Old-school eats: Garlic fries at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (beachboardwalk.com), which opened over 100 years ago.
New-school classic: The coffee at Verve Coffee Roasters (3 locations; vervecoffeeroasters.com), served by a barista who knows the average rainfall at the Guatemalan farm where your beans were handpicked.
Park it: The old-timey Santa Cruz Beach–Downtown Trolley (santacruzchamber.com) shuttles you from the Wharf to downtown. So what if it’s got a truck engine? For 25 cents, we’re in.
So Santa Cruz: Find kombucha on tap and locally sourced lunchables at River Cafe ($$; 415 River St.; 831/420-1280).
News splash: The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center (monterey bay.noaa.gov) opened near the Boardwalk in summer 2012. Walking through a kelp forest is a good way to pass time between meals.
Hike like a local: At Pogonip park, just east of UC Santa Cruz’s campus, the redwoods shoot sky-high. To get into the thick of things, park your car where Spring Street dead-ends and hop on Spring Trail. Hang a right at the Lookout Trail, and it’s all forest and wide-open meadows. Either way you go, you’ve got 9 miles of path and green space to play in. santacruzparksandrec.com
Play farmer for the day: Don’t let the name scare you off. The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the UC Santa Cruz campus is lightning bolts of fun. The country’s best sustainable farmers come here to train, but you don’t have to quit your day job to wander the field and gardens. Grab a brochure for a self-guided tour of the edible paradise. Directions at casfs.ucsc.edu
Pull over and eat: At the Truck Stop, chef Fran Grayson cranks out soulful, street food–inspired dishes from her shiny 1976 Chevy catering truck. You won’t want to miss her Venezuelan arepas, stuffed with eggs, ham, and cheese, much of it sourced from nearby farms. $; 831/621-7361 for location schedule.
Your new summer staple: The Penny Ice Creamery does a killer float. It’s one scoop of basil ice cream—made with fresh herbs from Route 1 Farms down the road—and one tall glass of blackberry soda. Watch the former drop into the latter and smile as the slurpy, fizzy goodness unfolds. $; 913 Cedar St.; 831/204-2523.
The hits keep coming: The Picnic Basket serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with most ingredients—yep!—sourced locally. That can mean chicken from Fogline Farm seasoned with house-cured onions tucked between two slices of sourdough from the Companion Bakeshop. They call it a chicken salad sandwich. We call it the new Santa Cruz. $; 125 Beach St.; 831/427-9946.
Make it a weekend: The refreshed Beach Street Inn has that beach-meets-boutique feel, with great ocean views, and it’s close to the hustle-bustle of the Boardwalk. The bonus: barbecue area and firepit. From $199; 2-night minimum; beachstreetinn.com