We are so fortunate to be living so close to our favorite beach town of Santa Cruz, California; just a 20-minute drive on Hwy 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz has everything a beach town should have and more. First and foremost are what everyone goes to Santa Cruz for – the beaches.
Beautiful beaches line the Pacific Coast in Santa Cruz.
Natural Bridges Beach.
Santa Cruz Boardwalk Beach.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is an outstanding amusement park for kids and adults alike. And that too right on the beach with spectacular ocean views to boot. WOW!
Kids especially LOVE Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. They can spend all day and night at this fun playground for kids of all ages.
Downtown Santa Cruz.
Our favorite off the beaten path spot in Santa Cruz is downtown Santa Cruz on Pacific Ave. I absolutely love this downtown strip. Tree-lined Pacific Street is the main street of Downtown Santa Cruz. This is a lovely area with a wide variety of eclectic and bohemian hippy style stores and boutiques mixed in with flagship stores like Gap and Urban Outfitters. This is a fun strip to walk and explore the truly “out there” alternative healing and organic clothing boutiques.
With lots of gourmet coffee shops, ice cream parlors, cookie stores, chocolate shops, and plenty cafes and restaurants – this is one downtown street you won’t have to worry about going hungry.
The Walnut Cafe:
One of our favorite cafes is called The Walnut Cafe on Walnut Street right off the main strip. Walnut Cafe is a fabulous breakfast and brunch place that serves food from 7am to 3pm.
Right opposite Walnut Cafe is a very cool store called Stripe that sells everything from artisanal candles to designer clothing, to up-market flea market finds and local handmade jewelry.
Like Indian food?
For outstanding Indian food where they have a vegetarian buffet all day long for $9.95 is a hole in the wall cafe called Sitar. Extremely popular with the locals there is always a steady flow of clientele at this little cafe. It’s been in downtown Santa Cruz forever.
Want to catch a movie?
There is even a movie theater in downtown Santa Cruz and one time after watching Hundred Foot Journey – all the movie goers just walked across the street for Indian food at Sitar 😃😋.
Another cool feature in Santa Cruz downtown is their trolley service. Old trolley cars that run on tracks give rides through downtown with multiple stops, and take people to the Boardwalk and back, all for just $1. This is an especially fun ride for the kids.
Book Shop Santa Cruz. A Historic Landmark in Downtown Santa Cruz
Any time we go to Santa Cruz I HAVE to stop at Book Shop Santa Cruz!! First, let me say that I love bookshops!! Small or big, no matter – there is something about a bookstore that is nostalgic. The touch of paper and exploration of books old and newer releases, I always come away with some new book revelation.
Book Shop Santa Cruz is a very special bookshop. It’s huge. What makes this a special bookstore is a few things. First, it has been in Santa Cruz for over 50 years! In fact it got completely demolished – as in leveled, flattened to the ground during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The entire downtown strip was gone, and disintegrated into just rubble after the earthquake – that is the power of Mother Nature. It took over a decade to bring this local downtown strip back to its old glory. And everyone was thrilled to know that Book Shop Santa Cruz didn’t abandon the town but rebuilt and made their store even bigger than before.
What I like in this bookshop is the natural light and always bustling atmosphere. Tons of skylights bring wonderful natural light into the store making it a cheerful place to browse to your hearts content.
Benches and chairs all over the bookstore encourage customers to just relax and peruse through a book or two.
Another cool feature I love in this store is there sale section. I always find the coolest out of print books at reasonable prices here.
Here a few titles I have picked up over the years.
There is even a charming cafe attached to the bookstore that sells coffee, hot chocolate, and lunch. Book Shop Santa Cruz is always a fun place to stop into whether one just wants to browse or pick up a book or two.
West Cliff Drive. Stroll, Surfers, and Seals.
West Cliff Drive never disappoints. A wonderful place to walk with the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop.
West Cliff Drive is a great place to watch surfers ride the waves.
There are always seals hanging out on the rocks in this enclave on West Cliff Drive, and if we are lucky we can even see the flumes of whales on the horizon, as well as the landmass of Monterey beyond.
LEAVING A LEGACY
On a related note I would like to share this article I came across a few days ago on the passing of Santa Cruz resident and entrepreneur Jack O’Neill at the age of 94 – inventor of the modern day wetsuit. To quote from the Santa Cruz Sentenial “Thousands of people converged at Pleasure Point Sunday morning to witness what was expected to be the largest-ever paddle-out memorial, to honor Jack O’Neill, inventor of the modern-day wetsuit.
A paddle out is an age-old memorial tradition in which surfers form a circle in the ocean, whooping, splashing and throwing flowers in the water, to honor a fellow waterman’s passing. The paddle out circle on Sunday for O’Neill stretched more than half a mile across. Estimates ranged from 2,000 to 3,000 surfers joining in the circle.”
“He’s an absolute titan of the surf industry and his legacy will live on forever,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, O’Neill Wetsuits’ vice president of marketing communications. “Anytime someone puts on a wetsuit and surfs in cold water, they have Jack to thank for that.”
Kampion, the biographer who worked on O’Neill’s book had this to say about his long-time friend, “Jack is also a kind, sweet, and embracing fatherly soul, Jack was and is — I think his soul is probably marching on, I don’t know what kind of wetsuit you wear in heaven, but I’m sure he’s comfortable.”
“Haifley, who has known O’Neill since the late 1980s, said the man was more than a surf industry innovator. The surfer, boater, inventor and balloonist launched the marine and environmental education O’Neill Sea Odyssey in partnership with his son Tim O’Neill in 1996 for the development of the next generation of ocean stewards. “ Santa Cruz iconic wetsuit innovator Jack O’Neill dies at 94
Here is a fascinating tidbit of information on how the wetsuit has changed the sport of surfing forever. Before the wetsuit surfers would wrap themselves in cashmere and makeshift insulation and were only able to be in the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean for 30 minutes. After Jack O’Neill’s wetsuit invention surfers can stay in the water for up to 2 1/2 hours! Jack’s invention without a doubt changed the surfing sport forever.
West Cliff Drive ends at Natural Bridges State Park.
What makes this park so special is the thousands of Monarch butterflies that migrate here from Mexico and some just stay at the park. There are so many butterflies here that sometimes they look like the bark of trees. Only if you squint do you realize they are hundreds of monarch butterflies huddling together on the trunks of redwood trees. Lots of tide pools and a fun hiking trail make this a nature lovers excursion for the whole family.
Hwy 17 to Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz makes even the beautiful drive on Hwy 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains a scenic drive.
Santa Cruz is one beach town we never get tiered of visiting at any time of the year. There are so many more attractions and sights to see in and around this town including wineries, hiking trails, more beaches, and train rides through the redwood forest, that I would need to write at least ten more posts on them.
To check out a list of al the activities at Santa Cruz and the surrounding areas, just search on the Internet for hundreds of articles. Here are a few links to the spots I mention in this article.
Santa Cruz can be a pain to get to on the weekends, especially in the summer months, and it can get very crowded as well. But if you are able to sneak away on a weekday for an afternoon in Santa Cruz – I promise you will come away with a high dose of Pacific Ocean therapy, a tummy full of good food, and a wonderful exhilarating stroll in the great outdoors.