SANTA CRUZ, CA — With health and fitness more accessible than ever, we can no longer make excuses for getting out of shape while on vacation. As a fitness and travel lover, I’ve decided to combine my passions and explore all the best health and fitness haunts while on the road.
I recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Santa Cruz, California’s little surf city that is the perfect place to unwind, people watch, eat healthy and get a sweat in.
On Friday night I decided I needed to work on my mental fitness and unwind in the woods with some quiet time, writing in my journal and meditating. I discovered an affordable yurt through Air Bnb in Soquel, just outside the city in Santa Cruz County. I picked up some food from Whole Foods en route and cuddled into my yurt in the rain, stoking the small fire and sipping on hot chocolate and indulging in some alone time. Those looking for some more in-depth meditation guidance should check out the Land of Medicine Buddha nearby, which provides classes and space for group and personal retreats.
Above: Writer and fitness buff Gillian Young finds out Santa Cruz is a great hideout for vacationers who want to stay in shape.
Recharged the next morning, I grabbed some coffee and a bite from Lulu’s Midtown before popping over to The Barre Capitola for a challenging barre class. Thanks to a great teacher, energizing music and a fun combination of ballet-inspired movements focused on toning and tightening, the one-hour class flew by and had my core and glutes burning from the tiny pulsing movements.
Since I’m a die-hard weightlifter, I decided to add in another workout at Santa Cruz Strength for some barbell work. There I met gym owner Stacy Otlin, whose goal for the gym is to be a place where people can feel comfortable in their skin while working towards their individual goals. This was exactly the vibe I got. The space is simple and bare bones but packed with lifting stations, great energy and comradery. They offer open gym hours and coached gym hours and all are welcome. Several deadlifts later, I was starving so I headed downtown for lunch.
Craving some plant-based goodness, I made my way to Cafe Gratitude for one of their epic bowls loaded with vegetables, tahini sauce and eggplant bacon. Afterwards, I found pleasure in people-watching and shopping on Pacific Ave. before retiring to my hotel for the night.
I’ve heard you shouldn’t worry too much about your hotel since you’re hardly in your room, but I beg to differ. When I travel, I love reading in my hotel room, ordering room service and being queen for a night. Hotel Paradox is perfect for that. A modern alternative to the traditional Santa Cruz hotel, Hotel Paradox is urban, young and fresh, with a beautiful bar and dining room, warm staff and chill pool area outside. I ordered room service from Solaire Restaurant + Bar with Chef Scott Radek’s health-friendly menu and was not disappointed by my big salad and perfectly seared cured salmon. This was the perfect recharge for a very fit Sunday.
Above: Gillian Young and gym owner Stacy Otlin.
I started my morning at Santa Cruz Power Fitness for a glute-focused workout with trainer Susie Kim.
This gym is owned by two pro bodybuilding competitors, Camile Periat and Chris Ellis, and is stocked with unique equipment by Arsenal Strength (designed by Pro Bodybuilder, Flex Lewis). My glutes were burning by the end of my session.
Wanting to mix things up a little, I went over for another private session at Santa Cruz CORE Fitness + Rehab with personal trainer Wesley Chan. He put me through a really fun, functional full-body workout with a focus on core and building intensity. It challenged me on a whole other level.
After all that exercise, I couldn’t wait to feast at PRIMAL, Santa Cruz’s food haven. Everything here is wild, grass-fed, organic, local and seasonal. There are no refined oils, sugars, or flours at PRIMAL and yet, for all its goodness, there is an equal measure of flavour. I was thrilled by their menu and ordered a coffee with raw organic milk (so creamy and divine) and a massive Bonita salad bowl with purple and savoy cabbage, pickled onions, avocado and a cilantro lime vinaigrette and chicken.
I admit that I crammed a lot of fitness and healthy eating into one short weekend but it was more than satisfying and illustrates that there is no excuse for losing touch with your fitness goals while enjoying a change of scenery.
Indeed, I thrive on a change of scenery. “Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind,“ Seneca, the Roman pholosopher, proclaimed. I am happy to add, after my Santa Cruz break, that there are similar benefits for one’s physical self.
Above: After the workouts, Santa Cruz's restaurants offer some fine dining options.