.Best of Santa Cruz County 2022: Editors’ Picks

Honoring the county's greatest people, places and things

Much is revealed in this year’s Best of Santa Cruz County. To start, take a look at the lists of winners from many different sectors of local life. These are the people, places and things that thousands of our readers chose as the very best this area has to offer. Notice that many of the businesses have been around a long time—and when the pandemic began in 2020, not all of them were sure they’d make it. Just as our readers cast their ballots to show their love of these local favorites, we all committed to supporting them with our patronage over these difficult two years. We lost plenty, but we also rallied to make sure we wouldn’t lose more. When this whole thing started, people were fond of saying, “We’ll get through this together,” and this magazine is filled with hundreds of examples of community members who—just as we helped them—helped all of us to get through.

What’s also revealed is that we’re at a whole new level of rebirth, one that we’ve wanted and needed for a long time now. There are exciting new places to go, and old friends we’ve missed (like pretty much the entirety of the Arts and Culture section, for instance?) are open to us again. May this trend never stop.

There are so many other revelations in these pages it would be impossible to list them all. (Here’s one to puzzle over in the Editor’s Picks section: is our staff completely obsessed with desserts and beaches? Spoiler alert: Yes!) So just relax, turn the page, and get ready to find out everything you need to know about the Best of Santa Cruz County.

STEVE PALOPOLI | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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READ ALL BEST OF 2022 COVERAGE:

  • Arts & Culture 
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  • Community Life
  • Food & Drink
  • Health & Recreation
  • Music & Nightlife
  • Shopping & Services
  • Best of Santa Cruz County 2022 Flip-Thru Magazine

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    Editors’ Picks

    Best Smelling Trail

    Old Cove Landing Trail to Ohlone Bluff Trail

    Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses. Other times, the rosemary, sagebrush and ocean breeze. Seriously, at the right time of year, this trail smells phenomenal. I recently stopped in my tracks mid-run when I caught a whiff of the sagebrush. Just outside of town in Wilder Ranch, the Old Cove Landing Trail to Ohlone Bluff Trail is an easy, flat and friendly 2.5-mile loop. Besides the aroma, attractions include a snowy plover preserve overlook, a fern-lined beach cave—appropriately named Fern Grotto—and a harbor seal hangout. Back near the parking lot, Jacobs Farm rosemary fields line the road. Who nose what else you’ll find! ERIN MALSBURY

    Best Way to Satisfy a Late-night Taco Craving 

    Tacos Los Jacona

    It’s not really clear to me what time Tacos Los Jacona opens or closes up shop. I’ve ordered food from this well-known Watsonville food truck on 1375 Freedom Blvd. at 6pm and I’ve also done so at midnight. And while having a taco at any time of the day is satisfying, there’s nothing quite like the latter. Dressing up a plate of hot al pastor tacos in the middle of the night with cilantro, onions and salsa, and scarfing them down while chopping it up with friends connects me to Watsonville like few other things. It’s like you can feel the heart of the little Santa Cruz County city—or maybe that’s just the vibrations from the lowrider trucks that speed by this place? TONY NUÑEZ

    Best Place For Natural Wines

    Apèro Club

    Walking into the Apèro Club on the Westside, you just feel cool. Maybe it’s the dim, red lighting that seems to pulse with the music, maybe it’s the song playing that sounds like it’s out of a Wes Anderson movie, or maybe it’s the people nodding their heads along with the song as they pour your wine. Whatever it is, they’ve got it—and they make you feel like you do, too. If I were a Hollywood agent, and Apèro Club was an aspiring actor, you would catch me using the phrase, “you’ve got that special something, kid.” Granted, I am a millennial, so I put significant weight on the experience of a place when I give recommendations. But growing up in Wine Country, I have a snobby wine side, and Apèro’s hand-picked selection of natural wines pass my, dare I say, “elevated” palette. From funky reds to crisp whites, you will be sure to impress both your wine friends and your cool friends, and intimidate everyone in between. AIYANA MOYA

    Best Chocolate Square of Irresistible Goodness

    Companion Bakeshop Brownies

    It all begins with a mouse-sized nibble—just enough to taste the lay of the land. Then comes a barrage of finger pinches; it’s as if you’re hypnotized, snatching piece by piece on autopilot, until the entire gooey cube of deliciousness disappears into the underbelly of your belly, leaving only a shadow of what had sat undisturbed just a few minutes earlier. I’m not even a big fan of chocolate, but I just can’t help myself around these tasty pastries. Furthermore, I usually can’t stand walnuts in baked goods. Still, somehow, Companion delivers the whole package, walnuts included, in a way that makes me forget that they’re even part of the equation. Companion’s brownies are everywhere—Santa Cruz, Aptos and even the Cabrillo Farmers Market—so you might as well give in. ADAM JOSEPH

    Best New Thrift Store 

    Forever Thrift

    I am something of a bargain hunter, especially when it comes to clothes. I love to upcycle and buy secondhand, and finding inexpensive clothes at thrift stores has been something of a specialty of mine ever since my mother and I used to hit the yard sales every Sunday. So when I unexpectedly found Forever Thrift on Seabright Avenue, I was thrilled. The cheap prices (some clothing items priced as inexpensive as $3), the graphic tees and vintage dresses, the name brands — I was in heaven. There’s so much to choose from, and sifting through the racks of clothes, you will inevitably find a gem, and one that’s unique at that. AIYANA MOYA

    Best Place to Nap Your Day Away

    South County Beaches

    Whenever I write about Watsonville’s beaches, I have to do so with caution. Unlike the beaches in Santa Cruz, South Santa Cruz County’s beaches are not overpopulated with rows of hotels and tourists. Watsonville’s beaches are pristine and isolated. They’re the perfect place to go to get away from everything and anything. That’s why I have to proceed cautiously: Watsonville folks don’t want outsiders to know this. Sure, there are no beachside restaurants, coffee shops or bars. But you don’t go to Sunset State Beach or the Dunes for that. No, you go there with your blanket, a book, some sunscreen and a few beverages and snacks to enjoy a beach bum day. I’ve already said too much. I can feel the eyes of 53,000 Watsonville residents bearing down on me. TONY NUÑEZ

    Best Winery for Alfred Hitchcock Fans

    Armitage Winery

    Not to be confused with the Armitage Tasting Room in Aptos Village, the Scotts Valley estate where Armitage grows its grapes and produces its wine was once the renowned filmmaker’s home away from home. From the 200-acre property, you feel like a beaked extra from one of the director’s most well-known films perched high up, overlooking the Monterey Bay. In 1940, the famous director shelled out $40,000 after coming across the spot during a scouting location trip for Rebecca. As part of Good Times’ 2021 Halloween issue, Editor Steve Palopoli wrote a piece asking, “Why Scotts Valley?” Adam Roche, the podcaster behind The Adventures of Alfred Hitchcock, offered a theory: “I think he was just attracted to that kind of rugged piece of the world.” Avoid the shower if you’re ever there. The estate is only open for special events and its Tiny Winery Concert series. armitagewines.com. ADAM JOSEPH 

    Best Place to Destroy a Longboard

    38th Avenue

    Move over, Cowells. Move over everyone, actually—and quickly. There are four people on a two-foot wave, and they’re somehow all about to collide. On a crowded day at 38th, every wave is a party wave, intentionally or not. Sometimes the party gets a little too lively. Between the, shall we say, relaxed etiquette and the rocks along the shore, it’s not unusual for boards to come away from the spot with a few new dings. On the bright side, there’s no better excuse to dive down the resin-filled rabbit hole of board repairs or get to know some local professionals. ERIN MALSBURY

    Best Place to Travel Back in Time 

    Villager

    “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” I’ll do Doc Brown one better: we don’t even need a stinking DeLorean to travel back in time in Watsonville. Just go to the Villager at 1032 East Lake Ave., and I’m sure you’ll bellow out a “Great Scott!” This local landmark is a dive bar’s dive bar. There are no fancy beers, the drinks will put some hair on your chest and make the hair on your head fall off, and the jukebox will tear your eardrums in two. But, hey, there’s no other place like it in Watsonville, or Santa Cruz County for that matter. Make sure to bring cash, and don’t worry, the locals who call this place home don’t bite. TONY NUÑEZ

    Best Ocean Spray

    West Cliff Blowhole

    It’s no secret that West Cliff is home to some splash zones. When the waves are pumping, eruptions of sea spray dot the shore. But there’s one special spot not far from Natural Bridges that really puts on a show. When the tide and swell align, backwash and incoming waves collide with the cliff and spout a geyser-like stream high into the air. To find it, luck out with conditions and listen for something that sounds like a whale’s blowhole. At best, you’ll get a mesmerizing natural spectacle, and, at worst, a thoroughly scenic stroll. Pair it with a kimchidilla from Steamer Lane Supply. They’re so good that I almost wrote about that instead. ERIN MALSBURY

    Best Place for a Chocolate Chip Cookie

    New Leaf Bakery

    This one is going to be controversial. I know Pacific Cookie Company is right there, and they are the heavyweight champion of Santa Cruz cookies. The thing is, I don’t even really like chocolate chip cookies. I know this is a cardinal sin, and if I were a serial killer—which, for the record, I am not, but if I were, this would be the character trait that my friends would point to as an indication that something was truly off with me. So with the concession that I don’t like these cookies in general, and I don’t eat them often, I would like to make the case for New Leaf bakery’s chocolate chip cookies. Maybe my expectations are already lowered—after all, how good could a grocery store cookie be, I think as I toss it one onto the conveyor belt. Maybe it’s because it’s an unexpected treat, an afterthought. Regardless, these soft, huge cookies are worth $4, and will continue to be the only ones I buy, and I will die on this hill. AIYANA MOYA

    Best Place to Watch the World Burn

    Highway 129 Roundabout

    Back in 2016, Michael Caine’s monologue from The Dark Knight that ends with the phrase “Some men just want to watch the world burn” was hijacked by political pundits trying to understand why we decided to put the orange man in office. Well, I’m taking this phrase back. The men (and women) who want to watch the world burn are Caltrans. The state transportation agency thought it was a good idea to open a roundabout on Highway 129 just outside of Watsonville without all of the needed signage in place late last year. The idea was that the addition would slow down traffic in a dangerous intersection where collisions were all too common. I hear that early indications show that has been the case overall. But I’ve also heard and seen people drive over the center divide, and fall into a perilous circular limbo in the roundabout’s center lane. I’m sure things will improve, but, for now, Caltrans is squeezing unsuspecting drivers’ faces in their palms and asking them, “Why so serious?” Battinson, where art thou? TONY NUÑEZ

    Best Slice of California History You Never Knew Existed

    Rancho San Andrés Castro Adobe

    You’ve probably driven by the Watsonville exit hundreds of times without giving it any thought. Why would you think that an important piece of California history exists just beyond the off-ramp for Freedom Boulevard? But the Rancho San Andrés Castro Adobe has been sitting there, just a couple miles from Highway 1, for over 170 years. Initially built as the Castro family headquarters, the structure was home to 14 different families following the Castro era. The adobe survived two of California’s largest earthquakes, but still stands proudly overlooking the Pajaro Valley, representing one of the last surviving adobes of its kind on the Central Coast. State Parks now own it, and through a unique collaboration with Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, the monument has been undergoing restoration efforts for nearly two decades. That’s dedication! Find out more at thatsmypark.org. ADAM JOSEPH

    Best Way to Show Your Environmental Friendliness While Surfing

    Ashley Lloyd Eco-Boards

    Let your environmental freak flag fly! Keep your ’92 Celica running on used fryer oil! Make your toothpaste out of kelp and bond with your egg supplier! (After all, chickens lay tastier eggs for friends.) Most importantly, if you’re a surfer—even one who doesn’t let their environmental freak flag fly—Santa Cruz’s Ashley Lloyd is one of the most talented eco-aware shapers around. She had already made a name for herself as a shaper and scored an endorsement from Oprah, but decided to flip her approach and use eco-materials only. Lloyd traded standard polyester resins for bio-based epoxy. She also abandoned fiberglass layers in favor of flax cloth. The risk has paid off; Lloyd says her eco boards are “strong and maintain a smooth glide.” The boards are also Ecoboard-verified through Sustainable Surf and approaching 0% waste. ADAM JOSEPH

    Best Place to Work Remotely in Peace 

    Capitola Branch Library 

    Working remotely is fantastic in a lot of ways, but there’s a limit to the number of days I can sit in my house for eight hours straight. For me, coffee shops are more of an inconvenience than they’re worth: buying a $6 coffee to sit in uncomfortable chairs surrounded by loud espresso machines always leaves me questioning my decision to leave my house. Enter one of the best things to come from our tax dollars: libraries. The Capitola Branch Library sits across from a trail that leads to Peery Park, and from inside, you can see oak and eucalyptus trees through the tall windows that line the building. There are dozens of wooden desks scattered around the bright library, each one with its own outlet for chargers and comfortable leather chairs. There are a few meeting rooms, where you can discreetly take calls. It’s quiet, and sunlight brightens the room with natural light thanks to the tall windows. And, of course, we love to support public libraries. AIYANA MOYA

    Best Scone Bliss

    Cafe Ivéta’s Lavender White Chocolate

    “How do they do it,” is one question Cafe Ivéta’s lavender, white chocolate scones might prompt you to ask. Another is, “would having one a day for the rest of my life really be that bad?” I’ll admit to a sweet tooth, but white chocolate has never been my go-to. Cafe Ivéta’s scones are just that good. A little crunch on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and subtly sweet, it’s no wonder these baked bundles of goodness are the cafe’s claim to fame. Cafe Ivéta opened on Delaware Ave in 2010, but started selling packaged baking mixes more than a decade earlier. They use flour from a miller in San Francisco, apricots from Hollister and other ingredients from local sources. I-veta you’ll fall in love. ERIN MALSBURY

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