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The Goldies

Bask and You Shall Receive: A couple of locals enjoy the natural splendors along West Cliff Drive, voted a Goldie for the best people-watching spot.

Photo by Shmuel Thaler

The 1996 Metro Gold Awards
salute all the good stuff that
makes Santa Cruz County special

It's hard not to be smug about living and working in Santa Cruz. Our stretch of the California coast is sweet and easy, accepting of our each and every weirdness, and generous with its Mediterranean climate. Sure, every now and then we grumble about traffic or complain about the rain. We gripe about too many tourists in the summer, but can you blame them for coming? They're happy to pay good money to share what we enjoy 365 days a year.

So the Metro Gold Awards--we like to think of them as "The Goldies"--are your way (through your overwhelming response to our readers' survey) and our way (through our editorial staff's personal choices) of applauding the unique people, places and experiences that typify our region.

What follows are this year's top businesses, bands, restaurants, clubs, personalities and natural attractions. Competition was stiff in a county so diverse, so packed with terrific destinations. So all of our Goldie winners can consider themselves, well, solid gold, Santa Cruz-style.

Most Inventive Mode of Transportation:
Dog boarding

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention. And people who are too young to drive come up with some interesting ways of getting around. Plus, the young and the carless tend to combine transport and recreation to the point of indistinguishability. Take trick bikes and skateboards--both elegant and portable modes of ambulatory recreation. When I was a kid, we'd grab a deck, hook up a tow rope behind a bicycle and do some free-boarding--a blast, despite the raw and bloody knees and elbows that accompanied high-speed wipeouts. But what if none of your friends are around to ride the bike? Hmm ... ol' Rex sure looks like he could use some exercise! That's right, combine a skateboard with a kid's best friend and you've got yourself a great mode of transportation. I call it "dogboarding." What you'll need are some safe side streets, a large, energetic canine with a comfortable harness (important), a can of dog food, and plastic bags to clean up the exhaust (dogboarding doesn't pollute the air, but has been known to contaminate front lawns--and, like cars, the bigger, faster dogs produce more exhaust). Dogboarding is, of course, off limits on the Pacific Garden Mall and, like any other way of getting around, it has risks. Look out for cars, bikes, motorcycles, pedestrians...cats, birds, rabbits...on second thought, maybe you'd better take ol' Rex to obedience school before you try this.
Michael Mechanic

Best Celtic Sanctuary:
Avalon Visions

For almost three years now, Cheryl Ban has made her cozy, artfully cluttered Avalon Visions store a haven for those who love all things Celtic. One-stopshopping for seekers of the Holy Grail, this amazing pit stop is crammed to the rafters with books, artwork, jewelry, CDs, crafts and paraphernalia dedicated to the proposition that the ancient Celts knew what time it was. Sure, there are the usual candles, essential oils, incense and crystals, but Avalon goes far beyond the New Age in stocking current bestsellers dealing with crop circles, Arthurian myth interpretation, wicker cults, and Irish and Celtic lore. CDs range from the Chieftains to Enya and Clannad. Runic amulets and coven equipment are available, as are scholarly works on the Grail, the Knights Templar and Druid culture. Engaging to all the senses, the store has a welcoming, tolerant, but enlightened attitude toward its clientele.
Christina Waters

Top Spot to Get Your
Butt Kicked in Chess:
Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company

Forget those cafes where they loan out dinky fold-up boards and the games go on for hours and hours between players hooked up to Kona-blend IVs. The real action is down at the Coffee Roasting Company, where nationally ranked players, a few masters among them, bring their own vinyl boards, large playing pieces and timers. The real thing--this is where you go for the glory in speed chess games that last no longer than 10 minutes. But you better bone up and toughen up. Nobody's gonna let you take a move back here. When you're losing, you don't get to have a fit and knock all the pieces over. These players are serious--some seem to live at the cafe--and you'll always find a game in progress. Make sure you buy a coffee, though, to thank Roasting Company management, which has designated specific tables for the ongoing chess tourney. You think you're a pro chess player? Come down to the Roasting Company and think again.
Ami Chen Mills

Best Echo:
Under the Soquel Avenue Bridge

Sometimes this spot is occupied by a lonely saxophone player who performs for an audience of cliff swallows that dart in and out of mud nests pasted beneath the bridge. In his absence, you're welcome to try shrieking and hooting, and then wait for the echo to purr back along the roof. Even better, take a boat out on the river, ignoring the scornful squawks of scavenging gulls who'll dive-bomb you. Row upstream until you're underneath the arches of echo heaven, then clap your hands two or three times and drift languidly as you listen to the double and triple rolls from your own applause. Repeat as often as needed.
Sarah Phelan

Best Little Hometown Polling Place:
The Mountain School in Soquel Valley

There was a time when voting--participating in the democratic process--was an honor and a privilege, not some tiresome chore. As such, voting day was a little bit of a social as neighbors gathered about the local voting booths. Fortunately, the tradition is still alive at the Mountain School in Soquel Valley, where octogenarian Mary Webb has been volunteering for almost 50 years at the polls set up there every election. Country and not-so-country folks in that district make it a point to turn out to visit with friends, show Mary their new babies and--oh, yeah--vote.
Kelly Luker

Best Grumpy Columnist:
Lee Quarnstrom

There's really no competition here. The hands-down winner is Lee Quarnstrom, who writes a column each Monday morning for the San Jose Mercury News' local section. Lee is an amiable fellow in person, and his positive columns reminisce fondly of his days at the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, his love of Steinbeck country (Salinas, particularly) and his semi-boastful accountings of his flirtation with illegal drugs as a young man in the 1960s--his days with Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and all that nostalgia. Aside from that, our Hawaiian-shirted, straw-hat- donning local pundit is a curmudgeon among curmudgeons, a grump to whom other grumps look for inspiration. The past is comfy, the future smelly as an unwashed Deadhead. There's a lot ol' Lee has grown to despise, and he's not shy about it. Bums, for instance. Lee hates bums, and a good half of his columns are dedicated to bum- bashing. Plus, he gives more negative ink to Pacific Avenue's panhandling teens, clowns, musicians and ventriloquists, not to mention mink lovers, than your average bank robbery ever receives. Lee also loves to bash bicyclists. He thinks it's a crime that parking spaces along Broadway will be sacrificed for bike lanes. Local bike extremists, he rants, won't stop until they've hauled everyone else out of their cars and given them a sound flogging with whips made from organically grown hemp (all right, I'm exaggerating). But Holy Feral Pigs, Lee! That's like blaming those pesky endangered species for destroying our livelihoods! Sigh. Oh well, at least Lee is a provocative grump, which makes local debate a bit spicier. Better that than some boring old duffer. He probably just does it all for the hate mail, anyway.
Michael Mechanic

Best Beach Walking Loop:
Lower Ocean to Castle Beach

Fifty minutes, tops, for this loop starting from the riverfront footpath at the bottom of Ocean Street. Dodging the aggressive flock of geese that has taken up residence along the path, you can hit a smooth, brisk stride, curving up toward the eucalyptus- lined East Cliff summit. Coots, blue herons, snowy egrets, mallards, Canada geese and vast colonies of cormorants all populate the shallows of the river's mouth, and the view gets better as you rise up above the railroad bridge and overlook the rides at the edge of the Boardwalk. Then veer west on East Cliff to where you overlook the surfing action and beach bonfires at River Mouth. Continue down past the Museum of Natural History and you're at Castle Beach. You can either go one block farther and hit Seabright, or play on the beach for a while before retracing your steps. Instead of heading back down East Cliff hill, take the wooden footpath across the river that hugs the train tracks. Suspended high above the water, you have a great panoramic view of the estuary, the surf, Beach Hill and the mountains beyond. And then you're back at the Boardwalk, a few blocks from where you started.
Christina Waters

Best Pace to View Graffiti Art:
Corner of Spruce and Pacific, SC

I know some uptight people are going to write in and protest that graffiti is vandalism and not art. Well, first of all, who's to say the two are mutually exclusive? I can't say I have a high opinion of tagging, but a graffiti piece is art--just as is Chinese calligraphy--whether it's done legally or not. Legal walls give artists the advantage of time and the ability to concentrate on the task at hand without looking over their shoulders for the cops. Illegal piece-makers have to bomb fast and sometimes leave things unpolished. This town is no hot spot for graffiti artistry, but if you want to see some of its better work, check out the side wall and garages at the corner of Spruce and Pacific--courtesy of "Think," a young local who came here from L.A.
Michael Mechanic

Best New Trend:
Middle age

It's hip, it's new, it's now. Once a point in life that rock stars would rather die than reach, middle age is now a happening thing. Lose those skateboards and that purple hair and pick up your bingo cards and cruise-ship brochures. Start peppering your conversations with "Why, in my day ..." or "Don't you dare run with those scissors or you'll poke your eye out." Those torn, funky tights and Doc Martens are tired--the true cognoscenti are sporting pantyhose and sensible pumps or Dockers. It's time to trade in teen angst for midlife crisis and toss out the zines for earnest tomes on menopause. You can't avoid it, so might as well jump the curve on this one.
Kelly Luker

Best Waste of Time:
The Internet

I seriously wonder about the people who spend hours and hours each day on the Internet. As far as I'm concerned, the Net is a conduit for email and occasionally a resource for something specific, if I'm lucky enough to find what I'm seeking as quickly as I could find it in a library or by making a phone call. But that's rare. Browsing the World Wide Web is without a doubt the biggest waste of time since TV. I get on the sucker once in a while and invariably log off it feeling spent and sort of dirty, as though I'd squandered an entire night playing blackjack in a room filled with cigar smoke. The news groups? A joke. By the time you find anything meaningful in any of those things, your muscles will have atrophied to jelly. For the past two years, the media have been doing stories up the wazoo about the "information superhighway" and how it's going to change every aspect of our lives. My question is: Who's got the time for the virtual world? Me, I'll spend my time in the real one, thanks. There ain't no such thing as virtual sunshine.
Michael Mechanic

Best Spot for a Lover's Spat:
The Wooden Bench at Seabright Beach

Say you were just introduced to the surprisingly good-looking woman your boyfriend used to date and she's now got him monopolized--and grinning like a fool--in a dimly lit corner of the Seabright Brewery or Papa's Church. Now's a good time to shoot that man an all-business glare and harumph yourself out the door. Damn--you don't have keys to the car, but it's too late to turn around now. Head southwest, young woman, and don't look back. If he really loves you, he'll be steps behind. At the end of the road, you'll have the wide expanse of ocean as an ally when he comes panting up behind you asking (aren't men dumb?), "What's wrong, honey?" You can break into tears and fall into his arms and onto the perfectly placed high wooden bench at the cliff edge. There, you can swing your feet like a child as he tells you how much he loves you, and all about his former lover's bad breath. Wrinkle your nose and forgive him. If he doesn't follow you, there's the jagged promontory to your right that'd be the perfect spot for a (fake) suicide scene. But it might be best just to stay put and collect your sanity on that high wooden bench, which, frankly, honey, you don't need a boyfriend to enjoy.
Ami Chen Mills

Best Hand Job:
Darius B'Alexander

Get your mind out of the gutter, Santa Cruz. We're talking about hand massage here--the best possible medicine for the carpal tunnel victims running the registers in busy Pacific Avenue stores. Dispensed by none other than Dr. Hands himself, the cure consists of one to three minutes of tendon-stretching, joint-cracking, palm-kneading pleasure guaranteed to make underpaid clerks weak in the knees. He has the crew at the Coffee Roasting Company slavering like a kennel of Pavlov's dogs and holding up their limp and infirm paws for a quickie each time he walks in the door. But Dr. Hands (a.k.a. Darius B'Alexander) is more than just eight expert fingers and two gracious thumbs. He's a man of culture as well: Clients can read "Jabberwocky" on his jacket while being serviced or admire one of the shiny gadgets Dr. Hands likes to collect. Perhaps he's carrying an amusing plastic toy today, or a fragrant rose bud. In any case, for massage, conversation and sheer wonderful personality, he's hands down the best in town.
Traci Hukill

Best Lone Pamphleteer:
Weekly World Cruz

Everywhere you look in this town, there are cranks and crackpots, weirdos and obsessed pamphleteers, people pushing literature ranging from religious tracts to pet- revolution brochures to Stephen-King-Killed-John-Lennon pamphlets to leaflets slagging local book-shop owners. Most of it is drivel, of course, but the good drivel makes you laugh, and falling into that category is the Weekly World Cruz. Desktop-published and consisting of six photocopied pages of local tabloid hype, a recent issue of WWC boasts headlines like: "100-Foot-Tall Homeless Man Invades Capitola--And He's Still Growing!" That story includes a picture of the giant urinating on the Capitola Mall--sure looks real! Then another shocker: "Santa Cruz Rocked By Exploding Lesbians!" What else? Coin-op schools, vegetarian vampires and psychic reporters (how'd they catch onto us?), a test to tell if you're a true progressive or a sellout, and other outrageous features that might warm your silly bone a few degrees. It's not really weekly, of course (another joke). Publisher Jim Jones ("Yes, really," he notes in the mini-tabloid's one-man staff box) shoots for quarterly publication--with about 2,000 copies per issue. You can find this free, shameless rag at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Logos, the main library, Louden Nelson Center and most downtown coffee shops, or send an SASE to Jim Jones at 1803 Mission St. #506, Santa Cruz, 95060.
Michael Mechanic

Best God Shot:
Santa Cruz Bible Church

In a town better known for worshipping deities and goddesses, it may be comforting to know that some townsfolk still hanker for that ol' time religion. Rumor has it that one of the better purveyors of such is Santa Cruz Bible Church (410 Frederick St.) when the Rev. Chip Ingram is in session. The man can deliver the Word like nobody's business, and packs 'em in at both the 9am and 11am Sunday services. With a definite fundamentalist bent, SCBC may not be first choice among those who cherish reproductive or gay rights, but the good folks there will keep a pew warm for you anyhow.
Kelly Luker

Best Eucalyptus Grove:
Graham Hill Road on the Edge of Town

It seems like the messy, mentholated eucalyptus tree has always been a fixture of the Central Coast landscape. Actually, though, it was only imported from Australia about 100 years ago--in one of those greedy, misguided attempts to make money from what turned out to be a poor lumber tree. Ranchers used the fast-growing giants as wind breaks, planting long rows of them against the howling winter gales. Shallow-rooted, the camphor-scented beauty tends to topple over in stormy weather. The papery bark, pagoda-shaped pods and tousled tassels all litter the ground for hundreds of feet beneath them. And yet they are so quintessentially of the coast, so beautiful in their blue-green aura, so richly perfumed (just after a rain they radiate a sinus-clearing magic), that eucalypti have won many of our hearts, especially one particularly fragrant and stately stand that lines the steepest stretch of Graham Hill Road. Just as you begin the climb past the cemetery, and the entire town and the ocean beyond begins to spread out behind you, the curve of those eucalyptus trees casts their spell. The view, the peaceful benchlands, the heady fragrance--all fuse into something like a lasting memory.
Christina Waters

Best Reason to Hang Out at Dominican:
Post-Op Recovery Room Coffee Cart

Whether waiting for that bundle of joy to arrive or waiting for Old Aunt Edna who keeps "circling the drain," as the docs say, hospitals never have had the reputation for cool places to kill time, if you'll pardon the expression. But at least there's finally an alternative to that god-awful swill dispensed from coffee machines. Some smart entrepreneurs got the nod to set up their espresso cart right outside of the post- anesthesia recovery room, and now doctors, nurses and anxious relatives can java up with an expertly made, piping-hot cappuccino, latte or mocha, right before that next brain surgery.
Kelly Luker

Best Reason to Schedule At-Home Appendectomies:
New Dominican Hospital Waiting Room

Used to be when you had blood drawn or an X-ray scheduled, you'd breeze in the front door of our one and only hospital, check with the nice Pink Ladies at registration and head on your merry way. But the powers-that-be at Dominican decided to streamline the process, so now the prospective patient breezes in, checks with the nice Pink Ladies, then cools his heels in the newly built waiting room reading a dog- eared Watchtower for about 10 minutes until summoned into administrative offices and grilled extensively about billing information. Now index in another 10 minutes while those administrators hunt down a working copy machine to copy the insurance card, which has changed little since they copied it the week before. Finally, if old age or death has not yet set in, the patient may move on to the now long-overdue appointment. Well, if you don't like it, you can always go to the competition. Oh. Never mind.
Kelly Luker

Top Skimboarding Beaches for Beginners:
Castle and Twin Lakes

The best beaches for beginners are neighboring Castle and Twin Lakes. Both are long and flat and leave plenty of room to make mistakes and avoid people (which you want to do, because the boards can damage bystanders). You can buy a skimmer new ($70-$250, depending on the material) or make a half-decent one out of plywood in an afternoon. This is no pastime for the frail. In the beginning, you're likely to get skinned up pretty good. I literally limped off the beach my first time, aching from bruises and sand strawberries. Ideal conditions include some sort of slope that you can ride into a shore break. If you know what you're doing, you can catch the waves coming in, or use 'em as a ramp to launch yourself. Watch out for little rocks, usually worse after storms--they'll mess up your board. There are two main skimming techniques: the one-step, in which you drop your board and hop on instantly; and the toss-and-chase, in which you throw the board ahead of you while running top speed, leap on after a few strides, and skim. At Twin Lakes you can skim down to the cliffs and then wade out into the break, doubling your skimmer as a body board.
Michael Mechanic

Best Skimboarding Beach for Experts:
26th Avenue

The more difficult one-step skimming method takes more guts and more practice, but allows you to get out further into the break and launch from a steep slope where the window of opportunity lasts only a few seconds. You have to be a good one-stepper to skim at 26th Avenue on a big day, because the banks get so steep you have to pretty much throw your board down on damp sand rather than the usual inch or so of water. This place gets hairy, but if you want to see how it's really done, go check out the bad boys when conditions are right. They make it look easy. It's not.
Michael Mechanic

Best Rollerblading Rush:
Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor

Time was I didn't appreciate fresh blacktop. That was life B.R. (before rollerblading). But since I got wheels, I've converted to urban transcendentalism and see the beauty in concrete ramps and sidewalks, the smoother the better. My advice? Avoid West Cliff Drive. It's not just the bone-rattling surfaces, but also the fender-bendering baby strollers that make it so hazardous. Head east, instead, to the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor. The rush begins as you stand like the fool on the hill--in this case, the one beside Aldo's--surveying the kamikaze swoop leading down into the parking lot. Once you launch yourself it's too late to worry about cars pulling out into your line of descent. As you accelerate perilously toward the jumpable speed bumps, prepare for some heavenly speedskating all the way to the Crow's Nest.
Sarah Phelan

Best AA Meeting:
Monthly Birthday Meeting

In a town that has carved out a memorable niche on the mental health map, it's not surprising that Santa Cruz has a disproportionate number of 12-step meetings for its size--roughly 300 AA meetings a week, and another several hundred NA, OA and every other A under the sun, too. But just about everyone who's drawn a sober breath shows up the second Saturday night of each month at the Santa Cruz High School auditorium for the monthly Alcoholics Anonymous Birthday meeting. It's the place to catch a rockin' good AA speaker, followed by watching all your buddies celebrate their sobriety birthdays. Excellent socializing potential and everyone's scammin' for babes. Hey--we gave up booze, not sex, fool.
July St. James

Best Way to Lose Your Job:
Stickball and Kahlua Breaks

Hats off to the ex-staffers at Togo's on Mission Street, whose dedication to team playing for the Togo's family led them to the parking lot behind the store one fine afternoon last spring for a surreptitious game of stickball. What better way to bolster the flagging spirits of the workers, dismayed as they were at how slow business was in the store that day? They soothed their worried minds with Kahlua and made light their weary hearts with stickball, and soon the problem of lagging company profits was forgotten. Ah, but the franchise owner made an unscheduled appearance that day, and finding the turkey-and-provolone station unmanned, flew into a management rage that culminated in the dismissal of the entire crew--and all because of a little inventive morale-boosting. Now that's ingratitude.
Traci Hukill

Best Tourist Tour:
Capitola and Santa Cruz on the Cheap

You've got friends in town, but they--like you--are broke. That's why they're not staying in some highfalutin' bed and breakfast, but camping out on your living room floor. In Santa Cruz--God bless--you can show them the sights without cashing out. Start the morning of your big tour at Mr. Toots in Capitola and point out the oldest and most charming condominiums in the U.S. across the sleepy lagoon at the Capitola Venetian. Buy a round of chai tea and vegan scones and then stroll the beach as you carefully distinguish yourself from the beached tourists from San Jose. Climb the steps to Depot Hill and walk along the cliff edge. Another charming jaunt leads you from the Soquel Lagoon along the Soquel River, through the back gardens of quaint vacation rentals. Look longingly at the Shadowbrook Restaurant, where you won't be having dinner. You can't go wrong on a bike or car tour of East Cliff Drive, and you can pop for a cheap but hearty lunch at Zachary's downtown. Out on the wharf, check out the free antics of blubbery, blustery sea lions and be sure your guests experience the thrill of a lifetime on the historical Giant Dipper roller coaster. If it's Wednesday, hit the Santa Cruz Farmers' Market for some fresh, organic local goods, buy a bottle of Bonny Doon Vineyard wine and remind your friends that there's no place like home--and no place like your hometown, either.
Ami Chen Mills

Best Flesh-and-Blood Source of Info:
Public Library Reference Desk

You stick with your fancy-shmancy Internet and Web crawling. Me, I head on over to the Santa Cruz Central Library when I've got a question. The perennially unflappable Fred Ulrich and his cohorts who hold court under the reference sign have never been stumped for an answer, nor where to look for an answer amid the pyramid of tomes that lines their special corner. Laugh if you want, but these guys and gals are worth 100 home pages in my book.
Kelly Luker

Best Place for a Fast Sugar High:
Polar Bear Ice Cream

If there's a confectionery landmark in Santa Cruz, this is it. Located on Soquel, a stone's throw from the Rio Theater, Polar Bear ice cream has been making tongues happy for nearly 30 years. Carolyn Gray, who co-owns the shop with son Ralph Royer, stocks about 70 locally made flavors. Over the years, Polar Bear has employed the friendliest, smartest counter help in the area. According to one former clerk, she could tell by the way customers shimmy up to the counter what flavor they'd want. Besides the standard vanilla and chocolate variations, you can have Cinnamon Walnut, Ollalieberry and Honey, or Burgundy Cherry. The Chocolate Chip, which is loaded with mysterious little sweet chunks--I think they're honeycomb--has to be tasted to be believed. For variation, wander up to Polar Bear's coffee bar for an Orpheus--espresso with a scoop of vanilla ice cream--or try to guess the age of the potted ficus tree near the front window.
Robert Scheer

Best Music Shows Fliers:
Various and Sundry Local Punks

This here's a little miniature awards ceremony for local artists and bands who have put some effort into making show fliers that are worthy of the local music scene. We're not talking great works of art (although some of it's pretty good), but any art at all, fer cryin' out loud, stands out in a sea of dull, computer-generated crap. The Champs, for instance, do hand-drawn fliers any 7-year-old could have accomplished, but that's part of their charm. At least some others realize that music and the visual arts have some sort of relationship and consistently try to combine the two. These include Exploding Crustaceans, Creature, Whistle Pigs, the Gorehounds, Herbert, Junk Sick Dawn, Head Case-O-Matic, Lackadaisy, Head Circus, Woodpecker, Spaceboy, Dajima, the kids who put on shows at the Basement, and local artists like Jimbo Phillips, Matt Fitzsimmons and Chris Gonzalez, plus Moishe from Consolidated and Birdo (screen printing), who together did a classy full-color poster for the March 2 Agent Orange show. Thanks for livening up your scene.
Michael Mechanic

Best Rock Spirits:
River Mouth and Cowell Beach Cliffs

Before we go any further, let's get one thing straight: We're not talking about Elvis. It's the sandstone noses and nipples jutting out of the cliffs along the shoreline that we're on about. Let's face it, the hills are alive. Just check out the cliff headlands at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and try resting your forehead against their cool gray shoulders for a few power-zapping moments. If this leaves you lusting for more strong and silent touches, then head toward Cowell's Beach, where noses protrude from the cliffs and drip heavily after a heavy rain. They guard the ripely pregnant cave goddess whose belly swells each summer as she births a fresh batch of surfers. Covered in tattoos by the "Bob luvs Sandra" tourists, she asks for nothing more than a nightly caress from the waves at high tide and a scattering of shells at her feet.
Sarah Phelan

Best Creepy Adventure:
Real Caves Near UCSC

I went to the Boardwalk's haunted house for the hell of it recently and it was, as expected, far more amusing than scary. For real honest-to-goodness creepiness there's nothing like a dark, dank, dirty cave that seems to go on forever and could swallow you up at any moment. You'll need warm, snug-fitting clothes and gloves that can get dirty, a good flashlight with fresh batteries and some energy food, and definitely don't go alone. They say the local mountains are full of caves. I only know of two, and they're closely situated. If you take Empire Grade up past the west entrance of UCSC, you'll enter a wooded area where the road slopes downhill and then goes back up. At the bottom of the dip, you'll see a turnout on the left. On the turnout side, follow the trail and just before it begins to go uphill, there's a cave entrance at the roots of a large tree to the left. Almost immediately you have to climb down through a fairly small hole and things get a little creepy right away. I never went very far down there. Across the road there's a big slab of concrete and a steel ladder you climb down into a fairly large chamber, from which you can go two directions. To the right, you can climb over some slabs and down and end up in another large room, and there are more as you go. I wasn't prepared for the trip, so I didn't go far, but it was creepy enough. After all, nobody knows just who--or what--might be living down there.
Michael Mechanic

Best Suntrap:
Java Junction Patio

Without a doubt the winner is the cement patio outside coffee central, Java Junction, where ray-soaking goes hand in hand with a cafe latte. Sun-bathing specials could include ultraviolet-challenged chess games, solar-heated lounge chairs and egg- frying floor space. Where else can you peruse the news while waiting for the choo- choo train to flatten your last hard-earned cent--if you remember to lay it lovingly on the track ahead of time. It's the perfect place for people-watchers, philosophical pontificators and professional procrastinators, all seeking to warm winter-weary bones. And if you're a redhead without sunblock, check out the guys and gals on both sides of the counter inside, who dispense plenty of eccentric advice for free, until an impromptu poetry reading or jam session demands your sun-soaked attention.
Sarah Phelan

Best Spot to Lose It:
Highway 17

While on other freeways this winter--even with a full 10-mile-an-hour increase in the speed limit--the accident rate went down, on Highway 17, which had no speed increase, deaths from fatal car crashes piled up. Even with telltale black tire marks on the cement divider to serve as a grim reminder of past accidents perpetrated by drivers of a similar ilk, maniacs on 17 continue to weave through traffic and ride each other's asses around tight curves. While they may see 17 as some kind of an Indy challenge, others of us are just trying to get to work each day. Relax. Give the car in front some time to get over. Remember that handy-dandy car-lengths rule you were supposed to have learned to get your license. Pop a Prozac if you have to, but spare us.
Ami Chen Mills

Best Mom and Pop (& Kids) Bike Shop:
Family Cycling

The folks at Family Cycling do the impossible--they live up to their name. Staffers at this full-service 41st Avenue velo-emporium know the inventory and appear to actually like what they're doing. They're great with kids and know that almost nothing is more exciting than owning your first bicycle. They carry all the fancy, high-end Spandex and space-age titanium alloy paraphernalia for professionals. Family Cycling can equip your family, head (a veritable forest of mushroom helmets) to toe ("toe clips" is their middle name), for casual weekend outings or a shot at the next Velox Promo. Intelligent cycling families love it.
Marlow de Ville

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From the March 14-20, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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