I have nothing but good memories when I think of Santa Cruz.
The view of the boardwalk and its festive carnival rides, shops and restaurants remind me of my childhood summer trips to California and leave me feeling jubilant and nostalgic. After a couple of mentally exhausting weeks, I was ready to make the hour trip down to Santa Cruz’s sandy beaches.
Saturday’s trip was perfect, from the 70-degree, slightly breezy weather to the shiny blue-green waters to the sounds of sea lions sunbathing and swimming near the wharf. During our day of sun and relaxation, we also got a chance to try some local cuisine at Olitas Cantina & Grille on the wharf and The Penny Ice Creamery in downtown Santa Cruz.
Olitas Cantina & Grille
The first thing that popped out to me about the Mexican restaurant is the awesome panoramic view of the Monterey Bay. I always enjoy having a meal with a beautiful view. I also liked the interior of the restaurant,which features a custom-made Hawaiian Koa wood bar and Honduran mahogany furniture and accents, according to its website.
I also enjoyed the unique offerings on the menu, which included free range duck “carnitas” tacos, Maine lobster quesadilla and ahi tuna tostada stack, which looked like a sculpture and too pretty to eat.
I ordered the Surf & Turf Quesadilla, which was made with shredded cheese, carne asada and Maine lobster and served with a lobster dipping sauce. Although Surf & Turf is a very common entree, putting the steak and seafood together into a quesadilla is a unique twist that I wanted to try. The dish cost $22.
The carne asada and lobster were tender and worked in sync. The chef did not skimp on the helpings of meat, and I enjoyed a good helping of steak and seafood in each bite. The quesadilla was made with plenty of cheese, which I enjoyed because I am a cheese fiend.
The peppers brought freshness to the savory dish. The dipping sauce was very buttery, but it worked well with the lobster. Do not eat this dish if you’re worried about calorie intake.
Olitas Cantina & Grille is located at 49B Municipal Wharf. The restaurant and bar offers different specials and events during the week, including a happy hour Monday through Friday and Live Jazz Wednesdays. Olitas opens every day at noon. For more information, call (831) 458-9393 or visit www.olitassantacruz.com.
The Penny Ice Creamery
This quaint ice cream shop is situated in downtown Santa Cruz, inside a 90-year-old Spanish Colonial Revival building, according to its website.
Open for business since 2010, The Penny Ice Creamery is focused on serving made-from-scratch, in-house ice cream, featuring locally farmed and organic ingredients with no artificial flavors or preservatives.
Some of the creamery’s unique flavors include Lime Shortbread, Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Dark Chocolate Sorbet. Some of the ladies ordered an ice cream cone with toasted marshmallow on top. I’m not a big marshmallow fan, but those cones looked delicious.
The shop had a steady stream of customers coming through, and I got the impression that it has become a popular staple in the Santa Cruz community.
I ordered a single waffle cone of the Burnt Cinnamon ice cream, which cost about $4. The flavor reminded me of creme brulee and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal combined. It was a great, fresh flavor, and I liked that the ice cream wasn’t overly sweet or rich. When I’m back in Santa Cruz, I will be stopping at The Penny Ice Creamery again.
The shop is located at 913 Cedar St. and is open daily from noon to 11 p.m. For more information, call (831) 204-2523 or visit thepennyicecreamery.com.