Capitola & Aptos
South along the coast, the small community of Capitola, at the mouth of the Soquel Creek, is a spawning ground for steelhead and salmon. You can fish without a license from the Capitola Wharf, 1400 Wharf Rd., or rent a boat from Capitola Boat and Bait (tel. 831/462-2208; www.santacruzboatrentals.net).
Capitola Beach fronts the bustling Esplanade. Surf fishing, clamming, and camping are popular pastimes at Capitola's New Brighton State Beach, 1500 State Park Dr. (tel. 831/464-6330). Another popular activity is antiquing in the stores along Soquel Drive between 41st and Capitola avenues.
Farther south around the bay is Aptos, home to the 10,000-acre Forest of Nisene Marks State Park (tel. 831/763-7062). This was the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake, and now has hiking trails through redwoods and past abandoned mining camps. Mountain bikers and leashed dogs are welcome. It's at the end of Aptos Creek Road off Soquel Drive, open year-round from sunrise to sunset.
In the redwood-forested mountains behind Santa Cruz, there are quite a few wineries, although visitors may not be familiar with the labels because the output is small and consumed locally. Most are clustered around Boulder Creek and Felton or around Capitola. All offer tours by appointment; some feature tastings, including the Bargetto Winery, 3535 N. Main, Soquel (tel. 800/422-7438 or 831/475-2258; www.bargetto.com), which has a courtyard wine-tasting area overlooking the creek. For information, contact the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers' Association (tel. 831/685-VINE ; www.scmwa.com).
Mission San Juan Bautista
On U.S. 101, San Juan Bautista is a mission town that retains the flavor of a 19th-century village. The mission complex sits in a picturesque farming valley, surrounded by the restored buildings of the original city plaza.
From U.S. 101, take Hwy. 156 east (south) to the town center to the mission itself, founded in 1797. The largest church in the mission chain, San Juan Bautista is the only one in continuous service. The padres here inspired many Native Americans to convert, creating one of the largest congregations in California. The mission once boasted a formidable Native American boys' choir, and the small museum exhibits many musical instruments and transcriptions. Mission San Juan Bautista is open daily year-round from 9:30am to 4:45pm. The suggested donation is $1 per person. For more information, call tel. 831/623-4528 or see www.oldmissionsjb.org or www.san-juan-bautista.ca.us.
East of the church, at the edge of an abrupt drop created by the San Andreas Fault, a marker notes the path of the old El Camino Real. Seismographic measuring equipment and an earthquake science exhibit accompany the marker.
There's much to see on the restored city plaza as well. The San Juan Bautista State Historic Park comprises the old Plaza Hotel, with its frontier barroom and furnished rooms; the Plaza Hall, its adjoining stables, and blacksmith shop; and the Castro House, where the Breen family lived after traveling here with the ill-fated Donner Party in 1846. Allow 1 1/2 to 2 hours to see the entire plaza. Admission to the park buildings is $2 for adults, $1 for children ages 6 to 12 (separate from the mission admission). Hours are daily from 10am to 4:30pm. For more information, call tel. 831/623-4881.