The crisp, saline air awakens me, blending with the tangy-mint aroma of eucalyptus. As I rise and step onto the porch, I am embraced by chilly, cleansing fog that has rolled off the ocean last night. It still smells refreshing and salty. As I clutch my warm mug of wildflower tea, I smile because I have the privilege of being in my favorite place: Santa Cruz, California.
Tucked along the northern edge of Monterey Bay, at the intersection of Highway 17 and Highway 1, Santa Cruz is a quirky, liberal town best known for redwoods, hippies, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. As a San Jose native, Santa Cruz (32 miles south of my hometown) has been my favorite place to visit since I was seven years old. For over a decade, my love of this unique beachfront city has grown, and my familiarity with it has solidified. Walking along Seabright Beach in the early morning sea mist, I am home. The buff-colored sand (soft and fine compared to the beaches of southern Monterey Bay) beneath my toes is a magic carpet, taking me exactly where I want to be: here. Standing next to Walton Lighthouse, with the Santa Cruz Harbor on my left, I hear the ocean crash against the concrete barrier surrounding me and breathe in calmly. The salty air in Santa Cruz is cleaner, fresher: it brings me serenity and comfort. While this is a busy city, with a bustling downtown and numerous tourists, I still find it quite a calm place. People here are more relaxed, more at ease with life than the citizens of my hometown.
Santa Cruz truly embodies balance. Busy roads but quiet beaches; a flashy Boardwalk but historic missions and houses; chilly, foggy mornings but clear and sunny afternoons. As I hike among the majestic and towering redwoods of the University of California Santa Cruz campus, I am reminded of this balance. Ocean to the west, wooded mountains to the east, a perfect town cradled between the two. Here, between forest and sea, between water and sky, I am at peace.