santa cruz county vs monterey county
Cover Stories

Santa Cruz County vs. Monterey County: Who Ya Got?

The staffs of Good Times and Monterey County Weekly square off on who has the top territory

Art by: Raul Magallanes

Santa Cruz County’s Good Times and Monterey County Weekly have a friendly rivalry brewing, and decided to get in on the spirit of the most classic of traditions by making it into a contact sport. Here, we each make the case for the superior virtues of our respective territory. From the arts and culture scene to food and booze, there’s a lot to love about each place—and reason to knock our competition across the county line.

Our readers are the real referees; tell us who you think is #winning in these categories by tweeting using #mocovsc or sending us letters to the editor.

Sara Rubin and Steve Palopoli


Literary Legacy

Monterey County: We could end this conversation with two words: John Steinbeck. The Salinas author has created a world-revered body of work—a lot of it inspired by and set in Monterey County—that few people in history can approach, including The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. But to continue, there’s Henry Miller, Robinson Jeffers, George Sterling and the Carmel Bohemians crowd, Jane Smiley, Riane Eisler. And that’s not counting people who stayed for a time and got inspired by Monterey County’s landscape, including Jack Kerouac, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Bly. In screenwriting, there’s Dustin Lance Black (Milk, Edgar). Do comic books count? Then count Greg Rucka (Wonder Woman, DC’s 52). River House Books and Old Capitol Books keep us in touch with all of these folks and more. We could go on, but just to reiterate: John Steinbeck. WR

Santa Cruz County: We’ll give you Steinbeck, as we’re sure you’re aware that his 1936 novel In Dubious Battle may have been set here, and he visited his sister and nieces in Watsonville often—their house is now on display at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. Our well-read county (which can boast 10 public libraries and where book groups are a way of life), is also home to the first Acid Test, which took place in late 1965 in Soquel and nurtured a literary counterculture. The gathering included novelist Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest); Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (Howl, Kaddish) and his lover, poet Peter Orlovsky; and Beat poet Neal Cassady (of On the Road fame). Robert Heinlein lived in Bonny Doon, and Thomas Pynchon, despite his perpetual stealth mode, is widely known to have lived in Aptos. This county has also given the world the late, great James D. Houston (Bird of Another Heaven, and 1973’s best-selling Farewell to Manzanar, co-authored with his wife Jeanne Wakatsuki), philosophy and science writer Ralph Abraham, as well as award-winning and critically acclaimed poet Ellen Bass and best-selling novelist Elizabeth Mckenzie. We’re also home part-time to novelist Jonathan Franzen and number-one sexpert Susie Bright. MG



MC: Carmel has nearly 50 restaurants, including Michelin-star worthy Aubergine, chef favorite la Balena and breakout new star Seventh & Dolores—and it’s the smallest city in the county. Big Sur has only a handful of restaurants, but they include one of the best bakeries (Big Sur Bakery), most iconic eateries (Nepenthe) and some of the best fine dining (Sierra Mar, Sur House) in the state. Add in Monterey’s fast-burgeoning downtown foodie scene, Seaside and Marina’s wealth of ethnic options and still-undiscovered Oldtown Salinas, and Monterey County, Salad Bowl of the World, for myriad fresh and tasty reasons, is the clear Super Bowl champ on the food front. And for dessert—sorry Santa Cruz, this one’s going to sting—now we even have better ice cream, thanks to Revival Ice + Cream. MCA

SC: Aw, that’s so cute that you think your ice cream is better! Guess you haven’t had time to grab a scoop up here, where Penny Ice Creamery and Mission Hill Creamery are on the cutting edge of creating inspired seasonal flavors using fresh ingredients from local farms, candy makers—even breweries—and Marianne’s Ice Cream is an institution that’s been a gold standard for 70 years. As for dining, you don’t need to be getting private-chef company meals at your tech workplace to enjoy a great meal in Santa Cruz County. What we lack in Michelin stars we make up for in accessibility. For starters, there are more food artisans in Santa Cruz County than you can shake a fork at—baking bread, roasting coffee, curing salamis, fermenting vegetables and making chocolate. Some of the most creative food can be found at pop ups, food trucks, breweries and taquerias. That being said, star chefs at places like Gabriella Cafe, Home, Soif, Oswald and Bantam are deliciously inventive and playful with our plentiful local produce and agriculture products. LS


Mascot (and Higher Ed)

monterey county monterey bay aquarium

OH LOOK, A BUNCH OF FISH The Monterey Aquarium is no doubt very exciting for five-year-olds!

SC: Is there any mascot in America more iconoclastic, more anti-establishment, more suited to the university it represents than UC Santa Cruz’s Banana Slug? It’s so famous and beloved that legendary folk-country group the Austin Lounge Lizards even gave it its own (appropriately alternative) fight song, “Banana Slugs! Racing Down the Field,” with lyrics like “Sla-sla-sla-sla-slather you with slime/ We we we we win another time.” You see, UCSC was conceived not just as an educational experiment, but as a cultural experiment, and though it has evolved over the years (farewell, narrative evaluations instead of grades), it has continued to attract the country’s most powerfully innovative thinkers, from instructors like Angela Davis, Adrienne Rich and Art Spiegelman to alumni like artist Miranda July, comedians Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg, former Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra, Serial podcast co-creator Julie Snyder, and founder David Talbot. SP

MC: When it comes to mascots, you might think of fierce and proud animals (the Philadelphia Eagles, perhaps?), with attributes like wings or arms, enabling their athletic prowess to be easily replicated by costumed humans. UC Santa Cruz’s Sammy the Slug offers none of these. The native banana slug is slow, solitary and is the prey, not the predator. Comparatively, CSU Monterey Bay’s number-one cheerleader, Monte Rey Otter, checks all of the boxes: besides possessing teeth and claws, it’s fighting its way back from near-extinction, accesses its food source through brute force and is a team player. Plus, he’s cute! And when it comes to real hometown spirit, Santa Cruz residents and UCSC students have been brewing bad blood for a while when it comes to straining housing and water. MA



MC: Tech in Monterey County is not people at computers writing code, like the overflow of tech bros you may see populating Santa Cruz. There’s a growing ag tech industry happening in the field, deployed by tractor and by drone. Meanwhile, cutting-edge oceanographic research is happening offshore (one recent Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute study, for example, revealed the significance of deep-sea jellies as predators). Some of the most futuristic tech is happening at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where on Feb. 2, the Aerodynamic Technology Branch of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory presents on the latest efforts to reduce drag and make planes faster—specifically, “the upswept fuselage aft body of C-130 and C-17 aircraft.” Outpace that if you can, Santa Cruz. SR

SC: They don’t call us Silicon Beach for nothing. Santa Cruz is the beach town that NorCal techies want to live in. It’s close enough to Silicon Valley to commute, yet far away enough that they can leave their misery at work and eventually retire young to Santa Cruz. We have Google buses, new Amazon offices and over 150 new and old startups from sustainable shrimp-shell surfboards to sleep-tracking beds. Like Netflix, Santa Cruz-based data analytics company Looker, grew up in Santa Cruz. After partnering with Sony, Amazon, Spotify, and Lyft, Looker has expanded overseas, but is still based here. Santa Cruz is also a biotech hub of companies working on genomic cancer cures and bacteria-identifying software. Make already fast planes faster? Let’s cure cancer first. To support all of this city-wide innovation, Cruznet has begun installing a fiber-optic network to provide high-speed, net-neutral, independent internet access across downtown Santa Cruz—talk about nerd necessities. GJ



MC: When it comes to leisure destinations, Santa Cruz doesn’t stand a chance against Monterey County, which attracts visitors from all over the world to play on some of the best golf courses on the globe at Pebble Beach, and stay at some of the most stunning hotels in the country—think Hyatt Carmel Highlands, Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn. And scenic drives? Forget about it. Highway 1 in Big Sur takes drivers through the most breathtaking coastline in America, where the sheer slope of Santa Lucia Mountains make it feel like the edge of the earth. As far as beaches go, there are few more lovely (and dog-friendly) than Carmel Beach, but perhaps the most magical are tucked away in Big Sur, where beachgoers in the know can get a slice of paradise to themselves. DS

SC: Oh yeah, golf (yawn), what a wonderful, exorbitantly expensive pursuit for the 1 percent! And driving for your scenery? Er … no thanks. We like to get out and actually experience real nature. Then again, so would any place that featured majestic redwood trees, and some of the best hiking in the world at Big Basin (California’s oldest state park, and home of the unbelievable Berry Creek Falls), Wilder Ranch, Pogonip, Henry Cowell Redwoods, and many more. In Santa Cruz, leisure is a democratic pursuit, and with just a couple of miles separating the beaches and forests, there’s something for everyone. SP


Drinking scene

santa cruz county beach boardwalk

SORRY NOT SORRY The Boardwalk is obviously more fun than anything in Monterey County.

MC: The Santa Cruz Mountains grow some fantastic grapes, but c’mon. For years Monterey County produced more wine grapes than most countries, and even Napa and Sonoma counties, and provided comparable quality for a fraction of the price. Santa Cruz has not and will not be named one of the Best Wine Travel Destinations in the World, as was Monterey in 2013. Each of its wine trails—artsy Carmel, sunny Carmel Valley and stunning River Road—could challenge Santa Cruz’s trail on its own. Eight different AVAs—including the historic Chalone AVA and the legendary Santa Lucia Highlands AVA—host more than 150 unique vineyards. Full disclosure: Santa Cruz has comparable cocktails and, admittedly, a more mature and versatile craft beer scene. But we were too busy drinking Pisoni Pinot to notice. MCA

SC: Hanging out at the beach all day can really make you thirsty, which may be why Santa Cruz is home to so many craft beverage makers. The county has been drawing oenophiles for decades thanks to the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, one of the first to be defined by its topography in 1981 and home to more than 60 small, family-owned wineries that produce some of the best wine in the world. Always on the cutting edge of cool, it’s also booming with 14 craft breweries that each manage to balance being a beloved community gathering spot and brewing damn good beer. Santa Cruz County is also home to five craft cideries and a nationally-recognized craft distillery, Venus Spirits. And that’s just booze! Countless health beverages are also made locally—which is convenient, because we need something to take the edge off of this hangover. LS



MC: Santa Cruz County farmers might grow strawberries as big as footballs, but so do Monterey County farmers—and more of them. Our 2016 strawberry harvest alone (and leaf lettuce) exceeded the entire Santa Cruz County agricultural product value. Consider the numbers: a $4.3 billion in ag sales ($725 million of that was strawberries) compared to $637 million in Santa Cruz. That’s not even a close enough margin to summon a referee, but why not: Organic production has been steadily climbing, with 179 certified producers and 32,947 acres (more than 5 times as much as Santa Cruz County). Not to mention the great diversity of crops, from berries and lettuce to lemons and wine grapes, earning the Salinas Valley the moniker The Salad Bowl of the World. SR

SC: No matter the time of year, strolling through a farmers market in Santa Cruz County is a feast for the senses. Tables struggle to maintain their structural integrity under the weight of so much local bounty, from deep-hued greens and fiery root vegetables in the winter to a rainbow of tree fruit and tomatoes in the summer. Chefs literally move here—sometimes from Monterey County (see: Brad Briske of la balena)—because of the incredible produce and products available to them. Our coastal climate is perfect for berries, making Watsonville the Strawberry Capital of the World and home to Driscoll’s, one of the world’s largest berry suppliers. But bigger isn’t always better, and unlike surrounding counties, many of our farmers would rather grow without pesticides than compromise health for profit. Thanks to numerous organizations pioneering sustainable farming practices, including USDA-recognized organic certifier CCOF, which was founded in Santa Cruz over 40 years ago, organic is a way of life here. LS



SC: Santa Cruz’s San Lorenzo River mouth was the first break ever surfed anywhere in the Americas, waaaaay back in 1885, when three Hawaiian princes hopped on 17-foot olo boards that were custom built out of redwood. By the end of the century, the town was already known as “Surf City,” which still rings true today, as there are hardly any bad surf days here. Each beach is unique, and from Aptos to Davenport, it’s always breaking somewhere. The hiking, too, is in endless supply—with stunning trails at UCSC, local reserves and redwood-rich state parks. Our county is also the place to be for kiteboarding, windsurfing, ziplining through the redwoods, mountain biking, and so much more. We even have world-class disc golf courses, namely at Delaveaga Park and Pinto Lake. JP

MC: Recreation opportunities are not only superior, they are the main reason many of the county residents live here. Sure, Santa Cruz has a reputation for its surf, but Monterey County shores have excellent breaks too—with less of crowd on the waves. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is among the most popular state parks in California, but you’ll find local hikers at Garland Ranch, Jacks Peak, Toro Park, Pinnacles National Park and of course, Big Sur, which has so many trail miles it would take years to hike them all. Mountain biking on the Fort Ord National Monument offers the chance to race through coast live oaks for hours, and the waters off the Monterey Peninsula are one of the best scuba spots in the world, where kelp forests support a rich array of awe-inspiring marine life. And when you’re inspired to play flag football, there’s no shortage of parks for that purpose. DS


Tourist Attractions

MC: The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a seamless merger of architecture and rocky seashore, science and wonder, tourist attraction and conservation hub. Big Sur is one of the Top 10 most visited places in California—period. Anyone who has ever had a deep appreciation for wine knows Carmel Valley and Salinas Valley (aka the Salad Bowl of the World, aka Steinbeck Country). Speaking of whom, “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light …” Fisherman’s Wharf is quaint. And the Monterey Fairgrounds is home to a piece of rock ’n’ roll history in the Monterey International Pop Festival. Add Pinnacles National Park, all things natural and outdoorsy and festival, and you’ve got a place with a magnetic attraction as powerful as any in the state. WR

SC: Hello, no-brainer. Santa Cruz’s Beach Boardwalk has been around for more than 110 years—more than three times as long as the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The boardwalk is the Central Coast’s most loved vacation spot, ideal for classic rides and deep-fried everything. Not a beach person? The Mystery Spot has you covered, and is sand-free. Many believe the gravitational anomaly to be a magma vortex—when’s the last time you saw that? Others believe that underneath the landmark is an underground spaceship left by intergalactic aliens thousands of years ago. That explains the puzzling variations of gravity, perspective, and height. Even the aliens decided to come to Santa Cruz over Monterey. GJ



MC: With or without the statewide gas tax, Monterey County is investing in its transportation future with countywide Measure X. There are 38 projects set for 2018 and 2040. This includes the paving of the 30-mile Fort Ord Rec Trail and Greenway between Monterey and Marina, an inland alternative to the existing (and stunning) coastal Rec Trail. Meanwhile, pedestrian- and cyclist-forward efforts are improving with better sidewalks and bike paths, especially near schools. Other proposed improvements include widening Highway 101 in Salinas from four to six lanes and roundabouts on Highway 68 between Monterey and Salinas—all stuff that will make traffic flow more smoothly, so driving at rush hour doesn’t make you feel like tackling someone. CM

SC: Santa Cruz entered elite transportation status in late 2015, when it became gold-certified for cycling, according to the League of American Bicyclists, making it one of only 24 communities in the country holding that honor. The city recently installed a new bike/pedestrian bridge near the San Lorenzo River, completing a four-mile levee system loop, and it’s been painting bike boxes at major intersections. Planners are getting ready to break ground on a segment of the Coastal Rail Trail for walking and riding. A network of buses spans the far reaches of Santa Cruz County, and for $7, anyone can hop on the Highway 17 Express to get over the hill to San Jose. JP


Power Brokers

MC: A partial list of Leon Panetta’s accomplishments is enough to make even the toughest linebackers shiver: lifting a ban on women in combat; helping engineer the killing of Osama Bin Laden; designating the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. When Panetta retired in 2013, he returned home to his Carmel Valley walnut farm, and leaves behind a formidable legacy of public service. When he started his 50-year career in public service, he was expecting it to be just a two-year stint as a congressional aide in Washington. Instead he went on to serve as a member of Congress, President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, and both CIA director and Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama. What he’s accomplished (either good or bad) has effects that reverberate far beyond either county. SR

SC: It’s all fine and good to claim Leon Panetta because he lived in Monterey County, but also a bit odd since he represented Santa Cruz County, as well. In any case, besides the massive nexus of cultural influence that has come out of UCSC thanks to luminaries like Angela Davis, Santa Cruz has also been a hub of progressive politics for decades. While Carmel was choosing Dirty Harry in the ’80s, Santa Cruz was electing one of the first openly gay mayors in the U.S., John Laird. Gary Patton, who served as a Santa Cruz County supervisor from 1975-1995, was a pioneer of environmental advocacy and green policy. Fred Keeley, who served as a county supervisor before being elected to the state assembly, authored the two largest environmental protection bonds in U.S. history. SP


Movies and Celebrity Sightings

SC: Two words: Lost Boys. OK, it’s officially called The Lost Boys, so that’s three words. But the 1980s vampire classic—which seems even cooler than it did when it came out 30 years ago—is so closely identified with Santa Cruz that the boardwalk is on the freaking poster. And who can forget other Santa Cruz cult films like Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Andy Kaufman’s Heartbeeps? OK, lots of people! But Santa Cruz County is where Alfred Hitchcock escaped to when he needed to get away from Hollywood, and where the great director found inspiration for films like The Birds (based, it’s said, on a real-life incident in Capitola). We’ve been home to historical Hollywood greats like Beverly Garland and Zasu Pitts, and continue to produce talents like actor Adam Scott and Pixar great Elissa Knight. SP

MC: Sorry, Santa Cruz, Monterey County has you beat when it comes to a long history of filmmaking and big stars illuminating the scenery. The earliest known filming took place in Monterey in 1897, compared to Santa Cruz’s first foray into film in 1915. More than 200 films have been shot in Monterey County, and it’s now home to HBO’s acclaimed Big Little Lies. (And mega-stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley are coming back to film Season 2 in April.) Monterey County has so much rich film history ranging from classics like National Velvet, to thrillers like Play Misty for Me and fun romps like Turner and Hooch, it sustains a small tourism business in Monterey Movie Tours. It’s no Super Bowl, but those movies have had millions of viewers over the years. Oh, and did we mention that Clint Eastwood—recently observed at the Monterey Jazz Festival and at Whole Foods—was mayor? PM



MC: Recreational marijuana has come to California as of Jan.1, and Monterey County has made its move to supply the region with reefer. Though Santa Cruz enjoys an abundance of dispensaries, we’re catching up faster than a running back can make it down the field. New dispensaries (with medical and recreational offerings) include Emerald Skyways in Salinas and Big Sur Canna+Botanicals—which cultivates its own strains like Key Lime Cookies—in Carmel. But the real green isn’t at the retail level, it’s in greenhouses throughout the Salinas Valley where they’re growing weed in bulk to distribute throughout the state. It’s not impossible to envision the Salinas Valley becoming the kush capital of California in addition to the Salad Bowl of the World. IG

SC: Evolutionary biologist Mowgli Holmes, Ph.D., recently confirmed something we already knew: that when it comes to cannabis, “Santa Cruz has some of the best breeders in the world.” With a long history of advocacy and as the home of the groundbreaking collective WAMM (Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana), Santa Cruz has been an incubator for cannabis culture, and the compassionate, conscious use and appreciation of the plant. During the not-so-distant years of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, when the DEA was burning huge piles of cannabis up north, the Santa Cruz Mountains provided a safe hiding place for certain prized strains, and a genetic stock that can today be traced in virtually every cannabis cup winner in California. So while your county fills its greenhouses with dollar signs (and subpar product), Santa Cruz is working hard to preserve its values for high quality, boutique cannabis, in the face of greed-fueled commercial monocrops. MG


Music and Nightlife

MC: While Santa Cruz staples like The Catalyst, Rio Theatre, Kuumbwa Jazz Center and Moe’s Alley attract and accommodate music that Monterey County can’t, consider something Lou Adler said after Jimi and Janis helped immortalize the Monterey County Fairgrounds after the Monterey Pop Fest in 1967: “Monterey Pop will always belong to Monterey.” The Fairgrounds is also ground zero for the world’s longest continuously running jazz fest and now Cali Roots, the world’s largest reggae-rock festival. The festival scene is like the Superbowl of Monterey County music—the big events that everyone watches. But we also have smaller off-the-beaten-path offerings. Big Sur, it turns out, is just as alluring to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Arcade Fire and the Flaming Lips—who’ve all performed there in recent years—as it is to all of the other roadtrippers. AJ

SC: The question is never what show to catch this week; the question is what show to go to tonight. Santa Cruz County has music venues for just about every size and niche—with venues like Moe’s Alley, the Catalyst, the Civic, the Crepe Place, the Rio and Kuumbwa Jazz representing only a small sliver of what nightlife has to offer. Over the years, the music scene has produced names like Bassnectar, Devil Makes Three and Camper Van Beethoven. There’s a burgeoning local comedy scene as well, buoyed by free weekly comedy nights on Thursdays at the Blue Lagoon. And before the show, there may be time to catch a D-League game, played by a local Warriors team that boasts four winning records over its five seasons in Santa Cruz. JP


Written by: Mark C. Anderson, Marielle Argueza, Ivan Garcia, Pam Marino, Charles Montesa, Sara Rubin, Walter Ryce and David Schmalz for Monterey County Weekly; Maria Grusauskas, Georgia Johnson, Steve Palopoli, Jacob Pierce and Lily Stoicheff for Good Times.


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