About Molly Lautamo

Molly Lautamo is a freelance writer and content strategist. She came to Santa Cruz almost ten years ago to attend UCSC and never left. To check out more of Molly's writing, visit mollylautamo.com

Looking for Wild Cats at Panther Beach

Panther Beach

A panther is hidden in the golden cliffs at a beach about ten miles north of Santa Cruz.

Perhaps you need a wild imagination (or perhaps the aid of psychedelics), but all I could see after blurring my vision, crossing my eyes, and staring intently at a mix of mudstone and sandstone, was red, yellow, and gray rock marred by graffiti and decorated with a mix of coastal buckwheat, sage, and yarrow.

If you want to try your luck at spotting the elusive wildcat in the cliffs, drive north along Highway 1, just past Laguna Beach and fields of brussels sprouts on your left and run-down shacks inhabited by weary, weathered farm workers on your right, to an unmarked dirt lot on the ocean side of the highway.

Pull off and drive slowly over the deep ruts and piles of shattered window glass — heed this warning and don’t leave any valuables in your car. Park anywhere along the edge of the lot and walk down to the railroad tracks where you’ll see a Coast Dairies State Park sign marking the trailhead to Panther Beach.

The trail down is narrow and overgrown with purple thistle and yellow and white mustard flowers in the spring. It’s also steep enough in some places that the cautious will want to have both hands free or risk a bruised tailbone.

Despite this beach’s less than desirable access point, countless college students (and let’s be fair, probably some non-students as well) flock to this stretch of sand and lug cases of beer, boxes of firewood, beach chairs, bags of fast food, and entire watermelons down the slippery sandstone hillside. Then they leave it all there, including half the watermelon. [Read more…]

Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough

kayaking in Elkhorn Slough

Have you ever dreamt of taking an African safari?

From the safety of a jeep, you watch wide-eyed as a leopard silently stalks unsuspecting antelopes, a pride of lions escapes the shimmering heat in the shade of an Acacia tree, and a herd of elephants, ears flapping and trunks swinging, shake the savannah as they lumber dangerously close to where you sit spellbound by the wild landscape that surrounds you.

We may not have leopards and elephants, but we do have rafts of otters, piles of harbor seals, and flocks of pterodactyl-like pelicans. And you don’t have to observe them from the confines of an off-road vehicle.

Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough is an aquatic safari where you join the animals on their turf. Otters instead of cheetahs climb onto your mode of transport and it’s the deep rumbling bellow of the California sea lion that makes you jump out of your seat.

Harbor seals bask in the sun, otters furiously clean their faces after a tasty meal of urchin, and sea lions slap their flippers, playfully splashing water just inches from the kayak.

Pelicans fly overhead, so close that you could almost reach up and touch them. Suddenly they fold in their wings and turn their beaks earthward in a graceful dive that ends with a muffled “kerplunk.” A great blue heron stands in the muddy shallows, staring intently at a fish hiding just below the surface. Your paddle catches on kelp fronds, giving you the perfect excuse to stop paddling for a moment and just take in everything around you. [Read more…]

Santa Cruz Hikes: Fern Trail at Pogonip

pogonip hike santa cruzk

Pogonip is a Native American word for river fog, a fittingly mystical name for such a magical place. This 640-acre green space in the middle of town has over nine miles of hiking trails with quirky features including a koi pond, stone labyrinth, and the crumbling, mossy stones of lime kilns from the 1800s.
[Read more…]

Santa Cruz Brewery Breakdown

Santa Cruz Brewery Breakdown

Microbreweries and taprooms in Santa Cruz have become almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks over the past two or three years. However, unlike this multinational coffee megacrop, they’re all unique, small businesses that foster community and create really tasty artisanal beer.

We here at Santa Cruz Life are very excited about this new microbrewery trend and thought our readers could use some help narrowing down which one (or two or three) to visit each weekend or after a long day at work.

This is a comprehensive breakdown of the tasty microbreweries, alehouses, and tap rooms that Santa Cruz County has to offer.
[Read more…]

Coming to Terms with the New Arana Gulch

Arana Gulch Multi-Use Trails

The completion of the Arana Gulch multi-use trail project connecting Broadway and Brommer Streets has stirred up a lot of mixed feelings amongst Santa Cruz locals.

Some people are outraged that this mostly untouched 68-acre green space has been torn up by tractors, fenced off, and partly paved over. But others are enjoying the many positive results of this project including bike safety, increased accessibility, and surprisingly, a chance at survival for an endangered and endemic subspecies of Santa Cruz tarplant.
[Read more…]

Santa Cruz Hikes: Land of Medicine Buddha

land of medicine buddha hike in santa cruz

We ask all hikers to be courteous and to respect Land of Medicine Buddha and their guests attending retreats. Please note that day use hours are as follows:

  • Weekdays: Open 8:00 AM to dusk
  • Saturdays: Closed for public use
  • Sundays: Open from noon until dusk

Please observe these hours when planning your hike, and while on the property remember that this is a meditation and retreat facility, not a recreation area. Keep conversations and voices subdued while on the property out of respect for the Land of Medicine Buddha center and its community. Group hikes should call the office in advance at (831) 462-8383 to find out if retreats are in session.

Land of Medicine Buddha: Long Loop
Length: 6 miles; 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

If you love the muffled quiet of a redwood forest broken only by the murmur of a creek and the faint echo of a Buddhist gong, it’s time to get on your hiking boots and explore the Land of Medicine Buddha. [Read more…]

Geology and Geocaching at Shark Fin Cove

Shark Fin Cove

Photo Credit: Steve Dunleavy

A massive rock stands guard over a small cove full of geologic wonders just up the coast from Santa Cruz, only 0.7 miles south of the town of Davenport.

The main geologic feature, visible from Highway 1, has inspired two interchangeable names: Shark Fin Cove and Shark Tooth Beach. This beach is most certainly a cove, however, and it’s fun to imagine the size of shark lurking beneath a fin of that size, so we’re using the former here.

[Read more…]

Davenport Landing Beach: For Surfers and Swingers

Davenport Landing Beach Swing

Are you into wild and rugged NorCal beaches but not so into roughing it down a sketchy cliffside?

Looking for a spot you can tow a full ice chest or access via wheelchair, that doesn’t require you to just “hold it” until you get back to civilization?

Davenport Landing Beach has all that, and  a swing set, which makes you wonder: Why don’t all beaches have swing sets?

[Read more…]