Sea glass shimmered in the morning sun. A pod of dolphins flipped over the glassy waves, dodging pelicans dive-bombing into the water. Other than a woman trailing her retriever, I was the only person on the sand. Behind me, a tree-dotted cliff jutted upward. Aptos, Calif., tucked just inland from lively Santa Cruz, offers a much-needed dose of tranquillity along Monterey Bay's bustling coast. The tab: $500 for two nights for a beach house rented through Cheshire Rio. Extras: fish tacos and margaritas at Manuel's, $73; appetizers and local wine at Cantine, $79.
Cheshire Rio (107 Aptos Beach Drive, Aptos;  260-2041, http://www.cheshire-rio.com) is a well-regarded vacation rental company, with offerings that range from studios to six-bedroom homes in the beach communities of Seacliff and Rio del Mar. There is a two-night minimum and a $400 security/cleaning deposit. Because it was off-season, we were upgraded from two bedrooms to a four-bedroom beach-chic abode ablaze with modern art, pastel-hued sleeping rooms and three outdoor sitting areas. In contrast to our noisy city nights, all we could hear here after dark were waves crashing on the sand.
Manuel's Mexican Restaurant (261 Center Ave., Aptos;  688-4848, http://www.manuelsrestaurant.com) is celebrating the 50th anniversary of making what some say is Santa Cruz County's best salsa. It's the liveliest spot in town, so call ahead for reservations on weekends. The dimly lighted dining room lures local surfers who chomp chips and guacamole while downing pitchers of margaritas. Fish tacos and other daily specials are the deals to score. Afterward, wander across the street for freshly made banana or coconut ice cream at Marianne's (218 State Park Drive, Aptos;  713-4746). We rode bikes to grab breakfast and lunch fixings at the Aptos Farmers Market (Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos). Views of the ocean, live music and picturesque produce started Saturday morning off right. That evening, we headed to the new Cantine (8050 Soquel Drive, Aptos;  612-6191, http://www.cantinewinepub.com), a spacious wine pub decked out like a globe-trotting thirtysomething's living room, with funky pillows and games scattered throughout. It serves a dizzying number of local wines on tap, paired with tapas such as tortilla Española and house-made meatballs.
We descended the Beachgate Trail to Seacliff State Beach (201 State Park Drive; parks.ca.gov). Crafted with love, the trail features prolific blackberry bushes, a log hand-carved in the shape of a boat and decorated with flowering plants, and stunning views of spouting whales and a partially submerged concrete freighter (yep, the Palo Alto was build of concrete), now a seabird breeding ground and attractive destination for sea lions. If the guano smell is overpowering, you can walk or bike from Seacliff Beach to New Brighton Beach, Rio del Mar, Platforms and Hidden Beach, trolling for sea glass, a local pastime.
The lesson learned
Everything in Aptos closes early, so slowing down is simple. Late at night, we sat on the deck sharing a bottle of local vino and wishing we too could live the slow life.
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