5 Unusual Things to Do In and Around Santa Cruz
By: Zack Davisson
True California beach towns are going extinct. All up and down the coast, former strongholds of surf and bohemian culture are being transformed into exclusive neighborhoods for wealthy transplants. Five-star restaurants have been replaced with taco stands, while million dollar mansions now loom where beach bungalows once stood.
However, there are exceptions to this growing rule. One place to look to is Santa Cruz. While Santa Cruz has been sprinkled with classy restaurants and beach house rebuilds, the true vibe of the city is very much intact. Gritty and quirky to a charming degree, you are just as likely to find a dude listening to an old Grateful Dead album in the van he lives in, waiting for the swell to pick up, as you are an uppity out of towner. To help embrace this “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” ambiance, with the help of travel gurus AllTheRooms, we’ve made a list of unusual things to do in The True Surf City USA.
Odds are if you have spent some time in the Bay Area you have probably seen some beat-up cars or long-haired rapscallions rocking a Mystery Spot t-shirt or bumper sticker. But how to describe the Mystery Spot? Nestled in a beautiful redwood grove, the Mystery Spot’s original cabin is said to have been built atop a magnetic/gravitational anomaly, which causes all sorts of goofy phenomenon to happen. It is a land of optical illusions; balls will roll uphill, and people can lean over their toes in physics-defying angles on a tour of the full gambit of “tricks” at this beloved destination. Visitors to this roadside attraction can later be divided into two groups “believers” and “nonbelievers” when it comes to the mystical powers of the area.
The Bigfoot Discovery Center is located in Felton, off the highway in the Santa Cruz Mountains that connects coastal Santa Cruz to the Silicon Valley and San Jose. Open Wednesday through Monday, the museum passionately delves into the history of Western lore’s favorite cryptid (an animal of questionable existence). Displays feature “evidence” like a map of local Sasquatch sightings, human skulls, footprint casts (yes, they’re big), and videos. The owners also celebrate and exhibit various pieces of Bigfoot-related pop culture. Those who find passion lurking in the walls of this quirky museum can become members of the Bigfoot Discovery Project and get together with others to discuss the impact of the impending discovery of the hairy mystery.
The Egg Vending Machine
Wanna add a little pizazz to your egg buying routine? We know you do. Good thing Santa Cruz’s neighbor Aptos has got you covered. Visitors are pretty much guaranteed to have a hoot at Glaum’s Egg Ranch when they purchase a carton of 18 eggs distributed from a vending machine and costing $4. Egg options vary from large to small and white to brown. But surprise! -- things don’t end there. After the purchase, a chorus line of animatronic chickens complete the experience by dancing and clucking along to the jazzy sounds of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”. Best egg vending machine ever. Be warned though, like all vending machines this beautiful piece of innovation expects four crisp dollar bills.
This one depends on your definition of “unusual”. A few locals will probably argue that this is the most natural thing you could do. Either way, because of Santa Cruz’s jagged coastline, the city has numerous small cove beaches that are somewhat private because of the cliffs on the backsides. This means that there are quite a few spots away from prying eyes. Officially, nudity on beaches is illegal in all urban areas of the city; however, this wordage leaves beaches that are more remote with laws that are “open to interpretation.”
Beaches most common for disrobing include Bonny Doon, Laguna Creek, and 2222. For those who give this a try and can’t get enough of the breeze between the knees, go to the local Santa Cruz Mountains and Lupin Lodge, a nudist resort with plenty of naturist sports and activities like nude hiking. And if it turns out not to be your thing, there are plenty of vacation rentals in Santa Cruz right next to clothed beaches.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Santa Cruz plays host to a number of fun, sometimes bizarre, annual festivals. The longest running of these is the Fungus Fair, put on by none other than the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz. Having just celebrated its 45th year in January, the fair welcomed speakers lecturing about exotic mushrooms, medicinal versus hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the common fungi in the Santa Cruz area.
Another festival -- whose unusual name actually surpasses the Fungus Fair -- is the Testicle Festival. In its 10th year, the celebration has nothing to do with the beaches mentioned above, but instead is an ode to the acquired taste for Rocky Mountain Oysters. Taking place in summer on the Estrada Deer Camp, tickets include food (not just the “oysters”) and benefits The Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee who promote youth leadership for those involved in local agriculture. Other ongoing festivals include rubber duck races to benefit charities, a Halloween parade downtown, and a vampire-themed live action role-play night downtown.
Zack is a recovering technical recruiter who traded in his suit and tie in Silicon Valley for salsa music and a passion for writing in Medellin, Colombia. When not writing for AllTheRooms you can find Zack with his nose in a book, puttering around nature, or getting ultra-competitive while watching Jeopardy.