Chowder, a Boardwalk, and Santa Cruz Smiles

What's the best of the best and creamy of the creamiest? You can have your say.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

TASTE-OFFS AND COOK-OFFS... and competitions of a culinary sort can happen in most any setting. They pop up in hotel ballrooms, from time to time, and public parks, and school campuses, and shopping malls, too. But if you're going to stage a savory showdown at one of the most colorful places on the California coast, you best bring both the flavorful chops and the outlandish fun. It's hard to outdo the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for vim and vivacity, thanks to the Giant Dipper, the historic carousel, and the thousands of eye-popping details that command the visitor's attention, of course. But the annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off & Festival makes a great go of living up to its famous location. The February happening, which takes place on the 20th of the month in 2016, will once again bring together a host of teams that get the whole flour + cream + spices + clams equation. But those teams, or at least many of them, will get into the boardwalk-y spirit of the day by showing up in theme-team costumes, or at least aprons that lend some oomph to the proceedings. Those proceedings also include...

TASTING KITS: Oh yeah, if chowder is your jam, and you can happily sample several in one stroll-around, then be at the boardwalk at 10 o'clock in the morning on Feb. 20, when the kits go on sale for ten bucks. You'll get a half dozen tastes for that price, plus a spoon and cup -- so necessary -- and a ballot, for People's Choice voting (again, so necessary, if you want to have your say). The eating is fun, yes, but so is the aforementioned stroll-around, because you get to chat up the teams and see all of the zany outfits. Past years have seen mermaid regalia, pirates, metal rockers, medieval teams, and lots more. The cooks are on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, after all, so they best bring the outlandish spirit. Here's hoping for a gray day, though not stormy, the better to get into the clam-chowder-esque mood. Will you finally find your perfect cup? The chowderist, as is tradition, is forever on the search. As for the day's beneficiary? That would be Santa Cruz Parks & Rec.

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