What a terrific and fun city! I spent a day seeing the sights of Santa Cruz, California and had an absolutely wonderful time. In many ways Santa Cruz reminds me of San Francisco, but on a smaller (and often more human) scale. Wedged tightly between the coastal mountains and Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz provides ample opportunities for scenic vistas, eccentric fun, surfing, and jaw-dropping beauty.
The Boardwalk Amusement Park was filled with fun seekers on the rides, in the arcades, or just gawking like me. The three of us enjoyed a game of putt-putt and the eccentric ambiance of the entire California beach scene.
The city wharf was yet another fun-filled location, which seem to abound in this charming seaside city. Dinner at the Crow’s Nest restaurant at harbor also provided plenty of visual entertainment, including a conversation with a few brown pelicans.
As an urban planner and avid bicycle commuter, one can appreciate the dynamic cultural atmosphere that envelopes Santa Cruz. The entire city is like one gigantic third place – it oozes hip and cool vibe at every turn. Everywhere you turn, there are great planning and placemaking ideas to suggest at home. Among my favorites were:
- Streetside separated bike ways (see photos) – I know, Santa Cruz is not along in this idea, but it is the first place I have seen them so successfully applied in the USA.
- Sanctioned public art on utility cabinets (see photo) – what a great way to decorate these oft bland symbols of uninspired engineering design. Artistic murals also dot the city.
- Preserved and/or adaptively reused buildings and structures from many architectural periods – not just cherry-picked historic preservation. I really like this aspect, because you see a treasure trove of architectural history from the city’s magnificent Franciscan mission to art deco of the ’30s to 1960s surfing-inspired architecture – and they all compliment each other in a charming and endearing way. It adds to the delightful eclecticism that embodies Santa Cruz.
- Sail boat tours of the city from Monterey Bay courtesy the Chardonnay.
Is everything about Santa Cruz perfect? Of course not.
- Housing costs are very expensive.
- Parking near the Boardwalk is chaotic and not cheap.
- Traffic is heavy, despite the extensive network of bike lanes and bike paths.
- There are homeless in the city, including one man I saw trudging along the sidewalk on Ocean Avenue who was wearing just a single flip-flop and with a bandage wrapped around the arch of his other foot.
All told, Santa Cruz is great fun and a very welcoming city. Like most cities around the world, it has some issues to overcome. But, if you happen to be traveling to California, I highly recommend including a stop in Santa Cruz. This terrific city by the bay (Monterrey Bay that is) will charm your socks right off and leave you wanting to come back for more.