"Best Beach Action in Northern California" Top 5 Page for this destination Santa Cruz by atufft

Santa Cruz Travel Guide: 295 reviews and 646 photos

Natural Food and Beach Bum Surfers

Santa Cruz may be a smaller California beach city (population 56,000), but it's a giant in terms of California beach cities for culture. The unique excentricity of Santa Cruz is reflected in its reliable left wing politics, UC Santa Cruz, love for seafood, natural and sustainable food markets, wine and marijuana, meditative arts and massages, bead shops, Neil Young, and other recording artists, surfing, skateboarding, and cycling. Many surf board and beach accessory manufacturers are located here, as are companies that build custom mountain and road bikes, skateboards, and apparel for these sports. The mountain bike was virtually invented in Santa Cruz, as was the modern skateboard. Despite the deadbeat hippies hanging around town, the realestate prices here are among the world's highest residential realestate of its kind, and causing a certain fresh water supply shortage in years to come. Because Santa Cruz is an easy "back door" commute to San Jose, the world's leader for the tech industries, several major tech firms have actually established their headquarters in or near recreation oriented Santa Cruz itself. However, in comparison to the elite atmosphere of Monterrrey and Carmel, Santa Cruz remains a vibrant place to "get away". Marijuana is virtually legal here, and the Boardwalk, Wharf, and nearby beaches and redwood mountains are the greater attraction for young adults than is Monterey's comparatively touristy Fisherman's Wharf on the south side bay.

Santa Cruz has a long Beach History

Vacationers have long traveled to Santa Cruz from San Francisco, where the western facing beaches are often foggy and chopped up by dangerous rip currents. In contrast, Santa Cruz beaches are protected by the Monterey Bay and and face south, on a warm July or August day water temperatures climb into the tolerable low 70's range, and since the waves are relatively consistent and high, the city has a world class surf reputation. In the early days, a rail line used to run from San Francisco south to Santa Cruz over the redwood studded mountains to the boardwalk. The trains no longer run, although the tracks are often still around, and the Boardwalk has been expanded and recently renovated into a pleasant retro style color tone. The Wharf was also an early feature, one that once was filled with dozens of fish markets. Today, only one original fish market survives, and it's fish are almost entirely from world market distribution, rather than local catch. Even so, Santa Cruz remains Northern California's premier place for beach action.

Shopping and Nightlife are Also Good

After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed much of downtown, the city worked hard to rebuild and today, the street is partly cobbled and at night has a live atmosphere of a European city. Shops stay open for awhile, and people walk the streets between coffee shops and boutique style restaurants. Not as posh as Carmel, Santa Cruz caters to a younger audience of folks still hip to off-beat fashions. Bead and import shops are plentiful here, and elsewhere in town workshops make custom surfboards, skateboards, and bicycles as a high tech love of sport. As great as Santa Cruz really is, tourists are recommended to visit my pages on close by hamlets where there's other great fun--Aptos, Ben Lomond, Moss Landing, and Mt. Hermon. For those spending more time in the Monterey Bay Area or wanting a broader understanding of this region, my pages for Monterey, Carmel, and San Juan Bautista are also worth reading.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Great get-away-from business city, with plenty to do
  • Cons:Increasingly trendy and overpriced given what one gets
  • In a nutshell:Santa Cruz is the leader in the beach action scene for Northern California
  • Last visit to Santa Cruz: Nov 2005
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (29)

Comments (15)

  • lmkluque's Profile Photo
    Jul 11, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    Thanks for the informative tour of Santa Curz Alan! My granddaughter will be going to U.C. Santa Curz in the fall and I'm learning about her new city.

  • SLLiew's Profile Photo
    May 31, 2008 at 9:30 PM

    Great page of Santa Cruz. Did not know about poison oak. Bring back fond memories. The roller coaster ride at the boardwalk and getting a parking ticket for not turning the wheel on a slope - how was I to know! SL

  • SteveOSF's Profile Photo
    May 29, 2008 at 4:12 PM

    Alan, Nice overview of Santa Cruz. Your treatment of Santa Cruz's local marijuana "custom" (and laws ) is well done. I need to check out "Chocolate" sometime. - Steve

  • ger4444's Profile Photo
    May 28, 2008 at 5:30 PM

    Allthough Belgium is only a mile away i ve never had chocolad drinks there. must try it when it is popular in SC

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    May 28, 2008 at 12:23 PM

    It's interesting that SC markets itself to families while catering to the pot crowd. These groups seem like polar opposites, and the pot publicity must be bad for tourism. I guess the well-informed conservative traveler can take their kids to Monterey!

  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo
    May 28, 2008 at 11:10 AM

    A very interesting local custom entry. You Santa Cruz page looks really interesting, if we get back that way, I'll have to take a more detailed look at it.

  • xaver's Profile Photo
    May 27, 2008 at 9:23 PM

    Shrimps and parmesan???A pure crime for italian cousine, let's say I'd rather taste the a crab sandwich at Stagnaro's

  • trvlrtom's Profile Photo
    Feb 10, 2008 at 7:17 PM

    Costa Brava has closed down. I guess others felt as you did about it. There is a new, even trendier looking place there now, but we went to Hula's Grill. Good food, fun environment.

  • Vulindlela's Profile Photo
    Apr 1, 2007 at 3:49 PM

    I really liked this page. You have detailed the things to see in Santa Cruz and the pictures are wonderful.

  • Lhenne1's Profile Photo
    Mar 19, 2007 at 8:48 AM

    Thanks for the info on Bonny Doon, I was thinking about checking it out next time I was in the area. Sounds great!

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