I could have put this in the "shopping tips" section, but most of the time we browse the antique and redwood burl shops that line Hwy 9 in the Ben Lomond area, we don't do much buying. On the other hand, we have returned home several times with one or another piece of furniture crammed into the car. The redwood burls, bears, and other chain saw art are made from the rare timber felled in the area. The Santa Cruz Mountain artists are quite talented and do nice work. Antique shops stock everything from imported furniture from Indonesia, to locally made hardwood furniture, to used cast iron fencing and garden ornaments. The curvy roads of the Santa Cruz mountains make for a nice romantic get-a-way.
Located just north of Ben Lomond is Big Basin, the oldest state park in California (founded in 1902) and home of the largest protected area of Coastal Redwoods south of San Francisco. There you'll find over 80 miles of hiking and biking trails, some of which go as far as to reach the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean some 15 miles away! Also, you'll find many ravines and small canyons filed with Redwood forrests and even waterfalls.
Even though Henry Cowell is far more accessible, Big Basin is for those who really do want to "get into nature."
Although not located in Ben Lomond--it's down in the town's southern neighbor Felton along Highway 9--this small state park is well worth a visit for nature lovers. The park covers over 3000 acres and has around 20 miles of hiking trails, taking you along paths that go up to some of the tallest trees on the planet; the tallest being nearly 300 ft tall (!) and oldest almost 1800 years old. This means that some of the trees here have been around since the time the Roman legions were marching across Europe.
Take at least 90 minutes to explore this park if you are in a hurry, to enjoy the deep forest and extra clean air that abounds. A visitor's center is also available if you'd like more information on these magnificent trees.
This place is a hybrid of popular tastes. One half of the place is devoted to pizza and Italian-style sandwiches; the other a coffeehouse to sit back and read a book or paper. Or you can do both if you got the stomach.
This is a good place to stop by and grab a bite to eat or get a cup of joe.
It's hard to decide whether to classifiy this as a restaurant or thing to do tip half the fun of this event is looking over the antique fire trucks and talking to locals. But, this is a breakfast fundraiser for the volunteer fire fighers of Ben Lomond. This community needs good equipment to fight fires in the redwoods, mostly among the tinderbox cabins and houses, many of which are nearly a century old and buried in debris dropped by the trees. Also, the winding mountain roads are poorly served by regular emergency health ambulances, so the fire fighter contribution to rescue senior citizens is a real one. The contribution of $6 p/person donations brings pancakes, eggs, and sausages, orange juice, and coffee. Not a bad deal. Check the web link for the fire department for this once annual event which has a long history.
Ciao Bella is like a weird Terry Gilliam movie + '50s paraphernalia + Italian food...and somehow it all connects here. All over the walls, you'll find pictures of pop icons, movie posters, Polariods of staff and customers, as well as hourly entertainment on the stage with dancers (yes, dancers).
With this kind of ambiance, you'd think this place would belong somwhere like San Francisco or New York--but nope, it's here in Ben Lomond. This is perhaps the most engaging, most funky, and most fun restaurant in all of Santa Cruz County.
Favorite Dish: Anything from the pasta menus is great. Also a good bottle of wine goes along with it good.
Henflings is Ben Lomond's live venue, which dubs also as a biker hangout, a watering hole for locals, rest stop for people going up Highway 9, and a popular place for folk musicians to hang out. It all sounds like a mish-mash, but it's true. Henflings is a cool place to hang out, get a drink, chat with people, and if you're in the mood, to listen to music.
Poison Oak is endemic throughout the Santa Cruz mountains, so avoid it or expect an uncomfortable rash. Sensitivity varies with individuals and exposure, but the immune response can actually get worse with repeated exposure to the active chemical ingredient. Some individuals severe response may require hospitalization. The plant is dormant in winter, so while it's possible to get a rash from dead twigs, it's less likely. During the active growing season, the leaves are green and tender, much like an oak leaf, and tend to be less potent. In my experience, the worse time of year to get a good rash is during the fall when the leaves turn fall colors. You can also get a good case of the rash by sleeping with a dog who has walked through the forest brush, while the animal itself will not be affected. Seek medical advice if the rash turns into serious swelling or persists for awhile, but often simply reducing the itchy feeling with vinegar will help. The best solution is to avoid walking through the brush. Trails are often cleared of the plant, and with practice, you will learn to identify and avoid it. See the photo and links...
By no means is Ben Lomond a dangerous town. Crime is extremely infrequent, with the occasional break-in and fight being one the major incidents that might come up in the local paper. Nevertheless, just take some precautions when coming. As a rule, don't pick up hitch-hikers. The San Lorenzo Valley attracts a lot of hippies and new-agers from all over America and California, who might not have the money to drive or catch a bus up. Either way, some of these characters might by shady, so it's probably best to not pick them up.
Although your personal safety is probably a non-issue, getting lost in the forest is. Walking in some of the deep forest around the surrounding San Lorenzo Valley is a great way to get in nature, but also a great way to get potentially lost. Stick to trails when walking. If you don't want to, please remember where you've come from. A cell phone will always be handy.
If you're ever in need, please get in touch with the Santa Cruz County Sherriff's Office, who have jurisdiction in Ben Lomond. You can also contact the state police--the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
If you're ever in an unlikely emergency, please contact 911
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