At 2,600 feet up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, one might expect to find sprawling views of the ocean and surrounding forest and not flourishing vineyards. Yet there are more than 70 wineries dappling the hills at various altitudes, privy to the dewy, cooling breezes of the sea and the richness of the rocky soil. The San Francisco Chronicle speaks to their scattered presence, deeming them "less a cohesive wine region than a patchwork of vineyards." Still, this characteristic isolation has resulted in "a perfect laboratory for winemaking not held hostage to fashion"—no one style dominates in this rustic setting.
Pinot noirs and chardonnays populate the western front, and the east yields cabernets, merlots, and zinfandels. The majority of the vineyards are small and family owned—a fact reflected in their meticulously bottled libations and the matching sweaters of their holiday photos—but though they exist in chosen hermitage, many of them welcome visitors to their scenic sites. They host weddings, festivals, and open events such as Pathway to Pinot Paradise, a self-guided tour of the pinot noir hotspots.
Venture Quest Kayaking's owner and head guide Dave Johnston leads paddling excursions across Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, from the shimmering interiors of seaside caves to the open water where whales and other wildlife frequent. He sets the standard for a team of experienced paddlers that lead the company's many tours. These nature tours, moonlight paddles, and trips to other ports send paddlers through waves and estuaries as guides encourage participants to hone their paddling technique and give the right-of-way to any ghost ships. Kayaking camps and classes teach skills such as riding into curling waves and safe ways to launch or do self-rescue in the surf. Their shop on the Wharf also outfits customers with a variety of rentals, including open- or closed-top single and double ocean kayaks.
After 16 years spent with Kona Coffee, MJA Owner Marin Artukovich took up residence in Napa Valley, where he renovated an idyllic estate on the side of Howell Mountain before opening the MJA Tasting Room in March of 2010. With the help of local winemaker Mikael Wargin, Marin’s vineyard produces cabernets, sauvignon blancs, and pinot noirs reflecting the terroir of Napa Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains, with bottles for sale through its very own Serene and DaVine cellars. Cups of house-roasted Hawaiian Kona Coffee cap off each tasting, warming hands and souls inside MJA’s gorgeous brick-walled estate or on a heated patio overlooking the Santa Cruz mountains.
The folks at Kayak Connection outfit visitors with sea kayaks and standup paddleboards before leading them on guided tours or sending them out to explore Santa Cruz Harbor and Elkhorn Slough on their own. Tours vary from romantic sunset paddles to trips designed for families and include one tailored to getting glimpses of local birds. Intermediate and advanced paddlers can head out onto open waters to paddle past the Golden Gate Bridge, Point Lobos State Marine Reserve, and Monterey Bay Crossing.
At Vino Prima, the wine pours freely. Surrounded by 360-degree views of the Santa Cruz wharf and sparkling lights of the boardwalk, patrons soak in the views as they sip their choice of wine by the flight or glass, with a rotating selection of 30 wines pouring daily. Enclosed in their protective casings, more than 150 boutique wines are also available by the bottle, which can later be filled with a miniature version of your favorite 14th-century shipwreck. On some weekends, belly dancing and live-music sessions create a lively atmosphere to complement the always-flowing libations.
Whenever she strolled down a sandy beach or marveled at the redwoods of a lush forest, LeTa Jussila would be reminded that Santa Cruz was the most beautiful place in the world. It seemed a shame to her that most people spent so much of their days inside houses and offices rather than taking advantage of the diverse landscapes of their surroundings. Inspired, she spearheaded the foundation of Optimal Health and Fitness—a multidimensional outdoor-fitness program.
Today, LeTa and her staff of trainers conduct energetic weight-loss classes at local beaches, forests, and mountain trails. They use the tools of their surroundings as exercise equipment, such as running up park stairs for a cardio workout. Encouraging well-rounded, healthy lifestyles, the instructors also conduct seminars on holistic topics such as stress management and meditation. Nutrition specialists, meanwhile, provide students with balanced meal plans and supervise detoxifying cleanses. The staff also offers various treatments popularized in the East, including traditional Chinese acupuncture treatments and rejuvenating qi gong stretching classes.