By Travel columnist
updated 7/8/2005 4:17:45 PM ET 2005-07-08T20:17:45

I’m lucky. Many people have to fly off to distant cities, rent cars and spend their nights in hotels to attend good musical events. I can just jump in my car and, for a few bucks to park, take in an evening of free, top-notch entertainment. Best of all, I can sleep in my own bed that same night.

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This summer will be another opportunity for me to take advantage of my location here in Northern California. In particular, I’m looking forward to the Comcast San Jose Jazz Festival (August 11 through 14) and the Friday night concerts at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. If you are a Northern Californian, these events will perk up your summer. If you plan a visit, the performers lined-up will top-off your trip.

What you’ll find
The Jazz Festival features nine stages scattered around the downtown area with something that will appeal to almost everyone’s taste. From the hottest of salsa to the coolest of blues to the hippest of “Jazz Beyond,” a concoction of visual and sound artistry, you’ll surly find something that will get your juices flowing.

A 45-minute drive from San Jose (depending on traffic, of course) will take you to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where every Friday night through September 2, Bands on the Beach features two 45-minute rock-and-roll shows at the bandstand set up on the beach.

This summer, there will be performances by The Greg Kihn Band, Classic Rock Allstars, Colin Hay, Rose Royce, Eddie Money, The Family Stone Experience, The Fixx, Micky Dolenz, Papa Doo Run Run, Survivor, and the Drifters. For a listing of dates, go to the Web site.

How to get hereMineta San Jose International Airport serves, naturally, San Jose and is the closest major airport to Santa Cruz. Southwest Airlines is a sponsor of the Jazz Festival and offers low fares into San Jose.

Where to eat
If you’re looking for an up-scale restaurant, Eulipia in San Jose, will fit the bill. The Sonoma Chicken Coop is a moderately priced spot serving up causal California cuisine in what it calls “inexpensive excellence.” And for a different taste, try House of Siam
a good Thai place right downtown.

Over at the beach, either the Shadowbrook Restaurant in Capitola or the Crow’s Nest Restaurant at the Santa Cruz harbor would be a good choice. Both have the same owners and offer unique venues. If you’re looking for a real dining “experience,” head up into the Santa Cruz mountains to Ciao Bella (831-336-9221). This quirky, roadhouse restaurant, has good food and even a stage show. I’m certain you’ll remember this place.

All of these restaurants are popular in the summer so make sure you have reservations.

Where to stay
If you are coming from out of town and plan to stay in San Jose, the Arena Hotel is nearby and modestly priced. If your wallet is a little fatter, the Fairmont San Jose or the revamped Hotel Montgomery are good options. When making reservations, ask if they have Jazz Festival specials.

If bedding down in Santa Cruz is more to your liking, try The Coast Santa Cruz Hotel right on the beach. For a more modest rate, the University Inn is within walking distance of the boardwalk and beach. Or book a room at the Mangels House (Tel: 831-688-7982). It’s a B&B located just outside Nisene Marks State Park (see below).

Take a break
Between stages at the Jazz Festival stroll down the Guadalupe River Park a ribbon of land being developed along the banks of the Guadalupe River in downtown San Jose. It’ll be a nice relief from what could be some hot weather, and like the festival, it’s free too.

Ocean View Park, across the river and up the bluff from the Boardwalk provides a wonderful, scenic spot for a picnic. For the more adventurous, hike to the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Nisene Marks State Park. Or find your way to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. You won’t be driving through any trees here, but you can take a self-guided walk through a grove of redwoods. (Hint: Take a flashlight to duck into one of these giants, the center of which was burned out long ago in a forest fire.)

The down sides
The San Jose airport — the airport that I use most frequently — is usually crowded, congested, confusing and seemingly always under construction. Getting in and out of this facility reminds me of the old shopping slogan from T.J. Maxx: “It’s never the same place twice.”

And while on the subject of shopping, you can leave your department store credit cards at home. Neither of the downtowns of San Jose or Santa Cruz have much in the way to interest true power shoppers. For that you’ll have to travel north to San Francisco or south to Carmel.

My favorites
You’ve probably got your own musical favorites, but for me: Poncho Sanchez performing on the main stage in the Plaza de Cesar Chavez on Sunday, and then the following weekend Papa Doo Run Run performing at the Boardwalk.

Terry Riley, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a corporate psychologist specializing in the management of travel behavior. Terry is the author of "Travel Can Be Murder" and "The Complete Travel Diet." He also edits Travel Fox, a satirical news report. E-mail Terry or visit his Web site. Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting Riley's forum.

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