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Water World: Skimboarding at Sunny Cove.

Get To the Beach

Out-of-the-way strands

By Janet Blaser

TEN YEARS IN THIS TOWN--much of it spent out-of-doors in easy reach of the Pacific Ocean--has led to a good understanding of what our beaches have to offer. Whether it's a quiet spot to soak up the sun, a secluded stretch to walk and contemplate what life has put on your plate, or a tourist-for-a-day soiree, Santa Cruz beaches have it all--and paradoxically, there's no better time to go than early fall, after the summer fog has dissipated.

For friendly, neighborhood beaches, Castle Beach, at the end of Seabright Avenue, and 26th Street Beach (guess where) both offer quiet seclusion on out-of-season weekdays. 26th Street is less well known, but the jetty side of Castle Beach is often empty as well, and, if it's real sun-worshipping privacy that's desired, the dunes in front of the cliffs at this end are the place to go. Topless, bottomless, whatever--it's all good here.

In between these two is Sunny Cove, perhaps the sweetest little nook of a beach around. Steep cliffs protect the tiny stretch of sand from all but the most persistent eyes and determined visitors; thankfully, no department of anything has yet decided to build steps down to the sand. Although sometimes there are too many dogs or boom boxes, usually it's an idyllic spot reminiscent of a Caribbean or Mediterranean hideaway. Boogie boarders and brave surfers delight in the tight tunnel of waves coming in between the cliffs; swimmers love the deep water and clear view unobstructed by anything other than Mother Nature. From East Cliff Drive, turn on 16th Avenue and look to the left; park on the side of the road. Or follow 17th Avenue to the very, very end--and if the gods are in a good moods, there'll be a parking spot right there.

For a vacation without ever leaving home, a day at Hidden Beach can do the trick. Be aware, though, that the trek to the beach involves clambering down (and eventually, back up) steep cliffs, navigating deep gullies and being sure, absolutely sure, you've brought enough to drink; this is not a beach for the faint of heart. But Hidden Beach is worth the effort--miles and miles of white, flat, windless beach in both directions, stretching out to Moss Landing one way and Capitola the other, broken by the Cement Ship at Aptos (where you can get refreshments if need be). Gently lapping waves fronting 10 feet or more of calm shallows are often home to schools of dolphins swimming just out of reach. Head to Seascape Drive in Aptos, go past the resort, and park on the right, just past the grassy park area. Go over the railroad tracks, look for the wooden steps going down into the ravine, and say good-bye to civilization for the day.

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From the September 13-20, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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