Road Trip to Santa Cruz & Monterey–Our favorite Vegan Restaurants & Organic Farms

It’s been up to 106 degrees all week here in the Central Valley without much relief in sight, so a little weekend getaway was just what the doctor ordered!  So, at 7 am Friday we jumped into action, and by 10 am we were on the road.  I washed and packed clothes, made beds and breakfast smoothies, showered, dressed, and straightened up the house. My trusty partner of 50 years handled all our travel food-getting us on the road in record time! 

Dr. Fuhrman’s Creamy Balsamic Dressing-and Salads ready to go!

Even if we don’t have time to prep food, I always travel with healthy dressing.  You can pick up salad anywhere, but oil and salt-laden dressings will sabotage your health goals.  In a pinch, balsamic or flavored vinegars, lemon juice, or salsa make good choices.

I am so grateful for Dan’s willingness to partner with me in this health venture.  He was raised on traditional Mexican food, and throughout our marriage we typically ate meat and dairy products several times daily, and processed and fast foods many times a week for over forty years.  I am thankful that we attended a Dr. Fuhrman Getaway together, and when presented with the overwhelming evidence provided by the latest Nutritional Science, he agreed to go “all in” on this Nutritarian lifestyle with me.

This guy is my hero!

Prior to beginning this journey eight years ago, Dan’s cooking skills were seriously limited.  Now, he helps me with much of the prep work.  He chops fruit, salad, and veggie ingredients, and steams and stir-fries tasty concoctions.  Meanwhile, I make soups, dressings, main dishes, and desserts to go in the freezer.  Teamwork is a real plus when transitioning from fast and processed foods to cooking from scratch.  If you don’t have a spouse to help, consider challenging an older child or friend to join you on this health journey and batch cook with them.

A question we are often asked is: “How do you manage to stay on track and continue to eat well when you are traveling?” It can be tricky, but with a little pre-planning, it is possible not to derail your health and weight loss goals on vacation.  This trip we were fortunate to be staying at my brother and sister-in-law’s beautiful ranch in Aromas while they were away, so we knew we would have a home base with a frig-which is so helpful. If we know we will be staying in a hotel we always make sure there are a mini frig and microwave, and usually, there is a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s nearby where we can pick up foods to prep in the room.  For this trip, Danny pre-chopped all our salad veggies and cut up lots of luscious melon and fruit.  I made a quick batch of “Tu-no” Salad and dressings, and we were on our way.

You’ll never miss tuna, once you’ve tried our tu-no (chickpea) Salad!

We also pack things like veggie burgers, chocolate zucchini brownies (or any healthy sweet treats we have in the freezer), some raw, unsalted trail mix, and fresh fruit like bananas, apples and oranges. The key is to have something you can grab on the run so that you don’t become overly hungry and make bad choices. Since everything was prepared in advance, it took less than five minutes to serve up this yummy salad and fresh fruit once we arrived.

Breakfast is either steel-cut oats with fruit or a smoothie

We were up and out of the house early Saturday morning, eager to make it to the Pinnacle Organic Produce Farm in San Juan Bautista. This little gem is a well-kept secret!  Where else are you going to find beautiful organic produce at these prices?  If you live near the Monterey Peninsula it is well worth a drive out there.  They are also at many local Farmer’s Markets, but the prices are a little higher than at the Farm Stand.

Saturday’s 8am-1pm 400 Duncan Ave. San Juan Bautista, CA
Here is our Saturday morning haul Pinnacle Organic Farm San Juan Bautista
Can you believe these prices!?! Oh, how I wish I lived closer!

Then we were on the road again! To avoid traffic, we took the back roads through Watsonville and Corralitos on the way to Santa Cruz. We were pleasantly surprised to discover several Organic Farms along the way, here is one we loved…

Prices for the Live Earth Farm Stand in Watsonville, CA.
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Live Earth U-Pick Farm
Green Valley Road Watsonville, CA

As you can imagine, we worked up quite an appetite by the time we made it to Santa Cruz.   If this weren’t our old stomping’ grounds, I would have already used my “Happy Cow” app to locate healthy vegan options in the area.  I love to peruse the menus online and get some idea of “healthier than” options in advance, so I feel confident that we can find something we will enjoy.

We decided on Café Gratitude in downtown Santa Cruz.  Okay, full disclosure–I picked Café Gratitude.  I love the organic earthiness of the atmosphere-and trying new dishes.  Their Caesar Salad is amazing, and people were raving about their BLT Sandwich, made with maple chipotle coconut bacon.  All their “cheeses” and sauces are delicious and really take the dishes to the next level. Dan is not so adventurous—he likes to stick to what he knows he likes and where we can both share a meal for $10-15.  Our go-to back home is Baja Fresh. We can get 2 side salads and a side of black or pinto beans, rice, salsa and corn tortillas for about $12, and we both walk away full and happy.  This was understandably a little pricier, but so worth getting to enjoy organic ingredients and quality vegan cooking.

Dan had their tacos and garlic roasted potatoes topped with spicy cashew chipotle “cheese”, and I decided on the “Grateful” community bowl-a simple dish of grains, beans and kale with drizzled garlic tahini sauce.  The sauces really take these basic dishes to the next level. For dessert, we shared a yummy banana pudding.

Another place we enjoy is Dharma’s in Capitola.  If options are limited, Whole Foods is always a safe bet–they all have salad bars, and a hot deli with vegan options.  Keep in mind that while vegan, many dishes will still be prepared with salt, sugar or oil, so it is important to read the ingredients and ask for dishes to be modified when possible. Also, many of the delicious vegan sauces and desserts are made with nuts and dates, so be sure to take this into consideration when ordering.  When we splurge on dessert we order one dish and two forks!

I’m sad to say that most of my life I lived 30 minutes from the glorious California Coastline and rarely took time from the busyness of life to enjoy it with my family.  Somehow the years just slipped away. Now that I live in the hot, dry Central Valley, I long for that ocean breeze. So, when I get the opportunity to explore, I no longer take it for granted. I always look for new places of interest to eat, hike, and take pictures, and am so grateful for the health to enjoy all the beauty that surrounds us.

On Sunday we headed to Monterey and had lunch at our new favorite place-Julia’s in Pacific Grove.  Even if you aren’t vegan, I promise you will find something to love here. We invited our friend and website designer Briana to join us, and she was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food was as well. While Café Gratitude’s food is tasty, Julia’s dishes are more a work of art-the presentation is lovely and the flavor profiles outstanding. All the dishes we selected were bursting with flavor.

Iris Salad

Roasted Carrots, cauliflower, kabocha squash, butternut squash, yam, zucchini, pumpkin seeds, and a creamy tahini dressing

Mexican-inspired casserole layered with polenta, spinach, mushrooms, pinto beans and poblano red sauce

Yellow Coconut Curry

Julia’s signature curry wth roasted rainbow carrots, kobocha squash, yams, butternut squash, cauliflower, and zucchini

GF Chocolate Brownie

Rich and moist with walnuts and dried cherries. Served with their signature vegan coconut-caramel sauce


And the chocolate cherry brownie that we split 3 ways topped off the meal perfectly!

Thanks for joining us on this road trip!  While our motto is “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels”, I hope that all these wonderful dishes we’ve shared help you realize that eating plant-based is not a fate to be dreaded, but the beginning of a delicious, healthy future to be celebrated.  We still love to eat, but now we eat to live!

Please let us know how we can encourage you on your health and weight loss journey!

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