Vietnamese-American cookbook author and cooking teacher Andrea Nguyen shares her favorite hometown haunts in Santa Cruz

Dream Inn Santa Cruz, View from Ocean

Paul Dyer

For the past 20 years Vietnam-born, California-raised Nguyen has called Santa Cruz home. The Vietnamese cooking expert and prolific cookbook author scours farmers’ markets for ingredients that show up in her recipes and culinary workshops. Her most recent book is Vietnamese Food Any Day (Ten Speed Press; $25).


Nguyen stops into Birichino Winery’s tasting room downtown to pick up Chenin Blancs and Pet Nats. “The knowledgeable owners craft soulful wines from grapes grown at historic vineyards in California,” she says. When it comes to craft breweries, she favors Sante Adairius in Capitola. “I enjoy refreshing, low-alcohol brews like Maiden Fields,” she says. If you’re the designated driver, she suggests stopping by the Martinelli’s Company Store in Watsonville to taste their sparkling ciders. 


“A friendly northern Chinese family runs Shun Feng,” says Nguyen of her favorite Chinese spot. “The beef chow fun is great, but I often order items from their special-menu section, such as twice-cooked pork, pickled cabbage with fish fillet, and hot-and-sour shredded potatoes.” For comfort classics she hits up East End Gastropub (pictured above) in Capitola for pepperoni pizza and bucatini with meatballs. The place can get slammed on weekends, so Nguyen suggests finding seats at the bar. 


Nguyen is spoiled by bounty at the local farmers’ markets. Her short list includes Downtown Santa Cruz on Wednesdays, Cabrillo College on Saturdays, and Live Oak on Sundays. If you’re looking for Mexican flavors, “the Friday market in Watsonville has Oaxacan food plus Mexican produce like fresh nopales and dried chile de agua [a Oaxacan chile].” When she’s not shopping for edibles, Nguyen is a fan of Home/Work (pictured above) for gifts and home decor, Childish for toys, and Flourish Designs for vintage items. 


View this post on Instagram

Good Morning Santa Cruz! 📸: @paulcorgan

A post shared by Dream Inn Santa Cruz (@dreaminn_santacruz) on

If you want to wake up to stunning ocean views, Nguyen suggests booking a room at the recently remodeled midcentury beachside masterpiece, Dream Inn, on the bustling boardwalk, or the charming Victorian West Cliff Inn B&B. “Enjoy the spectacular vistas. Inhale the pure, refreshing air. Watch the surfers do amazing things,” says Nguyen. “This is why you visit or live in Santa Cruz.” 


Head to Corralitos near Watsonville to stock up on smoky links at the old-fashioned Corralitos Market and Sausage Company. Then taste wine and have a picnic at Windy Oaks Estate with a view of the Monterey Bay. From June to October, there are U-pick weekends at Live Earth Farm, which grows some of the best berries around.