.Best of Santa Cruz County 2018: Editors’ Picks

Artists and lizards and mocha, oh my! It’s our annual tribute to the best, worst and weirdest that Santa Cruz County has to offer





best of santa cruz county 2018 craftsmen collectiveOpened in May of 2017, this brand new collective is one part workspace and one part storefront, located on the main drag of Soquel Village. Owned by florist and designer Julie Martin of Willi Wildflower, Craftsmen Collective sells and promotes the work of 11 female artisans. A workspace toward the back of the store currently houses the antique printing press rescued from antiquity by Lauren Rhodes of the custom letterpress outfit Waldo Press. Martin says they’re looking for another artist, or maybe even two (inquire within or on their website—being male is not a deal-breaker). The storefront is a living, breathing (thanks to a variety of lush houseplants) oasis filled with quality, handcrafted jewelry, furniture, perfumes and body care products, woven baskets and textiles, glassware, ceramics and more. As if that’s not enough, the walls are studded with a killer selection of vintage bags. This is the one-stop-shop to find gifts and home decor while supporting local female artists. Workshops are offered regularly—check the website, thecraftsmencollective.com, for upcoming opportunities to roll up your sleeves and DIY something crafty. MARIA GRUSAUSKAS


Best Place to Get Weird on a Weeknight

Wobbly Wednesdays @ Motiv

Okay, it’s not really called “Wobbly Wednesdays,” but since it doesn’t have an official name, that’s what I’ve taken to calling this off-kilter dance party. With themes, subgenres and DJs rotating every week between Andrew the Pirate’s “Space Bass” set, “Hi Ya!” by Little John, “Depth” and “Crunkcertified,” you’ll find music that’ll make you dance, jump, and express yo’ self. Earplugs recommended, since the wubz can get pretty loud. “Wobbly Wednesdays” are where most of the local bassheads, burners and festival freaks go, so don’t be surprised if it looks like a mini-music-festival on any given week. Wednesday nights at Motiv are also usually free of fist-bumping Pabst pounders packed in like sardines (those are reserved for weekends). There’s always room to dance and get a little weird. GEORGIA JOHNSON




You know that crazed, excited feeling you used to get as a kid when you went to Toys “R” Us? (R.I.P., Geoffrey the Giraffe.) Well, you can get that same feeling again in the Staff of Life bulk section, especially if you like to cook. Pretty much all other bulk sections are two-thousand-late compared to Staff of Life’s dozens of different kinds of granola, oats, nuts, legumes, seeds, coffee, salts, sugars, tea, spices, herbs, grains, rices, flours, self-grind nut butters and literally every weird powder you’ve ever wanted to put in a smoothie. They even have bulk liquids, including oils, vinegars, honey, soy sauce, amino acids and vanilla extract, and a seemingly endless supply of bulk snacks—dried fruit, nut mixes, trail mixes, soup mixes, yogurt-covered things and candy. Sampling is free and encouraged, right? No? Uh, yeah, I knew that. LILY STOICHEFF


Best Memorial to Someone You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Elizabeth Wiltsee Study Room

After a year full of news about confederate statues, at least there’s a place in Santa Cruz County that plays the memorial gesture just right: in one corner of the beautiful Watsonville Library, you can find the Elizabeth Wiltsee Study Room. Wiltsee—the subject of the documentary This Dust of Words—was a remarkable local woman known for her sparkling intellectual brilliance, who later succumbed to mental illness. One suggestion, though, to the library: How about a little informational blurb to tell us more about her? WALLACE BAINE




Sweet, fatty and thick, it’s sometimes difficult to believe that this yogurt isn’t made from milk, as it tastes as much like ice cream as it does coconuts. Arne Heissel, a onetime corporate healthcare specialist, began making his own probiotics as a hobby several years ago because he was having health problems. He and his wife Constance, now the CEO of Living Cultures Superfoods, soon dove head first into their new endeavor, leaving the corporate world altogether. The Heissels have since launched a full line, with products like fermented turmeric, but the coconut yogurt, available at Staff of Life and some New Leaf locations is still a healthy, scrumptious go-to staple. JACOB PIERCE 


Best Place to Get a Laptop—or Anything—Stolen

Broadway and Clay St.

Whether it’s your backpack, cell phone, or even just an unopened pack of sunflower seeds, do not leave anything visible in your car at Broadway and Clay streets. You’d be surprised what people will bust a window for. The intersection that extends into the residential neighborhood is close enough to 7-Eleven and far enough from downtown that it gets a bit seedy, especially since it’s not particularly well-lit at night. It’s dark and quiet, but close enough to a busy street to bring heavy foot traffic for convenient walk-bys. Unless you really just want a new window on your car or hate your bike, think twice about where you leave your stuff if you park there. GJ


Best Symbiotic Relationship

Craft Breweries and Pop-ups

It was a match made in heaven the day local craft breweries and pop-up restaurants right-swiped each other in Santa Cruz County. These little food businesses had been looking for someone that would let them shine after being stood up time and again by city ordinances and regulations. Meanwhile, the breweries just wanted to find someone who would let them do what they do best—brew beer—without worrying about any of that restaurant drama. Now that they’ve found each other, this delicious pair have helped each other blossom into their best selves. They stand alone as individuals, but are stronger as a couple. How’s that for #relationshipgoals? LS


Best Diet-Breaking Snack

Sweets by the Sea Mochi Cake

Diet-breaking is an art, and there is nothing more depressing than doing it with a dry cookie or soggy brownie. Sweets by the Sea’s mochi cake is the world’s best-kept secret—even though chances are there is only one in stock at New Leaf, and you’ll have to fight someone to get it. With lemon, coconut, vanilla, and snickerdoodle flavors, the mochi cake is a moist chewy rice cake and light, fluffy sponge cake in one neat little package. It’s hands down the best “had a bad day” reward and overall excuse for something delicious. Chances are you’ll be breaking a few more diets than you’d like. GJ




best of santa cruz county 2018 berry creek fallsWhen in search of towering waterfalls, there’s no need to go to the Sierra Nevada or up to Oregon. An 11-mile loop through Big Basin Redwoods State Park will take you past the towering Berry Creek Falls and a few other massive falls just upstream. This walk also takes hikers along gorgeous creeks, through beautiful sunny clearings and into the county’s impressive old-growth preserve. It’s no secret that most of the county’s redwood forests were logged a little more than a decade ago, so thank goodness for Big Basin, which happens to be California’s original state park. Its 18,000 acres just outside Boulder Creek are the difference between our region having quite a few ancient giants and having very few. JP


Best Indie Mexican Restaurant That Shares a Name With a Giant Soulless Chain

El Chipotle

The first thing to catch your eye is the brilliant purple-and-yellow building in downtown Soquel. Only then do you notice the name, which might remind you of the Starbucks-ification of Mexican cuisine, but this modest little place has nothing to do with the similarly named chain. El Chipotle is in fact a great place for affordable, very tasty Mexican food with a shaggy California charm. If you dare, try the Triple Fajita. But if your body demands more respect than that, you can always opt for the more heart-friendly Powerful Purple Plate (hint: it involves eggplant). WB


Best Non-Food Thing to Get at the Farmers Market

Flowers from Blue Heron Farms

The flowers grown by Blue Heron Farms are stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning. You can’t miss them at the farmers markets—the violent displays of color poking out from galvanized water pails and buckets turn heads and draw in passersby like bees. The arrival of armloads of deeply hued ranunculus in early spring helps chase out the last cobwebs of winter, and is followed by a parade of sweet peas, dahlias, rudbeckia, sunflowers, delphiniums and a hundred others throughout the summer and into late fall. Each bloom is sustainably grown on a 20-acre farm in Corralitos. Blue Heron’s bouquets are truly works of art and for $10 to $30 can easily be tucked under your arm to be enjoyed for a week or more at home. LS



Doug and Rachel Abrams

Doug and Rachel Abrams aren’t your typical Santa Cruz couple. He’s the writer and publisher behind the bestselling The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She’s a physician who runs the Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine Clinic and is the author of Body Wise, a guide to learning how to listen to the body, as well as books on Taoism and sexuality. What a household. There are rumors that their house cat has a master’s degree. WB




Tsegereda Embaye’s Red Sea pours delicious lamb, chicken and veggie dishes over a plate of teff flatbread, and the greasy, spice-filled servings soak down into the thin, spongy layer covering the whole plate. The bread—grown from grains that originated in East Africa—is crepe-like and also gluten-free. Red Sea, which will be changing its name to NahNah Eritrean Food, does catering and has been a staple at local farmers markets, including the downtown location, for a while now—and it isn’t difficult to see why. JP



Pet Shop Santa Cruz

best of santa cruz county 2018 Pet Shop Santa CruzThis place appeases the curious, but is not for the faint of heart. If the stunning display of snakes and lizards doesn’t grab your attention, Jeffery, their 100-plus pound Asian water monitor lizard, will. The awe doesn’t stop at the reptiles, as they have some impressive sea anemones, silkworms, and a dog named Fish. The business is a family affair—owners Aaron and Brandyn are always hanging around the shop with their kids, willing to talk about all things fishy and slimy. Even if you’re not a pet owner, it’s well worth a stop in to take a gander at this wild bunch. GJ


Best Place to Daydream About Exotic Cheese


best of santa cruz county 2018 cheeseThe cheese section at Deluxe Foods of Aptos is epic, a portal to cheese-lovers’ fantasies that features products from Italy, Finland, Denmark, France and many other exotic ports of fromage. Need a good English cheddar infused with Irish Whisky? Don’t we all? It’s here! Deluxe doesn’t scrimp on excellent California cheese either (may we suggest Humboldt Fog goat cheese?) In those moments when nothing less than cave-aged Gruyere from Switzerland will do, this is your place. WB



Fierce Hearts at Insight Santa Cruz

Group meditation is a tried-and-true way to give your solo meditation aspirations a fighting chance. But Fierce Hearts—led by Kara Haney, who has practiced Buddhist meditation since ’93—takes the resonance of group meditation into a less-traveled zone: the heart. Geared toward those on the “rebellious path of turning in to experience and meeting it with the heart,” Haney facilitates the 30-minute meditation in an unobtrusive way. If you’re lucky, she may take you on a meta-journey, including one that sends love outward to the first three people who pop into your head—you never know who you’re going to get! Either way, you’ll leave this session with a newfound awareness of that organ pumping blood and feeling things in your chest. Sundays at 6 p.m. MG


About the Artist

Rosie Eckerman

Rosie EckermannRosie Eckerman is a native Santa Cruzan born into a family of artists. At a compound in Midtown, she learned to create art in many forms. A graphic designer by trade, her love for her hometown was only magnified by 10 years spent living on the island of Oahu. She has since returned home and embraced the flow of California life—and her art—once again.



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