For Bay Area denizens, the name Santa Cruz evokes visions of a boardwalk, crowded and noisy to boot, which strives to be nothing more than a place for a sea of humanity to congregate and create ruckus. There is a very different side to this sleepy little beach town, lined with a lot of near-pristine beaches, redwood groves with some of the world’s tallest trees (coastal redwoods) and a cute little downtown with lots of good eats. So we decided to explore this “other” face of Santa Cruz, far away from the maddening crowd and of course, with our pooch. Why? Because Santa Cruz is incredibly dog-friendly and is a mere 1.5 hrs south of San Francisco. Win-win for humans and dogs, here is a lowdown of where we stayed and our off-kilter explorations. Hope you get to experience a few of them or even more if you ever plan to visit (and you totally should) the central coast.
Santa Cruz is riddled with options for dog-friendly lodging, i.e. places which allow dogs to stay with/without a fee/night. The thing is if you start searching for pooch-friendly hotels on good, old internet, you will come across those same cookie-cutter chain hotels or similar fancier establishments that are in downtown or boast of being near the beach and boardwalk. Because of that they are pretty expensive and all of them charge an extra fee for dogs. On the other end of the spectrum are the dinky motels, that may come cheap but really do not provide an inch of comfort and are simply places to rest your butt after a day out. Not good for you or your fur-baby who will more often than not, be stressed out in a new location. All this underscores the importance of finding a peaceful haven/ place of rest where you and your canine companion can unwind at the end of the day. A spot of zen far away from the din and bustle of touristy areas which envelopes you in a blanket of utter calm once you set foot in it. Now imagine such a place right in the middle of a lush redwood grove, thick with dense vegetation, greenery and acres of redwood trees standing tall and silent all around. Rustic lodges with modern amenities nested inside with steps flanked by flowering shrubs and a home-cooked morning breakfast served in a lawn amidst the redwoods, with strains of Sitar wafting in the background, lulling you to a state of nirvana. This, my friends, and more is what Redwood Croft, a B&B in the town of Bonny Doon has to offer.
Bonny Doon is a census designated town in Santa Cruz and is located at an elevation of 450m, surrounded by several reserves and state parks and about a 30 min drive from downtown Santa Cruz. Redwood Croft Inn nestled right in the heart of the Redwood forest of Santa Cruz mountains and is the perfect getaway place for both human and pets. An incredibly warm and hospitable place to both two and four legged beings, owners Sitah and Dale Cummings are the perfect hosts one can ask for. They have two beautiful dogs-3 and 16 yrs old, who were extremely friendly and sweetest to boot. Sitah prepares amazing breakfast for guests every morning and weather permitting, one can have it outside in the balcony surrounded by the giant trees. She happily accommodates dietary restrictions upon prior notice, as she did for S. There are several rooms on the property and ours was a beautiful one with skylights to get a slice of the redwoods peaking from above. The room was beautifully decorated and there were thoughtful touches strewn all around, such as wine glasses with a bottle opener, in case one gets a bottle from one of the local wineries (Santa Cruz mountains are famous for their vineyards) to enjoy. The toiletries in the bathroom (the bath has a charming stone bathing tub and is separated from the toilet) are from a local farm, and the closet has a microwave and mini-fridge. All these amenities, an old-world wood-burning furnace (you can get a room heater if that seems too daunting) and the amazing greenery all around comes at a price which is way too reasonable for what this place offers. Best of all, there is no extra charge for pets.
One can spend an entire day exploring the property or simply sit back and relax and take in the zen of this calming atmosphere. No matter how much I tried clicking, I don’t think the photos do enough justice to the beauty of this place and the priceless tranquility that it offers. Babu had a blast sniffing and exploring the grounds and we were so happy to have chosen this place over others in noisy downtown. I highly recommend all dog lovers or simply folks who love them some peace, quiet and a lap of mother nature, to stay at Redwood Croft if they get a chance. One of the best places we’ve stayed hands down. And finally in case you are still wondering about that thing of utmost importance, the place does have wi-fi service. So, there, all your fears should now be laid to rest.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” goes the famous adage. When in a beach town like Santa Cruz, simply find a beach close by and bum out on the sand. Unlike other parts of California, Santa Cruz has ample beaches which welcome dogs on a leash. Beaches are either along Cabrillo Highway (Highway 1) or to the south of the Boardwalk. We picked Greyhound Rock beach, a mere 17 min north of us and made our way down the paved path adjacent to the parking lot, towards the blue water. The parking lot has an overlook which was pretty crowded, but the funny thing was that the trail leading to the beach was oddly empty. That turned out to be a great thing since we got glimpses of an empty beach and fantastic views of the foamy waves hurling against the rocks as we descended to the clear white sand below.
Greyhound beach turned out to be fantastic gem of a stretch with almost no human in sight (barring another man and his water loving pooch and two sun-bathers) and thus it felt as if the beach belonged to us. We walked along the periphery of the waves, marveled at some of the extremely polished, flat stones and then settled down on one of the dry spots on the sand. Babu ran around, frantically dug up several bunkers to rest in at several times and then finally plopped himself right between us. We rested for some time and then made our way back up to our next destination, a dog-friendly Redwood State Park.
HIKE THROUGH THE REDWOODS
Unlike Redwood country up north in Mendocino (read my posts on Mendocino here), where nary a Redwood reserve can be found in sight that lets dogs in, Santa Cruz springs in a lovely surprise with several of them, the nearest to us being the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. There is an entry fee of $ 10 for vehicles (for the park’s maintenance) and you get a map at the entrance which has all dog-friendly trails clearly marked. Since this is also an ecological reserve for wild animals calling the redwoods their habitat and many trails are shared by horses/horse-riders, dogs do not have access to those. The most popular dog-friendly trail is a paved pathway (Pipeline Road) that goes right through the Redwoods and leads to the nearest Redwood grove, with trees as tall as 277 feet and about 1500 years old! This state park preserves a
40-acre grove of the tallest
tree species on earth, i.e. the coastal Redwoods and the trees here are taller than the ones at the Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco. We were fascinated to know that the tallest Redwood tree (379 feet) surpasses the Statue of Liberty in height (305 ft) and that they have a very unique growth pattern, i.e. they are self-regenerating. On our way along the trail, we saw several trees that had fallen to the ground, with branches growing vertically upwards towards the sun from the prostrate trunk. Our hike lasted for a mere 40 min, but if you have more time then do explore further inwards with other plant eco-systems and if you are not traveling with pets, then there are several other options to explore such as the observation deck and ranch and the cable car beach. Plus we also spotted a heritage train chugging along with the Roaring Camp Railroad nearby which should be a fun activity for kids.
STROLL IN DOWNTOWN
Finally, the urban space where we city goers feel more at home, downtown Santa Cruz is a nice few blocks of stores and restaurants, all buzzing with activity. Pacific avenue forms the main artery but the streets around have many local favorites like Penny ice creamery (Santa Cruz’s only ice-cream parlor where the icy desserts are made from scratch) and many charming boutiques selling local, artisanal jewelry and clothes. Overall downtown is incredibly dog friendly since most restaurants have outdoor seating area and many stores welcome dogs. Here and here are two good resources for all things dog-friendly in Santa Cruz, which are excellent resources to ensure that your pooch has a great time vacationing!
Finally, here is a separate post on all the tasty, dog-friendly dining spots in Santa Cruz, where you can enjoy a delicious meal without your dog having to sweat it out in the car, miserable and alone. Thanks so much for reading!