A mural in Sand City.



Of all the quirky places around the Monterey Bay, one of the quirkiest must be Sand City. Just 334 inhabitants live in the tiny “city” wedged between the tallest sand dunes on the Monterey Bay, Highway 1 and two mammoth, big-box complexes, home to ubiquitous stores like Costco and Target.

But turn the corner, and things start to get much more interesting. Long a warehouse and industrial district, Sand City, like similarly edgy, blank urban canvasses in metropolitan areas all over the country, has attracted a sizeable number of local artists and galleries looking for large, cheap spaces. And as in other places, these artists have helped revitalize the city and attract attention to it. Now, there’s an effort underway to enlist some sizzle from the culinary arts.

“Creative energy needs to be fed,” says Patrick Orosco, a principle in the Orosco Group, a local boutique real estate development company, and a former president of the Seaside-Sand City Chamber of Commerce.

Orosco, along with his father Don and brother Chris, recently purchased Sand City’s bankrupt Design Center and have rechristened it The Independent.

“The name reflects Sand City’s identity as a little, maverick, doit- yourself town, with a healthy tax base and its own desal water source,” he says. Orosco—who has a degree in urban design from Stanford—plans to turn The Independent, already a mixed-use complex of apartments, artists’ studios and forward-thinking businesses, into the social and cultural hub of Sand City by bringing in restaurants and cafés and sponsoring food-oriented special events.

Sand City—named for the sand mines that operated here until the 1960s—already has an artsy, urban vibe, but many visitors from around the region only experience it during the West End Celebration that takes place each August.

Drawing on the street fair atmosphere of the West End Celebration and a growing sense of community in the area, The Independent’s new owners want to help nurture Sand City’s reputation as a year-round draw for people interested in great art and food. The Orosco Group has already brought in a friendly craft beer pub called Post No Bills, which offers hard-to-find bottles from all over the world and 13 beers on draught. (See “Brewing Community,” p. 30.) Now, they’re looking to add a cult coffee-roasting café—like Verve in Santa Cruz or Blue Bottle in Oakland—and want to open a wine bar, as well as a casual “foodie” restaurant.

By spring 2012, they plan to start a monthly gourmet farmers’ market featuring specialty produce, a CSA pickup point, cooking demonstrations, music and a corral for food trucks like Sand City’s famed Babaloo Cuban cuisine. If all goes well, the market will become weekly by next summer.

The Independent will also occasionally host the FÜD pop-up restaurant created by Sand City resident Victoria Lara. And it will continue to host a series of art shows that started last August with a hugely popular exhibit by graffiti artist Shepard Fairey. From mid-January to mid-February the exhibition space hosts the show Transcendent Visions, a Japanese-inspired collection of contemporary sculpture, painting and photography.

And nearby, Sweet Elena’s Bakery—a long-time food lover’s attraction in Sand City—will host one of Gabriela Guede’s underground supper club dinners in early January and its own 20th anniversary open house in March.The open house will benefit Hamilton House, an emergency shelter for displaced and battered women.

If you’ve thought about living or setting up shop in Sand City, you might be interested in knowing that the Oroscos are adding 30 additional lofts and artist studios to the existing 30 apartments on the upper floors of The Independent. And if it becomes as popular as they hope, they could add 60 more units.

Meanwhile, Sand City’s community spirit is thriving: Earlier this year, a group of local residents pitched in together to create a lovely community garden, with planting beds, a worm farm, log benches and a barbeque pit.

“It’s just incredible how the garden project has brought together the whole town; everybody’s contributed a little something,” says painter Suzka Collins, who initiated the garden.

The Independent and Post No Bills are located at
600 Ortiz Ave., Sand City, www.600ortiz.com

Babaloo Cuban Cuisine: www.babalootruck.com

Sweet Elena’s Bakery: 465D Olympia Ave., Suite D, www.sweetelenas.net

Dates for FÜD pop-up dinners: www.facebook.com/a.popup.restaurant.

Patrick Orosco in front of The Independent.

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