santa monica pier

Photo: Courtesy Annie Maggie May

Rush hour on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz

Surfing mecca with small-town charm

west cliff drive

Photo: Courtesy Jason Argabright

The photogenic two-mile walk along West Cliff Drive

 FIRST-TIME ESSENTIAL  Santa Cruz’s 98-year-old wooden pier juts a half-mile into the big blue ocean, but the wharf may as well be the center of town. Post up at the railing and drop a fishing line, or just revel in the grace of the myriad wave riders. TIP: This month, head three blocks east of the pier to sample the entries at the town’s 31st annual Clam Chowder cook-off.

MAXIMUM EXPOSURE  A two-mile multiuse path beginning near the wharf, West Cliff Drive takes you along some postcard-worthy views of the Pacific Ocean and local marine life. If the sea breeze, tide pools, and sun-soaked cliffs don’t make you forget about the Oregon rain, nothing will.

ZEN MOMENT  After dipping your toes in the chilly Pacific, settle in at Chaminade, a luxury eco-spa nestled high on a forested bluff, where the waters are gentler and warmer. Soak in the steam room and heated outdoor pool, or revel in the signature warm bamboo massage. chaminade.com

EAT THIS  Aquarius’s bright, elegant seaside kitchen emphasizes simplicity and freshness, like a ceviche made with local halibut, cilantro, and lime. And because all of the seafood is sustainably caught, you can savor your supper guilt-free. aquariussantacruz.com

  • 8 flights from PDX daily
  • 62 average high temp in February
  • 27 number of surf shops

REST YOUR HEAD  Nothing beats waking up with the sun in your face, except also hearing the pounding of the surf. Take advantage of the off-season rates—and claim your own private beach—at Pajaro Dunes, a cluster of fully furnished vacation rental homes southeast of Santa Cruz, on a quiet stretch of sandy shoreline. pajarodunes.com, from $736 for two nights (two-night minimum required)

WHAT YOU DIDN’T DO LAST TIME  Brave the “surfing capital of the world’s” pristine waves at Richard Schmidt Surf School, which has been giving private lessons year-round since 1978. richardschmidt.com