Santa Cruz in the Off Season

Don't wait until summer to visit Seabright Beach, Betty Burgers, or Aldo's Harbor Restaurant.


Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

In the winter, fog transforms the deserted Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk into a Scooby-Doo set, and mist saturates the city as if Monterey Bay has lapped onto Pacific Street washing away any sign of summer’s annual tourist invasion. For a city with a history of weird, weed, and whatever goes, locals don’t let a little wet weather spoil a day at the beach.

Leave behind the boardwalk and hang around with The Lost Boys on the adjacent wooden bridge before heading into Seabright. Seabright Beach affords an almost uninterrupted panorama of the bay, the fog occasionally parting to reveal the Santa Cruz wharf, Moss Landing’s smokestacks, and Monterey’s coastline of hotels. A beer by a beach bonfire, a microbrew at Seabright Brewery (, or a can of PBR at Brady’s Yacht Club help chill your insides to match the temperatures.

Winter doesn’t slow Seabright’s taps and, after a few more than a few, many find their way across the street to Betty Burgers ( for half-pound beef monstrosities and handmade milkshakes featuring local Marianne’s ice cream.

A short walk to the harbor ends at Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant ( and a lunch of fried calamari or grilled local snapper. Condensation-covered windows blur the sight of pelicans diving into choppy water to a symphony of seagulls and sea lions arguing with the Walton Lighthouse ( foghorn.

For environmental excitement, take a drive up Highway 1 to Año Nuevo State Park where, from December to March, 2?-ton male elephant seals gather for beach battles awarding breeding rights to a harem of nature’s ultimate BBW. The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park off Highway 17 presents a humbler side to nature’s grandeur with close to 20 miles of trails winding through the forest and old growth redwoods, some towering close to 280 feet into the salty air damp with the dank smell of wet wood and musky detritus.

It’s not the smell of corn dogs, rollercoaster grease, and car exhaust, but the aroma is just as intoxicating if—like Santa Cruz in winter—you adjust your perspective.

Don’t wait until summer.

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