Spring Break in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz sits at the top of the Monterey Bay, at the intersection of ocean and redwoods. This, plus the nearness of the UCSC campus (read: single girls) makes it the perfect ground zero for an active Spring Break getaway.

First off – day time activities (for when you’re not sleeping off a hangover…or you’re just that hardcore).

Surfing – new to surfing? Old hand looking for a new location? Check out Surfin’ Santa Cruz, Surfing Santa Cruz, and (more generally) Surfline. Between the these websites, all of the most prominent beaches in the area are listed (Steamer’s Lane, Cowell’s, Pleasure Point) along with tide times, and webcams of current beach conditions. You can rent gear at most surf
shops near the beach (although not at the flagship stores downtown), and you’ll want a wetsuit – the water temperature in the Monterey Bay is a brisk 50 or so, year round. Also note this for swimming – you can get a tan on the beach, but going into the water for anything more than a dip is inadvisable, for all but the toughest skinned people.

Mountain biking – Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz has some great maps for mountain biking in the area, right off of Highway 1, just north of town. As a whole, Santa Cruz is very bike friendly and bike aware. Just obey traffic rules, and don’t ride on courses past your ability – there are many, many, hills, some of them quite steep. Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz also lists all the bike shops in the area, in case you need a last minute tune up or an extra tube before you hit the trail.

No trip to Santa Cruz would be complete without a trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. (Check their website for official times of operation, year round) You might remember this landmark, and others, from its appearance in the classic vampire movie (and perhaps the last time a Corey was popular) the Lost Boys, when Santa Cruz stood in for Santa Carmela. It’s been updated in the intervening years, and now has all the quaint arcade games of yore – skeeball, fortune telling gypsies, and genuinely creepy Laffing Sal – with the newer games of today, like laser tag and Dance Dance Revolution. The rides go from the old wooden roller coaster Giant Dipper – a quality long-ride roller coaster – to the newer Doubleshot, a ride that takes you up and lets you see the entire coast before dropping you again.

Other places of note:

Boardwalk Bowl – nothing like drunken bowling to soften the blow of painful karaoke singing. If listening to your friends butcher Britney Spears songs is something you enjoy, then hit this “interesting” side-destination.

Monterey Bay Aquarium – not technically in Santa Cruz, but definitely in driving distance, the MBA ranks among the world’s best aquariums. You may remember earlier on this year when a baby great white shark was kept alive in their massive million gallon Outer Bay tank. They’ve currently got a gorgeous selection of jellyfish, and the tanks are framed as though they are pieces of living art.

Back in Santa Cruz, is Long’s Marine Lab. Supported by the university, this is a working marine lab, with rotating exhibits, and a very cool whale skeleton on display outside.

Enough educational stuff – what about shopping? Santa Cruz’s downtown runs up and down Pacific Avenue, from the Clocktower towards the beach. Along its length you can find several major brand stores – Gap, O’Neills, Urban Outfitters, Borders – and a lot of funky smaller stores with fine jewelry and glass, and some…hippiesque, shall we say, items. (If you’re looking for a real smoke shop, and not just beads or birkenstocks, Pipeline is on Pacific, and Glass Roots is a block over on Front Street.)

Also, a short 7 miles south, is Capitola Village. This quaint side town also has shopping (mostly upscale) and restaurants, but it’s on a nice stretch of beach, and sometimes is less crowded than the main beaches (say nearer the Boardwalk) in Santa Cruz.

And…Santa Cruz is one of the tattooing and piercing meccas of the United States. (And what Santa Cruz Spring Break story would be complete without the tattoo or piercing for proof?) You can drop in and get pierced most times at most places. The best tattoo artists are booked months in advance, something to consider if you really want an authentic “Santa Cruz license plate”. My favorite is parlor is Staircase, located on Ocean Street, but Lovedog is also well respected.

Night Life – (perhaps the real attraction of Spring Break)

Santa Cruz’s nightlife has a little something for everyone…places from dive bars to upscale establishments where beach attire will not fly. Here’s a sampling of what’s out there, but any tourist with an ear to the ground can probably find more.

Dives: On opposite ends of Pacific Street, we have the Rush Inn (behind the Clocktower) and the Asti (nearer the beach). Both of them are smaller bars, where most of the patrons aren’t looking for trouble – but this could quickly change if someone got rowdy enough. The Rush Inn’s bartenders are voted the best in SC frequently – they’re a nice group, say hi to Brian if he’s working.

Midscale: The Poet and the Patriot known as just “The Poet” to locals, half a block off Pacific. Serves Guinness, always a plus. (Did I mention that Santa Cruz isn’t Bud Light friendly? It isn’t so much that people in Santa Cruz don’t drink cheap beer…but this being Northern California, we have to draw the snob line somewhere, and light beer is it.) Has darts, and a great crew working behind the counter. Say hi to Kristen for me. Also Irish themed, oddly enough, is Rosie McCann’s – right on Pacific Ave, with a second floor presence. They’re always happy to see you there, no matter who you are. Another nightclub with DJs and Live music on every night is the Blue Lagoon. Thursday nights are 80s nights, and every Monday has a gothic theme.

Upscale: This crosses over into a lot of restaurants, there’s an excellent list here from the local rag, Good Times Weekly. Worth special mention – the Red Room, which is understandably decorated in red, Clouds, and Soif, all of which serve excellent food and have extensive wine lists.

Live Music/Dancing/DJ’s: Again, the Blue Lagoon. Also, Club Dakota (both on Pacific Ave), and Club Caution, on Front Street, one street over. The Catalyst, on Pacific, plays a wide variety of famous groups – it’s been recently played by Nine Inch Nails, Mos Def, and has shows by Willie Nelson and Pennywise coming up. It’s as eclectic as Santa Cruz is.

Some things to be aware of:

Santa Cruz is a very friendly place – if you’re even mildly cool, you can usually ask people where to go and what to do, and they’ll bend over backwards to help you out.

Again, the water is cold. Coldity cold. While you can suntan, do not expect to be swimming laps in the Pacific Ocean. It ain’t gonna happen.

Santa Cruz has a large homeless population, due to their socially progressive policies. Do not be surprised to see panhandlers downtown. They aren’t scary, honest.

Santa Cruz is very gay friendly. If you are homophobic and you choose to visit, please keep your opinions to yourself. Expressing them out loud will get you in trouble.

That’s it! Go out, and have a great break!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 − two =