Cruz-ing into California's spooky past
Since the 1800s Santa Cruz County has lured visitors with a combination of natural beauty, outdoor recreation, arts, culture and incredible state parks.
The cult teen vampire thriller The Lost Boys was filmed on location in Santa Cruz in the 1980s, and three decades later many of the filming locations look the same, including the famous Beach Boardwalk, a classic seaside amusement park.
At the southern tip of the sweeping Monterey Bay and with a swell any surfer would die for, Santa Cruz is probably as close as you are going to get to Queensland in the United States, if a little cooler.
The laid-back beach vibe, flourishing miro-breweries and boutique wineries, 46km of beach and pods of wetsuit-ensconsed dudes catching waves off the point made this Queenslander feel quite at home.
There are however some points of difference. The sun-baking sea lions on the pier for one; the retro timber rollercoaster on the beach another. Every day an average of 20,000 people visit the "open park” that is the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (open park meaning free entry).
Picture the Brisbane Ekka by the beach. If you want to brave the rides, the most expensive one there is the Giant Dipper that costs just $US7. Pretty good family value.
When I visited they were preparing the ice-skating rink for the off-season, and most of the rides were not operating for the same reason.
We stayed at the Seascape Beach Resort on the Bay and went to sleep each night to the sound of waves pounding on the beach.
The view from my balcony was better than a postcard.
Marking the start of the "holiday season” in California is Halloween, a celebration treated with light-hearted ghoulish relish by most.
But for those who love spooky, tours on offer for most of the year can accommodate visitors who want to get their ghostbuster on.
High on the list is a visit to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.
The bizarre, 160-room "mansion” created by the grief-stricken, obsessed and possibly unhinged heir to the Winchester rifle fortune after the deaths of her baby and husband, makes for a creepy, lengthy walking tour. A movie about the house, starring Helen Mirren, will be released late this year or early next year and looks terrifying.
Another must-try is the Haunted San Francisco Walking Tour that winds through the seedy past of downtown after dark.
Unsolved murders, ruthless villains and famed ghosts and cult leaders left me pondering the afterlife and jumping at shadows as I later tried to sleep.
It was filled with tragic stories of well-known San Franciscan characters who met untimely or terrible ends and who had been spotted over the years, haunting their former homes and places of business.
Getting spooked is all part of the fun.
Eating s'mores (made with crackers, chocolate and marshmallows) and telling ghost stories around a fire on the beach at Santa Cruz was not quite as creepy, but I still checked the shadows for any strange movements.
The writer flew Air New Zealand and was a guest of Visit California.