As students, we know and love campus for its trees, bridges, bluffs and trails, as well as the student community that thrives here. But the truth is that in order to fully appreciate what UCSC has to offer, you have to trek beyond the base of campus.
The eclectic and quirky town in which our university resides is as charming as it is beautiful. City on a Hill Press would like to introduce you to Santa Cruz as you’ve never seen it before. We’ll show you various neighborhoods that are always worth exploring. If you’re a newcomer, consider this your jumping-off point — a guide to get beyond the 16 Laurel bus route — to make Santa Cruz your own.
This neighborhood is most familiar to students as the place where many students live and hold their house parties. The always-buzzing Mission Street isn’t exactly ideal for strolling, but it offers consistently busy food favorites like Café Brasil, Sabieng Thai Cuisine, Kelly’s French Bakery and numerous taquerías: staples for any student. Several coffee shops and close-by grocery stores are also in the area. If the incessant hum of the 16 Laurel bus route or the late-night reggae bass of your neighbor’s kick-back are too much, not to fear, there are plenty of places to escape to in this part of town. To get away from the daily grind without straying too far from campus, head up Spring Street, off of High Street, to the Pogonip trailhead. It’s perfect for a walk, hike or run into the redwoods (no bikes though). You’ll be met by friendly dog-walkers and not much else. If you’re blessed with a car, continue on Empire Grade past College Eight and the West entrance to campus and you’ll find numerous trail entrances, including Wilder Ranch State Park, and windy, redwood-shaded roads to explore.
Life doesn’t get much better, or more Santa Cruzan, than a walk, bike or run on Westcliff at any time of the day. Running into friends on their way home, surfing, or just enjoying the life-giving sun is inevitable. You can watch the beginners learn to surf at Cowells, marvel at the pros out at Steamer Lane, or take your dog down to Lighthouse Beach. The Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse and its surfing museum are a local landmark, and Westcliff is a perfect example of where students, locals, tourists and surfers mingle without anyone taking much notice. Natural Bridges State Beach, or “Natty Bridges,” as it’s affectionately known, is a surf spot and beach named for its rock formations and known for its tidepools and wetland habitat. The visitors’ center is worth a visit, offering a look into the natural history and ecology of the area, as well as a Monarch butterfly grove in the winter, at Swanton Road and Westcliff Drive. If you continue to the end of Delaware Road past Natural Bridges, you’ll find the UCSC Long Marine Lab and Seymour Marine Discovery Center. With beautiful vistas, a dolphin tank and a full-sized whale skeleton, this campus extension is worth checking out.
There’s hardly an undiscovered spot on Pacific Avenue, and so downtown Santa Cruz lies at the center of most students’ radars. There’s plenty of places to eat, shop, watch and play. Below are some uniquely Santa Cruzan favorites.
Palomar Taco Bar: Handmade tortillas. $2.00 tacos Monday through Thursday. Drink specials. Enough said. 1336 Pacific Ave.
Bookshop Santa Cruz: A local institution that’s family owned, the bookshop has helpful staff and selection that are unparalleled. Perfect for browsing or buying or both. 1520 Pacific Ave.
Nickelodeon Theatre: A quaint and cozy Santa Cruz landmark that plays indie, foreign and documentary films. 210 Lincoln St.
Thrift Center: Not your average over-packed thrift store, Thrift Center offers everything from shabby Halloween costumes to apartment-worthy furniture. You may think you’re lucky when you hear the announcement that just for today everything’s 50 percent off, but don’t worry — it’s like that every day. 521 Front St.
Zachary’s Restaurant: A favorite breakfast spot of students and locals, this always busy and fairly priced spot is home of “Mike’s mess omelette.” You have to taste it to believe it. 819 Pacific Ave.
Once you pass downtown and cross the San Lorenzo river, you’re in midtown territory. Soquel Avenue offers a bevy of good local eats such The Buttery for brunch or Charlie Hong Kong’s for a healthy dinner, as well as three grocery stores to get your supplies for the week. There are also good local music and entertainment venues in this hood, with the long-standing Crêpe Place featuring quirky and emerging acts and the Rio Theatre offering an impressive variety of well-known performers. Straight across from the Rio lies Seabright Avenue, which boasts a friendly neighborhood vibe and one of Santa Cruz’s most popular sandy beaches, not to mention the sweet potato fries at Betty’s Burgers (see our accompanying guide for more about the bars in this area, p. 42). For a break away from the ordinary, head to the Brady’s Yacht Club at sunset and loop around to see some impressive sea vessels or walk out on to the jetty to the lighthouse. You can end your walk with a cocktail at one of the bars or restaurants on the beach and pretend you’re on vacation.
Just past the Santa Cruz Harbor lies the lesser-known east side of town. This hood is home to less-crowded beaches such as Twin Lakes and 26th Avenue, as well as the legendary surf spots at Pleasure Point. This side of town has a decidedly more local and less student-driven vibe. To get a feel for the Eastside, skip the madness of the Wednesday downtown farmers’ market by grabbing a late breakfast and some local produce at the mellow Eastside/Live Oak Market on Sunday mornings (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. East Cliff Drive). If you like the change of pace and want to interact with someone other than UCSC students and the drifters on Pacific Avenue, 41st Avenue offers a mellow antidote to downtown, with restaurants, coffee shops, vintage stores and surf shops to peruse on a lazy day.
Verve Coffee Roasters is a bustling favorite and a perfect spot for people who are serious about their beans — which are roasted on-site — and have an appreciation for latte art and hipsters. 816 41st Avenue.