The Pier at Santa Cruz has many touristy shops, bikini stores, and places to eat. There are several good fish restaurants with great views of the water although for myself, a crab sandwich at Stagnaro's is the best treat. At one time, local fisherman brought their catch to 21 fishmongers that sold here. Now, only two fishmarkets are left, and only Stagnaro's is an original from the earlier fishmonger days. My favorite activity is to buy a crab sandwich and visit the sea lions that hangout in the pylons and beams of the pier. There are two main viewing places. One near the very end of the pier, and another down a stairwell across the pier from Stagnaro's. It's fun to watch the huge animals come and lounge along the beams. Parking is free for the first 30 minutes, and then one has to pay on the way out. Parking on the pier can be difficult, but cruise slow and you'll find a spot.
The current Santa Cruz Wharf, built in 1914 is the 5th wharf to occupy this site. The wharf was originally built to ensure continued shipping operations as the bay was filling with silt. This wharf had a railroad track, a few warehouses and no shops or restaurants. Today the wharf has about 10 restaurants, numerous shops offering gifts and touristy stuff, and various educational stops. This area also has an abundance of sea lions and sea otters.
On our recent visit we enjoyed the views from the wharf, but little else. The views back toward the Boardwalk and to the Abbot Lighthouse are impressive, and the sea lions are always fun to watch, especially the young pup in the late spring. The bad part of this wharf is that most of it is a giant parking lot, bigger than your local Wal-Mart. Furthermore, the restaurants seem very touristy, and surprisingly lacking outdoor seating along the water like you might see at Morrow Bay.
Like Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, this is a row of small shops and restaurants. It offers great views of the town and the bay. It's also a popular fishing spot.