Mercados of Santa Cruz

Mercados are spaces that hold memories. Memories of family. Memories of food. Memories of home.

I have been going to mercados all my life. In my childhood, my grandparents would bring me along on their grocery runs, allowing me to pick out candy or a toy. These moments instilled my lasting connection with mercados. 

I haven’t stopped going since. 

There are several mercados within walking distance of my East LA neighborhood that allow me to indulge in chips and soda on a constant basis while I’m home. But in Santa Cruz, my connection to mercados has evolved. I go to them for not just Sabritones and Jarritos, but for something more culturally fulfilling. 

Some of the freshest produce can be found at the mercados here in town, I find myself frequently making stops at the mercados to pick up some delicious avocados.

However, they are spaces in a community not adequately represented here in Santa Cruz, where 35.98 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino. The Santa Cruz neighborhoods, houses, and stores generally look the same–a sharp distinction from Los Angeles, where distinct ethnic enclaves reflect the city’s diversity but still contribute to an inclusive community. 

Most of us who come to Santa Cruz are put into an entirely new environment. We had to figure out where things were and how to travel there, and many of these places probably offered us very little familiarity. As a result, we hold on to the things that remind us of home to help us feel less far away. 

I was thrilled to discover that there is more than one option for mercados in Santa Cruz: Hernandez Market on Laurel Street just outside downtown, Mercado Santa Cruz on Ocean Street, and Live Oak Supermarket on Capitola Road. All of them offer authentic and diverse options compared to what can be found at Trader Joe’s or Safeway. 

The shelves are always filled at mercados––you will never see any product out of stock.

They offer a range of possibilities for Latinos to experience and create the foods and snacks of our culture. With a visit to the carniceria part of the mercado, you can pick up some chorizo to have with your eggs the next morning, or buy a bottle of chamoy to drench your chips and fruit with. 

Mercados contain all the required products to have a carne asada, a monthly — if not weekly — experience that I would have back home. My friends and I replicate that experience here, whether it is to celebrate a birthday, for random sporting events, or just to celebrate the end of the week.

Mercados are my home away from home. Even though I’m over 300 miles away from East LA, rummaging through those packed shelves amidst the echo of cumbia always transports me back.