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

© phileas

Santa Cruz is a charming community on the northern edge of the Monterey Bay about 115 kilometres south of San Francisco. It is known for its surfing, a strong activist community, the Beach Boardwalk, and its University of California campus. Santa Cruz is best known as a countercultural hub, with a bohemian feel and youthful vibe, and fun weekend tourist attractions like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the dubious Mystery Spot. The rather relaxed beach lifestyle is supplemented by some remaining high tech industry and a vibrant university culture. The University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) is regarded as one of the premier centers of higher learning in the region and was once well known for its strong emphasis on the arts and humanities.

The beaches north and south of Santa Cruz are considered some of the more pristine areas of natural beauty in central California. A variety of conditions prevail, depending on the beach, few are suited for swimming due to temperature and current, several are considered an expert surfer's cold cold paradise. Don't expect a beach culture like Southern California, with bikini babes and children swimming in the surf; for much of the year it's considered perfectly normal to wear a sweater and long pants to the beach. The beautiful beaches and the rather mild climate play a central role in local culture. Most visitors leave Santa Cruz amazed by the city's beauty and ambiance.

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Sights and Activities

  • Mission Santa Cruz, 126 High St, ☎ +1 831 425-5849. Th-Sa 10AM to 4PM (& Su during the summer); closed holidays. The original Mission Santa Cruz was dedicated by Fermin Lasuen in 1791 as the 12th California mission. In its early years, the mission suffered due to violence among the Indians. The original mission buildings (save one) fell down in an 1857 earthquake, and it is place was built a Catholic Church with the anglicized name Holy Cross Church. However, a replica of the old mission was constructed nearby at half-scale in the 1930s by a wealthy benefactor. This exists today as Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. Free.
  • 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.

Beaches

Santa Cruz is a beach town, with a beach to match almost any interest. Main Beach and Cowell Beach attract large crowds to the boardwalk area on sunny summer weekends. Flocks of novice surfers balance on their boards in the quiet waters just north of the municipal wharf, in front of the big hotel that locals still call the Dream Inn. Volleyball nets are strung just south of the wharf. The boardwalk amusement area is adjacent to main beach. Heading north, Steamers Lane isn't a beach, but the famous surf break in front of the lighthouse. In the summer, its sometimes hard to see what the fuss is about, but the winter can bring big waves and spectators line the rail watching the surfers and the sea lions.

North of the lighthouse are a series of little pocket beaches, some that disappear entirely in the winter. The first one, It's Beach, and across the street at Lighthouse Field (see www.folf.org) are two of the few places in town that dogs can be run off leash (before 10AM and after 4PM only) you will often dozens of dogs are chasing sticks, balls, and each other. Mitchell's Cove, just north, also allows dogs. Natural Bridges State Beach, whose famous monarch butterflies are discussed above, is a popular windsurfing beach. The name is misleading: one of the two stone bridges collapsed a few years ago. Just south of Natural Bridges is the tiny clothing-optional 2222 Beach.

Heading further north along the coast, you leave the city limits and pass through agricultural fields for 11 miles before reaching the small town of Davenport, which has a couple of restaurants, a B&B, and a huge cement plant that dominates the skyline. Each turnout along the road marks a beach, many of which are prime surf spots. Wilder Ranch State Park can be reached by a new bike path from just north of Natural Bridges. Its several nice beaches include Three Mile Beach and Four Mile Beach, named after their distances from town. (The one known as Red, White, and Blue Beach, a private nude beach - is now closed for good by the owner.) Laguna Creek Beach (with parking on the east of highway 1), Panther and Hole-in-the-Wall Beach (connected by a passage that closes at high tide), Bonny Doon Beach (another famous clothing optional spot), and Davenport Beach. For those who want to tour the beaches, Highway 1 has wide shoulders that are generally safe for cycling.

The beaches north of the Boardwalk, especially those on the open ocean instead of the bay, can have huge waves and strong currents, so care should be taken in the water, even by strong swimmers.

There are lots of beaches south of Main Beach as well, but you'll need another guide for them.

Hiking

Santa Cruz is also surrounded by a great number of open space parks. There are two types of parks to choose from. There are inland wooded parks, (like Henry Cowell State Park) with redwood groves, and swimming in the river and open space preserves built on the coastal hills.

Wilder Ranch is a state park sitting in the hills adjacent to the coast (just west of town on Hwy 1). It has expansive views of the Monterey Bay as well as sweeping views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The ranch also includes many old historic building, staffed with docents to demonstrate the workings of the historic ranch.

The Pogonip is within the city boundaries adjacent to the university and accessible from Spring Street and from Highway 9 (via Golf Club). The Pogonip is an old country club which has reverted to a fairly natural state. It sits on the side of a hill and has great views as well as great natural items. Numerous springs fill the creeks, as well as a special fish pond along the Spring Box Trail.

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Events and Festivals

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.

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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

Highway 17 south from San Jose is the most direct route when driving from the more populated parts of the Bay Area. It is a winding and very dangerous road over the mountains, arguably the most hazardous in the state shared during the week with heavy gravel trucks, so heed the speed limits take it easy and arrive alive. ; Accidents are very common, but the road is a bit safer since the addition of concrete barriers some years ago. Beware of fog, as well as "hurried" drivers.Drive with caution especially when roads are wet.

To merge from Highway 17 to Highway 1 in Santa Cruz to continue south, you must merge three times on the dreaded "fish hook". This causes the beginning of the dreaded commute from "over the hill" to the coast for many. Congestion usually lasts M-F 3PM until 6PM, from just south of 41st Ave. on Highway 1, spilling back onto Highway 17 going south.

Highway 9 is a a slower, longer, and more scenic route over the mountains, but it can get congested, and is often subject to extended periods of closure due to landslide damage during the winter. It's also very popular with both bicyclists and motorcyclists, so if driving a car over it be sure to be vigilant.

A much more beautiful, but slower, approach to Santa Cruz is on Highway 1, either from the north, San Francisco and Pacifica (about 65 miles), or from the south, Monterey and Big Sur (about 35 miles). During stormy seasons, check for rare, but often long-term road closures, although Devil's Slide, the most notorious location for landslides, was bypassed by a tunnel several years ago.

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

  • 99 Bottles, 110 Walnut Ave, ☎ +1 831 459-9999. Get a free membership card and get a stamp for trying all 99 different beers and win a T-shirt. Good California pub food (fried calamari sandwiches, burgers, salads, etc). Good student hangout.
  • Asti, 715 Pacific Ave, ☎ +1 831 423-7337. End your pub crawl here and have a photo of your bare butt added to the lovely collage on the wall. Lots of cheap beer and college students.
  • Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Ave, ☎ +1 831 423-7117. Also known as "the meat market." Has $2 drinks on Tuesdays, attracting a huge crowd of cheap drinkers. Thursday is 80s night drawing a large college crowd. Monday is Goth/Industrial night.
  • Poet and Patriot Irish Pub, 320 Cedar St. Music sessions and darts games.
  • Red Room, 1003 Cedar St, ☎ +1 831 426-2994. The downstairs dive to the upstairs bar, The Red, the Red Room is a hip little local joint in downtown Santa Cruz. Strong pours and a relaxed crowd, often University of California Santa Cruz students.
  • Rosie McCann's Irish Pub, 1220 Pacific Ave, ☎ +1 831 425-9673. Upstairs pub with all the trimmings—lamb stew, Irish dance and music, cider and many beers on tap.
  • The Rush Inn, 113 Knight St, ☎ +1 831 425-9673. Friendly little place, bartenders were voted Most Friendly Bartenders 2003 in the Santa Cruz Metro weekly paper.

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Sleep

  • Adobe on Green Street B&B, 103 Green St, ☎ +1 831 469-9866. Historic adobe lodging.
  • Bay Front Inn Hotel, 325 Pacific Ave, ☎ +1 831 423-8564. Free high-speed Internet access.
  • Casablanca Inn & Bistro, 101 Main St, ☎ +1 831 423-1570.
  • Chaminade Resort & Spa, 1 Chaminade Ln, toll-free: +1-800-283-6569. 156 rooms & suites on a scenic mountain ridge, overlooking the Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Offers two restaurants, a spa, fitness center, heated outdoor swimming pool, two outdoor Jacuzzis, four lighted tennis courts, geocaching and three miles of hiking trails.
  • Coastview Inn, 301 Beach St, ☎ +1 831 426-0420. edit
  • Comfort Inn Santa Cruz, 314 Riverside Ave, ☎ +1 831 457-8000.
  • Hinds Victorian Guest House, 529 Chestnut St, ☎ +1 831 423-0423. Weekly European style lodging in a downtown 1888 Victorian mansion with private and shared baths. Full kitchen and laundry.
  • Inn at Pasatiempo, 555 Highway 17, ☎ +1 831 423-5000.
  • Pacific Blue Inn, 636 Pacific Ave, ☎ +1 831 600-8880, e-mail: pbinn@pacificblueinn.com. This eB&B offers nine eco-friendly rooms, free Wi-Fi, bikes, parking and all rooms are ADA. from $149 + tax.
  • Santa Cruz Dream Inn, 175 West Cliff Dr, ☎ +1 831 426-4330. Every room has a private ocean-front balcony.
  • Santa Cruz Hostel (Hostelling International), 321 Main St (on Beach Hill), ☎ +1 831 423-8304. Housed in some of the city's oldest and most famous dwellings (the Carmelita Cottages). 14-day maximum stay.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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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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Accommodation in Santa Cruz (California)

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This is version 20. Last edited at 9:41 on Jun 14, 19 by Utrecht. 6 articles link to this page.

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