Special Publications

Best of Santa Cruz County 2021: Editors’ Picks

Honoring the county’s greatest people, places and things

Can the pandemic stop Good Times’ long tradition of honoring this area’s greatest people, places and things in the Best of Santa Cruz County? No, it can’t, and you know why? Because the pandemic can’t stop Santa Cruz County.

It’s become a cliché in the last year to say that something or other is “most important than ever” now, but when it comes to honoring the incredible restaurants, shops, venues and other businesses here, I think the phrase takes on new meaning. Take a look at the places that thousands of our readers voted as the best in any given category, then go out and discover—or rediscover—those places for yourself, because without your support, we could lose them.

As I write this, we seem to be slowly emerging from the era of quarantines, lockdowns and the other safety measures that have made many of us feel isolated and disconnected since last March. Let’s hope that continues—and as it does, I am proud to say there is no better way to rediscover Santa Cruz County than the magazine you are holding in your hands right now. Let’s all celebrate our best with a new appreciation for everything they bring to our lives.

Oh and yes, we did get a little help from Bigfoot for this issue. After our GT cover story on the local museum dedicated to him, we got a little obsessed, so you’ll find him pointing the way throughout these pages. He’s a little shy, but very helpful—and a shoo-in for Best Cryptozoological Celebrity. 

STEVE PALOPOLI | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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Read the full flip-through edition of the Best of Santa Cruz County 2021 magazine here:


Best Lump of Deliciousness To Wait a Few Days For

Full Steam Dumpling

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the same might be true for the stomach. Full Steam Dumpling is testing the theory by making everyone wait for specific pickup days. My first thought upon trying their vegan gyoza was, “Oh no,” because I knew I’d have to go back the next week. And the next. Find them at the Downtown Santa Cruz, Westside or Live Oak farmer’s markets, or order ahead for Wednesday and Friday afternoon pickups at the SC Food Lounge. If you absolutely must have their dumplings on an off day, they sell a few versions frozen. ERIN MALSBURY

Best Trail for Lazy Hikers

Fall Creek 

It’s OK to be a lazy hiker; personally I always opt for easy trails like Fall Creek Trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. It’s also easy to find: Head up Felton Empire Road out of Felton (less than a mile from Highway 9). Signage leads you into a small parking lot, and the trailhead is right there. A gentle downhill trail leads to Fall Creek, which sets a tranquil tone for the hike. The small wood footbridges, patches of wild mushrooms, and twists and turns of the trail through the dense forest make for a rewarding stroll. One of the treats along the way are the abandoned lime kilns of days past. TARMO HANNULA

Best SLV Saturday Night Plans

DVD to Go and Sushi San

After this past year, it’s difficult to land on a Saturday night plan that you can look forward to all week. However, the duo of Felton’s Sushi San and Scotts Valley’s DVD to Go never disappoints. My recommendation is the Guide Roll and Yam Yam Rolla paired with the 1999 film The Mummy. Linda, the all-knowing owner of DVD to Go, will approve of your choice and the quirk in her smile hints that she also finds Brendan Fraser swoon-worthy in the flick. (Be warned, DVD to Go is cash only!) Delight your taste buds with fresh combinations and reignite your passion for faux film archaeologists all in one evening. KATIE EVANS

Best Place to Win Over Mushroom Haters

NahNa

I bet you thought I’d say Far West Fungi. But see, FWF is where you take the former fungi foe after they’ve had their mind blown at NahNa. In addition to their delicious mushrooms, the Eritrean food kiosk offers a range of other mouthwatering vegan and meat options. Pile a few choices onto the bubbly, homemade Taita flatbread and sip some warm tea while people-watching downtown. Find them at the kiosk on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street on Friday through Sunday afternoons or at the Downtown Farmers’ Market. ERIN MALSBURY

Best Hidden Dining Gem in Watsonville

Kong’s Burgers and Cafe

Tucked into Plaza Vigil in downtown Watsonville, just across the street from the City Plaza, is an overlooked but delicious Korean restaurant. Kong’s Burgers and Cafe, an offshoot of the now-defunct Kong’s Market in Santa Cruz, is home to one of the best Bibimbap dishes—a heaping plate of rice, veggies, hot sauce and a choice of meat topped off with a fried egg—I’ve ever tasted. That’s because partners Sang Soon Ahn and Soon Ja make everything from scratch from the moment you order it, and they use mostly organic ingredients. Oh, and did I mention everything is under $9? TONY NUNEZ

Best Cocky Deer 

Glenwood Drive in Scotts Valley

It’s late at night and thankfully your brights caught the gleam of that deer’s eyes. You know the one—relaxing in the bike lane like he was born there. You slow down, even as the image of dinner and your favorite spot on the couch rise in your mind. He just stares at you, like you’re the issue here, and the staring contest turns into a complete stop. While you’re debating the next move, he stretches a hoof out across the white edge line and winks at you. The contest is over, he turns, and trots back into the woods. You lose. KATIE EVANS

Best Outdoor Sushi

Mobo Sushi

This longtime Santa Cruz favorite has consistently delivered top-shelf sushi, friendly help and comfortable patio dining, complete with plenty of heaters, during the pandemic. Even on a weekend night, we’ve only had to wait a few minutes to be seated.  The udon noodle appetizer—a small, warm dish with tahini sauce, thinly sliced carrots and cucumbers—is a great start. Old faithfuls for us are their Tropi Maki and Futo Maki rolls. If we’re starved, we add hamachi, which are always carefully prepared. TARMO HANNULA

Best Irrigation Drips and Pet Trips

Mountain Feed & Farm Supply

Sure, you got your shrubs, ground cover, perennials and mulch, but there’s only one garden and farm supply business that also has an animal vet, in a school bus, on the same property, and that’s Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond (the vet is Dr. Gary Roussopoulos—same property, different hours, but the waiting room is outdoors and surrounded by incredible plants and smells). The staff at Mountain Feed are always knowledgeable and friendly, and they don’t mind your dog wandering around until it’s time to get on the bus. Perfect place to dream about your summer garden while getting Buddy his shots. DNA

Best Beer to Make You Pucker Up

Fruition Brewing’s Sours

Before tasting Fruition’s sour beers, I was not a fan of that style of brew. Every other sour beer I had previously tasted was either so sour that I’d need a shower after, or so sweet that I’d have to down a bitter cup of coffee with it. Fruition’s sours, dubbed “double snacks,” have made me reconsider the style. My favorites are their olallieberry and apricot flavors. Like all of their sour beers, they’re packed with locally sourced fruits and ingredients—they use berries from Watsonville farms such as Coastal Moon and JSM Organics, and hops from Akiyama Hopyard in Royal Oaks. Fruition’s bottled beer runs $14-$18. They’re at the East Lake Shopping Center, 936 E Lake Ave., right next to the forthcoming Staff of Life Watsonville location. TONY NUNEZ

Best Sunset Spot

Bluffs Above the Mouth of the San Lorenzo River

This has become my most-frequented spot in Santa Cruz, especially for sunsets. It amazes me how much the landscape of the river mouth changes with the tides, shifting sands and movement of the river. From those bluffs, you can see the UCSC campus, the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, the Walton Lighthouse, the Municipal Wharf, the full length of Seabright State Beach, the harbor mouth and a huge swath of the Pacific. Add a great sunset to that mix, and you’re set. TARMO HANNULA

Best James Dean Selfie Spot

Brookdale Lodge

This rebel has a cause: To get the perfect photo with the perfect man. He’s gorgeous, hair perfectly gelled, with a mischievous smirk and dreamy blue eyes. He’s also two stories tall, inanimate, and not much of a conversationalist. Make the scenic drive up Highway 9 and stop for the perfect selfie at Brookdale Lodge’s James Dean mural. Double check your photo’s background afterward; you might catch a glimpse of a ghost! KATIE EVANS

Best In-Town Trail Run

Twin Lakes State Beach

Santa Cruz has so many nearby trails that you could start running and never stop. Although that might sound tempting with the current state of the world, I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, the paths through Twin Lakes State Beach provide a nice, more temporary respite. The park offers shaded trails that wind through twisting oaks and past peaceful Schwan Lagoon—perfect for a quick midday nature getaway. ERIN MALSBURY

Best Things to Happen to Watsonville

The Slough Trails

I’ve been working in Watsonville for 27 years now, and I firmly believe the 6.5 miles of slough trails the city created several years ago are the best thing to happen to it in that time. The glimpse they offer into the wetlands and the wealth of birds and other wildlife is tremendous. The trails are wide enough for bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchairs and strollers to spread out. I’ve seen huge flocks of American white pelicans soaring about the various sloughs. One of my favorite trails starts from the remote corner of the West Marine parking lot (at the far rear). Informative signage dots the trails, and there are benches along the way. TARMO HANNULA

Best Vegan Eggroll Near a Saloon

The Red Pearl

It’s difficult for tourists to put together the idea of a mountain town, Chinese food and vegan specialties into one thought, but not only does it happen at Boulder Creek’s The Red Pearl, they also have a wide vegetarian and vegan menu. From Kung Pao Vegi-chicken to meat lover’s favorites like Sweet and Sour Pork, The Red Pearl truly has something for everyone. And while you’re waiting, walk the main hub of Boulder Creek and soak in that small-town feel. Be sure to say hello to Zhujiang, the dragon who guards the doors of The Red Pearl—he can be ferocious. DNA

Best Place to Get into Film Photography

Bay Photo

Santa Cruz County is Instagram-worthy—nay, film-worthy. From summery surf vibes on East Cliff Drive to moody redwoods in the San Lorenzo Valley, the area is a photographer’s playground. For those interested in capturing the dreamy colors in a classic style, three Bay Photo Lab locations sell and develop 35mm and 120mm film. If photography tech-talk makes your head spin, ask an employee for their advice on getting that perfect shot. Go forth and make your out-of-town friends jealous. ERIN MALSBURY

Best Cup of Larry’s Famous Chai

The White Raven

I don’t know who I expected to be the best chai maker in Santa Cruz, but I didn’t expect Larry. I won’t hold my surprise against him, as I’m rather glad he picked up the calling. Stop by the White Raven between 7am-4pm any day of the week to taste the tastiest, spiciest frothed beverage that Larry makes. Better yet, grab a bag to make at home as well. KATIE EVANS

Best Place for Watsonville Residents to Find Themselves

Pajaro Valley Historical Association 

Ever get caught staring at old family photos of relatives from decades ago? Who were these people? What did they do? Where did they come from? The Pajaro Valley Historical Association just down the street from Watsonville High School at 332 E. Beach St. is the perfect place to start this journey down your family’s history. There, an unsung staff of volunteers who love Watsonville and all its history can dive into decades of records, photos and newspaper clippings to help you trace your family’s history. TONY NUNEZ

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