Santa Cruz: The Surf City

So when I knew I was going to San Diego for a conference, I figured it would be a good idea to take a couple days off afterwards so I can explore California a bit more. There were a lot of potential options of where to go, but one of the main driving factors was that I wanted to check out this concert.

Long story short, one of the bands I really like was touring with a bunch of other bands all throughout America and they had a bunch of stops in California when I was there, and after some planning and consideration, I decided to Santa Cruz would be where I would go check out this concert.

Now, I know that Santa Cruz is commonly referred to as just “Surf City”, without the “the” article in front. But I realized that all of my other travel posts use an article in front and so I have to keep it there for this one too.

A lone surfer heading out to the ocean.

Just doesn’t feel right if it doesn’t have it, but it also doesn’t really feel right to include it, so it’s a lose/lose either way.

Anyways, Santa Cruz apparently doesn’t have their own airport and so I had to fly to San Jose and then take a series of buses from there to get to Santa Cruz.

Coming from San Diego, my first impression of Santa Cruz was that it was a lot more grey and drab than San Diego. It didn’t really help that the weather was overcast for the entire time I was there, but between that and the copious amounts of uh, strange people on the streets, it definitely wasn’t the most welcoming experience.

Just from walking around on my first night I immediately noticed a few things. Firstly, Santa Cruz is definitely a city that revolves around their beaches and ocean views. Their coastline is beautiful and honestly a bit unbelievable.

A view of the ocean along West Cliff Drive.

However, another thing I noticed was that the city was incredibly dead. Like, you’d imagine the beaches and wharf to have a lot of activity and bustle, but it was super quiet. There just weren’t that many people walking around, and a substantial chunk of those that were were obviously homeless.

Granted, I did go to Santa Cruz in December, and for a city that probably survives entirely on their coastal tourism, December probably isn’t one of their busiest months. That said, it was a bit eerie. Neat though, since normally you’d imagine a place like this to be populated with a ton of people just having fun and enjoying life, so the juxtaposition was interesting.

Something about the combination of beach and Christmas doesn’t feel right.

Anyways, after walking around alone in the dark on my first night, I decided to rent out a bike for my second day and bike along the coast. That was an absolute wonderful idea. Like I mentioned, the city’s coastline is unbelievable.

There’s this bike trail right next to the coast and it’s just kilometers of cliffs and water. I wished it was a tiny bit warmer, but the weather definitely didn’t detract from the awesome views.

There were a ton of big waves and so all along the coast all you heard were the waves crashing against the shore. Some people were even taking advantage of the water conditions and were surfing as well. I’ve always wanted to try to surf but unfortunately I didn’t think that it would’ve been a good idea to try with such a short trip.

A surfers memorial.

During my bike ride I took frequent stops at random places to just look at the ocean or to check out other sights or parks that I would pass by. It was an interesting bike ride and would recommend it to anyone that could bike and was checking out Santa Cruz.

One of the places I checked out during this bike ride was the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Honestly, it’s a place for kids to learn about the ocean and marine life, but as a guy that loves this stuff too, it was a nice little stop.

They have this overlook next to the center that also has a fantastic view. It was incredibly calming and peaceful to just stand there and soak up the sights and sounds of the ocean. Right by the overlook was a few whale skeletons put on display as well. A bit sad, but nevertheless still interesting to check out.

A blue whale skeleton outside the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

Speaking of things that are interesting to check out, Santa Cruz also has an incredibly famous wharf that extends almost a kilometer out into the ocean. To be honest, many of the shops and restaurants there don’t seem particularly exciting, but you can get a pretty awesome view of the beach from there.

But by far the most interesting thing on the wharf are the sea lions. Between my trip to the wharf and the marine center I learned a lot about the differences between seals and sea lions and I’m fairly happy to confirm that yes, they have a bunch of sea lions at the wharf.

A bunch of sea lions just chilling.

On my first night I could hear them but I couldn’t see them so when I went back in the morning I was actually really surprised to see so many of them. They were just kinda chilling by the wharf. It was my first time seeing sea lions in the wild and it was kinda incredible. They were really loud and honestly bigger than I thought they would be.

Other things I checked out in Santa Cruz were some of the parks and beaches. Both of these were fairly straightforward. The parks were forested with some rivers and walking paths and the beaches were big and sandy. I think that my trip was probably at the worst time to go check out these places though since they were relatively empty and there wasn’t too much to check out. As a result nothing really stood out from these brief stops on my trip. 

I will say though, the Neary Lagoon Park is an interesting park since it’s literally next to a sewage treatment plant. And at night there’s literally no lighting in the park so it’s just pitch black. After going to Balboa Park in San Diego at night, you’d think I learn about going to dark parks but apparently not.

This is a pretty dark park.

I swear some of those ducks splashing around in the water were planning to kill me. Glad to report that I didn’t die.

Finally, I can’t end this post without at the very least talking about the main reason why I went to Santa Cruz, the concert. For those that know me, I listen to some less than mainstream music. This concert was a deathcore concert featuring Slaughter to Prevail, Oceano, Chelsea Grin, and Whitechapel.

For people that listen to this genre, it’s pretty easy to know why I wanted to check it out. It was an incredibly solid lineup and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go. It was at the Catalyst, which is a club in downtown Santa Cruz. The venue itself was pretty alright and the show was absolutely amazing.

Slaughter to Prevail performing with the classic combo of mask and no shirt.

It was a bit annoying because apparently people could smoke in the venue and so in between sets people were just smoking.. all the things. By the end of the night I’m pretty sure the smoke machine was only responsible for like half of the smoke in the room. It smelled pretty bad.

But, that said, it was a fantastic show and I would totally do it again.

So my original goal was to check out this concert and being able to sightsee Santa Cruz was a bit of a bonus. Turned out it was an awesome bonus because Santa Cruz has some pretty beautiful spots. So overall, a really great trip since not only did I go to a sick concert, but I also had a chance to check out a wonderful city I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise.

Deathcore, improving people’s travel experiences one concert at a time.

San Diego: The Pacific Port

So this year has been pretty busy for me. Namely because in addition to the one or two trips I normally do, I’ve also been travelling for work. Last week was my fifth business trip in the last six months. It’s been a crazy half year but I’m fairly certain I’m done with travelling for the rest of the year haha.

It’s not like I’m getting sick of it or anything, but it’ll be nice to just chill at home and play some video games or something for a change.

Anyways, last week I went to San Diego for another conference. I was really looking forward to this trip because California is probably the state I wanted to go to the most. As a result, I decided to take a couple days off of work after the conference and just travel the state a bit more. I’ll write about those couple days in a future post and just focus on San Diego in this one.

The San Diego skyline at night.

I haven’t looked it up but my gut feeling tells me that San Diego is the furthest American city in the contiguous United States from Toronto. It’s literally at the bottom left corner of the country and is really close to the Mexican border.

Actually, I just looked it up and I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Anyways, considering how the city is next to Mexico, I kinda expected the city to be similar to San Antonio. For one, they both have San in their names and they both seemed to be cities that would have a lot of Mexcian influences. I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily wrong, but there was one major difference between the two cities, the Pacific Ocean. San Diego is located right off the Pacific and so the ocean really influenced how the city feels and developed. 

A setting sun and a bunch of ships.

It’s pretty neat because the airport is in the city so when you’re landing it almost feels like you’re flying right by the skyscrapers. Then, all of the sudden the skyscrapers disappear and you’re left with the harbour. It’s cool because that means when you leave the airport, you’re on a road where one side is just a ton of ships and the other side is a bunch of planes.

The geographical location of San Diego really makes it a special city because it’s a warm water port of the largest ocean and it’s incredibly close to an international border. As a result, there is a huge military presence in the city.

The US Navy has a huge base in the harbour and they even have their own airport. So when you look at the city from above, you actually just see two airports essentially side by side, one for civilians and one for the military. This means that during your stay you end up seeing a ton of different vehicles. Everything from sailboats to aircraft carriers and commercial jets to attack helicopters.

It definitely does give the city a bit more of a unique feel to it. The United States has the largest military and Navy in the world and so it’s interesting seeing a portion of it just hang out so close to the city.

Aircraft carriers are huge.

And of course, San Diego has a ton of beaches and parks since it’s so close to the ocean and the weather is fairly temperate all year round. For the most part, the conference I went to took up a lot of my day and so by the time it ended the sun was pretty much setting and so it didn’t really make a lot of sense to go check out some of the more natural places.

However, one night we did go out and go to Balboa Park (which my head canon totally has it where the park is named after Rocky). The pictures online made it look really nice and so I thought it would be a good walk.

But apparently the park is huge and not all of it is scenic. Especially at night.

Some stacks of wood we saw in the dark park.

We ended up walking around the sports complex section of the park in literal darkness and so there wasn’t much to see. Given that it was super dark and chillier than what I expected a Californian city to be like, it wasn’t the most magnificent of park visits, but it was still a fun walk.

I had a proper chance to actually check out some of the scenic aspects of the city a bit more the morning before my flight out. We went to the Cabrillio National Monument which is on a small peninsula in the city. That was a nice short trip since it gave a pretty awesome view of the city from an elevated position.

So not only was it really easy to see the layout of the city (and the military base!) it really made you appreciate the sheer size of the ocean. Being from Toronto, it’s sometimes easy to forget exactly how large the ocean is. Well, it’s huge and every time I see it I always just feel so at peace. I kinda wish I lived near the ocean. That would be nice.

The Cabrillo National Monument with the military airport in the background.

When it comes to food, the Mexican influence definitely plays a huge part here since their Mexican food is pretty top tier. We went to this one restaurant that also called themselves a “tequila museum” since they served a bunch of different types of tequila as well.

Was it the best Mexican food I’ve ever had? No, that’s still reserved for that one meal I had in San Antonio. But still, both the food and drinks were absolutely fantastic.

Speaking of drinks, apparently San Diego is really well known for their craft beers since they they have a lot of breweries in the city. I got some local beer from the store and they weren’t that special, but the craft beer we got in restaurants were pretty good. Given more time I think I’d like to try more of their beer.

Some good beer and a turkey sandwich.

That’s definitely one of the perks of being in America, their selection of beer and (non-Asian) snacks is definitely better than Canada.

Overall, my trip to San Diego was pretty great. There seems to be a lot to do in the city, especially if you are into beaches and outdoor parks. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to go to as many places as I wanted to go to, but the places I went to were pretty nice. I feel like a lot of times when people talk about going to California they always just mention places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, but I can definitely recommend San Diego as a place to check out as well.

San Antonio: The Alamo City

One of the definite perks at work is that I have the chance to travel. Last week, I had another conference to attend. This time, in San Antonio. It was my first time in Texas and so I was actually quite looking forward to the trip since I’ve heard so much about Texas but never had a real reason to visit.

The first thing that was apparent to me was that it was hot. When I left Toronto it was like 6 degrees outside and when I got to San Antonio it was like, 35. I was sweating like crazy on the first day when I was walking around outside.

I guess that’s expected though considering how it’s literally Texas and quite a bit further south than Toronto is.

A Texan sunset.

Texas has a slogan “six flags over Texas” which represents the six countries that had sovereignty over the state throughout history: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, Confederate America, and modern America. San Antonio is a really interesting city because it really embodies this evolution. It’s a city that mixes all of these cultural and historical elements into one neat package.

I never really considered Texas of all places to be multicultural, but I was proven pretty wrong pretty fast on my trip there.

One obvious example of Texan history and culture would be the Alamo, a church turned into a siege area during the Texas Revolution. Honestly, it wasn’t very visually interesting but the Alamo is a very important Texan symbol and it’s smack dab in the middle of San Antonio. It seems like the city is pretty proud of that piece of history and when you learn about it, you can understand why.

The Texas combo, the Alamo and a sheriff.

It’s a pretty classic story of the underdog prevailing against a stronger opponent through pure determination and force of will. Modern day America is definitely a powerhouse country today, but it wasn’t always this way and things like this are a pretty good reminder of its history and origins.

This is further expanded upon if you go visit the other Missions in San Antonio. In total there’s five churches-turned-communities scattered around the area which showcases how San Antonio came to be. Once you start going through the history a bit, you realize that Texas and Mexico have a pretty deep and intertwined relationship.

Even though the Texans beat the Mexicans during the Texas Revolution to gain their independence, it’s interesting that San Antonio really feels like Mexico. Now, I’ve never been to Mexico before, but from what I’ve seen and heard, San Antonio looks and feels pretty much like what I’d imagine Mexico to be like.

The Historic Market Square, featuring a ton of Mexican shops and restaurants.

There’s a lot of Mexican influences in the city. When you’re walking around the streets you hear a lot of Spanish and all of the more cultural or historical buildings have a very Mexican style to them too. Considering how it’s also fairly close to the Mexican border, San Antonio has a really different feel to it as compared to any other American city I’ve been to.

The unique atmosphere also extends to the other parts of the city too. For example, one of the most famous landmarks in San Antonio is the Riverwalk, which is an (artificial?) river system running through the middle of the city. It’s below ground level and so you’re just in this like, path that has a ton of restaurants and bars flanking it.

Some restaurants by the Riverwalk.

The feel there was really nice both during the day and at night. There was always a lot of people there so it felt really lively and the combination of the water, plants, and decorations was pretty beautiful as well. Overall, it’s definitely a tourist trap, but it’s totally worth checking it out and just enjoying the walk.

Speaking of walking, San Antonio is surprisingly walkable which is nice because they don’t have a subway system so there’s limited options to get around. For the most part I just walked everywhere and that was enough to get around downtown. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of motorized scooters in the city.

And by that, I don’t mean the electric scooters like the ones you seen in Asia a lot (cough Taipei cough). I mean legit scooters that just have motors on them. Apparently it’s a fairly recent trend where instead of renting out bikes, you can rent out a scooter. You just scan the code on your phone and it unlocks, allowing you to take it for a ride. Then, when you’re done you just leave it somewhere.

True American freedom, untethered scooters.

That was kinda interesting since it just meant that all around the downtown core you saw these scooters strewn around the city. One of the Uber drivers I talked to had a pretty strong opinion about them, and I could see where the complaints are coming from, but it’s an interesting idea.

When you’re out and about walking around, it’s likely that you’ll also come across the San Fernando Cathedral. During the day it’s a pretty plain cathedral and looks as standard as they come, but come nighttime they put on this pretty cool light show which I can totally recommend.

San Fernando Cathedral lit up with some projection mapping.

They use two projectors to turn the cathedral into an animated display of the history of San Antonio. It’s a 30 minute show and actually really worth watching. I walked by it twice and both times there was a decent sized crowd watching it. It’s also kinda funny because the projectors are run by a Windows computer so one time I walked by and it was booting up and you could see the Windows boot screens.

Considering the amount of Mexican influence in the city, it also meant that San Antonio has a ton of Mexican food. And of course, they’re all legit. I ate so much Mexican food in the five days I was there and it was all delicious. I keep thinking back to the chicken and beef fajita I got in the traditional Mexican market there and man, that was so good it was almost unbelievable.

Probably the best Mexican meal I’ve ever had.

Aside from Mexican food, you’re in Texas and so Texan barbecue is definitely something I wanted to try out. That was also really good so it honestly felt like during my entire trip I was just eating meat or Mexican. Not the most balanced diet but it was delicious. I was actually really pleasantly surprised by San Antonio partially because of the abundance of such good food. One part of me wasn’t very surprised since it kinda makes sense if you think about it, but I certainly wasn’t really expecting it.

Overall, I had a really good time in San Antonio. Not only did the conference I attended go well, but the city itself was also pretty fantastic. A decent amount to see and the food was great, what’s more to ask for from a work trip? The Mexican influences to the city has really sparked an itch for me to go check out Latin America though. It’s not super super far and now I really want to go haha.