If you are looking for classic California beach culture, take a trip to Santa Cruz. I fell in love with California when I was a little girl. Although I didnt step foot onto the west coast until college I had an infatuation and knew the sunny state of California was where I belonged. Living vicariously through movies like Lords of Dog Town and late 1960’s rock music- and yes, I had a poster of Jim Morrison on my wall when I was just getting into high school. My mother was utterly confused and most likely concerned I was on some sort of psychedelic drugs. When you want the style of California in its cultural prime of skate, surf, classic cars and all around good vibes, skip the typical touristy towns that have seemed to change overnight with a beautiful yet tragic influx of over population.
Santa Cruz is a breath of fresh air. It’s a place to come for some good food, some rest, relaxation, and certainly the beach. Enjoy the cool NorCal air and warm summer days. Here are a few of my favorite places from my 4 or so trips into town over the course of the year I lived in San Jose area.
Santa Cruz is home to an idealistic California Beach City lifestyle. Folks here pride themselves on local culture and progressive ideals while still sustaining a classic 1970's feel. One of the first things you'll notice at the oceanfront and the boardwalk is that there are virtually no commercial franchise businesses. Each restaurant and shop is locally owned and you will also see a plethora of individually owned motels for you to crash in for the night.
The amusement park on the water in Santa Cruz has been operating since the early 1900's. Today, it continuously brings kids and adults alike to Santa Cruz' shoreline to experience a classic retro amusement park. “add more”
While you are walking along the beach here, be sure to stop by at least one of the surf shops to pick up a one of a kind tee shirt or locally crafted skateboard as a souvenir.
The pier at Santa Cruz beach is unlike most of the one's I've encountered in California because there is such a huge variety of places to dine on the boardwalk. Also, you can actually drive up and park right on the pier which is a game changer. Here are a few of my favorite places to eat on the Santa Cruz pier:
1. Fire Fish - Daily fresh fish specials and a gorgeous, friendly staff. You can sit on the rail by the window and feel as if you are floating over the ocean or at the bar to grab a happy hour drink and appetizer. We had the seafood sampler for around $14 that had giant fried scallops beside samples of fresh grilled fish.
2. Riva Fish House - The fish house has a similar view to Fire Fish but with a more laid-back atmosphere. The bar is wooden and the presentation is more casual. The crab cakes here are a must-try item! They also have some killer local beers on tap that are worth a try.
3. Dolphin - All the way at the end of the pier and the most casual of all three of these places, Dolphin is a little gem. You can sit outside on the patio or inside where you'll feel like you're at a diner. They have a seafood-driven menu and happy hour prices as well.
If you are taking HWY 17 to get into Santa Cruz, try one of the roadside pit stops on the way. This one, the Summit House Beer Garden has some seriously epic views and some quick food to grab on your way to or from the beach. It truly has the feel of a generations owned family business. Was there still carpet in the dining room? Either way, refreshing and a lovely way to break up the drive through the windy highway back to San Jose. I enjoyed a glass of wine and watched as the sun fell over the Redwood trees of Santa Cruz then the Pacific in the distance. It is truly magical to experience mountains and the beach in the same day.
I just skimmed the surface of Santa Cruz. There's so much to do here! Have you guys been? Where should I go next time?
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