NEVER LET IT BE SAID... that Santa Cruz is lacking in spice or verve or joy. We know this is true on a day-to-day basis, of course; the city and its citizens have a handle of the whole enjoying life, good-times-having-yeah thing, maybe more than most places. But the fourth weekend in October will truly bring out some distinctive Santa Cruz flavor, with just a bit of fictional childhood whimsy thrown in to lend everything more merriment. That's the weekend of the Beach Boardwalk Chili Cook-Off, and the inaugural Banana Slug Parade, and even Thomas the Tank Engine will put in a cute cameo in nearby Felton, too. Many a Santa Cruz weekend well-represents its creative vibe, but let's call the Saturday and Sunday ahead of Halloween extra Santa-Cruz-y in spirit.
BEACH BOARDWALK CHILI COOK-OFF: A meat-laden or non-meat-laden stew, full of beans and tomatoes and peppers and onions and, sometimes, a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg, is practically synonymous with autumn eating. The Pacific-close landmark gets this concept, and understands our desire to sample different types of chili, which is officially the world's most experiment-with-it foodstuff. A tasting kit is nine bucks, a slew of spice-wielding chefs'll be out throwing beans in bubbling pots, and the whole delicious thing heats up on Saturday, Oct. 24.
BANANA SLUG PARADE AND EXPO: It matters not where you grew up or your school affiliations or your mascot leanings or how you choose to view over-sized human representions of small critters: You likely love the banana slug, the smiley cutie that represents the University of California Santa Cruz. Mascots don't come more famous, really -- the slug is seen on a shirt in "Pulp Fiction" -- and the town will pay homage to its beloved celebrity with an inaugural dress-up-as-a-slug parade on Sunday, Oct. 25.
AND OVER IN FELTON, chugging along, is Thomas the Tank Engine and his pal Percy. The kid favorite is making a return visit, with a Halloween theme, to the Roaring Camp Railroads over a few weekends, including Oct. 24 and 25. But we do wonder if the UCSC banana slug knows Thomas the Tank Engine, like, socially? They're two very cheerful characters who always seem to have a grin. We wouldn't be surprised in the least if they're at least acquaintances on social media.