The iconic landmarks & can’t-miss institutions
Continue exploring the people, places and the lore that make Boulder Creek, Brookdale and Ben Lomond such a unique place.
Everyone who lives up here has their favorite spots, to either bring visitors for a glimpse of our natural beauty and taste of our unique locale, or to spend some time solo.
Some of these places don’t smack you in the face with obviousness, and it might behoove you to return a few times, to explore and let the discoveries unfold bit by bit.
Even after living up here for fifteen years, I have to admit I’ve never been to Loch Lomond (I know, it’s crazy). But I was a board member of the Alba Schoolhouse and am sorry you didn’t see those original golden wood floors.
Big Basin: Established in 1902, Big Basin is California’s oldest state park and home to gigantic ancient growth redwood trees. In 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex fire tore through here, and the park is now in a reimagining phase.
Loch Lomond: While this reservoir is owned and operated by the Santa Cruz Water Department, functioning as a water storage area, the lake and surrounding recreational environs are a somewhat secret spot for fishing, hiking, and boating.
Quail Hollow Ranch County Park: This 300-acre nature preserve is a one-stop spot for pond lingering, hiking, picnicking, horse-watching, and meadow meandering. The ranch has a long history, including the thirty year ownership by Ruth and Larry Lane, who also owned Sunset Magazine, and used the property for the magazine’s garden and kitchen testing site. In the last week of my pregnancy nine years ago, I tottered around the paths here, biding my time in the serenity of the pond.
Castle Rock: While this state park is technically in Los Gatos, the rock itself, which is up on one of the highest crests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, towers over the entire San Lorenzo Valley and offers incredible views of the valley below. Plus, there’s awesome rock climbing and hiking adventures and even a walk-in campground with 20 ridgeline sites.
Alba Schoolhouse: Among the heartbreaking losses of the CZU fire was the Alba Road Schoolhouse in Ben Lomond. Built in 1895, the one-room schoolhouse was moved from China Grade in Boulder Creek to Alba Road in 1934. It functioned as a school until 1944, and then became a remote branch of the Santa Cruz Public Library System until 2007. After that, neighbors and residents (including myself) used it as a community space, for monthly potlucks and the legendary, annual 4th of July celebration. Ten years ago, my husband and I got married there, ringing the antique school bell the moment we sealed the deal, then launching into a big party out in the parking lot under the trees. A live concert by Coffee Zombie Collective was our playlist, and then Penny Ice Creamery set up an ice cream sundae bar in lieu of a cake. A campaign to rebuild the schoolhouse has begun.
Scopazzi’s: Old-school Italian, with legit table-side Caesar salad service, and strong martinis at the bar. Dimly lit with redwood and glass lanterns at each table, this is the “special occasion” restaurant, but also just a place for a drink on the way home.
The Brookdale Lodge: Is it haunted? Is it cursed? Is it famous? Yes, all of the above. The lore around The Brookdale Lodge is vast and deep, with themes of ghosts and mermaids and Hollywood A-listers and Al Capone and loganberries and arson and toxic waste to be found if you dig in. Also it has always been a lively music venue, hosting big names and obscure indie bands over the years. One time Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros played here for $10...which I missed, and regret every day since.
Henflings: If the walls could talk at this historic roadhouse smack in the middle of Ben Lomond between the hardware store and the fire station. Some call it a biker bar, some call it a music venue, some call it a restaurant, and it’s all of the above and more. Recent ownership and management changes have spiffed things up a bit, so don’t be scared to check it out. The little porch out front is a great vantage point to watch Highway 9 traffic.
The Tyrolean Inn: There aren’t too many theme restaurants around these parts, but you could probably call The Tyrolean Inn in Ben Lomond our one and only. It has been slinging out generous and surprisingly authentic portions of German and Austrian food from a mountain chalet since 1970, complete with gigantic steins of imported beer on tap, annual Oktoberfest parties and even a bounce house in the summer for the kids. During the pandemic, The Tyrolean was closed for an extended period of time, and a lot of us wondered if that was the end for good. But some new owners have reopened and we are glad, if for no other reason than a place to snack on some spaetzle and a Märzenbier and ponder what goes on in the little cabins out back.
Joe’s Bar: Some folks say that if you haven’t been to Joe’s in Boulder Creek, you haven’t been to Boulder Creek at all. It’s not the place to bring the kids, or to order some craft cocktail with fancy ice. It’s a true bar, to session drink and play some pool and reminisce with friends.
Mountain Feed & Farm Supply: This may be the newest institution on this list, but it’s certainly still a valley institution and should not be skipped. At one time known as a “homesteader’s convenience store”, this is a one stop shop for dog food, house plants, cool candles, artisan handmade bags, succulents, cocktail bitters, tomato starts...heck, they even have potato chips for sale at the front counter now. You will find something you didn’t know you needed but have to have, and everyone who works there could become a great friend.