As I noticed the new construction being done in Bel Aire Plaza near Pier 1 over the last few months, my excitement began to build. Any time there is a new restaurant launch, it always means the possibility of new vegan options in Napa Valley! Though I no longer allow meat, eggs or dairy in my diet, I am a Foodie. I love good food! And then the sign went up…Heritage Eats where Slow Meats Fast. Slow meats fast, what?! Well, let’s just say that my excitement began to dwindle a bit. But for those of you who have never met me, I am ALWAYS up for a challenge. I had a little free time this week and stopped by to check things out!
The space is large, open, light and white. Very clean and minimalistic looking with large photos of the local farmers and ranchers that are a part of their community. Ordering the food has a bit of a “cafeteria-style” feel to it where I could see all of my food choices as they prepared my feast. My first choice was sandwich, salad or rice bowl? Since I am always a sucker for fresh garden greens, I went for the salad. For those of you who love rice bowls, their yellow steamed rice is made with coconut milk so vegan-friendly. If you like the hands-on approach for your meal, the corn or flour tortilla wrap is for you. Next, I picked my “protein” – a tasty vegan, gluten-free crispy chickpea falafel. Then I added some quinoa tabbouleh (ahh, can you say super food?!), a dollop of garlic hummus and fire grilled vegetables topped off with sweet crunchy cabbage slaw. Quick caveat here – the slaw does contain honey which is typically not a part of my diet but I have to admit that the combination of sweet honey, garlic, crunchy cabbage and the smoky flavor of the fire grilled vegetables was absolutely amazing! In addition to the grilled vegetables, the pico de gallo, asian pickle and roasted corn & edamame are ALL vegan! Last but not least, are the sauces. The sauces will really allow you to customize your meal and 4 of them – pineapple habanero, heritage BBQ, salsa roja and harissa are animal product free!
The Co-Founders Ben Koenig and Chef Jason Kupper were kind enough to chat with me about their inspirations for Heritage Eats. Ben is an avid traveler that spent much of 2014 backpacking through the Middle East and Asia drawing inspiration for the restaurant from his experiences. He literally wrote their business plan in Goa (I had to Google that one – it’s in south west India) and refined it in Bhutan, Vietnam and Thailand. After graduating with a degree in Economics from New York University, Ben worked for Goldman Sacs in New York City. His career then led him to hospitality and concept design with AvroKO before becoming the Assistant General Manager for The Thomas in downtown Napa. Jason is an advocate for small farms and loves the blending of local and global flavors in a “street food” style. Like Ben, Jason hails from New Jersey but their partnership began after meeting at The Thomas where Jason served as the Chef de Cuisine. This experience was a huge inspiration in the creation of their menu for Heritage Eats. Jason’s vast experience in the food industry includes Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg and Charlie Palmer at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas. Combining their fine dining experience, travels abroad and appreciation for the bounty of food California has to offer, they formed a gastronomic match made in heaven!
My meal was really incredible but what will keep me coming back is their for-purpose business plan. For-purpose is a growing trend that applies business principles to social reform. Ben and Jason have partnered with the Washington D.C. based charity Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry. With the staggering statistics that 1 in 5 kids in America do not get the food they need and 16 million children in the U.S. struggle every day with hunger, this philanthropic organization works to ensure every child in the U.S. has access to a healthy meal. With schools out for the summer, this is truly the hungriest time of year for many of our children. For the many children who rely on school meals, SOS/NKH is working to improve the way our country feeds our kids! Click here to see Share Our Strength discuss their No Kid Hungry campaign! Kind, philanthropic and vegan-friendly? Consider me a regular!
Heritage Eats is located at 3824 Bel Aire Plaza in Napa serving local food to the locals (non-locals welcome too!) Sunday – Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Though they have only been open since May, they already have a large and loyal following. I asked my husband to stop in on a Wednesday evening while running errands to take a few more photos for me and Heritage Eats was packed full of happy diners! Always a good sign that the food is good and the prices are accessible! Welcome to the concept of fast fine dining!
Together, let’s support our local businesses who not only make a profit but give back too! And as always…eat, drink & be vegan!
I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If this is the first time you have heard that Michigan has an upper peninsula, don’t feel bad. Approximately 95% of the people I meet, have no idea either! In fact, most people don’t know that the state is made up of two peninsulas – the formerly mentioned Upper and the Lower. The Upper Peninsula is surrounded by three of the majestic Great Lakes – Michigan, Superior and Huron. The Lower Peninsula is surrounded by Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and the tip of Lake Eerie. I always feel sorry for those who give me that blank, vacant stare when I talk about growing up on the Great Lakes. It makes me sad that so many people have such a vague recollection of the very existence of these amazing lakes. And even more so that they have never had the opportunity to see or play in these amazing bodies of water. The Great Lakes have long been referred to as the Third Coast. I know, I know…no one believes me when I share this information with them. But it is true! The Great Lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Eerie and Ontario form the largest group of freshwater on the entire planet! In fact, they contain over 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water by volume! Fun (and unbelievable) facts – Lake Superior is the largest continental lake in the whole wide world based on it volume (it’s REALLY cold too) and Lake Michigan is the largest lake on the planet that is located entirely within one country! And due to the sea-like characteristics – rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths and far-off horizons -the five Great Lakes have long been referred to as inland seas. Yep, due to the over 10,900 MILES of coastline, the Great Lakes provide excellent surfing conditions. Prime surfing is from October to April and has been drawing surfers since the 1960s. These are extra hardy surfers because not only do they have to deal with water that can reach freezing temperatures, they also have to watch out for floating blocks of ice! And if you aren’t impressed enough, my home state of Michigan has 3,288 miles of coast line. That is more than any other state (including my adopted home of California) except Alaska! Now you understand that growing up in a state like Michigan I had to come to a state like California to be sufficiently impressed!
I recently went back to Northern Michigan to celebrate my younger sister Keegan’s wedding. I am very close to that tipping point of living out of the state of Michigan longer than I lived in the state of Michigan. But I have many, many relatives that still call Michigan home. Apparently, unless you have the nomadic gene that I was born with, Michigan is a place that many never want to leave! And because of my extra-large clan, I always have a blast when I visit. My flight took me from San Francisco to Detroit before reaching my final destination – Traverse City. I was actually pretty excited about my dining options in Detroit – I mean…as excited as anyone can get about airport food, anyway. Though the Detroit airport’s rating keeps going down every year, it is still ranked as one of the most veg-friendly airports in the U.S. I went online and checked out my options which included rave reviews about Mediterranean Grill’s Fattoush salad and vegetarian grape leaves & hummus pita wrap. There were also a couple honorable mentions for the vegetarian sandwich at Earl of Sandwich and the hummus vegetable wrap at National Coney Island Express. I figured I was covered so didn’t give it anymore thought! My flight left San Francisco at 7 a.m. and I had every intention of sleeping all the way to Michigan. Instead, I met the nicest guy Mo and we talked and talked the entire flight. It really made the four hour flight “fly” by! I landed in Terminal A and having a pretty small window to freshen up, get food and get to my next flight in Terminal B, I headed off for Mediterranean Grill. As I drew closer, I started to get a little suspicious because in just about the same spot I expected to see the Grill, I noticed many rows of seats. I popped over to a directory, found the You Are Here star and noticed that the Mediterranean Grill was blacked out and really had been replaced by…chairs! By now, I am REALLY hungry. Between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. Delta Airlines offers ZERO vegan breakfast, lunch or dinner options. And the calories from the couple granola bars I brought with me had LONG since burned off! My back-up plan was a really bad back-up plan because Coney Island Express and Earl of Sandwich were both at Gate D while I was very much still in Gate A and running out of time. I grabbed my stuff and headed toward my connecting flight just hoping that I would find something vegan-friendly on the way. Just as I was making the turn toward my Gate, I noticed an Einstein Bros. Bagels. When I lived in Boulder Colorado over 16 years ago, that used to be one of my favorite spots to stop for a bagel sandwich. The bagels were freshly baked, the ingredients were always tasty and the staff was hilarious. Knowing that it had been 16 years and Einstein Bros. had also become a national chain featured in an airport, I didn’t expect perfection and was quite frankly out of time to care. There were NO vegetarian options so I ordered a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter and jelly hoping the bagels were at least vegan-friendly. It was a huge disappointment – tiny bagel, not very fresh and the peanut butter and jelly both contained corn syrup and other frightening ingredients. But the bagel was warm and I knew I would not make it until I got to Traverse City! I left the PB&J packets for someone else to enjoy and gobbled up my bagel! Mental note – next flight through Detroit – pack myself a more sustainable lunch or make sure I have enough time in between flights to find my way to the veg-friendly restaurants!
I have lived in Northern California for three and a half years and have gotten to the point where I am not shocked or surprised anymore when I run into a celebrity or two along the way. Well, I do have to admit that chatting with Garrett Dillahunt was the absolute highlight of my week when I met him at the Napa Valley Film Festival. And I might still be grinning like a fool since I got to hug Mr. Big after a stage performance in Yountville. Other than that, I am just as cool as a cucumber, obviously. But running into a celebrity at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan? The city is known as the Cherry Capital of the World, but celebrities? Well, that is definitely a bit of a surprise. As I wandered through the airport looking for my limo service – AKA my sister Christy and her bright blue, sporty Ford Focus – I noticed Carter Oosterhouse. For those of you who aren’t DIY fans, Carter Oosterhouse started out as the way too gorgeous carpenter on TLC’s reality program Trading Spaces. I loved the show especially because of the adorable host Page Davis. The program ran eight seasons from 2000-2008 and also launched the career of Ty Pennington – the original carpenter! As I met up with my sister Christy and excitedly told her about my celebrity sighting, she reminded me that Carter grew up in TC and now owns a local winery with his brother. She was definitely not as excited as I was. Okay. Fine!
By the time I landed in TC and was ready to hit the road for our hour long drive north to Charlevoix, I had been on the go for over seven hours. And almost sensing my dining troubles, Christy had stopped at my favorite vegan-friendly spot in TC to get me some vegan appropriate sustenance! Oryana Natural Foods Market is located at 260 East Tenth Street and has offered the area a community cooperative since 1973. Which I love, of course. But even more than that, I love all of the organic, vegan-friendly options they offer in their diner, juice bar, bakery, hot bar and market. It is food nirvana for me! Though I didn’t spend much time in Traverse City after the wedding, I made sure I visited Oryana a couple times to stock up. I devoured their handmade vegan black bean burrito on the way to Charlevoix. I also got to enjoy their cashew brown rice and peanut curry tofu from the hot bar. And on my way to a family pizza feast, I stopped in and found a delicious vegan pasty with an amazing crisp pastry shell and stuffed with potatoes, carrots and rutabaga. Delicious!
For most of you, raising money while you were in school probably brings back memories of selling cookies & rice krispie treats. For us Yoopers, we raised money by selling pasties. Freshly baked and stuffed full of meat and vegetables before being lovingly wrapped with tin foil and sold to the masses! Though pasties date back to as early as the 1300s, they are often linked back to Cornwall, England. Beginning in the 1600s, the tin miners adopted it because it was a complete meal that could be easily carried and eaten without cutlery. The folded pastry kept the filling warm for hours in the mine but could also be easily warmed up on a shovel over a candle. As tin mining began to decline, the migrating Cornish miners, spread the pasties worldwide. Because of the U.P.’s Copper Country copper mines, pasties became a huge part of our culture. Tourists come from all over to enjoy the Upper Peninsula’s pasties. They have become so popular, that Calumet, Michigan throws a Pasty Fest every year in late June! I hadn’t had a pasty in decades and certainly not since becoming vegan, so it was a lovely surprise full of wonderful memories!
My sister Keegan was born and raised in Traverse City and even though she now lives in Brooklyn, NY and works as a freelance carpenter and welder on various theater and stage projects, Northern Michigan is where she wanted to return to celebrate her wedding! She and her husband Doss found Castle Farms and knew that was the place for them to celebrate their love. Castle Farms is located in charming Charlevoix about an hour north of Traverse City. Charlevoix sits between majestic Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix.
Castle Farms French Renaissance-style castle was built in 1918 and is full of old-world charm. It is not only a celebrated wedding venue in Northern Michigan but is also an historical attraction that is listed on both the National and State Historic Registries. Between the amazingness of the castle structures and the truly magnificent grounds and gardens, it is one absolutely beautiful place. Castle Farms already held amazing memories for me even prior to the wedding because it was a huge concert venue when I was a teenager in the 80s. I saw Rick Springfield and Billy Idol perform there. Along with bands like Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, PowerStation and OMD. Wow, did I have fun at Castle Farms. Over the years it became dilapidated and rundown, until it was purchased in 2005 and completely restored. It was an amazing ceremony and reception. And though I was not able to enjoy the delicious looking wedding cake, my sis Christy baked me a luscious vegan mini-chocolate cake so I could also enjoy the experience. The caterers – Grey Gables Restaurant and Catering – prepared me a delicious vegan entrée of quinoa and asparagus, green beans and roasted potatoes. I was really pleased and definitely did not go hungry!
The charming town of Charlevoix and the neighboring town of Petoskey, also have many vegan-friendly restaurants. City Park Grill has separate vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menus. And since all meals are “made from scratch” they are happy to “veganize” anything on their menu. I enjoyed a delicious grilled Portobello mushroom on wild rice pilaf and vegetables. It was just amazing! They also offer a nice menu of micro brews and Michigan craft bottled beer. I had a delicious panini sandwich at Scovie’s Gourmet in downtown Charlevoix – the Grilled Tree Hugger (love the name) was piled with grilled zucchini, squash, eggplant, roasted red peppers, carrots, sweet onions and animal-product free pesto. Though I ran out of time to try all the restaurants I wanted to, if you are looking for a finer dining experience The Weathervane Restaurant offers several vegan entrees. If you are in the mood for Thai food, Asian Fusion is the place to go! After 4 nights of too little sleep and too much fun, the family caravan headed back to Traverse City. I mentioned earlier that I have lived away from Michigan now for almost as long as I lived there (and for the first 16 years I also did not know how to drive!) so Christy took me on the scenic tour back to TC. We stopped by Elk Rapids to explore its cute little downtown area and found Java Jones. Java Jones is a large, eclectic coffee shop that brews Ferris Coffee. Ferris Coffee was founded in Grand Rapids in 1924 and has been passionate about roasting superior coffee ever since. They believe in the need for sustainability in the specialty coffee industry and the importance of understanding the needs and production costs of the coffee producers they work with. They support direct trade and do so by visiting farms and working with the producers so they can build relationships that last for years. Java Jones offers vegan soups daily and has almond and soy milk for vegan lattes. Since getting my own espresso machine a couple years ago, I buy lattes less and less. Java Jones, however, was a stop I’m glad I made!
My flight back to San Francisco did not leave Traverse City until 5:30 p.m. so I had all day to continue playing and see my very best friend Kris from my high school days. Christy and I spent a lazy morning on her huge oversized patio overlooking the Platte River while I breathed in my most favorite olfactory memory – the hardy and beautiful lilac flowers and watched dozens of robin red breasts try to literally eat every earthworm in my sister’s yard. Then the three of us girls headed about 10 miles straight west to gorgeous Frankfort. I am embarrassed to say that I never visited this adorable little town once while I lived in Northern Michigan. It is such a lovely little town with the main street lined with restaurants, bakeries and shops. The street dead ends right at the Frankfort Beach and Pier on Lake Michigan. It was truly so beautiful that it almost brought me to tears. Absolutely stunning!
After playing in the sand and dipping my toes in the icy waters, we headed back for some lunch. StormCloud Brewing Company’s menu impressed me immediately. At the top of their menu just below their flatbread pizza, read “Vegan cheese and Gluten-free crust available upon request”! Yahoo! I asked our server to “veganize” the Roasted Root pizza, add the daiya cheese and bring me a hard cider crafted by local brewer Left Foot Charley! Another perfect Northern Michigan meal! With over half of the 10 inch flatbread pizza leftover, I also had dinner for my journey home. Excellent!!!
I spent most of my childhood dreaming about living somewhere, anywhere other than Northern Michigan. It has literally taken decades of me living in other parts of the country to truly appreciate this beautiful place that I used to call home. My fellow vegan travelers, this is a beautiful and amazing place to visit. Don’t let any more time go by; you need to experience the Great Lakes and the beauty of Northern Michigan. And the great news is that there are so many restaurants that are vegan-friendly. I know I will be heading back soon. I hope to see you there!!
Thanks for joining me on my week long Michigan adventure. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!
When my husband Steve and I first got together almost 15 years ago, our vacations revolved around beaches, drinking, eating and (for me anyway) lots of sunbathing! Back then, I was still in my early 30s and still looked good, felt good and could “bounce” back from my excesses! As we got to know each other and grew together, our lifestyle and vacation habits began to change. We began to learn about healthier choices and started to make better decisions in our day to day lives and our vacations. I also began to see the signs of 30 plus years of sun damage to my skin…Our vacations still revolve around beaches but now you’ll see me wearing an enormous sunhat and protective clothing enjoying the shade created by my giant beach umbrella! And if I go for that second vodka martini I’m done for the evening. Eating, though? That has remained an important part of our get-aways. Now we choose our destinations based on their vegan-friendliness and relaxation factor.
Living in Napa, I am already fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I have access to the entire San Francisco Bay Area which is absolutely breathtaking. But having heard so many wonderful things about Capitola, a charming beach town in Central California, I decided it was time to do some exploring! I put the top down on my convertible and headed south! I love San Francisco but quite frankly I don’t ever really feel like my holiday has begun until I am somewhere I don’t recognize. So the most exciting part of driving through the city was passing over the Golden Gate Bridge. That stunning view always makes me smile! And though there are shorter routes to take, I had to travel down the coast and experience Highway 1. Once the city was behind me, the views just got more and more amazing and I felt like I had really gotten “away”!
I had my first stop in beautiful Pacifica and then a quick, late lunch in Half Moon Bay. I’m going to warn you fellow vegans, this is not a particularly vegan-friendly town. But as I have mentioned before, I am a complete bulk section geek and knew I would be stopping to check out New Leaf Community Market so decided to work my lunch stop in too! New Leaf is a community market that was founded in the early 80s by Scott Roseman as a funky, organic-friendly co-op that has now grown to seven stores. What had me so excited about stopping in is that New Leaf Community Markets is the first grocer in the state of California to be certified as a B-Corp. What is a B-Corp you ask? Well, let me tell you! It is essentially to businesses what Fair Trade is to coffee. To be certified, they were required to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and that word we see so seldom of these days – transparency! Look out Whole Foods, you have got some serious competition. There are now over 1,000 B Corps spread across 33 countries in over 60 different industries with one unifying goal – redefine the meaning of success in business. You can just imagine how excited I was to spend my money with a company like New Leaf. After browsing through their wonderful bulk section, I headed over to their bakery which is known for its vegan-friendly options. I did already mention that I like to eat on my vacations, right?! Once again, Whole Foods needs to step up their game when it comes to their vegan bakery choices – my local store has one chocolate mousse cupcake that is made with genetically-modified beet sugar and enriched wheat flour and rates about a 3 out of a 5 in flavor. The Half Moon Bay New Leaf offers four different vegan cupcakes – vanilla, carrot cake, chocolate and German chocolate. The cupcakes are provided by Black China Bakery – a family-owned wholesale bakery based in Santa Cruz. Since I was on vacation and I could not decide and I was comfortable with their list of ingredients going into my body, I chose the chocolate and German chocolate cupcakes and Steve went for the vanilla. Hands down the chocolate beat out the vanilla. And winning a very tight race, the German chocolate inched out the chocolate cupcake. That extra bit of coconut put it over the top! Oh yeah, and I found a place for lunch too. Moonside Bakery & Café offers four vegetarian sandwiches that with a little adjusting can be vegan-friendly. I had sandwich #1 the Roasted Veggie – delicious sweet French baguette, topped with grilled eggplant, bell peppers, Italian squash, garlic and tomato with a drizzle of balsamic dressing (ask them to hold the cheese!). I’ve been eating these vegetables for years and this was still one of the tastiest sandwiches I’ve ever had. Definitely, worth the stop! With my belly full of veggies and cupcakes, I got back on the road.
I have to admit that I did not make it very far! 15 miles from Half Moon Bay I pulled into the Pescadero State Beach. I am not knocking the beauty of where I grew up – near Lake Superior as a small child and then Lake Michigan as a teenager. Stunning, really. As an adult, I lived along the Atlantic Ocean near some of the best beaches from Florida to Virginia to North Carolina. And maybe that is why I am still so in awe of the Pacific Ocean. Its ruggedness and stark beauty is so different from what I am used to. Pescadero Beach is a mile-long shoreline with sandy coves, rocky cliffs, tide pools and picnic areas. Just across Highway 1 is the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, which offers refuge to blue heron, kite, deer, raccoon, fox, skunks, barn swallows and weasels! A perfect spot for bird watching and just enjoying all the life nature has to offer. One caveat…always bring a jacket! I also have to admit the beauty drew me in but I also remember John Connor in the 1991 Terminator 2 movie telling his friend that his Mom, Sarah, was locked up in the Pescadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. I have no idea how that stayed with me for 25 years but it did!
And then, ahhh…Capitola. Besides its quintessential beach town feel, Capitola has some great history. It is built on the location of an Indian village that existed for more than 1000 years! Sadly, the Soquel Indians were relocated to the Mission Santa Cruz when the Mission was established in 1791. California became a state in 1850 and Capitola-by-the-Sea became a resort town in the 1860s. In the 1920s, bungalows and stucco shacks started popping up reminiscent of small Italian fishing villages. O’Neill, world-famous for its surfboard and wetsuits is headquartered here in Capitola. And Sunset Magazine lists Capitola-by-the-Sea as one of the top fourteen unsung beach towns. So, shhhhhh…don’t tell anybody!
Capitola Hotel is a cozy boutique hotel with just 10 rooms located at 210 Esplanade in the heart of this quaint village. The hotel is surrounded by shops, restaurants and bars and is a quick walk to the beach and the Capitola Wharf. It is really a perfect location. The rooms have free Wi-Fi, a fridge for leftovers (I had lots!) and a ceiling fan so I felt like I was in the Caribbean. The bathroom has nice thick cotton-bamboo towels and eco-friendly shampoo, conditioner and lotion. The types of things I appreciate in a hotel! They also have a tiny little private courtyard full of flowering vines and a water fountain. One evening while sipping some vegan wine I brought along, I got to enjoy several different species of bird fly past me to drink out of the fountain. It was magical. A lovely little spot!
After getting all settled in and putting my toes in the sand, I walked along Wharf road about a half mile to the vegetarian restaurant Dharma’s. Dharma’s menu is organic and vegetarian with a new gluten-free menu. Almost everything on the menu either already is or can be made vegan. Just ask! Marco, one of their vegan chefs, also makes an amazing vegan bacon ranch dressing. The meals are enormous so be prepared for leftovers or do what we did on our second visit -share an entrée! Dharma’s is a very low-key, casual eatery with a huge dining room and a few outdoor tables. It is located in a small shopping center and doesn’t offer any wait staff. But the food is consistently good, the portions are extravagant and the prices are right!
If you are looking for a good coffee shop that offers almond and soy milk and delicious vegan baked goods, Mr. Toots is the place to go. It is conveniently located right across Esplanade from Capitola Hotel. Head upstairs to the second floor to a large coffee shop with a tiny patio overlooking Soquel Creek and the Pacific Ocean. The vegan sweets include a huge peanut butter chocolate chip cookie and a raspberry dream bar. The cookies are made by Kerri’s Kreations, a local wholesale baker for the past 20 years who also provides baked goods to the local New Leaf Markets. She takes her ingredients very seriously using only organic, GMO-free grains, flours, nuts and fruits. She only uses sustainably sourced organic Spectrum palm oil shortening. Her chocolate chips are Fair Trade USA & Rainforest Alliance Certified. The organic pure bourbon vanilla extract is fair trade as is the coffee. She evens grinds the fresh Sri Lankan cinnamon herself! In addition to all this awesomeness, she also recycles about 80% of her waste and regularly donates cookies to non-profit organizations in her community! I’m so proud of all the cookies I ate while visiting Capitola.
In between all my eating, beach walking and relaxing I also made time for a little bit of shopping. Capitola Village has a couple blocks of shops and galleries intermingled with the restaurants. If you are looking for casual, resort-style vegan shoes, visit Hot Feet (for women) and The Big Kahuna (for men). I found the cutest pair of Zee Alexis by CC Resorts. The shoes are designed by a former designer for Donald Pliner but are comfortable and vegan! They have a thick layer of memory foam that is at least 7 mm thick and is oh so comforting to my foot. The soles are made with a rubber-like EVA which offers shock resistance and are exceptionally light. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight but I fell in love when they touched my feet! Steve could not be left out so we visited the sister store located right next door – The Big Kahuna. He found a pair of Olukai mesh slip-ons that are perfect beach attire.
Santa Cruz is right next to Capitola and their thriving downtown is only about 5 miles from Capitola Village. Since the 1987 hit The Lost Boys filmed at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, I knew I had to spend a little time there. Santa Cruz also offers more vegan-friendly restaurants especially in its downtown area. To name a few, Santa Cruz has a Café Gratitude known throughout the Bay Area for its vegan and raw menu. Saturn Café is also well-known in the Bay Area for their funky décor and vegan diner-like comfort food. And a couple local restaurants include Malabar, an industrial-chic spot that serves Asian-fusion entrees and Pearl of the Ocean, serves Sri Lankan fare using organic and locally sourced ingredients and offers many vegan options. I had the opportunity to dine at Saturn Café twice – both times for breakfast. My steady diet of organic oatmeal, almond milk & fresh berries fuels my day almost every day so because of that I really enjoy going out for breakfast when I am on vacation! The pancakes were very tasty but what really impressed me is their vegan housemade “sausage” patty. It is incredible! If you love to Yelp like I do, you will receive a 20% discount on your meal just for checking in. Malabar gets mixed reviews from me. Much of what is on their menu is vegan-friendly and the curry dish and lentil dosas were just amazing. The food was probably a 4.5 but the service and ability to communicate left much to be desired. If you go in with the proper expectations, the food makes it worth the trip!
I cannot leave out my experience on the Boardwalk. I visited in mid-May so the Boardwalk was just reopening for the season. Only a few of the rides were open for business and they offered abbreviated hours from Noon – 5. Many of the restaurants were not open which is no big deal to us vegans. To put it bluntly, it is not vegan-friendly and there are NO healthy food options. Do what I did, eat before you go to play! Because of the limited options on games and food, the charge to go on the rides was deeply discounted and there were absolutely NO lines. In fact, several times I was the only person on the entire roller coaster. It was really cool. And if you can keep your eyes open while screaming your head off, the view of the Pacific was absolutely amazing. I made a good decision and instead of watching any of the rides I just jumped on them – first the terrifying Double Shot, next an outer seat on the stomach dropping Pirate Ship, then the fun & exhilarating UnderTow, followed by the neck snapping wooden Giant Dipper coaster and last the curdling scream inducing Fireball (to see the video visit my Facebook page – yeah, the person screaming over the Beatles song was me!). And this word of advice – the bumper car ride Speed Bumps is actually really lame when there are only 2 of you on it! Every year the Boardwalk kicks off its annual season by showing the movie that made it famous (famous to me anyway) – The Lost Boys.
Once I got off the Fireball, I was so dizzy that I almost fell down and was starting to feel a bit queasy. It seemed the perfect time to visit the Santa Cruz Wharf. The Wharf just celebrated its 100th birthday and is covered with bars, restaurants and shopping. Not very vegan-friendly but the beer I ordered from Fire Fish Grill went down just fine! The bar is big, the bartender friendly and the place doesn’t smell like fish. The most exciting part of the Wharf is the huge community of sea lions. Just amazing. There were dozens of them lined up on the boat docks sunbathing and sleeping. Once in a while there would be a minor scuffle for space and a little bit of chatting between them. It was really lovely to see them all up so close in their natural habitat. Visiting the sea lions when you are in Santa Cruz is a must-do!
The staff at Capitola Hotel and several friends suggested that we also visit Shadowbrook restaurant in Capitola for a very special experience. Shadowbrook is located a very easy walk from Capitola Hotel but they also offer free shuttle service within a 3 mile radius if you want to wear your stilettos. Shadowbrook has been serving the guests and residents in Capitola since 1947. That is 68 years! It is located along the lush Soquel Creek and is reached by a quaint old cable car. I rode the cable car down which was fun but the meandering paths are something that should not be missed. It is just beautiful! Though it has won awards as being a very romantic restaurant, with their outdoor seating either full or closed that evening, there was nothing romantic about the experience. The service was world-class, the food and drinks delicious and I had an amazing experience. Shadowbrook offers three vegan entrees, 1 vegan appetizer and many of their salads can be “veganized”! I absolutely loved the Eggplant Agnolotti and Steve raved about the Roasted Poblano Chiles. Their vegan-friendly fresh bread was served with EVOO and balsamic instead of the usual butter. When I made the reservations through Open Table, I mentioned that I was hoping for a vegan dessert option. And the chef kindly created a delicious vegan sorbet using fresh, in season strawberries. This is a very special place and should not be missed when visiting Capitola. If you are lucky enough to sit in Alison’s section, she is lovely and provides incredible service. Another must-do!
I cannot leave out the draw and beauty of the Pacific. The tiny village of Capitola is a surfer’s paradise. The surfers arrive in the morning and stay until nearly dusk. I found myself watching them surf and lost all track of time. While out exercising one day, I walked to the Pleasure Point surfing area. The water was full of surfers and one or two SUPs joined in for the fun too. This is one of Northern California’s best breaks with waves perfect for just about every type of surfer 320 days of the year. I know watching made me want to take up surfing at 45! Exhilarating to watch! On my walk back to the Hotel, I walked along the Capitola Wharf and got to spend the next half hour watching a Mama Sea Otter feed and care for her baby Otter (click on otters to watch the YouTube video). They were just so lovely to watch and the baby Otter is quite possibly the cutest little animal on earth! What an unexpected surprise. And though some of the locals mentioned recent whale sightings, I was very pleased with my sea lion/sea otter interactions!
It was an amazing 5 days that I will remember always. The village of Capitola is sweet, Santa Cruz’s downtown is hip, the Boardwalk is just plain fun and the openness to vegan-friendly food is wonderful. I ate, relaxed, screamed a bit, had some fun and reconnected with the love of my life. I’d say that was a very successful vacation! Thanks again for joining me and as always…eat, drink and be vegan.