Close your eyes and picture the perfect California beach town. If you see a boardwalk along the beach, a beautiful wharf that stretched out into picturesque Monterey Bay, tree-lined streets filled with interesting shops and great restaurants, then you are imagining Santa Cruz.
Situated about an hour and a half south of San Francisco, the city of a little over 60,000 inhabitants is home to the University of California, Santa Cruz and is famous for among other things as being the first location where Hawaiian royalty first introduced surfing to mainlanders.
Travelers love its laid back fun in the sun vibe and happy seaside vibe, but there’s a lot more to do here than catching a wave or the perfect tan.
Santa Cruz translated in Spanish or Portuguese as “holy cross” and was first discovered in 1769 the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola. Later Father Fermin de Lasuen established the 12th Christian mission in California.
• It’s history however started long before European missionaries arrived. A tooth belonging to a substantial prehistoric shark called Megalodon, (brought back to life in the cheesy 2018 film The Meg) that was dated somewhere between 10-12 million years old was discovered in the mountains nearby. It’s on display at the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum.
• A visit to the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse is also home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum which documents the long history of surfing in the city. Which started when three Hawaiian princes arrived in 1885 to show locals how to hang ten on boards made from redwood planks, Every vintage photo or a bit of memorabilia you could imagine is on display inside.
• The Aptos History Museum illustrates the history of the native tribes of this valley called the Miwoks and how they lived and traded in the area.
Once you’ve explored its more famous landmarks be sure to check out these lesser-known (and less crowded)gems:
The place to shop for clothes, jewelry and home goods that are not only beautiful but exceptionally well made, much of which is designed by local artists. Stripe also creates residential and corporate interiors that are also interesting to take a look at even if you are looking for inspiration.
To get a taste of local flavor checks out the farmer’s market that runs year-round on Wednesdays. All that good weather and sunshine in the region leads to them as fresh and delicious as it gets. Produce and baked good vendors fill the space on Cedar Street that’s hugely popular with locals, but you can also explore new tastes like typical Eritrean dishes from Nah Na restaurant.
Mission Santa Cruz
The Holy Cross church on High Street is the famous Franciscan mission still conducts daily masses in Spanish and English and is a living link to California’s missionary past filled with religious artwork and beautiful stained glass.
Hidden Peak Teahouse
One of the joys of travel is to refresh the spirit and mind by exploring new places. There’s no better place to experience that than the Hidden Peak Teahouse on Pacific Avenue. Organic, traditional tea is served in a lovely garden or tea room with ambient lighting. Serenity finds you here because the outside world can’t. Hidden Peak, is a digital-free zone, meaning for at least for a short time you can learn to live in the moment without checking your emails. A large selection of teas and porcelains are available to be purchased in the shop, and they also offer many tastings and discussions for the discerning tea drinker.
Artist Sheryl Barabba
Santa Cruz is a haven for galleries and artists. One of the most talented is Sheryl Barabba, whose paintings in oil are exceptional. Check out her work at the Open Studios Art Tours which is a freestyle tour of over 300 local artists works.
Companion Bake Shop
The delicious goodies Companion creates can be found at the farmer’s market or its two locations in Santa Cruz and one in Aptos. They are famous for their fantastic sourdough bread and decadent pastries.
Located on Soquel Avenue, Home/Work has a carefully curated collection of housewares and unique gifts. Owner Sonia McMoran is a former reporter on interior design and technology trends and has turned her passion into a great store. We love that there’s also a train table to keep the little ones busy while the grownups shop.
Just down the road from Home/Work is Oswald, a great restaurant that serves delicious food, artisan cocktails and features the work of many local artists. Try the house-made potato gnocchi that rivals that of even the most talented Italian granny.
Ashley Lloyd Surfboards
What would be a trip to California without a little surfing? Ashley Lloyd is a lifelong surfer who turned her passion into business making a fantastic collection of ECOboards ( verified through Sustainable Surf through the ECOboard project). Even if you aren’t in the market to buy, they are fun to look at. Never surfed before? You can get private or semi-private lessons with Ashley herself!
For opening hours and directions follow the links below:
• Stripe Design Group
• Santa Cruz Farmers Market
• Mission Santa Cruz
• Hidden Peak Tea House
• Artist Sheryl Barabba
• Companion Bake Shop
• Oswald Restaurant
• Ashley Lloyd Surfboards
Photography: Daniela Stallinger
Planning a visit to Santa Cruz? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.