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Santa Cruz (California)

Travel Guide North America USA Western United States California Santa Cruz

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Introduction

Boardwalk and Surf Break - Santa Cruz

Boardwalk and Surf Break - Santa Cruz

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Santa Cruz is a charming community on the northern edge of the Monterey Bay about 72 miles south of San Francisco. It is known for its surfing, a strong activist community, the Beach Boardwalk, and its University of California campus.

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Sights and Activities

  • No visit to Santa Cruz is complete without a visit to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The theme park has been around since 1907 and features many rides, games, and attractions. It is most known for the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, which was built in 1926. It is the sixth oldest Roller Coaster in the United States and accommodated over 50 million riders since its' opening.
  • Downtown, also known as the Pacific Garden Mall, is home to many coffee shops, cafes, shops, and movie theaters. Many locally owned shops, such as Bookshop Santa Cruz and The Nick and Del Mar movie Theaters, are still thriving downtown. However, chain stores have started appearing in recent years such as The Gap and Urban Outfitters.
  • The Mystery Spot, located in the nearby redwood forest, is a cheesy, but entertaining location where the laws of physics don't seem to apply.
  • The Wharf has many fantastic seafood restaurants, several souvenir shops, and unbeatable views of the Boardwalk. Seals also like to hang out on the docks below the pier.
  • Steamer's Lane is a world famous surfing spot. Go in the morning to see the most impressive surfers.
  • The Surf Museum, located in a lighthouse on a cliff near Steamer's Lane on West Cliff Drive.
  • Natural Bridges State Beach is a beautiful beach at the end of West Cliff Drive. It's much more beautiful, less crowded, and a lot cleaner than the beach by the Boardwalk.

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Weather

The weather in Santa Cruz can vary and change at a moments notice. For the most part Santa Cruz has mild to hot summers and cool, rainy winters. The Santa Cruz Mountains have been known to see snow on occasion, though this happens only once or twice a year, if at all.

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Getting There

By Plane

The nearest airports are San Jose International Airport (SJC), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK). San Francisco has most connections with many intercontinental flights and domestic services as well.

By Train

The nearest Amtrak station is in San Jose. You can take the Highway 17 Express bus from the Diridon Station.

By Car

Santa Cruz can be accessed from San Jose and the bay area from Highway 17, which winds through the Santa Cruz mountains. For those coming from San Francisco, you can also take the slower, but more scenic Highway 1.

By Bus

There are various Greyhound bus routes that stop at the downtown Greyhound station directly next to the Santa Cruz Metro station. Visitors coming from over the hill in San Jose can use the High 17 Express bus.

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Getting Around

By Car

Traffic can be congested on the main routes through town. Road signs can be confusing. Lanes split and merge with little warning and sometimes a lane will randomly become a turn-only lane without any signs at all. In addition to confusion while driving, you have to be cautious of pedestrians and bikers who may dart out in front of you and assume that you'll stop for them. In short, unless you plan on visiting places off the beaten path, avoid driving around Santa Cruz.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Public Transport

The Santa Cruz Metro has decent coverage throughout the county and to neighboring areas. A single ride is $1.50 and a day pass is $4.50.

By Foot

Downtown, the Boardwalk, and a lot of the main beaches are all within walking distance. For those who wish to go beyond that, you'll need to rent a bike, take a bus, or use a car. Many Santa Cruz residents, particularly the college student aged population, tend to hitchhike. Keep in mind that the laws about hitchhiking in California are ambiguous and the act itself can be dangerous.

By Bike

Santa Cruz is a bike friendly town. Almost every main route has it's own bike lane or even a separate bike path and there are numerous bike rental shops, especially near downtown. Use hand signals and basic common sense when riding around town. Try to avoid Mission Avenue/Highway 1 as it is one of the few major streets without an adequate bike lane and riders are forced to share the main road with traffic.

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Eat

  • Santa Cruz Diner - One of the best diners in America according to the Travel Channel.
  • Saturn Cafe - A uniquely decorated vegetarian restaurant with many vegan options.
  • Walnut Avenue Cafe - A popular breakfast spot located downtown.
  • Zachary's - Another popular breakfast spot located downtown.
  • Ideal's Bar and Grill - Conveniently located between the Boardwalk and the Wharf, this restaurant has great seafood at a decent price.
  • Marianne's Ice Cream - This ice cream parlor has also attracted the Travel Channel's attention. The only thing crazier than their ice cream flavors is their cow print wallpaper. Expect a line, even in the winter.
  • Marini's - With locations at the Boardwalk, the Wharf, and Downtown, this is a Santa Cruz staple. Try their chocolate covered bacon. It made it into Ripley's Believe it or Not in the year 2009.

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Drink

  • The Red Room
  • Poet and Patriot
  • The Blue Lagoon
  • The Asti

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Sleep

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Ocean Pacific Lodge301 Pacific Ave Santa Cruz BeachHotel-
Beachway Inn & Suites619 Riverside Avenue Broadway & RiversideHotel-
Big Six Motel335 Riverside AvenueHotel-
National 9 Motel Watsonville1 Western DriveHotel-
Aqua Breeze Inn204 Second StreetHotel-
Comfort Inn Santa Cruz110 Plymouth StreetHotel-
Paradise Inn311 2nd StreetHotel-
Ocean Gate Inn111 Ocean StreetHotel-
National 9 Motel1015 Ocean StreetHotel-
National 9 Motel130 Plymouth StHotel69
Motel Santa Cruz370 Ocean DriveHotel-

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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This is version 13. Last edited at 12:57 on Jul 11, 13 by Utrecht. 6 articles link to this page.

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