Explore Watsonville's bountyMarta Yamamoto, Contra Costa Times
Located in the lush Pajaro Valley, Watsonville is a pastoral, scenic destination that combines agriculture, culture and nature, all within easy driving distance.
Fertile soil and a Mediterranean climate produce a bounty of more than 60 crops, including apples, berries, lettuce, artichokes and fresh flowers. In the downtown area, historic 1880s storefronts and a central plaza blend with businesses that highlight Watsonville's Hispanic population. The downtown boundaries also are home to a thriving wetland with diverse bird populations.
Time passes quickly on a visit filled with harvesting from the pick-your-own farms and nurseries at the eastern boundary, ambling and sampling along Main Street and exploring nature's waterways in the west.
Summer months bring berry picking at Gizdich Ranch. The Bake Shop also offers 11 kinds of pie, sold whole or by the slice, and sandwiches. Take home apple, very berry, boysenberry or raspberry choices or enjoy them at the farm-style picnic area. The gift shop sells jams, collectibles and gift baskets.
The choices at family-owned Sierra Azul include plants that thrive in Mediterranean climates and outdoor art. The nursery attractively displays natives, succulents, salvias and manzanitas, grouped in islands with wide pathways for walking. A 2-acre demonstration garden teems with bird life and uses outdoor sculptures to show off mature plant groupings.
Nearby, the Agricultural History Project museum showcases the people and crops that put Watsonville on the map. Exhibits include "When Apples Were King" and "Pick Now, Eat Later." A bright red caboose highlights the importance of the railroad, and the Porter Implement Shed contains tools of the trade, including reapers and binders.
Browse Main Street
Victorian buildings and storefronts reflect the architecture of Watsonville's beginnings in the 1880s. Prolific architect William H. Weeks worked in several styles. Several of his buildings are highlighted among 13, including the city plaza, on a walking and driving tour.
Another walking tour takes visitors past 15 fruit label art murals that adorn city buildings and reflect the fierce competition in the apple industry during the early 19th century. The murals highlight the bright colors and bold images of California Mission, Iris and Golondrina brand apples.
Watsonville's ethnic heritage is evident in the retail district with supermercados, carnercerias and taquerias. A favorite is Discoteca Oaxaca, where music CDs, movie DVDs, sandals and brightly colored yarns evoke a store, or tienda, in Mexico. All things fiesta are for sale at Maria's Dulceria, including candy, snacks and colorful piatas suspended from the ceiling.
Time to eat
Breakfast is a popular all-day meal in Watsonville. Red Apple Cafe serves generous portions of specialty meal-size potatoes, biscuits and gravy, chorizo scramble and French toast. The menu choices, including popular pesto scramble and eggs and bacon, at Cowboy Corner Cafe boast a homemade taste. Beach Street Diner has a streetcar-look and attracts locals with favorites such as crab and shrimp omelet, linguia omelet and pecan waffles.
For an inexpensive, quick lunch, the $2 tamales, $4 burritos and $1.75 tacos at the Tamal Factory are hard to beat, including a dessert tamale packed with pineapple and raisins.
Water and birds
The 800-acre Wetlands of Watsonville, in the heart of town, provides year-round habitat for more than 200 species of waterfowl, as well as a resting stop for migrating birds. The Trail and Nature Center uses bilingual exhibits to teach about diverse marsh habitats, their inhabitants and the sounds they make.
Many trails wind through the area, offering prime birding opportunities. The Watsonville Slough trail will take visitors past dense riparian landscape trilling with bird song.
West of Watsonville sits Sunset State Beach, not a bad place to end the day. Standing on the sandy beach offers a panorama view of California's famous coastline. The beach and dunes attract dolphins, sandpipers and the snowy plover, as well as beachgoers. The park contains numerous walking trails, picnic areas and campgrounds.
There's a lot to be said for quiet Watsonville. A lot of attention is spent on the land and those lucky enough to benefit from it.
IF YOU GO:
-Gizdich Ranch - 55 Peckham Road, 831-722-1056, www.gizdich-ranch.com
-Sierra Azul - 2660 E. Lake Ave., 831-728-2532, www.sierraazul.com
-Agricultural History Project museum - 2601 E. Lake Ave. at the Santa Cruz Fairgrounds, 831-724-5898, www.aghistoryproject.org.
-Guides - Historic Main Street Walking Guide available at http://tinyurl.com/3sxnv7z
-Historic Label Art Murals Guide available at http://tinyurl.com/3rbd6hy.
-Discoteca Oaxaca - 550 Main St., 831-761-3613
-Maria's Dulceria - 9 E. Beach St., 831-728-2841
PLACES TO EAT:
-Red Apple Cafe - 589 Auto Court Dr., 831-761-9551
-Cowboy Corner Cafe - 946 Main St., 831-761-8996
-Beach Street Diner - 435 W. Beach St., 831-761-0544
-Tamal Factory - 611 Main St., 831-724-7214
-Wetlands of Watsonville - 30 Harkins Slough Road, 831-768-1622; www.wetlandsofwatsonville.org
-Sunset State Beach - 201 Sunset Beach Road, 831-763-7063, http://tinyurl.com/4yuqzyu.