Outlet malls and great beaches in northern California/Monterey Bay
SAN FRANCISCO - I’m not much for shopping. But get me to a U.S. outlet mall and I can get into it pretty quickly.
I’m not sure how good the deals are compared to the everyday sort of bargains that U.S. stores put out, but it’s great having so many different stores in one giant area if you want load up on a variety of things.
California may not have the reputation of Florida or New York State or New England for outlet centers, but I find the deals pretty amazing at the Premium Outlets in Vacaville, northeast of San Francisco towards Sacramento and at Gilroy, a half hour south of San Jose.
This time I opted for Gilroy as I wanted to spend some time at the beach in Capitola, close to my family’s cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. There’s J. Crew and Banana Republic and The Gap and Ralph Lauren and DKNY and lots more, so there’s no shortage of places to buy nice men’s shorts for $30 or shirts for $15 or colourful boxers for $5. That’s especially good if you can find Hawaiian-themed boxers with hula girls or pineapples; the preferred option for men of taste around the world.
From Gilroy, you can take a fine drive through wine and farm country to Watsonville, driving past orchards and farms selling garlic, cherries, strawberries, avocado, peaches and so much more. Watsonville is home to Driscoll’s, which seems to have a world monopoly on winter strawberries and raspberries.
The drive from Gilroy to Watsonville takes you along Highway 152 over Hecker Pass, a winding but not difficult road that goes through forests of pine and eucalyptus trees, ultimately revealing a lovely view out over Monterey Bay.
Capitola is a great, little beach town that’s just east of Santa Cruz, on the north shore of Monterey Bay. There’s a fun shopping district with surf stores and funky clothing shops and some good restaurants along the water.
Sadly, Margaritaville – a Mexican place I’ve always liked – has slid rapidly downhill. Fish tacos were fishy and not at all interesting, and the chicken burrito was cafeteria Tex Mex, I thought. I wouldn’t advise it for food or a drink, as the $9.50 margarita I got was only adequate and quite small – especially by American standards. Better to just order a beer and watch the folks on the beach or gaze on the brightly coloured rental homes along the beach and the small lagoon where a nearby creek empties out.
You can also try the small upstairs patio at Stockton Bridge Café or sit out at Il Pirata or Mr. Toots' Coffeehouse several other places on the water. The beach is about a half-mile long and there’s a great wharf with a restaurant out on the end, and there are wonderful views of the chalky, golden cliffs topped with palm trees and homes with lovely gardens.
I once called Capitola the best California town the Beach Boys never sang about. And I still feel that way…
Getting back to bargains for a minute, I had breakfast with my cousins and family at a place called Dino’s in Castro Valley, in the East Bay, on Sunday. I think they’re trying to establish themselves as a breakfast spot. Either that, or they’re insane, as the breakfast special is two eggs, two sausage links, two strips of bacon and two large pancakes for, wait for it, $2.95.
Yep. Unbelieveable. Okay, the sausages tasted like those microwave types. But even if you don’t eat those, it’s tough to beat eggs, bacon and pancakes for three bucks….