THE BEST WAY TO SANTA CRUZSanta Cruz is about 345 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The nearest major airport and train station are in San Jose, about 30 miles to the northeast.
WHERE TO STAYSanta Cruz Dream Inn, 175 W. Cliff Drive; (831) 426-4330, www.dreaminnsantacruz.com. Doubles from $169.
www.westcliffinn.com. Doubles from $185 (although midweek specials are as low as $125).
Sea & Sand Inn, 201 W. Cliff Drive; (831) 427-3400, www.santacruzmotels.com. Rooms 206, 207 and 208 have some of the best views. Doubles from $109 in winter, $199 in summer.
Pacific Blue Inn, 636 Pacific Ave.; (831) 600-8880, www.pacificblueinn.com. There are nine rooms (each with an electric fireplace, all wheelchair-friendly and two ADA compliant) neighbored by a small yard. There's a high-ceilinged lounge/gallery in back called the Mill. Free bikes to borrow. Doubles as low as $125 midweek, up to $229 weekends.
Pleasure Point Inn, 2-3665 E. Cliff Drive; (831) 475-4657, www.pleasurepointinn.com. Rooms have gas fireplaces, flat-screen TVs, Bose sound systems and some partial ocean views. Not child-friendly. Upstairs, there's a big deck and hot tub with broad ocean views. Doubles begin at $250 in summer, but there are discounts as low as $150 from January through March.
Bella Notte Inn, 21305 E. Cliff Drive; (877) 342-3552, www.bellanotteinn.com. The Bella Notte Inn is a contradiction, a conservative, upscale lodging that does not acknowledge the surf-soaked character of the neighborhood. Doubles from $149 in winter, $224 in summer.
WHERE TO EATOswald, 121 Soquel Ave., (831) 423-7427, www.oswaldrestaurant.com. Dinner entrees $19-$23.
Gabriella Cafe, 910 Cedar St.; (831) 457-1677, www.gabriellacafe.com. Entrees $11-$12 at lunch, $17-$19 at dinner. Live music on Thursday and Friday nights. Open for lunch (except Mondays) and dinner.
Soif Wine Bar, 105 Walnut Ave.; (831) 423-2020, www.soifwine.com. During my November visit, the entrees included pork, quail, flat iron steak and Yukon gold gnocchi. Warm, personable service. Dinner only, offered nightly. Entrees about $22-$25.
La Posta, 538 Seabright
Ave.; (831) 457-2782, www.lapostarestaurant. Entrees about $21-$24. Dinner only. On Sundays, there's a fixed-price family-style meal.
Cellar Door Cafe, 328 Ingalls St.; (831) 425-6771, www.bonnydoonvineyard.com. The seasonally driven menu changes often, but when I stopped in, the small plates were $6-$18. Family-style prix-fixe dinners run $35 per person. Dinner Wednesdays through Sundays. Lunch on weekends only.
Kelly's French Bakery, 402 Ingalls St.; (831) 423-9059, www.kellysfrenchbakery.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner (mostly sandwiches, soups and salads) served 7 a.m.-7 p.m. (8 p.m. Fridays). Sandwiches $7-$9, and entrees top out at $13.95.
Aquarius, in the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, 175 W. Cliff Drive; (831) 460-5012; www.aquariussantacruz.com. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Broad beach views and dinner entrees $17-$37.
Charlie Hong Kong, 1141 Soquel Ave.; (831) 426-5664, www.charliehongkong.com. No single item costs more than $7.10, and no bowl-and-topping combination amounts to more than $11.60. Open 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. daily
TO LEARN MORE Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council, www.santacruzca.org.