Felton is all about the redwoods. You can hike under them, chug past them, fly between them or just sit with a drink in your hand and gaze up at them.
Felton, population 4,000, tucked in the woods just minutes north of Santa Cruz, has an old-growth forest and miles of hiking trails. Don’t feel like walking? You can ride the rails through the woods. Roaring Camp Railroads’ open-car steam trains are the big-boy versions of the Griffith Park steamers, with engines dating from the 1890s. Or you can fly from tree to tree on a zip-line course 150 feet up with Mount Hermon Adventures. My son’s broken arm kept us from zipping this trip, but it’s a blast.
The tab: cabin, $121 per night; dinner for two at Cremer House, $68; breakfast at Rocky’s Café, $32; two steam train tickets, $54; parking fee at state park, $10; picnic provisions, $18.
Fern River Resort feels like a summer camp (5250 Highway 9, Felton;  335-4412. Check website for phone hours and check-in times.). The cabins at this family-run spot are what led us to Felton. You open the windows on cool nights and listen to the San Lorenzo River just yards away. In the morning, you sit on your back porch, watching the water meander past. The cabins are quaint, if sometimes quirky. The shower head in one cabin was so low I had to duck under it (I’m 5 feet, 3 inches tall). But if you wanted the Intercontinental, you wouldn’t be in Felton. Our cabin slept four and had a small kitchen.
For breakfast, head to Rocky’s Café (6560 Highway 9;  335-4637) and sit in the sun-soaked enclosed porch. After home fries and eggs or the butter-covered French toast sandwich (it’s as sinful as it sounds), you might want to curl up on a bench and let the morning rays warm you. The waitress is so amiable, she just might let you. Dinner is at the Cremer House (6256 Highway 9;  335-3976) in an 1874 building once home to Thomas Cremer’s Grand Central Hotel. You can get bison meatballs on creamy polenta or go the opposite route with the beet burger, and wash down whichever with a choice of two dozen craft beers — or house-made sodas (almond and cherry is a standout). You’ll want to finish with either the butterscotch chocolate oatmeal cookies with salted caramel ice cream or the apple cider doughnuts with caramel sauce.
Stroll among the giants at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (101 N. Big Trees Park Road;  335-4598), home to an old-growth grove, and see if you can pick out which is the tallest tree at 277 feet. Maybe you’ll run into students from nearby UC Santa Cruz hiking or mountain biking on single-track trails. Or maybe you’ll come across a neon yellow banana slug, the school’s mascot and a native here. You’ll definitely want to start on the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. Stand up in the fire-hollowed Fremont Tree that Gen. John C. Fremont is said to have camped in when he and Kit Carson passed through in 1846.
The lessons learned
You can walk from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to Roaring Camp Railroads (5401 Graham Hill Road, Felton;  335-4484), or vice versa, saving the short drive and the double parking fee. For a picnic lunch at either place, choose provisions from the hot and cold food bars at New Leaf Community Market (6240 Highway 9;  335-7322).