I didn't think going on the beach at night would be something dangerous, but it can be. I was there with my mom, dad, and cousin. We wanted to take a walk down the beach at night to see the amusement park, all lit up. I noticed there were some crack heads under the pier, that were high on drugs. I thought we'd just walk past them with no trouble, but I was wrong. They saw that we had cameras, and yelled at us to stop. We didn't even hear them, and just kept walking. All I heard was my mom yelling, "Are you guys looking for trouble?" I didn't know what she was talking about, but noticed she didn't follow us, so we just kept walking without her. She had gone back to the car, and it wasn't 'til we got back, that she explained to us, what had happened. The guys from under the pier, had blocked her path. She also said there was another guy with a camera, and they wouldn't let him on the beach either. She then said that they were yelling at us to stop, but we didn't hear them. I guess we just made it down so quickly, that they didn't have time to stop us. We got lucky.
I have never had any incident like this happened before. I can't say if they just don't like people with cameras, or they don't like people period, because my mom didn't have a camera, and they stopped her too. So, I would just be safe, and stay off the beach at night entirely.
Us, and the other guy with the camera didn't do anything wrong. It was the guys under the bridge who were doing illegal activity, and they are the ones who shouldn't have been there. I see why they were freaked out about people with cameras. This being such a popular tourist area though, the city should definitely do something about this problem, like post some security guards at the pier after dark, because these things shouldn't happened.
Poison Oak is endemic throughout the Santa Cruz mountains, so avoid it or expect an uncomfortable rash. Sensitivity varies with individuals and exposure, but the immune response can actually get worse with repeated exposure to the active chemical ingredient. Some individuals severe response may require hospitalization. The plant is dormant in winter, so while it's possible to get a rash from dead twigs, it's less likely. During the active growing season, the leaves are green and tender, much like an oak leaf, and tend to be less potent. In my experience, the worse time of year to get a good rash is during the fall when the leaves turn fall colors. You can also get a good case of the rash by sleeping with a dog who has walked through the forest brush, while the animal itself will not be affected. Seek medical advice if the rash turns into serious swelling or persists for awhile, but often simply reducing the itchy feeling with vinegar will help. The best solution is to avoid walking through the brush. Trails are often cleared of the plant, and with practice, you will learn to identify and avoid it. See the photo and links...
Don't let yourself get too freaked out by the large homeless population in Santa Cruz. You'll find them predominately on Pacific (the downtown area) and by the river. I lived in Santa Cruz for 4 years and would often go to Pacific at night by myself and other than being asked for money, I didn't have any problems. Although they're not normally violent (from my experience) don't go down by the San Lorenzo River or San Lorenzo Park (at least, I think that's what it's called) after dark since there is a large homeless population that lives there. Use common sense and you'll be fine.
Santa Cruz, like any other place on the Northern California coast, gets a lot of fog in the summer. When it is foggy, it is usually cold, too, near mid 50's Fahrenheit. We spent 3 days here in early September, and it was foggy and overcast almost the entire time. I had to wear jeans and a fleece jacket as we were walking around town. You'd never know it was the middle of summer! Come prepared. This is not San Diego!
Watch out for pedestrians in Santa Cruz. You never know when one of them will walk directly in front of your car, even when you clearly have the right of way. They are worse than our pedestrians in San Francisco (of which I am one). Not only do the Santa Cruz pedestrians engage in high risk crossings, they are somewhat brainless, too. Drive slowly on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. You just never know when suddenly you'll have a pedestrian within 2 inches of your bumper.
This picture shows Pacific Avenue during a quiet morning, but trust me, it is nothing like this in the afternoon and evening.
Expect there to be tons of traffic on the weekends. There is also major construction on Highway 1 going in and out of santa Cruz. Expect long delays!
I highly recogmend arriving during the begining of the week to get situated with the area. Try to bring or rent a bike to travel within the downtown area, beaches and along to coast south to Capitola. Quite Senic!
When you're walking along here, enjoying the beautiful weather and admiring the view, be sure to also watch where you're going so you don't step on one of our giant slugs.
They're the second-largest slugs in existence, and they can grow up to 25cm in length. As they slide along the earth, they gobble up leaves and insect poop, and recycle them into soil. Preferring to be alone most of the time, they will usually find a favorite place to go to during dry spells - a place where they can hide out and dream their sluggy dreams.
The two slender pairs of telescopic tentacles on slugs heads are used to receive sensations from their surroundings. The superior pair, with the dark tips, are used to sense the presence of light. Slugs can't see distinct images (at least not that we know of), but they can sense varying levels of light and darkness. The inferior pair of tentacles are like little noses, picking up smells from along the forest floor.
Banana slugs can be found in moist forest regions along the Pacific Coast, from California on up to Alaska.
The Banana Slug is also the official mascot of the University of California Santa Cruz. In the movie Pulp Fiction, you can see John Travolta wearing a UCSC t-shirt with a very yellow Sammy the Slug on it.
Watch where you step!
Everyone in Santa Cruz wants to talk to you it seems! Everyone says hello, and some won't let it go at that, they'll chat you up for quite a while. These really chatty types are sometimes homeless people who just want some cash (or a cigarette if you're a smoker). Most people say just a friendly hello.
I always thought the Pacific Ocean was contaminated, and one day, I finally got proof with the numerous signs pointing to contaminated run-off from nearby creeks that lead straight through the sand. Some beaches get new sand to bulldoze over the contaminated bit, but sometimes the water is unsafe for human contact. Mind any signs that are posted. The water is too cold to swim in anyways!
Despite it's ultra laid-back vibe, the city does have quite a few problems that are immediately noticeable. Homelessness is among the city's most pressing issues. Due to its climate, high housing prices, and liberal politics, the city attracts (and creates) a large number of transients, and sadly the city government is often at odds with the business community with what to do with them. However, the homeless are generally harmless and will probably ask only for change or a cigarette. I've noticed some are completely unabashed in asking for beer.
The area around the Boardwalk, called Beach Flats by the locals, is one of Santa Cruz's seediest areas. The area is the home to many hotels because of their closeness to the beach, but its high crime and drug use rate makes it not a great area to visit in the dead of night. Although murder is rare, it's still probably in your best of interests to avoid it in the wee hours.
If you have any problems, please contact either the Santa Cruz Police Department or the Santa Cruz County Sheriff. Call 911 if you ever have an emergency.