.Best of Santa Cruz Critics’ Picks 2014

cov critics1Best Cute Overload

Beau and Theo’s Nap Habit

In the fall of 2013, the Shyba family adopted a 7-week-old puppy from the Santa Cruz SPCA. Theo, as he came to be called, had been abandoned as a baby along with his siblings. Upon moving in with the local family, Theo immediately began napping with the family’s son, Beau, who was not quite 2 years old. The rest—as they say—is history.

Mother Jessica Shyba posted heart-melting photos of the pair napping together on her blog, mommasgonecity.com, nabbing the attention of viral-content-titan the Huffington Post within just a few days of having Theo. Her blog received a million hits within a week. Since then, she has continued to take a photo a day of the canine/toddler nap routine. Unsurprisingly, the adorable shots have landed in nearly every major media outlet in the United States, skyrocketing Shyba’s number of Instagram followers from 5,000 to 418,000.

secure document shredding

So what has she learned from the whirlwind launch into Internet stardom? A lot, she says. “I’ve been so humbled by the amount of love and support we’ve been shown from all over the world,” says Shyba. However, the most surprising thing she’s gleaned from the experience is “the lengths that one needs to go through to protect their intellectual property.” 

She has two children’s books on the horizon: Bedtime with Theo and Beau, which will hit bookshelves in February 2015, and Bathtime with Theo and Beau, which will be available one year later. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Santa Cruz SPCA. Through individual donations and brand-based campaigns on her site, Shyba has helped raise around $10,000 for the shelter so far. | Elizabeth Limbach

Warriors Fan

cov critics2Fred Keeley
Two years into the D-League Warriors’ highly successful run here in Surf City, Santa Cruz County Treasurer (and former Speaker pro-tem of the California Assembly) Fred Keeley has emerged as the hometown hoopsters’ most enthusiastic fan. With season tickets directly adjacent to the scorer’s table, Keeley provides a constant flow of kinetic affirmation at courtside. He’s kind of our own Jack Nicholson, without the sunglasses and celebrity attitude. Donning a seemingly perpetual smile on his face and his hands clapping in full support of every Warriors possession (at the playoff game against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, his fingernails were painted in the team’s colors of blue and gold), Keeley gets into it big time. Whether it’s for a great play by the D-Leaguers or during one of the Warrior’s constant flow of crowd-pleasing entertainment segments (musical inner tubes, young kids dunking on miniature hoops, etc.), Keeley’s fandom provides a rare portrait of unadulterated joy. | GD

Best Local Civil Rights Warrior

Mas Hashimoto
Mas Hashimoto may well be Santa Cruz County’s brightest shining star when it comes to trumpeting rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. A retired U.S. history teacher at Watsonville High School, Hashimoto was raised in the Pajaro Valley before being incarcerated with his family during World War II in Poston, Ariz., as a result of Executive Order 9006, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in February of 1942. Along with his wife Marcia, also a retired educator, Hashimoto has been a relentless advocate for social justice in the region—and the country at large—while never allowing those in the United States to forget the racial injustices levied on Japanese Americans on the home front during the war. He was honored in February by Japan’s Consul General, Masato Watanabe, at formal ceremonies in San Francisco, for his life-long commitment to the cause of freedom. He does it all while also editing one of the most informative newsletters in the county for the Japanese American Citizens League. | Geoffrey Dunn

Best New Lunch Spot

Midtown Café
Since opening this last winter, Midtown Café on Soquel Avenue in the Seabright neighborhood has established itself as a consistently delightful breakfast and lunch spot. With a sun-drenched patio featuring orchids on each table, diners feel like they’re secluded from street traffic and nestled in a nice little cocoon in which to enjoy a sandwich and an iced tea. A favorite for indecisive types, Midtown Café has a small handful of (equally excellent) items to choose from each day, so you don’t have to fret about what to order; you can just, like, throw a dart at their menu or whatever. Tues-Fri, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sat & Sun 8 a.m. -2 p.m. 1121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. | Georgia Perry

Best Thing in Miniature

cov critics3Little Free Libraries
You may have noticed these charming book shrines around town—I did, and have been enamored with the idea ever since. A Little Free Library is a structure of sorts (they are often decorated, dollhouse or mailbox-style edifices) from which the public can take or leave a book. According to the map on the trend’s official site, littlefreelibrary.org, there are 11 across Santa Cruz County, from Ben Lomond to Watsonville. Bonnie and Paul Schraeder, of Serrell Avenue in Santa Cruz, sent for a sign and registration number from the organization after seeing a piece Brian Williams did about the mini libraries on the evening news. “It is amazing how much it is used,” says Bonnie. “There is a constant turnover of books. We have found notes in the box and always get thanks from people.” She was pleasantly surprised when a fairly rare book on jewelry making that she had on her wish list appeared in the library. | EL

Best Steps

Santa Cruz Mission
There are so many advantages to some of the shortcuts and secret passages around town. They make you feel sneaky and let you show off your geographical knowledge to new friends. Maybe the biggest benefits to at least a couple of these stairways and alleyways are the views from the top. I prefer the one that leads from the Santa Cruz Mission down to the clock tower. From that link between downtown and the upper Westside, someone on a casual afternoon stroll can gaze out over downtown, the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Monterey Bay. | Jacob Pierce

Best 5 Songs the Downtown Bells Should Be Programmed to Play

5. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper

4. “Beer Run” by Todd Snider

3. “Believe It Or Not, I’m Not Home” by George Costanza

2. “Beast Fist” by Arsonists Get All the Girls

1. “4’33” by John Cage (all day, every day) | Steve Palopoli

Best New Artist

cov critics4Marty O’Reilly
We award Marty O’Reilly this GT-style Grammy for “Best New Artist” because we are super impressed with his talent, dedication, and interesting, famous-looking face that reminds us of Jake Gyllenhaal. He and his Old Soul Orchestra have been playing shows around town for several months, and recorded a beautiful music video out in the redwoods that we like to watch when we feel like going out in nature but also want to keep compulsively staring at our screens. In concert, he brings full energy all the time, wailing and belting his mesmerizing lyrics with sweat-drenched passion that does not betray all the hard work he puts into his art. | GP

Best Buzz

The Local Beer Boom
Is Santa Cruz experiencing “the year of the beer?” It sure seems like it. With a steadily increasing crop of craft breweries—including another on the way, New Bohemia Brewing Co., which is set to open in Pleasure Point later this year—our seaside community is becoming quite the beer utopia. Add to that Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing’s ceaseless pioneering (three years of Twisted Tasting, developing a universal Santa Cruz growler, opening a new pub in Felton—the list goes on), the appearance of two new craft beer taprooms (Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House in Soquel and Lupulo Craft Beer House in Downtown Santa Cruz), and the buzzing homebrew scene, and we have all the ingredients for a delicious and beer-soaked year ahead. | EL

Best Year-Long Celebration of 2014

The Wharf Turns 100
For the past century, the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf has been an iconic structure in our community, serving not only as a gateway to the Monterey Bay Sanctuary, but also as a primary destination for millions of visitors to Santa Cruz County. With a rich and fabled fishing and shipping legacy, the wharf continues to serve as an economic engine in the community, hosting a wide array of fine restaurants, fish houses, gift shops and recreational outlets for both visitors and locals alike. Its views of the bay and the surrounding coastal mountain ranges are unsurpassed. At 2,745 feet, it remains the longest wharf on the Pacific Coast. Formally opened on Dec. 5, 1914, the wharf is celebrating its centennial this year with a wide array of activities sponsored by the City of Santa Cruz’s Parks and Recreation Department. Events include the popular Woodies on the Wharf (June 21), Aloha Races and Polynesian Festival (Aug. 24), and a spectacular fireworks display and cioppino feed (Oct. 4). | GD

Best Underrated Disc Golf Course

Pinto Lake County Park
Everyone who has spent a little time in Santa Cruz has heard all about the famous disc golf course at the city’s DeLaveaga Park. The 27-hole course has hosted world championships. On sunny days, golden light bathes the forested hills, and the course is known for its beautiful scenery, fun hiking—and its long lines. It can take five hours to finish the course on busy days. Thank goodness for backup plans. In Watsonville, an 18-hole disc golf course at Pinto Lake promises its own mix of challenging throws, good walking and breathtaking scenery without the same big crowds. 757 Green Valley Road, Watsonville. | JP

Best 2024 Presidential Candidate

Zach Friend
Since his rise from Santa Cruz Police Department Crime Analyst/Press Information Officer to current County Supervisor, Zach Friend has remained a charismatic straight shooter with a jaw line to kill for. He recently wrote a book about personal branding, which was based in large part on the knowledge he gained while working on President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. It included a lot of insight about being authentic, and lots of other things (we read about a third of it). While Friend repeatedly insists he has no desire to leave Santa Cruz, we repeatedly insist that he is totally going to run for president someday. Zach Friend, we would totally vote for you over Mitt Romney! | GP

Best Desert Island Food

Mobo Sushi’s Corruptor Roll
My love of Mobo Sushi’s Corruptor roll is no passing whim. It’s not the kind of jones that consumes one’s cravings for a couple of weeks, and then disappears, overridden by the next best thing to eat. No, this is a love affair that’s stretched over two decades, since I was a student at UCSC, and shows no sign of abating. I’ve eaten at great restaurants in San Francisco, New York and L.A., and in other countries, as well. And I say, without hesitation, that if I had to pick one food to eat on a desert island—or anywhere—for the rest of my life, it would absolutely be the Corruptor roll. What is it about this sublime mix of unagi, basil, garlic, sauce, macadamia nuts and rice? I cannot say for sure. I only know there is something about the way it rolls onto the taste buds with a unique payload of flavor and burn that threatens to overwhelm with the sheer audacity of its combined ingredients—but at the last minute rolls into a subtle, perfectly balanced taste experience that delivers only what the brain’s pleasure receptors can take. It is culinary magic in an age of mediocrity. Long may it roll. | SP

Best Seafood Feast

Mariscos El Nayarita II
Locals have grown used to shelling out big bucks for tasty seafood. But at Mariscos El Nayarita II on the corner of Highway 152 and Holohan Road, hungry customers can load up on tasty fish tacos, octopus fajitas, ceviche tostadas, and even chavelas to drink without being charged a tentacle and a fin. 1922 East Lake Drive, Watsonville. | JP

Best Cheap Thrill

The Art Bar & Café Weekly Poetry Open Mic
In the year that it has been running, the poetry open mic at the Tannery’s Art Bar & Café has become the go-to spot for creative souls to bare themselves to an attentive public in four minutes or fewer. Those just there to watch, get inspired and soak up the artistic vibes are plentiful as well. We like to go there sometimes when we just need a good cry, as it is one of the most easily accessible catharsis-inducers in town. While listening to the ridiculously talented poets do their thing, attendees sip craft beer and nibble on noodle bowls, homemade soups, and tasty cookies from the Art Bar’s arsenal of eats—all “artist priced” at reasonable rates. Get there at 4pm for a weekly writing workshop led by local poets, and sign-ups for the open mic start at 5:30pm. The Tannery’s Art Bar & Café, 1050 River St., Santa Cruz. | GP

Best Boutique

Wallflower Boutique
This tiny shop packs an impressive punch in terms of selection. Not only are the clothes and accessories the right mix of fashionable and individualistic, stylish-yet-quirky, they are also largely consciously made. Wallflower hits all of the eco-friendly fashion marks, stocking things like local, handmade jewelry, locally designed up-cycled dresses, animal-friendly vegan jackets (made by Black Swan with high-quality faux leather) and purses (from the handbag maestros at Amy Kathryn), sustainably made clothes like those from Red Prairie Press (a U.S. company that uses sweatshop-free, organic fabrics and non-toxic inks) and “fair trade fashion” from enterprises like Mata Traders, which economically empowers women in India and Nepal. Wallflower proves that looking good and making purchases that make you feel good can be one in the same—surely earning them a spot among our community’s best of the best. Shopthewallflower-com.myshopify.com. | EL

Best Microbrew Deal

Ernie’s Liquor
Boota, the genial owner of Ernie’s Liquor, carries a hops-and-barley lover’s dream selection of about 35 different microbrew four-packs, and he offers them at the lowest prices around: $7.95 to $12.99. If you’re in the shop for awhile (it’s easy to while away the time looking at the liquor offerings, including 50 different tequilas), you’ll notice Boota knows a lot of his customers—always a good sign. If you don’t see your favorite product, he’ll gladly order products he doesn’t have in stock whenever possible. Ernie’s Liquor, 922 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 427-0697. | Jeanne Howard

Best Album You Missed

Marvels by James Rabbit
Wailing saxophone, plenty of yelling and weird sound effects—pig oinks, cat meowing and the like, James Rabbit’s most recent release isn’t your typical pop-music album. The band, which briefly made a big push to get more popular in 2008 (when I first discovered them), has been active in Santa Cruz for about a decade. The 19-track Marvels has innovative, super catchy indie rock songs with flavors ranging from folk to funk, doo-wop to Broadway. It all begs the question: how could a band so talented and so hard-working go mostly unnoticed in Santa Cruz? You could blame the plethora of other good bands in town, or the college crowd—many of whom become big fans and then move on. Another possible explanation: the band’s prolific output makes it hard for new fans to keep up. (They plan to put out five releases in the next two years.) The most likely reason is musician Tyler Martin’s disdain for the business side of music, which has relegated the band to playing mostly small gigs in living rooms. Hey, to each their own! Jamesrabbit.com. | JP

Best Place to Reset Your Mind

Land of Medicine Buddha
For those looking to reset their minds, cultivate some presence and compassion, and stare up at the majesty of redwood trees, hiking at the Land of Medicine Buddha is a great escape. (Not to be confused with Six Flags Great Escape theme park.) There are a number of paths and trails to choose from, including a short one-mile loop peppered with Buddhist sayings to stop and contemplate. After you leave you always feel totally blissed out and zen— way better and more spiritually evolved than all those idiots who didn’t spend their afternoon at Land of Medicine Buddha. Mon & Tues, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Wed-Sun, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 5800 Prescott Road, Soquel. | GP

Best Bag

Now that single-use plastic bags are virtually outlawed in the region, how many of us have perfected the slippery art of remembering reusable alternatives every time we go to the store? Even with the best intentions of doing so, I’d often find myself stopping at the market on my way home from work or after an outing in town with no bag in tow. But I’m happy to report that I’ve found a solution for my forgetfulness in the form of Bagito, a nonprofit started by Pajaro Valley Unified School District educator Mitch Barlas. Bagito offers seriously strong and durable reusable bags (made with recycled materials) that scrunch up into a small bundle that goes on your keychain. Since using this smart item, I am proud to say I’ve never once been bagless at the grocery store. Better yet, all of the profits from Bagito go to the nonprofit Bagspeak, which is teaching environmental literacy to local K-12 students. Learn more, including where to buy the bags, at bagito.co. | EL  

Best Meadows

Moore Creek
We’re lucky in Santa Cruz to not have to choose between hiking trails and the beach. Moore Creek, a neighbor to both UC Santa Cruz and Wilder Ranch State Park, offers the best of both worlds. It has hiking trails that wind through gullies full of crouching oak trees. The trails end in grassy meadows with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The big open spaces just beg for a couple of picnic blankets and some friendly company. | JP


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