At its roots, Watsonville is an agricultural community, surrounded by acres of strawberries, brussel sprouts, and apple orchards. Past the farmland, however, is a vibrant city with authentic Mexican cuisine, award-winning breweries and wineries, and some of the most pristine beaches in all of Santa Cruz County. This tight-knit community combines a moderate coastal climate and slow-coast culture with the down-to-earth spirit of hard-working entrepreneurs and farming families who have worked the land for generations.
Here’s your guide to experiencing the Watsonville lifestyle:
The Friday Farmers Market in Watsonville’s historic downtown plaza is a great excuse to leave work a little early. Unwind with a free yoga or dance class or just enjoy the live music as you fill your basket with fresh produce from just down the road. In the summer (or on those 75 degree days in February) cool off with a mangonada—a refreshing yet spicy beverage with chopped mango, lime, chili powder and Tapatio. Stay for dinner and choose from a variety of fresh-cooked meals including nopales quesadillas, tostada salads, and a hot churro for dessert.
When Saturday rolls around take the family (or just yourself) to one of Watsonville’s quiet, undiscovered beaches. Beyond acres of brussels sprouts and giant sand dunes lies Sunset State Beach, a long stretch of sand that lacks the crowds found in North County. Stay for the sunset or migrate over to one of the fire pits at neighboring Manresa State Beach to roast s’mores while you watch the show.
The beaches have their fair share of birds, but if you’re not a birder already, you’ll soon be investing in a pair of binoculars once you visit the Watsonville Wetlands. Hundreds of bird species use the wetlands for habitat, from owls and falcons to sandpipers and plovers. Located only 10 minutes from the heart of downtown, it’s no surprise that this estuary is a popular destination for school field trips. Students and the general public can easily spend a morning meandering along the peaceful trails, listening to birdsong and the soft splash of Cinnamon Teals, Buffleheads, and other local ducks landing on the calm water.
Too many kids these days have no idea where their food comes from, unless you grow up in Watsonville that is. Strawberry picking, tractor rides, and farm tours give your kids a hands-on experience in agriculture and an endless supply of weekend activities. Live Earth Farm offers school field trips, farm camps, and overnights where youth can learn about environmental stewardship, plant and animal life cycles, and healthy eating habits. When you pick up the kids from camp, bring some baskets to fill up with ruby red strawberries or venture to one of several other U-pick farms for your fill of the sweet fruit. Then there’s the Agricultural History Museum, where kids can spend hours exploring life on a farm with tractor rides, butter churning, and the rare opportunity to milk a wooden cow.
Watsonville is also home to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds with endless good ol’ fashioned fun like carnival rides, pig races, and the not-to-be-missed turkey stampede. (This is farm country after all!) Warm weekends call for picnics and a round of disc golf out at Pinto Lake Park. And of course, you have to make regular trips to Gizdich Ranch for fresh apple cider and slices of mouthwatering apple or berry pie, enjoyed a la mode at one of the picnic tables out in the orchard.
Brussel sprouts and strawberries aren’t the only crops that grow well in the Pajaro Valley. Vineyards carpet the hillsides along the Corralitos Wine Trail featuring a variety of reds and whites including crisp Chardonnays, full-bodied Pinot Noirs, and bold, fruity Syrahs. Stop at the legendary Corralitos Meat Market and pick up smoked sausage or a tri-tip sandwich.
You can try several of the region’s wines in one place at Annieglass where wine tastings are paired with studio tours of one of the largest glass studios in America. You can also pair your tastings with a trip over to the Pajaro Valley Art Gallery to check out their latest exhibit. After you work up an appetite, grab lunch at Cilantro’s for a filling burrito or Ella’s at the Airport for a fresh Italian-inspired meal on their outdoor patio.
If you’re more of a beer guy or gal, then Elkhorn Slough Brewing, located in a spacious warehouse in Watsonville’s industrial district, may just become your weeknight hangout. Bordered by agricultural fields, Corralitos Brewery lies a little further off the beaten path with equally tasty beer and a welcoming neighborhood vibe.