Find Serenity in Aptos
Aptos and Rio Del Mar are the least Santa Cruz-y points along the Monterey Bay coastline.
Photo by Don DeBold
Santa Cruz gets all the credit and all the fame—and over 3 million tourists per year. But it’s so—well, Santa Cruz-y.
If blaring boardwalks and Berkeley-by-the-beachishness aren’t for you, then pssst: About 9 miles south of downtown Santa Cruz—past Soquel’s quaint antique shops and Capitola’s funky-chic marina—you’ll find Aptos and Rio Del Mar, an undersung and far mellower swatch of the Monterey Bay coastline that offers all the stunning scenery and conveniences of Santa Cruz, sans the Santa Cruziness.
Fog-swathed redwoods stand vigil along hiking and riding trails above a scallopy set of bay front beaches which, as such, are uniquely mild—sporting low, lace-ruffle surf and nearly no undertow—yet also wild: Seals, dolphins, and even whales dive within sight of shore. Gaze northward and southward and it’s pretty much uninterruptedly green, tan, and azure, just as it was when Ohlone villagers dwelt on these sands over a thousand years ago.
Tiny Rio Del Mar is almost entirely residential. That’s kind of a great thing, as it lends safely swimmable, family-friendly Rio Del Mar beach and those dreamy tree-lined, house-and-garden streets leading down to a local-secret, hidden-paradise ambience. It’s rare to find a stretch of California coastline that is so accessible yet so uncommercialized.
It wasn’t always thus. The golden-walled, mosaic-muralled Rio Del Mar Beach Club opened amid glamorous clamor on this seafront in 1936, boasting 1,000 feet of private fenced frontage. Mangled by a rare winter storm, it was dismantled soon after World War II.
Stock up for long outdoorsy days with picnickables from cute Pixie Deli, in the beach-flats district, or at Deer Park Marketplace, which was built on the former deer-hunting grounds of 19th-century sugar magnate Claus Spreckels. Its Whole Foods-ish Deluxe Foods wields gigantic made-to-order sandwiches and its Panda Inn makes mouthwateringly old-school takeaway.
Manifesting mainly in multimillion-dollar beachfront mansions and the panoramic, palatially homey Seascape Beach Resort, latter-day luxury lingers in idyllic Aptos, whose name rhymes with floss, not close, as it is not Spanish but Ohlone, as told to Franciscan monks who arrived here to establish Mission Santa Cruz in 1791.
You needn’t be a one-percenter to enjoy Aptos’ gentle, sapphire-meets-turquoise-meets-silky-sand strands; its friendly history museum; its 18-hole, open-to-the-public Seascape Golf Club; or the 10,000-acre Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, whose entrance is here.
Packed with post-Gold Rush, second-growth redwoods and suitable for strollers, runners, cyclists, and equestrians, the forest’s 40 miles of varied trails feature rustic bridges, sparkling waterfalls, and the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
Walkably flat and almost a mile long, Atpos’ Seacliff State Beach is especially inviting on crisp autumn days. Jutting from its pier is a strange souvenir: Built at Oakland’s U.S. Naval Shipyard too late during World War I to be of any tactical use, the SS Palo Alto was a concrete tanker transported in 1929 from Oakland to Seacliff, where developers outfitted it with a dance-floor, swimming pool, and café. Today it’s a crumbling wreck teeming with marine life.
Photo By Greg Balzer
Seascape Beach Resort
When You Go
Deluxe Foods: 783 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Rio Del Mar, 831-688-7442, DeluxeFoodsOfAptos.com.
Seascape Beach Resort: 1 Seascape Resort Drive, Aptos, 831-688-6800, SeaScapeResort.com.
Seacliff State Beach: State Park Drive, Aptos, 831-685-6442, Parks.ca.gov.
The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park: Aptos Creek Road at Soquel Drive or State Park Drive; 831-763-7064, Parks.ca.gov.