In April, I visited my best friend in Santa Cruz County! My partner was so kind to drive us around the entire time, and we booked an Airbnb for one night. I’ll be sharing things we did, reviewing places we visited, and one product review.
I’ll also share a powerful incident of tension in my relationship during this trip, but that is for another article (click here!)
Mentioned in this post:
• Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
• Sport-Brella Sun/Weather Shelter
• Santa Cruz Massage Harbor
• Regal Santa Cruz 9 Theatres
• Penny Ice Creamery
• Our Airbnb
• Roux Dat (Capitola location)
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
with the Sport Brella
The weather was perfectly sunny with a nice breeze. We arrived early, around 10:00am; it was surprisingly easy to find parking, and we secured a great spot on the beach.
The boardwalk can get quite packed but if you visit in the morning you can play games, set up camp on the beach, or grab snacks or drinks easily. You won’t have to navigate any crowds, wait in long lines, or bump elbows.
Luckily, the Boardwalk’s bathrooms have a large capacity; you typically don’t have to wait long to go at any time of day (even during the busiest hours).
We didn’t purchase foodstuff from the stalls, instead packing our own food! (Shout out to my best friend for making our lunch, XOXO~)
We spent the morning and afternoon just relaxing on the beach, under a Sport Brella.
My partner and best friend are both fair-skinned. Hindsight convinced me to purchase a Sport Brella in 2018, but it was only this year that I was able to put it to use!
The regular size has a wide 8-ft canopy, fitted with wind vents and two pockets on each side flap’s inside lining. We found it fit the three of us comfortably (note: my best friend and I are shorter than average). It provided excellent shade under the beaming sun.
The night before we watched YouTube videos on how to set it up. Notably, installing the Sport Brella against the ground (as opposed to standing straight up) demands you figure out the wind’s direction: you must face the umbrella against the breeze for it to stay put. Otherwise, the wind will catch inside the umbrella and lift it upwards off the ground—even with the pole stuck into the ground. It is relatively easy to install in sand, under light wind conditions.
Santa Cruz Massage Harbor
Since my best friend never had a massage before, I decided she was long overdue and treated her to one for her birthday. I also decided to treat my partner and myself to one; suddenly, our visit included mini spa party for the three of us!
A place that can accomodate 3 people at a time on a Sunday afternoon was somewhat difficult to search for… but I found the perfect place in Santa Cruz Massage Harbor located on the city’s outskirts, technically in the town of Aptos, CA. It ranks high in Yelp and had several 5-star reviews.
After figuring out which massages we’d get, I booked our appointments about a week & 1/2 in advance. I’d signed up for the booking platform (available on their direct website) but I wasn’t able to book 3 separate rooms at the same time. However, I noticed they offered couples massages… then, I wasn’t sure how to book a couples massage and an individual one in the same order. I ended up calling in and booking it over the phone, which was quick and easy.
A little more detail about our service, from my Yelp review:
Our massage therapists were Jillian, Kirk (for myself and my partner) and Aislyn (with my friend). We all had a very personalized experience, they each were extremely attentive to our individual needs. I had only 1 other massage before this, and the other two were massage newbies, so they also educated us on what massage is about and what to expect.
We all walked out feeling very refreshed and relaxed. It was such a positive experience, and I’m so glad we went with Massage Harbor for our small party. Their staff are very gracious, experienced and thoughtful in their work. I highly recommend!
Besides their wonderful service, Massage Harbor has its own small parking lot for their clients. It’s also nestled in between a residential neighborhood and Rio Del Mar State Beach, a generally quiet and peaceful area. The sandy beach is only 1-block away, available for a nice stroll before or after your appointment.
I’d enjoy going back to Massage Harbor if I’m in the area again! My partner and friend really enjoyed it, and I really loved all aspects of our experience.
Regal Cinemas (9) in Santa Cruz
Such a sweet little theatre! The outside signage and the lobby screams, “Throwback to the 80s” with its’ bright neon signage and retro geometric carpeting. However, all 9 auditoriums were majorly upgraded in 2015 with large, comfortable reclining seats. My nearest theatres back home don’t have this luxury, so I was super stoked that I could curl up in my chair when we watched Jordan Peele’s newest flick, Us (2019).
I was sad to find that our tickets, purchased on Fandango, were only scanned and not printed (I like to glue them into my bullet journal). This slight didn’t bother me so much since this day would have plenty of pictures to remember it by—and I happened to watch Us once before already the week prior. I also can’t confirm if their popcorn was overpriced or not, as most theatres are. I’m about 99% positive they are, since the theatre is in Downtown Santa Cruz.
The Penny Ice Creamery
Visiting Santa Cruz, one must absolutely visit the Penny Ice Creamery (they have two locations in Santa Cruz). It is uniquely special in that they make their ice cream in-house and completely from scratch. These small batches are made with local, sustainable, and organic products.
The Downtown Penny Ice Creamery is around the corner from Regal 9 Theatre. After our movie, we hopped on over right before a large line formed behind us. This tiny location often has a line going out the door and down the street, but don’t let it discourage you. It is so worth the wait!
I can’t remember the name of what I tried this visit, but it reminded me of cereal and tasted like honey! It was interesting and on the sweeter side, I liked it. I’ve also tried Honey Lavender; also, Salted Butter Toffee in shake form. Both delicious.
They’re also iconic because their fresh ice cream selection varies daily, changing with the seasons and ingredient availability—better yet, they offer non-conventional flavors, or traditional ones with a twist. I would never expect them to carry the same flavors every time I visit (besides their staple, Tahitian Vanilla Bean). I know some Yelp reviewers want this to happen… however, when there are so many possibilities that Penny Ice always tries to explore, I can’t complain!
All in all… If ever I’m in Santa Cruz, I will go to Penny Ice Creamery. Always.
Our Airbnb in Santa Cruz
The place we stayed at was a guesthouse. Relatively close to the Boardwalk by car, but also a stone’s throw away from the nearby town of Capitola.
On a corner lot, there’s a separate driveway just for guests with a bamboo thicket for privacy. Driving in, you park right next to the treehouse that all guests have full access to. Yes, I said treehouse. Sadly, we were out all day and didn’t get to climb onto it, but it was definitely a wow factor regardless. The small patio area also has a picnic table, perfect for outdoor meals and games.
You can only access the guesthouse by the gated backyard area that also has access to the main house. This space is extremely bountiful in plant life and also has string lights hanging from the aged tree in the middle of the courtyard.
Our host’s foster dog(s) also use this space. Nala, the one they had during our stay, was apprehensive at first but quickly became friendly after meeting us—she was super adorable, smiley, and such a good girl!
Besides human treats—like shortbread cookies, milk, and spices to use for grilling—the hosts also leave doggie treats so guests can give to their foster dog. This encourages positive experiences for their dogs, and it also left a lasting impression on us too.
Inside, it has a studio apartment layout with the bedroom area separated by curtains. It’s big enough to comfortably fit 2 people, and the decor is beach-themed featuring a wall of antique skateboards, a few surfboards overhead and tasteful artwork. The bathroom, directly off the well-stocked kitchenette, has a pocket door. While on the smaller side, it has enough room for two people standing comfortably, and the mirror is long so both people can use it. Overall, we had a very wonderful experience staying at Host Terry and Vallarie’s Airbnb. They graciously allowed us to use their grill, were very easy to contact, responded quickly to our questions and requests, and were just really welcoming and courteous. I would definitely stay here again.
Roux Dat in Capitola
Because I’m always craving spicy seafood, I’m always down to eat Cajun and Creole food. I was somewhat surprised there was such an establishment in the Santa Cruz area, but didn’t question it since their Yelp and Facebook pages displayed raving reviews.
We went on Monday morning, after we checked out of the Airbnb. It was quiet around noontime! There’s additional, shaded seating in front of the restaurant; parking is easily found in the large shopping mall this restaurant is located in, making it a prime place for to-go orders too.
We had a mini “Hot Ones” lineup, selecting three sauces out of the several dozens on the counter available for customers to take to their table. The restaurant also sells some hot sauce bottles if you want to take one home with you.
Because we were both starving, my partner and I ordered an entire meal: appetizer, main course, dessert, and chicory coffee.
My partner ordered their vegan jambalaya (pictured right, top plate) and it was extremely delicious considering that it had no animal products at all. I chose two of the jambalaya or etouffee options—I’m not sure exactly which ones because of their different variations: one was shrimp and the other crawfish. Both were rich and delicious, the proportions just right. A perfect portion of rice and two slices of toasted bread to soak in your stews and sauces.
All in all, what a great little restaurant! From the fried green tomatoes to the flavorful chicory coffee, jambalaya and etouffee, and their downright heavenly beignets… I am so dazzled by this place for its relaxed simplicity, amazing service, and delicious food.
Honestly, the next time I visit the area I would eat Roux Dat every single day.
This was such a fun trip overall, we got to do a lot of great things in a short period of time. I got to see my best friend and give her and my partner a wonderful 1st-time massage therapy experience. I loved all the food we ate, and we visited the lovely beach at the Board Walk and downtown Santa Cruz.
Click here for a special post about the significant incident in my relationship which happened over the course of this trip!
Originally published on my old blog, The Plant That Never Blooms (on Blogspot)