UC Santa Cruz
Downtown Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Surf Museum
West Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz Wharf
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Harbor
Exploring the Santa Cruz Area
UC Santa Cruz is a city unto itself. Perched high above Santa Cruz in open fields and redwood forests, most visitors to the campus drive, ride public transit or peddle a bicycle steadily uphill. Be forewarned, parking at UCSC is difficult, parking permits are hard to get, and parking in a permit stall without a permit will result in a ticket. The views of the Monterey Bay from campus are as exhilarating as the bicycle ride downhill to the city. Located at the upper end of Bay Street, UCSC is spread out over hundreds of acres with paths and foot bridges crisscrossing the forest. The only connection between the campus and the downtown is University Town Center, a UCSC satellite building at Pacific Avenue and Cathcart Street in the heart of the city.
Downtown Santa Cruz is home to over 35 restaurants and 100 shops yet it is small enough to walk its entirety in an afternoon. Many of the shops cater to young shoppers. Not surprising since there are over 15,000 college students who shop downtown each school year. Downtown Santa Cruz has a natural foods grocery store, a Trader Joe's, an art and history museum, three book stores, central library, city hall, and 15 movie screens. Bagels and coffee are in plentiful supply. On the streets south and west of downtown are historic residential neighborhoods with beautiful Victorian homes. To see some wonderful historic homes stroll west down Walnut Street, south on Washington Street or west up Mission Street by the big white church. The Downtown Association web site is at www.downtownsantacruz.com.
West Cliff Drive is a delightful two mile drive that follows the bluffs and beaches past Lighthouse Point and along a stretch of the open ocean. Complete with a wide sidewalk for those on a bike, on foot, or on skates, West Cliff is the place to spend an few hours by the sea with some of the finest scenery in Santa Cruz. Park yourself on the bluff by the lighthouse and watch local surfers take on Steamer Lane, one of California's premier surf breaks. While you're there, walk inside the brick lighthouse and find the Santa Cruz Surf Museum which traces 60 years of local surf history. Don't miss the wetsuit owned by a surfer who tangled with a great white shark. Summer hours: noon to four every Wednesday through Monday. Winter hours: noon to four every Thursday through Monday. At the far end of West Cliff Drive is Natural Bridges State Beach, a winter habitat for tens of thousands of Monarch butterflies between October and March. Follow Swanton Blvd. inland and go left on Delaware to reach the Seymour Center at the Joseph M. Long Marine Lab. This extension of UC Santa Cruz is a forty acre marine research center with touch tanks, excellent displays, an 85' blue whale skeleton, and research environments for dolphins and sea lions. Every few minutes docents take visitors on a tour of the marine mammal tanks. Open daily except Monday 1-4pm.
Santa Cruz Wharf is at the southern end of Pacific Avenue and was originally built to load ships with redwood lumber and lime for making concrete. Today it is a place to find fresh fish for sale, boat charters, kayak rentals, seafood restaurants, gift shops, candy and ice cream. It is also a terrific place to feel the forces of the ocean. Walk out to end of the wharf and find the sea lions resting on the crossbars below you. On your walk back take in the exceptional views of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to the east and West Cliff Drive and Cowell's Beach to the west. Boats offering sightseeing cruises and fishing trips operate from the wharf, Kayak classes and rentals can be found there as well. Parking on the wharf is free for the first half hour. Just enough time to get out to Marini's for a hand dipped caramel apple.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. There was a time when cities on the Pacific had ocean side amusement parks for land locked residents to escape to in the summer. Today, the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz is the last remaining seaside amusement park still in operation on the west coast of the U.S. With a 1924 roller coaster, a 1911 carousel, haunted house, 1907 Casino arcade, miniature golf and an assortment of carnival games and thrill rides, the Boardwalk still packs in the summer tourists. Free admission and one mile of sandy beach make this a popular destination for families, lovers, and young people all summer and on weekends in the spring, fall and winter. Free summer Friday night bandstand concerts on the beach and open train car rides to Roaring Camp and the Henry Cowell State Park redwood groves make the boardwalk a hub of tourist activity for four months each year.
Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor is just west of Twin Lakes Beach and the corner of 7th Avenue and Portola Drive. The Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor is where fishermen, pleasure boaters, sailors, canoeists and kayakers converge. With every kind of water craft represented, the harbor offers slips, boat fuel, restaurants, fishing tackle, and boat rental and repairs. Every Wednesday (April to October) local sailors hold a friendly sailboat race. The place to be is at a window table in the Crows Nest Restaurant at 5:30pm as the boats return to the harbor under full sail. The Crows Nest also has dancing on the beach in the summer. O'Neill's surf shop next door rents beach space for catamarans. May through September the free harbor water taxi will take you around the harbor between the hours of 11am and 6pm. The harbor is also home to the Santa Cruz Yacht Club.
Capitola Village Four miles east of Santa Cruz is the little seaside village of Capitola. But don't tell them it's little. Capitola has been thinking big since the 1870's when developer F.A. Hihn built "Camp Capitola" as a destination for railroad tourists to experience nature and the fresh sea air. Eventually Hihn built a 150 room hotel and a tent city by the beach. The charm of this town today is its seamless integration with the beach. Restaurants are right on the sand and beach oriented shops and galleries attract tourists. But the beach is always there; just kick off your shoes and walk onto the sand. Free twilight concerts at the beach on Wednesday evenings at 6pm between mid June and mid August are a local favorite. A half mile up Soquel creek from the beach is the popular Shadowbrook Restaurant which excels at creating an atmosphere of eclectic elegance. Built into a hill overlooking the river, this destination restaurant has an incline trolley that takes visitors from the parking lot to the dining rooms. The whole property is filled with lovely gardens and winding stairways (if you choose not to take the trolley). Shadowbrook prices are deluxe, but always a memorable experience. By far the most impressive display of good food in Capitola is at Gayles Bakery on Bay Avenue a short distance from the village away from the beach. Take your number and wait in line for a dizzying display of fresh pastries, bread, roasted chickens, salads, cakes, cookies, sandwiches and deli items. It's worth the stop just to gaze at the temptations presented behind glass at this Capitola mainstay.