Santa Cruz is a coastal city (population about 65,000 in 2019) in Santa Cruz County, at the north end of Monterey Bay in California, about 40 miles (64 km) south of San Jose and 75 miles (120 km) south of San Francisco.
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. 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.
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.
|Santa Cruz (California)|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The nearest airport is in San Jose (SJC IATA). To get to Santa Cruz, take either the Santa Cruz Airport Flyer, or the free airport shuttle to Santa Clara, the train or bus to Diridon Station and the Highway 17 Express bus. San Francisco International Airport (SFO IATA) and even Oakland (OAK IATA) aren't much farther away, and sometimes have cheaper flights. The Airport Flyer goes to SFO and Caltrain provides a route from SFO to San Jose, though with a transfer with BART in Millbrae. For private aircraft, there'a 2,000 ft (610 m) runway about 10 mi (16 km) northwest of downtown, near Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
from & 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, and drive with caution, especially when roads are wet. Going into San Jose Hwy 17 becomes I-880 at its intersection with I-280.
to 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.
is 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 mi (105 km)), or from the south, Monterey and Big Sur (about 35 mi (56 km)). 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.
- 1 Santa Cruz Metro, Santa Cruz Metro Center at 920 Pacific Ave (Location of map marker is at customer service office at Elm and Pacific (location of address and map marker).), ☏ +1 831 425-8600. Santa Cruz Metro serves as public transportation in Santa Cruz and to adjacent cities & communities around Santa Cruz County. The following are intercity from Santa Cruz to adjacent cities & communities:
- 17- Amtrak Hwy 17 Express to San Jose Diridon Station where passengers transfer to Greyhound, Amtrak, Altmont Corridor Express (ACE), Caltrain, and VTA. This route serves as the Amtrak Thruway bus and a Greyhound Connect (partner) route between San Jose and Santa Cruz. Therefore, tickets for this route can be part of an onward Amtrak or Greyhound ticket to/from Santa Cruz booked through their respective sites or paid for separately.
- 35 to San Lorenzo Park via Boulder Creek in Scotts Valley on CA-Hwy 9
- 40 to Davenport on CA-Hwy 1
- 71 & 91x to Watsonville where passengers transfer to the Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) bus to Salinas (MST #28 or 29). Route 71 goes towards Watsonville on Soquel Dr & Freedom Blvd while 91x travels on CA-Hwy 1.
- Santa Cruz Airport Flyer, ☏ +1 831 423-5937. Operates a direct (door to door) shuttle from the bay area airports to Santa Cruz.
There is no train service in Santa Cruz. The nearby San Jose Diridon Station is the central station for Amtrak, Altmont Corridor Express (ACE) and Caltrain. Metro's "17 Express" bus serves as the Amtrak Thruway bus (#35) between San Jose and Santa Cruz (see By bus in above).
The main downtown strip is pedestrian friendly, and it's a 20-minute stroll from there to the beach. Walking to the University of California Santa Cruz from downtown is a little more difficult with a steep climb.
Santa Cruz Metro provides bus service within the city.
While driving is certainly an option, parking is tight, so be careful to not get ticketed.
Santa Cruz can be a wonderful town for cycling, but be careful because drivers are no better here than in many other places. Around town and along Highway 1 is easy, but roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains are steep, winding and challenging for many cyclists. Be careful. Collisions between bicycles and cars are often reported. A number of pedestrian and car collisions have also happened in the downtown area.
- 1 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 in its 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.
- 2 The Beach Boardwalk, 400 Beach St. 11AM to 10PM or 11PM. Founded in 1907, it is the only original boardwalk amusement park still operating on the West Coast. It features one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters still in use in the US as well as numerous modern attractions. Entrance is free, rides cost between $2–4 each (but less than $1 on selected summer evenings). Day, month, and yearly passes available.
- 3 Municipal Wharf, 21 Municipal Wharf. Restaurants, gift shops, sea lions and pelicans, and great views.
- 4 Mystery Spot, 465 Mystery Spot Rd (3 mi (4.8 km) north of town; take Water St, then Market St, then Branciforte Drive). The famous ('as seen on TV') tourist trap, complete with anti-gravity cabin and amazing hillside of illusion. $10; $5 parking.
- 5 Surfing Museum, 701 W Cliff Dr (in the lighthouse at Lighthouse Point). Th-M noon-4PM. Memorabilia from the introduction of surfing to California by Hawaiians in 1885 to the present day. A statue of an early surfer is a few yards from the museum. Free.
- 6 Seymour Marine Discovery Center, 100 Shaffer Rd (End of Delaware Ave). Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Has exhibits focusing on ocean conservation and marine science, big tanks full of native species, a guided tour with a dolphin overlook area, and amazing views of Monterey Bay at sunset. $6.
- 7 University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) (On the hill at the north end of town). This UC campus has a smaller student population (except for the brand new campus in Merced), with about 15,000 students. The main part of campus is spread over half of 2001 acres (8.1 km²), mostly covered with redwood forests with the occasional stunning view of the bay. There is an UCSC Arboretum specializing in native plants and plants from Australia. Mountain bike and hiking trails criss-cross the upper part of campus, connecting Wilder Ranch State Park to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (get a trail map and a parking permit from the kiosk as you enter campus). The Bay Tree Bookstore sells clothes with the UCSC mascot – the banana slug. The critters themselves are fairly common in the surrounding redwood forest - their bright yellow color tells would-be predators that their skin secretes a foul-tasting poison. Keep your eyes open for mountain lions seen (but rarely) in undeveloped parts of the campus.
- Downtown Santa Cruz. Lots to see and do here all day and night; "SantaCruz" character mixed with some great restaurants and lots of cool shops. Mostly it's a great people watching center. The nightlife is worth sticking around for. Pacific Ave is the main street downtown.
- Road Biking - Road cyclists in central Santa Cruz can escape the big city by going out Empire Grade, taking Branciforte to either Glen Canyon or Granite Creek, or even going out Hwy 1. A little to the east, two not so steep roads are Old San Jose Road (bit trafficky / better for descending, reachable from Branciforte via Laurel Glen) or Eureka Canyon (from Corralitos). Good connectors are Bear Creek, Smith Grade, Ice Cream Grade, Hwy 35, or even Mt. Hermon (from Granite Creek to Felton Empire). The worst traffic will be on Graham Hill or most of Hwy 9. To avoid Hwy 9 you'll need to do some climbing, but if that's your thing then try Empire Grade, Mountain Charlie, Zayante, Felton Empire, the wonderful Jamison Creek up from Big Basin Park, or the ridiculous Alba Road. Roads in Santa Cruz can be steep, and expect most to have some extended pitches of over 10%.
- 1 Delaveaga Disk Golf Course. This frisbee golf course is very challenging. Saturdays are busy, especially in the morning. The course is awesome and the hikes in the area are spectacular, even if you don't play. Beware of the Poison Oak. Free.
- 2 Natural Bridges State Beach, 2531 West Cliff Dr. Open daily, sunrise to sunset. State beach park with nature trails. Yearly monarch butterfly migration. Entrance free. Fee for parking.
- 3 Santa Cruz Roller Palladium, 1606 Seabright Ave., ☏ +1 831 423-0844. see website for session hours. Classic rollerskating experience in this roller arena that is over 65 years old. Afternoons $6.50, evenings $7.50 (skate rental included - $3 extra for inline skates).
Santa Cruz County is home to talented artists, musicians, and writers. Check out some of the locals' favorite art, music, and literary events:
- Open Studios Art Tour. A program of the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County which was created in 1985 to give the public with an opportunity to collect art and to meet and learn from Santa Cruz County artists. Approximately 275 artists open their studios (which are usually in their homes) to the public. The tour runs for three consecutive weekends each fall.
- Santa Cruz American Music Festival. An annual festival held over Memorial Day weekend.
- Santa Cruz County Book Fair. A family event held each fall. Meet local authors and find some great reads.
- Salsa By The Sea. Santa Cruz boasts a lively salsa dancing scene, with Salsa By The Sea a key attraction. Every Sunday year round (weather permitting), locals come to the Boardwalk to dance in the open air by the beach. Hours vary by the time of the year, but sometime in the afternoon, and always free. Other regular events are at the Vets Hall every Tuesday and the Palomar every Friday.
- Cabrillo Music Festival. The Cabrillo Music Festival, Marin Alsop at the podium, is an internationally acclaimed celebration of contemporary orchestral music that opens during the end of July. Musicians from key orchestras around the country attend without pay for the experience of playing new works by the leading composers of our time who are usually in attendance. Many rehearsals are open and free to the public, as are workshops for new composers and conductors. The Festival, which began in 1962, lasts two weeks and is perhaps the most exciting and prestigious festival of contemporary music anywhere.
Santa Cruz is a beach town, with a beach to match almost any interest. 4 Main Beach and 5 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 1 Dream Inn. Volleyball nets are strung just south of the wharf. The boardwalk amusement area is adjacent to main beach. Heading north, 6 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, 7 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. 8 Mitchell's Cove, just north, also allows dogs. Natural Bridges State Beach, whose famous monarch butterflies are discussed above, is a popular windsurfing beach. Natural Bridges is also known for its tide pools - little pockets in the rocky formation just north of the main beach that are exposed at low tide and house all sorts of small marine creatures. Kids love them but keep a close eye on them as the rocks can be slippery and the ocean unpredictable. 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 mi (18 km) 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. 9 Wilder Ranch State Park can be reached by a new bike path from just north of Natural Bridges. Its several nice beaches include 10 Three Mile Beach and 11 Four Mile Beach, named after their distances from town. 12 Laguna Creek Beach (with parking on the east of highway 1), 13 Panther and 14 Hole-in-the-Wall Beach (connected by a passage that closes at high tide), 15 Bonny Doon Beach (another famous clothing optional spot), and 16 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.
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.
Shopping on Pacific Avenue includes surf shops, plant shops, clothing and various boutiques.
- 1 ACE Hardware, 201 Front St (just off Pacific Avenue), ☏ +1 831 621-2821. 8AM-6PM daily. Hardware store.
- 2 Toque Blanche, 1527 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 426-1351, [email protected]. High end kitchenwares catering more to the well-heeled as opposed to starving students.
- 3 Sock Shop, 1515 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 429-6101. 10AM-6PM daily. Socks, shoes and hosiery.
- 4 Paper Vision, 1345 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 458-1345. 11AM-4PM daily. Gifts, calendars and posters.
- 5 Book Shop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 423-0900. 9AM-9PM daily. A large independent bookstore that has been in downtown Santa Cruz since 1966. 20,000 ft² (1,900 m2) of new, used, and sale books, magazines, cards, gifts, and toys. It has comprehensive children’s and new release sections, and strong sections in travel, politics, cooking, science, and fiction.
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
|Mid-range||$10 - $20|
The city imposes a 25¢ fee on all disposable cups – even for a cup of water, which would otherwise be free. You can bring your own water bottle, cup, or coffee mug to restaurants to avoid paying this fee. Some restaurants and cafes may also serve drinks in a non-disposable cup if the order is explicitly placed "for here."
- 1 Taqueria Jalapeños, 206 Laurel St, ☏ +1 831 457-0159. Mexican fast food. Seating is very cramped at Laurel St. location, so don't plan on being able to eat there with all your family and friends. $2–10.
- 2 Joe's Pizza & Subs, 841 N Branciforte Ave, ☏ +1 831 426-5955. A dizzying array of affordable sandwiches, New York-style pizza, calzone, soups, salads, and random Middle-Eastern foods. Especially good is the club sandwich, falfel wrap, lentil soup, onion rings, spinach calzone, and meatballs. $5–8.
- 3 Pizza My Heart, 1116 Pacific Ave. Tasty cheap pizza by the slice or the pie, salads. $2–5. Great Santa Cruz souvenir: slice of pizza and Pizza My Heart T-shirt for $5.
- 4 Tacos Moreno, 1053 Water St. 10AM-9PM. Award-winning tacos, burritos and quesadillas. Family-owned. Limited dining and parking space. A local favorite and worth a visit. $2–5.
- 5 Taqueria Vallarta, 608 Soquel Ave. There are many taquerias in town, but this one attracts Mexican-American families, college students, and visitors from up and down the coast who come just for the huge traditional style meals. $1–6.
- Taqueria Santa Cruz (2 locations). Daily 9AM-11:45PM. A great taqueria with unquestionably some of the most authentic Mexican food you will find in Santa Cruz. The 49er Burrito on their menu ($6.50) is a super burrito with red sauce and cheese poured on top (like an enchillada) and is one of their specialties.
- 6 2215 Mission St, ☏ +1 831-423-0606.
- 7 1002 Soquel Ave, ☏ +1 831-429-5193.
- 8 Top-A-Lot Yogurt, 738 Water St, ☏ +1 831 426-1375. M-F 12:30 PM-10PM; Sa-Su Noon-10PM. Self-serve frozen yogurt shop. The flavors are changed daily and rather than paying for a size, you pay 42 cents an ounce for all the ice cream and toppings you want. Pick from pumpkin or jasmine yogurt to cheesecake and cookie dough toppings. If you do not like the taste of frozen yogurt, this is a good place. It tastes just like soft serve ice cream. Average cup is $3–5.
- 9 Chaminade Resort & Spa, One Chaminade Ln, toll-free: +1-800-283-6569. Two amazing restaurants featuring menus using only the freshest produce from local farms. If you're in town on a Sunday, Chaminade's Sunset Restaurant has an award-winning Sunday morning Champagne brunch. Happy hour is every Tuesday-Thursday, 4-6PM.
- 10 Charlie Hong Kong, 1141 Soquel Ave. An oddly small colorful building which contains a restaurant of decent inauthentic Thai/Vietnamese fusion. There is half-outdoor seating complete with heat lamps, foliage, and colorful decorative lighting. Very vegan/vegetarian friendly. $4-6 for standard entree.
- 11 El Palomar, 1336 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 425-7575. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Reservations are taken only for large parties on weeknights, and the wait can be very long on weekends. Great Mexican food in dramatic dining room, but not cheap. Brighter cantina in back is a good lunch spot that becomes a bar at night, serves some of the best tacos in town for $2.50 a pop and has specials on Tuesday nights. Lots of seafood specialties. Homemade tortillas are excellent, as are the margaritas. Strolling guitar players some evenings. Kid friendly. Typical entrees $10–16.
- 12 Kianti's, 1100 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 469-4400. This is a great downtown Italian spot. The food is quite good, and it's a very entertaining place to eat. On weekend evenings, you may even get a fully choreographed performance by the entire staff. $8–10.
- 13 Malabar, 514 Front St, ☏ +1 831 423-7906. Excellent curried mangos and Kofta Joe. The service can be surly, but don't worry about it. Eat and be happy. Sunday night dinner is a fixed menu consisting of naan, salad, various curries and rice (in small amounts) and a dessert; however, the price is determined by what you think it is worth. Only have $5? It's okay. Feel like it's worth $20, that works too.
- 14 Mobo Sushi, 105 River St (San Lorenzo Park Plaza Shopping Center). Innovative sushi and jazz club. Check local listings for music.
- 15 Oswalds, 121 Soquel Ave. Classy Californian cuisine using organic and fresh ingredients. Reservations recommended on the weekend. $8–25.
- 16 Red Restaurant and Lounge, 200 Locust St, ☏ +1 831 425-1913. 3PM-2AM. Features a plush lounge and an elegant dining room. Menu consists of happy hour bites (3-7PM) appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, salads, and nightly dinner specials. Organic local produce from the downtown farmer's market provides fresh, healthy, and delicious food. Chef Bobby Madrid. Exquisite cocktails featuring an array of house-infused liquors - you don't want to be in Santa Cruz without experiencing the Red. $6-30.
- 17 Seabreeze Cafe, 542 Seabright Ave, ☏ +1 831 427-9713. Still often called "Linda's" even though the personable owner sold this cafe to the her business partner Tex Hintze quite a few years ago. Often a wait on weekends but you can start your mug of coffee while you wait. Cinnamon Rolls on the weekend are a must! Best breakfast in town! Vegan-friendly, kid friendly.
- 18 Seabright Brewery, 519 Seabright Ave, ☏ +1 831 426-BREW (2739). 11:30AM – 11:30PM daily (kitchen closes at 10PM). Updated pub grub, and fresh beer made on the premises. Salmon fish and chips, with beer battered salmon fried in Japanese bread crumbs and served with sesame-wasabi tartar sauce and teriyaki garlic chili sauce is almost too rich to eat. Lots of vegetarian food. Big patio overlooks a busy road, but is a pleasant place to head after a day at the beach. Beer and pizza specials on some weekdays. $8–12 sandwiches and entrees.
- 19 Shogun, 1123 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 469-4477. Excellent sushi restaurant in a convenient downtown location. The exceptionally fresh ingredients and talented sushi staff make this some of the best sushi available in Santa Cruz County. They offer all the traditional suhis, as well as lots of variations, some of which are veggie/vegan friendly. Of particular interest is the "korokke," a potato croquette served with tonkatsu sauce, which you won't find in many local Japanese restaurants. Serves lunch and dinner through the week, dinner Saturdays, closed Sundays. Sushi plates are $3–9.
- 20 Silver Spur Restaurant, 2650 Soquel Dr, ☏ +1 831 475-2725. It's letting the secret out of the bag to tell you that Linda of Seabreeze Cafe fame bought this larger venue to sling her famous fabulous food. Vegan-friendly, kid-friendly.
- 21 The Buttery Café, 702 Soquel Avenue, ☏ +1 831 458-3020, fax: +1 831 458-1012, [email protected]. 7AM-7PM. The café serves breakfast foods, sandwiches, salads, and, of course, delectable fresh bakery items.
- 22 Thai House, 353 Soquel Ave, ☏ +1 831 458-3546. Arguably the best Thai food experience in Santa Cruz. The food is quite good, the ambiance interesting and relaxing, and the staff always friendly. Kids will stay entertained by the two large aquariums. $6–15.
- 23 Vasili's, 1501 Mission St, ☏ +1 831 458-9808. People travel from a fair distance to sample the authentic and very tasty Greek food. $6–15.
- 24 Walnut Avenue Cafe, 106 Walnut Ave, ☏ +1 831 457-2307. American breakfast and lunch. Fresh ingredients, friendly service, and a complete lack of trendiness. A favorite of Santa Cruz locals—long waits on the weekends.
- 25 Zachary's, 819 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 427-0646. Fantastic breakfasts featuring homemade bread French toasts, fruit salads, home fries, and more. Finishing Mike's Mess is a worthwhile challenge. Expect a line Saturday and Sunday. $1–10.
- 26 Zoccoli's Deli, 1534 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 423-1711. Amazing sandwich place. It's where all the locals go. The Castroville Italian sandwich and the tiramisu are to die for.
- 27 Crow's Nest, 2218 East Cliff Dr, ☏ +1 831 476-4560. Steak and seafood restaurant. Ocean view and full bar that's a favorite of locals. In the top three annually for "best happy hour" award from the local weekly paper.
- 28 Gabriella Cafe, 910 Cedar St, ☏ +1 831 457-1677. W-Su for lunch: 11:30AM-2:30PM & dinner 5:30PM-9PM. Amazing local, organic food and great wine list. $20–50.
For its size, Santa Cruz has a large number of drinking establishments from Irish pubs to nightclubs. Many of the bars are located along Pacific Avenue. A serious pub crawl can be done starting at either the Asti (listing below) and ending about 7 blocks away at the Rush Inn or the other way around.
- 1 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 in this dive bar.
- 2 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 1980s night drawing a large college crowd. Monday is Goth/Industrial night.
- 3 Red Room, 1003 Cedar St, ☏ +1 831 426-2994. daily 3PM–2AM. 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.
- 4 The Rush Inn, 113 Knight St, ☏ +1 831 425-9673. Has a reputation for allowing cigarette smoking indoors for many years after state law prohibited it.
Coffee and tea
- 5 Tabby Cat, 1101 Cedar St (downtown), ☏ +1 831 425-0441. M–F 7AM–3PM, Sa Su 9AM–3PM. Free WiFi, excellent coffee, good pastries. Predominantly local clientele.
- 6 Lulu Carpenter's, 1545 Pacific Ave (downtown), ☏ +1 831 429-9804. 7AM–9PM. Free WiFi access point.
- 7 Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company, 1330 Pacific Ave (downtown), ☏ +1 831 459-0100.
- Coffeetopia (Two locations). Free WiFi plus computers available. Great espresso.
- 8 1723 Mission St (Westside, down the hill from the university), ☏ +1 831 425-6583. 6AM–3PM.
- 9 3701 Portola Dr, ☏ +1 831 477-1940.
- 10 The Ugly Mug, 4640 Soquel Dr, ☏ +1 831 477-1341. 6:30AM–2PM. Free Wi-Fi. The Mug is a full service coffeehouse down the road a little, in the Soquel neighborhood east of the city proper. It's a place where you can socialize, study, and conduct business meetings in a warm friendly atmosphere. All local, all organic.
- 11 Verve Coffee Roasters, 1540 Pacific Ave (downtown), ☏ +1 831 600-7784. 8AM–6PM. Free Wi-Fi. They roast to order so you can sample far-out blends from all around the world and not have to buy the 12 oz (340 g) bag just to get a taste.
- 12 The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 423-1336. Large venue with bar/restaurant in the front and music venue in the back. Pool tables. Happy hour. Check local weekly papers for line-up.
- 13 The Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St, ☏ +1 831 427-2227. "Kuumbwa" (pronounced koo-um-ba, silent "w"), a Swahili word meaning "act of spontaneous creation." Kuumbwa Jazz is an internationally recognized nonprofit jazz venue. It's one of the longest weekly nonprofit jazz presenters on the West Coast, established in 1975. When we aren't presenting our own weekly jazz series, the venue is available for outside promoters to bring in acts such as bluegrass, folk, Celtic and world music. The venue is also available for special occasions such as receptions, private parties, and community events.
Santa Cruz offers everything from cheap drive-up motels along Ocean Street to cute B&Bs to one somewhat shabby high-rise hotel on the beach.
A medley of factors allows for de facto legal camping throughout town on city-owned property. There are encampments scattered throughout town. Downtown alone features an encampment of dozens of tents adjacent to San Lorenzo Park. Many people sleep and live in cars and RVs throughout the area, though some neighborhoods may tolerate it less or more than others.
- 2 Bay Front Inn Hotel, 325 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 423-8564. Free high-speed Internet access.
- 3 Casablanca Inn & Bistro, 101 Main St, ☏ +1 831 423-1570.
- 4 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 3 mi (4.8 km) of hiking trails.
- 5 Coastview Inn, 301 Beach St, ☏ +1 831 426-0420.
- 6 Comfort Inn Santa Cruz, 314 Riverside Ave, ☏ +1 831 471-9999, [email protected].
- 7 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.
- 8 Inn at Pasatiempo, 555 Highway 17, ☏ +1 831 423-5000.
- 9 Pacific Blue Inn, 636 Pacific Ave, ☏ +1 831 600-8880, [email protected]. This eB&B offers nine eco-friendly rooms, free Wi-Fi, bikes, parking and all rooms are ADA. from $149 + tax.
- 10 Santa Cruz Dream Inn, 175 West Cliff Dr, ☏ +1 831 426-4330. Every room has a private ocean-front balcony.
- 11 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.
For our bohemian friends passing through (keep Santa Cruz Weird!), sleeping on city beaches cannot be recommended. Try the more chill beaches along the cliffs northwest of town, or along the sandy banks of the San Lorenzo, upriver in the gorge, along Highway 9.
- 12 New Brighton State Beach, ☏ +1 831-464-6329. Just south of Santa Cruz in Capitola. Campsites sit on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Very popular site and reservations are recommended far in advance.
- 13 Butano State Park. Just north of Santa Cruz, Butano is a nice park among giant old growth and second growth redwood trees. Close to Highway 1, this spot is an ideal location for travelers plying the San Francisco to Monterrey route. Not recommended for large RVs and trailers over 24 ft (7.3 m).
- 14 Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Just north of Santa Cruz on Highway 9, Henry Cowell sits in giant redwoods trees. Nice enough to be a destination in and of itself but also a nice central spot to use as a base of operations for exploring Santa Cruz and surroundings.
- 15 Portola Redwoods State Park. Long, winding, one-lane mountain roads keep most people away from this park. Their loss can be your gain. Some of the biggest trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains can be found in this park in the Peters Creek area. This park is nearly always empty. Not recommended for vehicles longer than 21 ft (6.4 m).
- 16 Seacliff State Beach, ☏ +1 831 685-6500. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. South of Santa Cruz in Aptos, this camp site offers beach side RV camping year round. Tent camping not permitted.
- 17 Manresa Uplands State Beach (formally called Sand Dollar), ☏ +1 831 724-3750. Walk-in camp sites along a bluff overlooking the ocean. Closed winters.
- 18 Sunset State Beach (south of Santa Cruz near Watsonville). Campsites on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Reservations recommended far in advance.
- 19 Castle Rock State Park, ☏ +1 408-868-9540. Backpacking sites about 3 mi (4.8 km) from the parking lot. No cell phone reception. Camping $15/night (includes 1 vehicle). Extra vehicles and day use $10.
- 20 The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, ☏ +1 831-763-7063. Backpacking sites about 9 mi (14 km) form the visitors center and 3 mi (4.8 km) from Olive Springs Road.
There is much crime in the downtown area, often drug-related. You will probably be safe during the day and early evening, but keep your wits about yourself. Mountain lions exist in the more rural areas, but are uncommon. Attacks by mountain lions on humans are much rarer still, but have happened. If you should see one, do not approach it, and if it approaches you in a seemingly aggressive manner, stand as tall as possible and wave your arms; this will usually intimidate it.
During most of the year, the ocean is cold enough to quickly give you hypothermia, and there are dangerous rip currents at many beaches. Unless you're a qualified diver and you've done your homework, you're best off leaving it to the local surfers, who typically wear full-body wetsuits and know what they're doing.
If you are a skilled surfer, be aware that Santa Cruz's surfing culture is unfortunately notorious for its "locals only" attitude, and while in reality most surfers there are perfectly reasonable and friendly, if you are surfing there and you do get into a confrontation, it's best to just walk away.
- Bonny Doon
- Boulder Creek
- Felton - you can take a scenic train trip from Santa Cruz to Felton, see the Felton article for details.
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The oldest state park in California. If features stately redwood groves and the Skyline-to-Sea Trail. Hike from Big Basin Park headquarters to Waddell Creek State Beach. Completely closed in 2020 due to catastrophic wildfire damage, with parts still smoldering six months later.
- 1 Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (Just north of Santa Cruz in the mountains). Henry Cowell State Park is located along highway 9 just north of town. It has a great nature center and little trail with old growth redwoods. This is a heavily wooded park containing many historic redwood trees. The San Lorenzo River flows through the park forming a canyon that makes you feel you are somewhere far away. Make sure to visit Big Rock Hole; a quaint swimming hole with room to splash around and even a rope swing! Right next door is Roaring Camp Railroads where you can ride either the beach train to the Boardwalk or the steam train to Bear Mountain.
- 2 Año Nuevo State Park. A park 25 mi (40 km) north on Hwy 1 with one of the largest populations of Elephant Seals, guided tours are available during the winter (which is breeding season). Animals are there year round.
For a longer trip:
- Drive up to the mountains of Santa Cruz.
- Drive 50 minutes south along the coast of Monterey Bay to the city of Monterey.
- Head up the coast towards San Francisco via Half Moon Bay
|Routes through Santa Cruz|
|San Francisco ← Pescadero ←||N S||→ Capitola → Monterey|
|Los Gatos ← Felton ←||N E||→ END|
|San Jose ← Scotts Valley ←||N S||→ END|