Santa Cruz art tour

This month, coastal towns show off their creative sides
Lisa Taggart

The verdant mountains and coastal breezes of Santa Cruz County nurture redwoods, banana slugs, and...artists. Who knew they had similar needs? But it's clear they're all thriving here. Get inspired by the area's exuberant creative spirit this month when the county flings wide its doors for artists' open studios.

"There's some type of magic in the air here. I've never been able to explain it. People in Santa Cruz love art," says painter Katharina Short, who will exhibit her colorful, whimsical acrylic works in her rambling, rose-filled back garden.

A short drive from Short's studio, Ron Cook handcrafts reproductions of rare, historic musical instruments like mountain dulcimers, hog-nosed psalteries, and medieval fiddles. He was inspired to use his art and carpentry skills to create medieval instruments after glimpsing them on a 14th-century wall painting in Westminster Abbey.

Short and Cook are among the nearly 300 painters, printmakers, photographers, and sculptors from Davenport to Watsonville who are featuring their creations in open studios. Launch your tour from the Santa Cruz Art League (closed Mon-Tue; 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz; www.scal.org or 831/426-5787), where you can pick up a guidebook that includes a calendar and a map to all artist studios ($20). Also at the league's downtown headquarters, you can catch a mini version of the studio tour, with one work on display from each participating artist, as well as other permanent exhibits.

If you're set on visiting a particular artist, be sure to check the guidebook's calendar, as not every studio is open every day. But part of the fun here is the delight of discovery.

If you still want more, head back to downtown Santa Cruz to take in the large-format print art exhibit at the Museum of Art & History (closed Mon; $5; 705 Front St.; www.santacruzmah.org or 831/429-1964). Two other shops where you'll find local crafts are Artisans Gallery (1368 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; www.artisanssantacruz.com or 831/423-8183) and Many Hands (510 Bay Ave., Capitola; 831/475-2500).

Santa Cruz is 30 miles southwest of San Jose. The Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County's Open Studios Art Tour runs 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct 2-3, 9-10, and 16-17 ( www.ccscc.org or 831/475-9600).