Santa Cruz secrets
Approximately 1, 65 miles south of San Francisco, lies the quintessential Californian beach town of Santa Cruz. Come for the surfing but stay for the quirky shopping, sensational meals and mountains, says Santa Cruz resident Kayla Peterson
Name: Kayla Peterson
Occupation: Office manager of the Casablanca Inn and Bistro
Are you a local girl?
I wasn’t born and bred in Santa Cruz but my family has had a vacation house in the mountains here for as long as I can remember, so I’ve been visiting the area my whole life. I’ve been resident since graduating from college in 2010 and can’t get enough of the local scene, vibe, culture and, of course, food!
What’s it like to live in Santa Cruz?
Santa Cruz is a completely unique place to live! It’s definitely a quintessential beach town, with its amazing ocean views and cliffs, old beach buggies lugging around big surfboards and adorable beach bungalows. But SC is unique in the sense that it’s in the middle of a forest, so there’s also amazing hiking, nature and wildlife opportunities. Santa Cruz has an extremely laid back atmosphere: everyone is so friendly because we’re enjoying the sunshine – maybe It’s all the vitamin D!
What is your favourite thing about SC?
I love the awareness of the Santa Cruz community: everyone is so politically, socially, nutritionally and recreationally active. Locals are aware of the things they consume and where those things come from – there’s a big effort to view things from a larger perspective. An air of camaraderie prevails – we’re all out to support each other, which is great for everyone in the long run! That means great local food, events and goods! All the restaurants around town are very vegetarian friendly and recycling and compost bins are a must!
Why should we visit Santa Cruz?
The better question would be why wouldn’t you visit Santa Cruz? For outdoor lovers, you have your choice of hitting the beach for some of Northern California’s most prized surf spots or heading up to the Santa Cruz mountains for hiking and biking trails, nature tours, and zip line courses. If you’re here with the family, the Boardwalk is where you want to be for roller coasters and arcade entertainment. If you’re with friends or a significant other, there are several breweries and even more vineyards pocketed throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains offering tours and tasting. This one of a kind town has everything that anyone could ever want and all within close proximity!
How long do we, ideally, need?
To truly experience Santa Cruz, a visitor should spend between three and five days here. You’ve got to reserve a day for the Beach and Boardwalk (spend the day basking in the sun and hitting up the Beach Boardwalk at night for rides, games and quintessential Santa Cruz treats). Spend your second day hiking in the redwoods, exploring some of the towns deep in the mountains and zip lining if you dare!! Reserve a day to see the town sights, visit downtown Santa Cruz and the wharf, head over to Capitola Village for the quaintest beach town you’ve ever seen! Time permitting, take a day trip down the coast and visit nearby spots such as Monterey (home to the most amazing aquarium), the picturesque Point Reyes and the boutique town of Carmel.
How can you tell locals from our readers?
I think that Santa Cruz is one of the few places where the locals actually love to wear their own town’s apparel. Cars, sweatshirts, hats and skateboards are adorned with Santa Cruz logos. Locals have earned a reputation for being a bit…eccentric. There is a huge youth population here; our town is crawling with skaters, surfers and hippies. Santa Cruz attire is very casual – let’s just say shirts and shoes are not a requirement and a hefty percentage of the population, rock dreadlocks and/or a beanie. Santa Cruz natives are definitely known for being the original hippies: one of our mottos is “keep Santa Cruz weird.”
Well the Boardwalk and Wharf are Santa Cruz staples, but the West Cliff walking trail is also a must see! It’s a three mile sprawl on the cliff’s edge that ends at a beautiful beach, called Natural Bridges. You’ll pass Steamer Lane (one of the NorCal’s most famous surf breaks) along the way, as well as the Santa Cruz Surf Museum. You must visit some of our Redwood Forests and Henry Cowell Redwood State Park - 15 miles of walking and riding trails. Also, you’re basically guaranteed a free live music show downtown, on Pacific Avenue: on any given day, you’ll musicians staging an impromptu show. Stick around long enough and you’re sure to find act you’ll love!
For casual dining and cheap eats, Saturn Café is a delight – and it has a vegetarian/vegan friendly menu too. Charlie Hong Kong offers organic ‘Chinese street food’, served in customisable rice bowls. The Casablanca boasts a gourmet bistro and bar that specialises in creative, fresh and local dishes with a Mediterranean twist. The downstairs bar has an outdoor patio that over looks the Santa Cruz Main Beach, while the upstairs Bistro affords panoramic views of the Monterey Bay. Finally if all you want is a good old American burger, check out Betty’s Burger: they’ve got locations all around town.
Where to start… SC has seriously good, local shops – the majority of which are located downtown on Pacific Avenue. Marini’s Candies has been in SC since 1915 and are famous for their salt water taffy and chocolate covered bacon. The Penny Ice Creamery uses local ingredients to make incredible (and seasonal) ice cream flavors – think black liquorice, strawberry pink peppercorn, cardamom pistachio, olive oil et al). The Original O’Neil surf shop is located in Capitola, and Bookshop Santa Cruz is still going strong – even in this crazy digital age! Santa Cruz also has awesome farmers markets – you’ll find them all over town, throughout the week, peddling local produce and live music. Definitely don’t miss out on visiting a farmer’s market aka Santa Cruz culture at it’s finest.
Where should we stay?
Well I’m definitely a little bit biased, because I’d say that Casablanca Inn and Bistro is the best hotel in Santa Cruz! We’re located right across the street from the main Santa Cruz beach, between the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Wharf. Casablanca is a historic Santa Cruz landmark – the original building was built in the early 1900s so it has adorable old world charm plus we have a wide variety of rooms (30 have ocean views) and suites, a gourmet restaurant and buzzy bar on the property!
Any insider tips for our readers?
If you don’t fancy sharing the sand with tonnes of other tourists, avoid Main beach (by the Boardwalk) which can get crowded and seek out Sea Bright or Natural Bridges – both of which ares less than 5 minutes away. Also, refrain from visiting chain restaurants and corporate shops where possible. Santa Cruz prides itself on its great local businesses: take a chance on a local place and you won’t be disappointed.
Anything else that you’d like to add?
Santa Cruz locals are super friendly! People on the street will just randomly start a conversation with you. So if you happen to be in town and have any questions, ask away!