have also become part of our rituals. The Scotts Valley Farmers Market, featured above, only runs from April through November, and the Felton Farmers Market has a slightly shorter season, running May through October, but both are easily accessible from where we live and feature goods from local farms such as Live Earth Farm and Happy Boy Farms, plus some food vendors, a small fish market and sometimes some live music.
My favorite market is the Wednesday afternoon session in downtown Santa Cruz. The Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market is much larger than those in Felton and Scotts Valley, plus we can often run other errands in the area just before or after the market, and New Leaf Market is also right up the street if I need any supplemental foods for dinner that night. Many areas don’t even have one farmers market, and year-round we have four markets in Santa Cruz County. I feel spoiled to be able to purchase fresh, local, quality produce. It is a luxury that not everyone can boast.
I would be remiss if I wrote about Santa Cruz and didn’t mention the beaches. We have a couple dozen beaches in the county, each a little different from the last. While they are often packed during summer with over-the-hill visitors, I love the beaches pretty much any time of year -but- summer. It isn’t even because of all of the people, but the wind is often more calm come later fall, winter, and early spring.
We most often visit Seacliff State Beach. I love its vastness, though many of the beaches on the southern end of the county stretch wide along the shore. But I have also collected much sea glass at Seacliff, which is a small but detailed thing that I love to do, and parking is incredibly easy there, especially since we purchase an annual State Parks Golden Poppy Pass because we visit an array of the parks often enough to make it worth our while rather than to pay a parking fee each time. My husband also recalls visiting this beach often as a child and vividly remembers the cement ship there, as well as a long dig he made closer to the Rio Del Mar portion of the beach with his brother, making a path for the water to run from the small river area nearby out to the ocean.
Another favorite spot for me is the walk along East Cliff Drive. Starting at Pleasure Point, we walk out through the Opal Cliffs neighborhood, ending up at the Capitola Beach for play time. Then we pack everyone up and head back to Pleasure Point. The views along East Cliff are gorgeous, and the Capitola Beach is an easy one to access with kids, with ample seating along its edge, eateries nearby, and not too much beach area for kids to run off and get lost.
The coastline and beaches are also favorite spots for taking portraits. Just north of Santa Cruz along Highway 1, the Davenport cliffs are especially one of my favorite backdrops, with views out to the ocean and the cliff edges, plus massive cypress trees, which can provide some shade but also which are great for framing families and drawing your eye where I want it to go.
Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz has become a recent favorite location for portrait shoots, especially for holiday-card photos. There is generally ample parking, which is always a plus in my book, but the main draw are these amazing redwood trees. As I’ve said, redwood trees remind me of my youth. We used to tromp around through the Sequoia Park forest up in Eureka, exploring and chatting with our friends. These type of redwood groves bring me that sense of time and place in remembrance, but also in the here and now. There is something so majestic and strong about these towering beauties.
Finally, a little plug for Bay Photo. They have become a nationally known business, but they are based here in Santa Cruz, so I support them in any way I can because I believe strongly in supporting my neighbors. I wish they developed my black-and-white and slide film, but I can still bring in my C-41 color film and can print beautiful photos and fun cards and gift certificates from the comfort of my home, then hop over to Santa Cruz and pick them up in the store.
By the way, all of these images were taken with my cell phone. How do you capture the beauty around you in the day to day? What parts of where you live make your heart skip a beat and bring joy to your life? Share in the comments!