Day trip: Santa Cruz

There's more to this beach town than world-class surfing and the century-old boardwalk. Visit for a day in June while Santa Cruz is blooming but summer tourists have yet to descend
Julie Chai

Why go in June: The beach town is blooming, but summer tourists have yet to descend.

In the air: Sweet smell of salty ocean spray.

Population: 58,125

Dress code: Organic cotton and Keens.

There’s more to Santa Cruz than: World-class surfing and the century-old boardwalk.

Such as: Permaculture gardens and organic farms.

Spruce up your yard: With drought-tolerant perennials from the Garden Company Nursery & Gift Shop (2218 Mission St.; 831/429-8424).

Shop green: Cool repurposed stuff like vintage ceramic pots and recycled aluminum garden chairs from Storefront & Studio (1010 Fair Ave., Ste. I; 831/426- 0724).

Spa gardenside: Treat yourself to a massage ($75 for 50 minutes) or an outdoor soak ($19 for 50 minutes) at Well Within Spa (417 Cedar St.; wellwithinspa.com). Request a treatment room that opens onto the Japanese garden.

Make it an overnight: The Santa Cruz Dream Inn (from $339; dreaminnsantacruz.com) is a chic sleep, right on Cowell’s Beach.

Gardens you have to get to…

  • If you’re a natives nerd

The UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley has a killer new collection of otherworldly-looking cycads, not to mention the largest collection of California natives in the country, including more than 200 endangered species. $7; tours at 1:30 Thu and Sat–Sun; 200 Centennial Dr.; botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu

  • If you’re a jogger

Run among a rainbow of blooming roses at the UC Davis Arboretum, where an easy 3.5-mile loop winds through 96 acres of golden lupine, coral bells, and fragrant mock orange. Free; tours at 2 p.m. June 7 (roses) and 11 a.m. June 13 (white flowers); Garrod Dr. at La Rue Rd.; arboretum.ucdavis.edu

  • If you’re into time travel

Plants with millennia-old lineage live and breathe at the renovated Ancient Plant Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Wander from the Devonian period to the Cretaceous for a pretty lesson in evolution. Free; tours at 10:30 and 1:30 Sat– Sun; Ninth Ave. at Lincoln Way; sfbotanicalgarden.org