Watch a Surf Competition
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.Related to:
- Water Sports
See the sea lions at the wharf
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.
Santa Cruz Mission & Branciforte
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.
Santa Cruz Beaches
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.
Shop Pacific Avenue
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.Related to:
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Road Trip
- Luxury Travel
Don't Go To Starbucks
Santa Cruz probably has more coffee shops per capita than anyplace on the west coast south of Seattle. While there is a Starbucks on Pacific Ave. (located in what used to be a cute old German deli), there is no shortage of one-of-a-kind independent coffee shops throughout the Santa Cruz area. Downtown there is a place on every block. There are several others in Capitola and Live Oak.
The one pictured here is the Windmill Coffee Spot, just up the hill from Twin Lakes Beach to the south. The building used to be a chocolate shop. Next door there is a good Italian Restaurant, Star Benne.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Study Abroad
- Budget Travel
See the banana slugs
The Banana Slug is not just the odd mascot for the UC Santa Cruz athletic teams. It is a real animal with lightning speed and a vicious attack. OK, that's not true, but banana slugs have some unique features:
The Pacific banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) is considered the second largest of all slugs and can reach lengths of about 10 inches. They survive by eating dirt, animal poop, and dead vegetation. Banana slugs are hermaphrodites, and they reproduce by exchanging sperm with their mate, apparently both partners of the couple can get pregnant. Amazing animals.
We saw three in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, one trying to commit suicide on a road, and two others near the main park visitors center in the Redwood Grove.
Santa Cruz by night
Why not have an evening out at Santa Cruz' beach. From some spots you will have a nice view towards the boardwalk. In fact it seems to be something popular to be photographed at night... well I have no doubts... ;)Related to:
- Family Travel
- Theme Park Trips
Rent drink machines at www.margaritasagogo.com
If you have access to a regular household power outlet (110volt) you can rent a frozen drink machine. Add some alcohol and you can have margaritas, pina coladas, or anything you want! Go to www.margaritasagogo.com to see what its all about! Prices are great, service is fantastic and the drinks are the best!Related to:
- Luxury Travel
Old Fashion Drive-In Movie Theatre
Skyview Drive-In is one of the last surviving drive-in theatres in California. It's a must do when visiting Santa Cruz. The mountain/sea air under the stars and the drive-in. . . what a combination!!!Related to:
- Theater Travel
- Family Travel
The Del Mar
This theater is amazing. They refurbished it in 2001 and I loved watching movies here. It shows independent films. The inside is beautiful- it feels like you've been transported back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when going to the movies was a glamerous affair. Great movies in a beautiful setting - what more can you ask for?
Santa Cruz Rec Trail
Like Monterey, Santa Cruz has an extensive recreation trail following the coastline. It connects many of Santa Cruz's main attractions including the Wharf, Santa Cruz State Beach, Lighthouse Park and its surfing museum, and Natural Bridges State Beach. Covering about 2 miles along West Cliff Drive, I was amazed to see how busy the trail was on a cloudy Sunday morning. There were people everywhere jogging, walking, and biking while enjoying the views over Monterey Bay. With plenty of parking the park is easily accessible to locals and out of towners.
Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is home to a sandstone arch, a nice beach, and a butterfly overwintering area. To park for the day will cost you $6, but if you just want to see the arch or the butterflies, you can park for free at the end of West Cliff Dr along the water, for a maximum of 20 minutes.
The main geological attraction of Santa Cruz is Natural Bridges State Beach, with its highlight natural bridge sitting in the bay just feet from the beach. The beach originally boasted three arches all connected to each other and the land, but the inner and outer arches have fallen leaving just the middle arch, which will someday join its companions in the sea.
The beach is less than 300 yards wide and faces almost due south into the bay towards Monterey. At the back of the beach along the woods is a wetlands area formed at the mouth of Moore Creek. Along the water you will find smooth sandy beach and numerous tide pools full of sealife.
Natural Bridges State Beach is also a butterfly overwintering location similar to the one in Pacific Grove near Monterey. The monarchs live here all winter ("overwinter"), never breeding, just saving their energy for survival. As spring approaches, they finally mate and fly north laying eggs along the way. Throughout the summer the butterflies continue to mate, produce offspring, then die, meaning the monarchs that return to Pacific Grove the following year are several generations removed from those who spent the previous winter here...how do they know where to go? They must use this map.
Most of the monarchs east of the Rockies go into the mountains of central Mexico. Interestingly, the overwintering sites in Mexico are typically at 3,000 feet above sea level or more and on south facing slopes, while the California sites are just a few feet above the ocean, and relatively flat. Some of they keys to wintering sites are a constant temperature with no snow or wind, but plenty of moisture in the form of clouds and fog.
Oh yes, the beach
This town has many facets, but tourists come here for the BEACH! This is the only place on the west coast which has an amusement park right on the beach boardwalk. This is a beach for everyone. Just follow the giant rollercoaster, and you will be at the main beach area. Funky, cheesy fun for sure! There are also many volleyball nets on the beach for tournaments or regular play.Related to:
Santa Cruz is a huge surfin town with some 'narly waves dude'. Many world class surfers go to the break near the Surfing Musuem, (which is built as a lighthouse) Many people come and watch and film all those super cool surfers. Hope you enjoy the ***in surfin photos. These guys and gals are rad! Surfin is such a way of life here, there is even a surfer's statue located on West Cliff Drive near the Musuem.Related to:
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