I almost always drive straight to the coast when I head to Santa Cruz County. But whenever I stop instead in Felton — a small, woodsy town six miles inland from Santa Cruz — I’m glad I did.
For starters, it’s warmer by five or six degrees, and often is spared the fog that has derailed many trips to Santa Cruz. It’s home to magnificent redwood forests, many preserved in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. One favorite is the 40-acre grove of towering old growth redwoods that are accessible on a flat loop trail.
Felton is also a popular stop for families with young children and adult train lovers, who know it as the location of Roaring Camp Railroads. You can ride a steam railroad through the forests and take in the Old West setting here. Starting in June, visitors can take a train from Roaring Camp to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an hour-long journey. There are always various special events at Roaring Camp, including a Father’s Day Brew Train on June 18.
It’s always interesting to wander around this town of 4,500 residents. One landmark worth exploring is the iconic covered wooden bridge over the San Lorenzo River. First built in 1892, the tall bridge was restored in 1987. Today it’s a pedestrian-only structure that sits in the aptly named Felton Covered Bridge County Park next to some picnic tables and playground.
The bridge is both a California registered historical landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. It recently was the focus of Memorial Day weekend event and parade. Near the bridge is another iconic structure, the gold-domed towers of St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church. Using the church towers as a landmark, it’s easy to drive or walk another block into the town’s downtown, which sits along state Highway 9.
The downtown has enough counterculture vibe to let you know you’re in Santa Cruz County. There are cafés serving coffee and chai, a music hall that features Grateful Dead music on Sundays, a tattoo parlor, and storefronts for bodywork businesses. A brewery-restaurant is housed in Cremer House, formerly known as the Cremer Hotel, which dates to 1876.
Another downtown highlight is the Felton Community Deck, a gathering spot beneath a redwood tree. The deck has some benches, a picnic table and room for about 50 people. It’s a good place to sit with that chai. Or your feelings.
A small local history museum is around the corner in the Felton Presbyterian Church, which dates from 1893. It’s one of two free museums operated by the San Lorenzo Valley Museum. The second is up the road in the city of Boulder Creek. Both museums offer a glimpse into the region’s history as a logging center in the 19th century. Details are at www.slvmuseum.org.
Follow the two-lane, twisty Highway 9 out of Felton to Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek. Boulder Creek’s walkable downtown has more stores and businesses, although there also are welcoming places to stop for a meal or a drink in Ben Lomond. Ben Lomond is also home to the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, a small gallery that also offers classes. It’s at 9341 Mill St.
In Boulder Creek, check out the landmark Scopazzi’s Restaurant, which dates to 1912, at 13300 Big Basin Highway, or the more casual River Dogs of Boulder Creek, a hot dog stand near the San Lorenzo River, at 123 Forest St.