Santa Cruz County consists of the cities of Davenport, Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, Felton, Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, Soquel, Capitola, Aptos, and Wattsonville. Also, double checking with a map (the first one that popped up, I’m really not going to do much more research than that) the town of Brookdale, in the mountains near Scotts Valley/Felton/Ben Lomond/Boulder Creek Area. Until this petty research I had never heard of Brookdale, so don’t worry about them. Let’s treat them like a strange unspoken of elf village in the wilderness.
Santa Cruz County is pretty basic, though majestically shaped and beautiful. The main thing to remember, if you are traveling from out of town, is that it is a county south of the Bay Area, and north of Monterrey County, running along the ocean and mountains.
First, leaving the South Bay Area, AKA Silicon Valley, AKA San Jose, you have one major highway option, and that is highway 17. Highway 17 is a windy, fast, turbulent highway leaving the South Bay Area and diving southwest into the Santa Cruz Mountain Range. About 3/4 of the way over, the town of Scott’s Valley rests in a series of old quarray valleys along highway 17. If you get off here and travel through the roads you can wind your way up to Felton first, then Ben Lomond, then Boulder Creek, which is the closest town near Big Basin Park.
Keep driving on highway 17, through Scotts Valley, and the mountain range drops down into Santa Cruz, which is nestled between the mountains and the sea. From Santa Cruz you can head up Highway 9 to reach Felton and again go on further sideways toward Scotts Valley, or upward toward Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek. Highway 9 is the second major route into the mountains from the beach area of Santa Cruz. There are a couple other roads zig zagging their way around that part of the mountains, but they are slow going and back tracking. North of Santa Cruz, head up Highway 1, toward San Francisco and reach Davenport, a very small town along the highway, right near beautiful cliffs leading down to the ocean.
If you stay on highway 17, the highway becomes Ocean Street, which runs strait through the center of Santa Cruz and ends at a levee walling up the San Lorenzo River (which runs down the mountain from Ben Lomond etc.) You are right near the Boardwalk at this point.
If you wish to head south to the rest of Santa Cruz County, then just before highway 17 turns into Ocean St. you can merge onto HIghway 1 South. This will take you along the base of the mountain range, through Santa Cruz into the very small town of Soquel, through Capitola, a similar though smaller town than Santa Cruz, which runs from the highway/mountain base down to the ocean, then through Aptos, which also runs from mountain to sea, but in a more narrow corridor, with pleasant homes and a small town feel mixed with the vacation aspects of the beach.
Then, past Aptos, still going along near the coastline (although note, never directly along the beachside but rather through the forested mountain edge) the Watsonville Valley opens up to the left, creating a wide expanse for both the town, and a beautiful array of farmland rolling all the way to the beaches. It is in this region, and extending not too much farther down into Monterrey County, where most of the worlds artichokes and strawberries are harvested.
Once you have reached the end of Watsonville, you are on the border line of Monterrey County, and almost halfway down the Monterrey Bay Area.
From Watsonville, you can take highway 152 over Mt. Madonna and come down the mountain into Gilroy, connecting with Highway 101, where you can head north back up the the South Bay Area and San Jose, creating a circle, the center of which is the Santa Cruz Mountains.
From the entrance into the mountains on Highway 17 from the South Bay, around to Highway 152 and back up to the South Bay, would be an approximate two hour drive. Along the way are great beaches, strange ex-hippies, gang-bangers, beautiful redwoods, hiking, canyons, hidden wine vineyards, golf courses, beautiful homes, and lots of fog in the summer, which often will caress highway 1 on the western side during the summer, while unable to reach the sunny mountain on the eastern side.
There are also very few alternate routes, so traffic can back up very heavily, especially during the summer. HIghway 17 is the only highway over the mountains. And Highway 1 is the only highway running north south. Traffic can become very congested, and highway 17 can become dangerous with many unwary drivers not respecting the sharp curves at high speeds. Just stay calm, dodge any flaming wreckage, and grab a beer at the beach. Not stressing out is a hallmark of both California, and this beautiful region.