.Best of Santa Cruz County 2019: Editors’ Picks

Road rage, succulent overload, and some next-level local comedy: Welcome back to GT’s annual tribute to the best, worst and weirdest that Santa Cruz County has to offer.



Best Happy People For No Apparent Reason

Cat and Cloud

Working at Cat and Cloud must be the best frickin’ job in the world, cat and cloud best of santa cruzbecause you will never meet happier people. They take “no bad days” to the next level, because as soon as anyone walks in, it’s like confetti and rainbows just exploded everywhere. “HI HOW’S YOUR DAY THAT’S MY FAVORITE DRINK TOO HAVE YOU TRIED OUR MEXICO ORIGIN? WHERE DO YOU WORK, WHY AREN’T YOU HAPPY TOO?” Maybe it’s because they get unlimited coffee all the time. Regardless, it makes me question if I’m teetering on the edge of chronic depression whenever I walk in the door. Maybe this cup of coffee will help. GEORGIA JOHNSON


Best Tacos To Keep You Humble About Your Spice Tolerance

Taqueria La Fuente

Going to a decent taqueria and expecting no spice is a rookie mistake. But Taqueria La Fuente in downtown Watsonville makes the heat a central part of the experience, adding a fiery house salsa to all the tacos it serves up. Buy an agua fresca before you grab a seat in the small dining room just off the city’s central plaza to try a street-style taco with choriqueso (chorizo and cheese), al pastor (barbecued pork) or cabeza (beef head). The smoky, peppery hot sauce is the perfect complement to rich meats, diced onions, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges offered by the handful. Those who prefer not to break a sweat over lunch can always order salsa on the side. Located at 15 E Beach St., Watsonville. LAUREN HEPLER


Best Crack Without The Bad Parts

Ashby Confections Sour Strips

This is me begging Ashby Confections to never stop making these, especially the red ones.best of santa cruz Ashby Sour Strips New Leaf: bless you for putting these gelatin-free baddies near the check out so I can casually fuel my $8 addiction and caloric vice every time I’m shopping. They are available at the Ashby Confections Scotts Valley shop, but that’s dangerous because these little snacks are available to buy by the ounce (for me it’s really by the pound). Why stop at one packet when I can have three and space them out during the week, right? Wrong. Let’s eat them all to the tune of Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, so that my taste buds are so inebriated I can’t taste my dinner. These sure spark my joy. GJ




Longtime local comic DNA has been fostering a Santa Cruz comedy scene for going on 13 years. In that time, he’s given the vast majority of those laughs away for free, many at open mics, like the ones he hosted at the Blue Lagoon downtown. Now, DNA has handed over the keys to his Thursday night gig to comic Chree Powell and opened up DNA’s Comedy Lab and Experimental Theater a few blocks away—and it’s off to a great start. One question is whether a town of 62,000 can support its own comedy club, but here’s a better question: Would a fun-loving, detail-obsessed workaholic like DNA even consider failure an option? JACOB PIERCE




Once he’s convinced you to pretzel your legs into some creative contortion, twist your whole body and then hold that position, Tim Brattan best of santa cruzTim Brattan will inevitably look out over his sweaty Saturday morning Divnitree class and say something along the lines of, “Right now, you’re probably either feeling really good or you’re in agony.” Well, to answer your two questions, Tim—Yes, actually, aaannd, uh … also, kind of? Brattan also happens to be the executive director for the nonprofit Grey Bears, in addition to being an informed policy thinker with fun takes on local issues. And you know what those yogis say: Come for the chaturanga, stay for some after-class chitchat on the politics of recycling and transportation! JP


Best Way to Innocuously Knock Yourself Out

Last Meridian Blissful Sleep Balm

In the age of iEverything, almost everyone spends too much time looking at screens. For those of us who also don’t religiously abide by the no-caffeine-after-noon rule, falling asleep can be even more of an elusive art after a busy day. Luckily, Santa Cruz company Last Meridian, best known for making reef-safe sunscreens, has branched out. Their Blissful Sleep Balm ($12) is a witches’ brew of mugwort and lavender in a smooth, non-greasy balm made of extra-virgin olive oil and passion fruit oil, which contains a natural substance called “passiflorine” said to reduce anxiety, improve sleep and reduce fatigue. Consider it an approachable wellness gateway drug for mere mortals seeking a good night’s sleep. lastmeridiancalifornia.com. LH




Recently, I started thinking about how Santa Cruz has had more and better Sri Lankan food over the last 25 years or so than anywhere on the Central Coast, and probably beyond. Then I suddenly realized: that is bizarre. It’s not like we have some huge Sri Lankan community locally, unless they have been hiding themselves really well for the last three decades. Apparently we’ve just been lucky enough to get a disproportionate number of great cooks among the Sri Lankans who do come here. If you’ve lived in Santa Cruz long enough to remember the tents after the Loma Prieta earthquake, I suspect you bought yourself a plate of Asian Rose deliciousness back in the day. Asian Rose moved around after that, along with Malabar Café (which still serves up great Asian fusion on Front Street). And there has been other Sri Lankan food that’s come and gone since. But right now, what keeps taking me back to those Asian Rose glory days is the menu at Pearl of the Ocean on Water Street. Try the mushroom soya or the spicy potatoes or the coconut kale—or really, anything on the menu. It all energizes your flavor receptors in that special way that only Sri Lankan cuisine can do. STEVE PALOPOLI


Best Place to Hate Santa Cruz Drivers

Downtown Santa Cruz Trader Joe’s Parking Lot

It can be 2 a.m., and there will still be at least 10 people circling the completely full parking lot. There will be no obvious spots in the area, and the train of cars will insist on going no faster than -5 miles per hour and braking every three seconds. Factor in passive-aggressive pedestrians throwing themselves and their carts/children in the road, and there’s a real recipe for road rage here. The commitment to groceries, sushi, pharmaceuticals, pizza, or a mediocre manicure must be strong to brave this door-dinging hellhole of a strip mall. GJ


Best Place to Get a Tasty Burrito if You’re a Hat Fetishist

The Point Market

Santa Cruz County has more places to get a decent burrito than Kentucky has fried chickens. But sometimes, you just want to grab your burrito somewhere that doubles as a ballcap emporium, amirite? The Point Market at Pleasure Point has one of the most primo retail spots in California, right on East Cliff, steps from some of the best surf breaks in town. You can get a whole lot there, including brekkie burritos that are nine shades of awesome. But the signature product here is hats—500 of them hanging off the ceiling like grapes on a vine. These aren’t the lame caps you see at the mall, either. They are curated to represent the finest in contemporary casual surf wear, pushing such hip brands as Bud of California and Ola Chica. Call it one-stop shopping for finer surf scenesters everywhere. WALLACE BAINE




Even though it’s technically a mile or so over the border into San Mateo County, this excursion is a favorite of Santa Cruzans who are organized enough to remember to book a tour before the spots fill up for the winter season. best of santa cruz elephant seals That’s easier said than done. From mid-December through the end of March, these crazy-popular, docent-led walks draw crowds from across the Bay Area and even around the world, with each visitor eager to see the famed elephant seals that can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and grow up to 16-feet long during their mating season. The exact walking path through the park shifts constantly because the elephant seals are always passing out on the route, like college kids on spring break. What doesn’t change is the thrill of seeing these massive beasts bark, fight and also just get down in funkytown—although that last part, if we’re being honest, is not for the faint of heart. JP


Best Non-Public Bathroom

Downtown Forever 21 Building

Okay, okay, so technically it’s not super accessible to everyone, but if it was, it wouldn’t be thee most pristine bathroom in all of Santa Cruz. Seriously, I’d lick the grout on the floor it’s so clean, and it’s maintained probably every hour because it always smells like bleach and floor cleaner. But it gets better: there is never anyone in it. Who gets to use this pristine bathroom, and where is it located, you may ask? Why, techies of course! Only the best for Santa Cruz’s nerds. It’s located in an unmarked building downtown next to a parking lot. You may recognize it by the small square window at the top of the lot that peers into the airlock designed to keep everyone but the techies out. Stumble into the airlock and you may be stuck for all eternity, at the mercy of the tech gods. Manage to get through the airlock and you will still need a key to get in. Try to enter if you dare—the risks are heavy, but the reward is worth it. GJ


Best Lunch Date Deal

Pizzeria La Bufala

I’m ashamed to report that I have gotten a grand total of five parking tickets thanks to this lunch date deal. It somewhat offsets the cheap eats, but it’ll (hopefully, maybe, eventually) even out. For $14ish, split a real-deal authentic Italian pizza and salad. Margarita and caesar salad recommended, but not required. Throw in a few extra bucks if you’re feeling rich, and you’ll get a no ragrets chocolate chip cookie from Companion that’s crunchy at the corners and chewy in the middle. Yummers. GJ


Best Playground For A Budget Gardener

Ortega Nursery

On a bucolic side street in Watsonville, just off the almost-too-on-the-nose Green Valley Road, lies a low-key wonderland for Central Coast gardeners. Inside Ortega Nursery’s overflowing greenhouses, aspiring green thumbs and seasoned pros alike are free to roam rows and rows of rainbow flowers and Land Before Time-style foliage. Even the large selection of trendy cacti and succulents cost a fraction of what competitors charge, starting at $1 a pop. Just when you think you’ve got your dream garden mapped out, don’t forget to take a trip all the way to the back, where a small entrance to a separate outdoor section yields a whole new crop of lush palms, spiky oversized aloe plants and small trees, which start at a similarly eye-popping $10. Bonus points if you can get close enough to the house rooster who roams the aisles to snap a souvenir Instagram shot. Open 7 days a week at 30 Paulsen Rd., Watsonville. LH




To nibble on a Fogline Farm chicken ($7.99/pound at Staff of Life) is to experience that skit on the first episode of Portlandia where a couple leaves a restaurant to go see the farm where the chicken they’re about to order grew up. Well, let me tell you, my last Fogline chicken’s name was Frederick. He enjoyed reading Dostoyevsky, playing cribbage and drinking fernet, and he was delicious. I would be lying if I said that I did not once eat a whole roasted chicken by myself in one sitting (OK, maybe twice) when I was awfully hungry. 


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