For more stories like this, check out The Chronicle’s weekly Travel newsletter! Sign up here.

After years as the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s director of communications and a TV producer who worked on 10 Olympic Games — including Sydney, Beijing and Torino — Deborah Luhrman counts 89 total countries visited. Her adventures include leading the first press trip to a free Uzbekistan and peeking in on the gorillas in the mist in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

Along the way, she’s gathered more than passport stamps.

“What I really learned is every place has its special thing,” she says. “If you’re a traveler, it’s incumbent to try that thing while you’re there.” She has smuggled coca leaf tea back from Bolivia, discovered that Mali has wonderful homemade shea butter lotions and can’t leave Jordan without several tins of bite-size baklava.

Today she makes her home in Santa Cruz, where her passions include playing tennis and growing tomatoes, olallieberries, squash and cucumbers — and, in the early evening, taking a glass of wine out to the garden to “sit on the bench and watch the vegetables grow.”

“I just love how productive this area is, how you can grow almost anything, and the longtime dedication to organic farming,” she says. “Then living near the ocean gives a kind of mental freedom, and being able to hike through close-by redwood forests is just the icing on the cake.”

As the editor-publisher of Edible Monterey Bay magazine, she makes it her professional obligation to know the best places to eat and drink. “We’re lucky there are so many products with a sense of place here,” she says, citing the treats like Big Sur Marmalade from Jordan Champagne at Happy Girl and the California chorizo from El Salchichero, among others.

Her international experience comes in handy, helping inform which spots she favors, though she also loves what she calls “very Santa Cruz/Californian,” like the strong slate of local farmers’ markets. (Her favorite is the Aptos market Saturday mornings for Companion Bakeshop walnut-raisin bread, Cayucos oranges, Coke Farms flour and various Asian vegetables.)

Here she highlights a range of favorites.

La Posta in Santa Cruz

This neighborhood Italian restaurant in the heart of Santa Cruz reminds Luhrman of a cozy family-owned trattoria in Eastern Europe. “I think it’s the warm yellow light and those antique postcard pendant lamps over the bar when you first walk in,” she says. The menu is very seasonal and is constantly changing, so she struggles to pick out a favorite dish, but adds that she almost always goes on Tuesdays for Neighborhood Night, when a seasonal pizza or pasta and a glass of the house wine, an excellent Tuscan Sangiovese, run $20, and there is live Gypsy music. “Right now there is a nettles pizza with local mushrooms to die for,” she adds.

5 p.m.-close Tuesday-Sunday, 538 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, 831-457-2782, www.lapostarestaurant.com

Crema

In this converted Victorian house, Luhrman loves the great coffee drinks (she goes for the latte), rich pastries (croissant with ham and cheese, please) and the steep, creaky staircase up to the dining room that feels to her like Old World Holland. She’s also a fan of the generous comfort food, like the chicken and waffles, cheddar-bacon biscuits and gravy, or crab cakes and eggs. “I try to get brunch every time I stay on that side of town.” Brunch happens 8 a.m.-2 p.m. seven days a week.

7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, 481 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, (831) 324-0347, www.cremapg.com


Land of the Medicine Buddha

LOTMB is a meditation retreat and working Buddhist community in a wonderland of Santa Cruz Mountains flora and fauna. Subtract the redwood trees, and Luhrman’s favorite hiking spot could be in Southeast Asia, Thailand or Sri Lanka. “I love it because it’s peaceful and you feel like you’re in a different country, and it’s only a few minutes away,” she says. Temples, Buddhist lessons and prayer wheels appear around the winding paths, and its end presents a trail into the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, 5800 Prescott Road, Soquel, (831) 462-8383, www.landofmedicinebuddha.org

Corralitos Market & Sausage Co.

At this working deli, overstuffed with house-made sausages and activity, Luhrman’s advice is grab a sausage sandwich and drive five minutes to one of the worthy wineries in the area for a picnic. “You could be in the French countryside,” she says. Alfaro Family Vineyards, Nicholson Vineyards and Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery all await nearby, as does the celebrated Corralitos Brewing Co. “Everybody at the market is so industrious,” she says. “It’s definitely homey, local, super-friendly, and they carry such an eclectic assortment of items.”

8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, 569 Corralitos Road, Watsonville, (831) 722-2633, www.corralitosmarketsausagecompany.com

Jeninni Kitchen

Here the contemporary design and high ceilings echo the creative and delicious fusion flavors from Spain and Levant, done with local flourishes and Old World hospitality from hands-on owner Thamin Saleh. She flips for the eggplant fries, lamb meatballs with lemon-tahini sauce and the chicken liver pate with persimmon puree and pistachios. “The sophisticated Mediterranean flavors are oddly comforting and familiar for someone who sometimes misses being out on the road,” she says. “Now I’m getting hungry.”

4 p.m.-close daily except Wednesday, 542 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, (831) 920-2662, www.jeninni.com


Inn at Spanish Bay

Out on the back flank of the popular resort, adjacent to rolling golf links and the Pacific behind it, the expansive patio features a great mix of big fire pits, cocktails and beautiful views to the coast. The bagpiper who materializes from the dunes at sunset is required listening. Also: Ask for the $10 Spanish Bay rebate on the Pebble Beach entry fee at the gate.

3-11 p.m. daily, 2700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, (831) 574-5605, www.pebblebeach.com

Paradise Beach Grill Room

Here the coziest spot with the best view is behind the bar by the fireplace. The California wines and supper options (jumbo crab-stuffed prawns, Thai rubbed halibut) pair with the waterside setting and nice views of colorful Venetian-style cottages. “This is my very personal favorite place to go out,” she says, “probably because it’s where (my husband and I) finally made the decision to move back home from all the travels.”

11:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m. and 5 p.m.-close (kitchen closes 9-9:30 p.m. Monday-Sunday), 215 Esplanade, Capitola, (831) 476-4900, www.paradisebeachgrille.com

Mark C. Anderson is a freelance writer in Seaside (Monterey County). Email: travel@sfchronicle.com



Source link