Just north of Felton on Highway 9 and south of Boulder Creek is the town of Ben Lomond— not to be confused with the Ben Lomond Mountain in Scotland, although that is where the town (and the mountain to the West) derives its name. Having been settled by a Scot named John Burns in 1851, it is only fair that the town would be named as such. Afterall, “Ben Lomond” translates to “Beacon Peak” in Gaelic. Don’t let the Scottish roots fool you, however, John Burns was one of the first vintners in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is now home to over thirty wineries! The terrain, micro-climates, marine influences, and diversity of soils attracts wine-makers from around the world.
Boulder Creek sits at the peak of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just before the slope begins to dip down towards Silicon Valley. It is the gateway to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest state park and home to the largest continuous stand of ancient Redwoods, with over 10,000 acres of old growth forest. Frequented by day hikers, bikers, trail runners, backpackers and more, Big Basin captures the novel beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains. With over 80 miles of trails that link Big Basin to Castle Rock State Park and the eastern reaches of the mountains, there is no shortage of adventuring to be had at Big Basin. One of the parks most popular to-do’s is the Skyline to Sea Trail, a near 30-mile descent from a mountain ridge all the way down to the ocean.
Felton’s charming downtown area and historic buildings really capture the history and culture of the region in general. The oldest building in downtown Felton, dating back to 1874 is now home to The Cremer House. In its heyday, it was the Grand Central Hotel, a boarding house, restaurant, and bar ran by Thomas Cremer and his wife. For a classic American meal, prime selection of craft beer, and a little bit of history, The Cremer House is a must! Speaking of history… Felton is home to the Roaring Camp Railroad, a former settlement (known as the Roaring Camp) and the center of the logging capital of the world. With two kinds of tours running regularly and seasonal specials, these tours are fun for all ages and tell the history of Santa Cruz’s logging industry.
The apparent influence of tech culture sets Los Gatos apart from some of its south-neighboring mountain towns. Afterall, it is the home of Netflix headquarters. Don’t let the techies fool you though, Los Gatos still has remnants of the historical charm that resonates throughout these old Mountain towns. In the mid-1850’s James Alexander Forbes started a flour mill along the Los Gatos Creek. It was made a historical landmark by the town in 1982 and saved my destruction as it was instead turned into the History Museum of Los Gatos. Although the museum closed in 2014, its artifacts and collections are now shown in the New Museum Los Gatos, which is a great activity for all those history buffs out there! The Forbes Mill Steakhouse is an upscale restaurant in town aptly named in the light of the town’s founding history.
On a pocket of coastline just a few miles off Highway 1, Pescadero is a quaint, quiet beach town and a popular pit stop for road trippers or motorcyclists making their way down (or up) the coast. Just off the beaten path from the bustling Bay Area, Pescadero is a hidden gem about 30 miles North of Santa Cruz. From Bay Area locals to coastal tourists, most passing through Pescadero are surprised to learn that this charming, rural beach town has its fair share in the way of shopping, delicious restaurants, markets, live music, and farms. Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the town’s landmark, sitting on the cliffs of Pescadero State Beach, which is a beautiful and worthwhile site to see. Unfortunately, access to the inside of the Lighthouse is not open to the public, but there’s plenty of other things going on in Pescadero to keep you entertained!
Nestled between the coast and the mountains, Santa Cruz offers endless possibilities for adventure junkies of all kinds! Surfers, hiking enthusiasts, trail runners, climbers and mountain bikers— you name it! Any outdoor activity is just that much more fun in Santa Cruz and all the locals know that West Cliff is always a good idea! At any given time of day, you’ll find surfers, artists, runners, locals, and more enjoying the beaches and beauty of the cliffs. At the far west end of the bike path is Natural Bridges State Park, where local sunset lovers, surfers, neighbors, and beach-goers gather to watch the sun dip below the ocean. It’ll be hard not to notice the wide smiles on everyone’s face as glowing streaks of pink, purple, and red light paint the sky in the last hour of light, this is one of Santa Cruz’s best treasures.
As with the history of many towns nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Saratoga was founded with the construction of a Sawmill in the 1850’s, just before the Goldrush drastically transformed the region’s landscape and culture. Believe it or not, Saratoga was named after the lake town in Upstate New York after a series of name changes to the city since it was founded. Just next door to Los Gatos at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Saratoga is a bedroom community with a small-town feel for Silicon Valley professionals. There’s plenty to do and plenty to see in Saratoga, from the beautiful natural surroundings to restaurants to local wineries.
Scotts Valley is a quiet suburban community in the Santa Cruz mountains where hikers, bikers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the area’s parks, outdoor recreation areas, and the many historical sites to see. As part of Henry Cowell State Park edging into Scotts Valley, it is a popular spot for day hikes, trail runs, or biking excursions. Lodato Park is another popular park for all of the above. Located a bit off the beaten path, its one of Scotts Valley’s best kept secrets. Tucked away behind a corporate office park, Lodato park is home to a handful of trails that many of Scotts Valley residents discover or come across for the first time after over living there for decades!
Woodside, originally home to Ohlone natives is a small community just 30 minutes south of San Francisco, at the foothills of the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Home to various parks, open space preserves, and a variety of historic locations including Filoli, an early 20th century country estate. Woodside stretches from the foothills to the skyline where one of it’s famous restaurants resides, Alice’s Restaurant. A historic building dating back to the 1920’s, now a popular stopping point for motorcyclists and visitors passing through the redwoods.