College Road Trip: Day 1 – UC Santa Cruz

We flew into San Jose, California yesterday to a lovely spring afternoon and started by figuring out how to pick up the car that Ford’s loaned us for the trip, a C-MAX Hybrid. In an ironic twist, it’s the same color, “Candy Blue”, as a photo I posted a few days ago on Facebook showing the vehicle. It’s a really bright blue. In fact, when we saw it my 16yo A- immediately fell in love. “Oh my God, I love the color of this car.”

Score: Ford +1

Our first stop was to get some snacks, so we, of course, went to Trader Joe’s, and it turns out that there’s one literally within a mile of the airport, which is either really good planning or just a result of the airport being right in the middle of San Jose. Probably the latter. While there, I took a photo of the C-MAX:

Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Candy Blue

We love Trader Joe’s, so were happily buzzing around looking at all the food we could purchase if we had a fridge and kitchen. Can’t wait for the one in Boulder to open, for sure. We did walk out with carrots, blueberries, dried mango, pre-cut watermelon and popcorn. Munchies for in the car, y’know. Good stuff!

From TJ’s, we figured out the navigational system on the C-MAX, punched in the address of The University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) and headed past my old Silicon Valley stomping ground of Campbell and Los Gatos. Tempted to stop but instead as we headed up Highway 17 towards the ocean, we detoured to visit our old house up in the mountains. I was happy to see that they still had our swing set up and the house itself still looks gorgeous (and remote, which is why we sold it). I was a bit surprised that I had to really drive in circles to find the place, rather than have that memory just click into place. I guess 12 years away is a long time after all.

Next stop was UCSC and, truth be told, I wasn’t sure it’d appeal to A- at all and figured we’d just spend a few minutes driving past. Instead, we stopped at the visitor center, picked up a pile of brochures and paperwork, then drove up into campus. Unlike most college campuses that seem to be located on flat ground, UCSC is located on a series of big hills above Santa Cruz proper and is very spread out, with winding paths between stands of old-growth redwoods. Gorgeous, for sure.

Here’s a scenic panorama of the view from on campus, looking out over the Monterey Bay:

Monterey Bay from UCSC

Rather to my surprise, A- was quite impressed with the school, the campus, and everything we visited. On the advice of the visitor center employee, we paid for a parking permit, then parked near the library and walked around, checking out both the library and the bookstore / student center. Since we’d timed it in the week between finals and summer term, it was very quiet, but there were still individual and groups of students wandering around or socializing. Very relaxing, very low key.

I bought her a notebook so she could keep track of the schools we visit, and she decided to write down “pros” and “cons” for each. UCSC rated a lot of pros and a smaller number of cons, one of which made me laugh: “mascot”. Yes, the mascot of UC Santa Cruz is Sammi Slug, a banana slug. I pointed out that it’s unique, at least, but she wasn’t impressed. Still, I don’t even know the mascot of the schools I attended in college, so I’m guessing that’s not a deciding factor in the end.

Heading down to Monterey, we suffered through some abysmal traffic that reminded me of one of the other reasons we left the Bay Area: too darn many people. Yech. Finally made it to one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants, Dharma’s, and had a terrific dinner.

From there we made a pit stop at a farm stand near Castroville. Amazing. Such big, tasty fruits, strawberries that were deep red, fruit and vegetables that had actual smell.

fruit stand, highway 1

I buy organic and try to stick with foods grown near us, but it was really obvious that the best produce grown near Colorado doesn’t hold a candle to the California produce with its milder weather. We picked up grapefruit, an orange, an apple, a basket of strawberries and some corn nuts 🙂  Definitely had a moment of food envy.

Today we’re going to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and – winds permitting – do some ocean kayaking in the bay. We might visit Cal State Monterey Bay, but if we do, it’d be the least prestigious of all the colleges on our road trip, and probably not worth the cost of an out of state tuition. But then again, I don’t know much about the campus, so perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. We’ll see.

Tomorrow, we’ll head further down the coast in our C-MAX to San Luis Obispo to visit Cal Poly

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