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At lighthouse point on West Cliff Drive there is a fine little museum devoted to the local surf scene. The museum is located in the lighthouse - where else?
The museum opened in 1986 and is the first surfing museum in the US. The location is exceptional, overlooking steamers lane where the surf action is keen. On the other side is a small and popular beach for sunbathing and running dogs (during limited hours for the dogs).
What is good about this museum is that you can really tell that it was designed by people who love and respect surfing and its history. Even if you don't have much interest in surfing itself, the cultural aspects of it are pretty interesting, as well as the stories that come with some of the local surfing legends.
The location of the lighthouse is a popular place just to hang out and see the coast. West Cliff Drive has a long walking path that goes from main beach all the way up to Natural Bridges State Park. This museum and lighthouse is a easy walk from the main beach at Santa Cruz.
Written Sep 14, 2008
Address: 701 West Cliff Drive
This bridge is located nearby in the town of Felton. The bridge was built in the 1890s and for many years was the only way to cross the San Lorenzo River and get into the town. Now it is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is notable for the excellent condition is has been kept in and that it is thought to be the tallest of the existing covered bridges in the US.
In front of the bridge is a small park with a playground and picnic sites. If you come in the winter, during or after a big rain, you will have great views of the rushing water below. In the summer the river looks harmless, but it has been the cause for a lot of worry over the years during rainy winters.
Written Aug 7, 2008
Address: By the park in Felton.
Santa Cruz's original lighthouse was constructed on Lighthouse Point in 1868 near the site of the Abbott Lighthouse. This lighthouse was moved in 1878 due to erosion of the cliff, it ceased operations in 1941, and the original building was torn down in 1948. The Abbott Memorial Lighthouse was completed in 1967 in honor of a surfer who died near the point. The lighthouse building houses the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum which was founded in 1985.
The area around the lighthouse is preserved as Lighthouse Field State Park, a Santa Cruz city park. The park and lighthouse are on a point officially named Point Santa Cruz which is the northern boundary of the Monterey Bay. It stands about 22 miles from the southern edge of the bay, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove. Lighthouse Field State Park is actually the third most visited state park in California with about 4 million annual visitors.
The other lighthouse in Santa Cruz is called Walton Lighthouse and is located next to Santa Cruz Marina and was built in 2001.
Updated May 28, 2008
Address: Cliff Drive
Phone: (831) 420-6289
Aptos is just a few miles from Santa Cruz and offers a few interesting sites, some nice beaches, and a small town feel.
The most interesting thing here is the Palo Alto, a partially sunken ship that sits at the end of the pier at Seacliff State Beach. The Palo Alto is a concrete ship built in Oakland in 1919 as an oil tanker. Completed after the end of WWI, the ship was mothballed in Oakland until 1929 when it was purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company for use as an "amusement ship" with arcade, dance hall, and swimming pool. The ship was grounded in the sand, and permanently docked at the pier. In the winter of 1931, the ship's hull cracked and sunk in place. It was used for a time as a fishing pier, but even that is unsafe now with the condition of the hull. Perhaps in another thousand years it will be gone.
Seacliff State Beach is located at the end of State Park Drive. For a $6 fee you can park at the lot on top of the bluffs or you can drive down to the picnic and camping areas on the beach. If you are cheap like me, there are a few place near the park entrance where you can park for free then walk down a set of steps to the beach and pier. Seacliff State Beach is the sixth busiest state park in California with almost 2.5 million visitors per year.
Aptos is an unincorporated town with about 10,000 residents.
Updated May 28, 2008
Address: Aptos, California
Phone: (831) 685-6442
Until the late 19th Century, much of the transportation between San Francisco and Santa Cruz was by sea, and the lighthouse at Point Santa Cruz was considered a priority as early as 1852. However, funding and property purchase were delayed, and the first lighthouse structure wasn't completed until 1870, becoming the 12th beacon along California's coast. The original wooden structure on brick foundation was taken from plans used to build the Ediz Hook Lighthouse in Washington. In 1878, the lighthouse had to be moved on rollers to a new location further from the coastline when it was feared that storm battered surge caves might undermine the structure. The lamp was changed a couple of times, particularly as city lights began to compete with it. A United State artillery divisioni occupied the property during WWII, and in 1948, the lighthouse building was auctioned and hauled away by the new owner. In 1965, 18 year old body surfer, Mark Abott, drowned off-shore and with the life insurance proceeds, his parents arranged to build the current Mark Abott Memorial Lighthouse structure. The lantern room from the decommissioned Oakland Harbor Lighthouse was used atop the new lighthouse, and Mark’s ashes were buried at the base of the tower. However, the lantern room had to be replaced in 1996 as part of a restoration project in this building which has, since 1986, been also devoted to being a surfing museum. The links below provide much more detail that I can include here. It is very popular to walk the dog, jog, or bicycle past the lighthouse.
Written May 27, 2008
Periodically through the summer, Santa Cruz hosts surfing competitions and awards prize money. The most likely spot for this is near the lighthouse where there are good views of the water and a good break against the cliffs. Unfortunately, during the day that we happened by, it was an overcast day with poor surf conditons. But, there was plenty of food and folks had a good time socializing as they watched the surfers ply the waters.
Written May 26, 2008
Sea Lions are a type of seal, recognized by their external ears, ability to walk on land, and their barking. The sea lions are a top attraction in Santa Cruz, as people are often lining the wharf to watch them play or watch them sleep (exciting!). The California Sea Lion is distinguished from other sea lion species by the males' large forehead, hence the scientific name Zalophus californianus literally meaning "California Big Head". Sea lions can walk on land relatively easily and swim using their front flippers for propulsion.
The harbor seals are easily distinguished from the sea lions by their silvery light gray skin with dark spots. Harbor seals also do not have external ears and are much, much, much more quiet than their cousins the mouthy sea lions. Interestingly, harbor seals rarely associate with other harbor seals, but will rest on rocks and on the shore next to California sea lions, but few other animals. Harbor seals swim with their back flippers and have a tough time on land.
The best place to see the sea lions is from anywhere along the Santa Cruz Wharf. During my last visit there was a large group of sea lions at the very tip of the wharf, and another smaller group about 1/3 of the way into the wharf from the land where there is a small floating platform and step for people to view from just a few feet above the fray.
Use caution around the sea lions...they have been known to attack people along the California coast.
Written May 16, 2008
Misión la Exaltacion de la Santa Cruz was the 12th of California's 21 Spanish Missions. Completed in 1795, after several earthquakes caused damage, it collapsed in 1857. Only one building survives, called the Neary-Rodriguez Adobe, it was built in 1791 and it sits on top of a bluff overlooking central Santa Cruz. The modern Church of the Holy Cross and its buildings occupy much of the site of the former mission.
Shortly after the mission was completed the Spanish created a "villa" called Branciforte just across the river. This secular community made up of soldiers and criminals conflicted with the mission life, and led to its decline. When the Mexican government decided to secularize the missions in 1834, Branciforte and Mission Santa Cruz were combined under the name Pueblo de Figueroa. Many of the foreigners at Branciforte were banished to Mexico in 1840, but the city ultimately continued to grow into modern Santa Cruz, which maintains many of Branciforte's secular and slightly rebellious traditions.
Spain created 21 missions, 3 pueblos (or towns located in LA, San Jose, & Santa Cruz), & 4 presidios (at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, & San Francisco) in California. The first mission--San Diego--was established in 1769 while the final mission at Sonoma was completed in 1823.
The missions were religious centers for the purpose of converting the native population to Christianity. The presidios' main function was a strategic military fortification and barracks, primarily to prevent competing colonial claims from Britain or Russia along the California Coast. The pueblos were designed as towns to provide food & other support to the military presidios. The last piece of the intricate colonial structure of the Spanish was the ranchos which consisted of some 800 private plots of land for farming.
Updated May 16, 2008
Address: 144 School Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 425-5849
The area around the wharf features the Cowell Beach to the west, Santa Cruz Beach to the east, and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk with no boards to walk on along the Santa Cruz Beach. In the summer these beaches next to the wharf are very popular--even during our last visit in may there were several hundred people sunning on the beach, swimming, and playing volleyball on the city's sand courts near the boardwalk.
The Boardwalk is actually an amusement park first built in 1907 and is open in the summer. It is 1/2 mile long and contains 34 rides including a carousel from 1911. Entrance to the boardwalk is free, you only pay if you ride the rides. Beside the old boardwalk is a new Boardwalk Arcade that is open year around with a variety of indoor games.
Updated May 16, 2008
Address: Beach Street, Santa Cruz
When I lived in Santa Cruz, the joke/complaint was that you could find anything from Tibetan bells and Peruvian caps downtown, but to find a pair of socks you had to leave town. Well, Pacific Ave in Santa Cruz surely does cater to visitors and has a wide variety of gift shops, botiques, book stores etc. It makes for an interesting stroll.
Worth a look is the Artisans Gallery (1368 Pacific Ave) for local artists' wares, Annie Glass (110 Cooper St) for quality custom items, and Bookshop Santa Cruz (1520 Pacific Ave) for books, cards, etc. There's plenty more here. Oh, for candy, salt water taffy etc. try Marini's, at 1308 Pacific Ave.
Written Dec 28, 2007
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