Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BEST OF: Vacation planning's half the fun

This column first appeared in The Cambrian Aug. 24, 2006. This year, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

People tease me because I like to plan ahead for vacationing. But sometimes it really pays off.

For instance, a recent trip sounded simple enough: meet our two youngest granddaughters and their mother for a fun-filled weekend in Santa Cruz.

But there were lots of reasons not to do what we were about to do.

1. It was high season, two weeks before Labor Day. Did we understand the concept of seasonal rates? We certainly do.

2. Anybody who hadn't yet had their vacation-for-the-summer was on the road, too, trying desperately to be someplace else.

3. As if all that wasn't enough, the other end of Monterey Bay was packed with people and their vehicles, most of which cost more than houses. Yup, it was Car Week, culminating in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance (150 bucks per ticket to stroll through the Lamborghinis and Daimlers).

4. If you haven't spent time in Santa Cruz, as we hadn't, it's a shock to discover you can't get from Point A to Point B without first going to Point Q, which isn't close to anything you want.

5. Put a whole bunch of impatient people on those narrow, meandering streets, add the results of an overzealous stop-sign salesman and you've got a recipe for traffic jams.

6. Our group ranged in age from 7 to 80, some of whom have a severe aversion to putting their bodies on Boardwalk rides that a psychotic weather wonk accurately named as "Cyclone," "Tsunami," "Tornado" or "Typhoon."

We knew all this. We still wanted to go ... silly us.

I had to plan ahead. Spur of the moment doesn't work on in mid-August in California's oldest seaside resort area.

A month before, we managed to snag the last two available rooms at a fairly new Best Western hotel in Capitola. It's on one of the only straight-line streets from Highway 1 to anywhere near the beach, and is a block from the county's only shopping mall.

After neighbor Christine Greek forwarded details about a lovely-sounding Capitola restaurant, we made Saturday-night reservations online.

Super! Two big decisions made.

But planning ahead is more than pouring over touristy literature or making sure we could lay our weary heads on a clean pillow each night. I believe in travelers' espionage.

Arriving a day early, husband Richard and I did area surveillance. Good thing, too. Remember Items 4 and 5?

We learned that, to find a decent parking place at the Boardwalk, we'd have to arrive at least an hour before it opens at 11 a.m. We knew weekend lines would be long, so we bought passes and tickets early Friday for Saturday. We even located some rare benches with shade where weary grandparents could park for a rest.

We also drove up Highway 17 and back so we could give precise instructions to a direction-challenged driver.

We toured Capitola's beach areas, finding stunning shorelines, more parking crunches, narrow one-way streets and neighborhoods that would fit right into a Greek hillside. We tracked down the Shadowbrook restaurant, tucked high on a hill and accessible only by lots of stairs or a perky little red tram.

We found Gayle's, a delightful bakery, and brought back to the hotel an ethereally light orange chiffon cake and snickerdoodle muffins, dredged in cinnamon sugar. And a clerk alerted us to a popular, funky pizza-and-pasta place right around the corner from our hotel, so our travel-weary family could get out of their van and walk to a tasty dinner.

There! Not only were we confident we'd done everything possible to make our one-day adventure together a success, we had a great time doing the strategic reconnaissance.

The best successes were:

* Strolling to a nearby restaurant the first night together to share pizza, salad and a lovely bowl of Italian wedding soup. No pressure, no parking hassle, no more driving.

* Getting to the Boardwalk early, finding a super parking space and letting Caitlyn and Alyssa frolic on the breathtaking beach until the rides opened.

* Taking a quiet, kickback lunchtime-out in the van, using fixings from our cooler.

* Finding truly wonderful doughnuts from 41st Donut House, about a block from the hotel. "The best I've had since I quit making them myself at our bakery," Richard told the pleased-as-punch owner.

* Booking Shadowbrook reservations online, which netted us a waterfront table in the sold-out restaurant. The setting and meal were spectacular and exquisite.

* And most of all, by figuring out where we would be going and how to get there, we spent our sun-drenched, all-too-brief time together having fun instead of getting lost.

Will we meet them again in Santa Cruz? Here's a clue: We bought the girls season tickets to the Boardwalk. They may get me on that "Hurricane" ride yet, if I can't preplan my way out of it.

1 comment:

Omar Cruz said...
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