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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
People Powered: Populist candidates John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich enjoyed some of the People's Coffee on their little-publicized tour of Santa Cruz earlier this year.

Best People & Places

Editor's Picks

It's been said that home is where you know the songs. That may be true, but home is also where you know the makeout spots, bartenders, hiking trails and plastic-wrapped accordion-playing street performers. Even though many of them don't care because they're members of the mineral kingdom or otherwise impervious to the joy of public recognition, we salute the people and places that readers love so much they bothered to fill out a ballot. And as every candidate knows, that's half the battle.

Best Ornithologizing

BECAUSE they crap on your car and chirp outside your window at 6:30am on your day off, birds often receive only our negative attention. But if you take a step back and examine our feathered friends, they can give you beautiful insights into Mother Nature's approach to evolution, adaptation and flighted freedom. The diverse ecosystems of Santa Cruz County support a wide variety of birds. Around the city's populated areas you can spot songbirds like swallows, warblers, robins and finches, but a short ways out of town the world will open up to a wide variety of raptors, shorebirds and waterfowl. At Natural Bridges State Beach, pay attention to the black oystercatchers and see how they use their red bills to pry or smash open mollusks found in the tidepools. Along the sandy beaches of West Cliff you'll find the much more subtle sanderlings and blackbellied plovers dashing about in the surf, their long quick legs keeping them one step ahead of the oncoming waves. Farther south, at Elkhorn Slough, you can contrast the oystercatchers' smash 'n' grab technique with the airborne prowl of the red-tailed hawk. Hundreds of bird species can be seen throughout Santa Cruz County, and all you'll need to do to enjoy the beauty is take a look around you.

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
1700 Elkhorn Road, Watsonville
Expect to see over 340 species throughout the year including shorebirds, falcons, hawks, owls, cranes, titmice and hummingbirds.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Follow Highway 17 toward Scotts Valley. Take Mt. Hermon Road to Felton. Turn right at Graham Hill Road and then left onto Highway 9 toward Santa Cruz for a mile to the lower park entrance.

Expect to see: Thrushes, ruby-crowned kinglets, warblers, towhees, woodpeckers and rare finches in the winter.

Lighthouse Point and West Cliff Drive
Follow Highway 1 until it turns into Mission Street. Turn left on Bay Street and follow until it dead-ends into West Cliff Drive. Turn right on West Cliff Drive. The beach is approximately a half-mile on your left.

Expect to see: Loons, grebes, brown pelicans, terns, plovers and sanderlings.

Neary Lagoon Wildlife Refuge
Entrances are located at the end of Blackburn Street, the end of Chestnut Street and at the intersection of California and Bay streets in Santa Cruz.

Expect to see: Ducks, mallards, coots, herons, wrens, blackbirds and kingfishers.

Natural Bridges State Beach
Take Highway 1/Mission Street west to Swift and turn left. Take a right at the first stop sign onto Delaware Avenue. The park will be ahead.

Expect to see: Gulls, flycatchers, oystercatchers and red-necked phalaropes.

Twin Lakes Nature Reserve
Entrance is located by the Simpkins Family Swim Center, 979 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. Expect to see: Gulls, ducks, grebes, herons, egrets, robins, sparrows and woodpeckers.

--Matthew Craggs

Best Place to Pitch a Tent

Big Basin Redwoods State Park
21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek. 831.338.8860
NOTHING beats a weekend (or a week) in this gorgeous park, the state's oldest and one of its biggest. Elevations vary from sea level to over 2,000 feet. The climate ranges from foggy and damp near the ocean to sunny and warm on ridge tops. The park's major campsites, high in the mountains, can be reached by automobile (there are about a dozen backpacking sites available by reservation near the Waddell Creek entrance to the park). Features include family and group camping, tent cabins equipped with wood stoves, backpacking camps, hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails and of course gaping at 2,000-year-old, 250-foot-tall trees. The park is open year-round and reservations are encouraged (downright necessary, actually) during the summer. Take Highway 9 to Highway 236/Big Basin Way. Stay on this road for nine miles and you will enter the park. Fees range from $6 entrance fee to $224 for a group site reservation.

Henry Cowell State Park
101 North Big Trees Park Rd, Felton. 831.438.2396
This park features 15 miles of hiking and riding trails through a redwood forest that looks much the same as it did 200 years ago. Adjoining the park is Roaring Camp Railroad, offering visitors a chance to journey back in time on an old steam locomotive. Camping fee is $25 per night; bring quarters for the hot shower.

From Santa Cruz go north on Highway 17 to Mt. Hermon/Big Basin exit. Follow Mt. Hermon Road to Graham Hill Road and turn left. Park entrance is approximately two miles on your right.

Mt. Madonna County Park
7850 Pole Line Rd, Watsonville. 408.355.2201
Located in the mountains above Watsonville, this park is a very accessible camping locale, with amenities, RV hookups and group camping sites. An archery range is one of the many features of this park, along with an amphitheater that can host outdoor events. Mt. Madonna has 17 partial hook-up sites with electricity and water for RV's, and reservations are suggested for any type of camping.

New Brighton State Beach
1500 Park Ave, Capitola. 831.464.6330.
Once the site of a Chinese fishing village, New Brighton, at the northernmost tip of a 30-mile crescent of beach lining Monterey Bay, now offers locals and visitors a haven from the hectic pace of city life. It's very popular for camping, with more than 80 sites located on the forested bluffs above the beach. Site has RV hookups, group sites, amenities and hike information. Sites run $3-$125; standard campsites are $25. Take the New Brighton/Park Avenue exit off Highway 1, turn right at bottom of ramp and left at first stop sign. Follow the road to park gate.

Sunset State Beach
201 Sunset Beach Rd, Watsonville. 831.763.7063
Surrounded by fertile farmland, Sunset features a wooded campground, picnic area, group campground and 200-foot high dunes (the largest in the country) built up in front of coastal bluff. The beach itself stretches down to where it meets the mouth of the Pajaro River, providing three miles of unobstructed and spectacular shoreline. Group sites and bicycle sites available; fees range from $3 to $224, with standard campsites at $25. Take Highway 1 six miles south of Santa Cruz, exit right on San Andreas Road and follow signs south.

--Craig Gawlick

Best Use of Two Wheels

THE ocean has a magnetic power to it, but don't forget the gorgeous forest right in our back yard. A great way to see the land is to pound some Mountain Dew, get extreme and hit the trails on a mountain bike. Of course, not everyone is open to such extremes, so there are trails of all experience levels and terrain to choose from around the area, a sampling of which are:

A fun network of single tracks that traverse a steep hillside. Not exactly a destination ride but great for a quick spin. Zig and zag through puzzling lines of roots and rocks. Take North Branciforte from Water Street and follow signs to DeLaveaga Golf Course. Go past the golf course to the frisbee golf course parking lot. Park and ride up to Hole No. 27 tee; you'll see a runway with two or three trails branching off to start the journey.

Nisene Marks State Park
Great ride for tooling around in the redwoods. Plenty of good climbing here, and sunburn won't be an issue due to the overhead cover.

Highway 1 to Aptos, exit away from the water on State Boulevard. Turn right on Soquel Drive and left on Aptos Creek Road. Park and ride up the Nisene Marks State Park entrance. Fee is $6.

Saratoga Gap
Driving this high above Santa Cruz guarantees fantastic views. An arduous elevation change also guarantees sore legs.

Head north out of Santa Cruz on Highway 9 past Boulder Creek to the intersection with Hwy 35/Skyline Boulevard. The parking lot is right at the junction.

Soquel Demonstration Forest
Interlocking loops make this an interesting choice to ride several times. Multiple trails give a different flavor to each choice, a Choose Your Own Adventure-type bike ride. Take Highway 17 north to Summit Road. Turn right and follow Summit for about six miles; it turns into Highland Road. At the three-way fork, stay on Highland, the center prong. Continue over the stream and arrive at the trailhead.

Wilder Ranch State Park
Three miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1 is a park with 20 miles of hair-raising single track, dual track and fire roads. One loop takes it easy out on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific; multiple trails lead up from Highway 1 to benchlands offering spectacular views. Fee is $6.

--Craig Gawlick


Best Private School
Empire Academy

Best New Sports League
Santa Cruz Rollergirls

Best Donuts

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