The Santa Cruz Area is geographically divided into several distinct communities, each with its own unique style and appeal. With so many places to see and so much to do, it’s no wonder that so many visitors and students end up moving to this area.
Visitor Attractions and Amenities
- Hotels, motels, B&Bs, vacation rentals
Restaurants, shopping, museums, wineries
- Beaches, surfing, biking, boating, golfing, whale watching
- Special Attractions – Santa Cruz Adobe Mission, Branciforte Adobe, Natural Bridges State Park, West Cliff Drive, Lighthouse Field State Park, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz Harbor, various historic landmarks
- Annual Events – Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Symphony, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Open Studios Art Tour, First Fridays Art Tours, O’Neil Cold Water Classic Surf Contest, Wharf to Wharf 10K Race, Mushroom Festival, Clam Chowder Festival, Friday Night Beach Concerts (Summer), Woodies on the Wharf
Neighborhoods and Communities
Downtown Santa Cruz
The downtown area is the central hub of Santa Cruz: home to city government, professional offices, retail shops, community centers, and entertainment. Everything is within walking distance, including great shopping, hotels and B&Bs, a professional basketball arena, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the wharf, and the Pacific Ocean. Some of the finest examples of Santa Cruz’s rich architectural history can also be found in this area; from the towering spire of Holy Cross Church and the adjacent adobe mission, to the beautiful Greek and Italianate-style homes built in the mid- to late-19th century.
Amidst the acres of lush redwood forests and rolling foothills overlooking the Monterey Bay is the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the most naturally picturesque settings for higher learning in the United States. The campus is also home to Shakespeare Santa Cruz, the annual performing arts festival that brings visitors from all over the world.Upper
Affluent but not stuffy, the Upper West Side of Santa Cruz is one of those perfect places for families with children, nice neighbors, and retirement. Bordered by the USCS campus, this residential area sits on a wide bluff overlooking the City of Santa Cruz and across the Monterey Bay. Well-kept homes and yards are made all the more appealing by neighborhood parks (one with a pond) and countless places to walk and bike. The area also has several churches and an elementary school that has seen multiple generations of Santa Cruzians walk through its doors.
Lower West Side
An eclectic mix of residential and business communities occupy the Lower West Side, a swath of land between the ocean and the upper west side. Stroll down neighborhood streets and you’ll find amazing variation in architectural styles – from the tiny beach bungalow to the lavish waterfront estate. Walk along West Cliff Drive to get to the beaches, the Boardwalk, or Lighthouse Point where you can watch the surfers take on world-famous Steamer Lane. Numerous restaurants and businesses are situated along Mission Street, the main thoroughfare through town, and down various side streets, or visit the wineries, retail, and boutique businesses occupying converted manufacturing warehouses at the edge of town.
Bordered by the banks of the San Lorenzo River and Santa Cruz city limits, the East Side is a collection of peaceful neighborhoods, bustling industrial areas, and scenic landmarks, including the Santa Cruz Harbor and lighthouse. Take a bike ride along the coast and into the Seabright neighborhoods, stop off at one of the many restaurants along the way for a bite and a brew, and then wind your way back toward Soquel Drive for retail shops, groceries, and lots of services. The Pleasure Point neighborhoods are also fun to explore, or walk along the bluffs and check out the world-class surfing.
Glen Canyon Road – Branciforte Drive
Winding into the foothills above the East Side towards Scotts Valley, the properties along Glen Canyon Road and Brancifore Drive are far enough away from the bustle of the city to feel secluded, yet close enough to be convenient. Residents can choose from a wide variety of homes, including the lavish estates of Carbonera, large and small family residences, and tiny cabins. For family fun, visit De Laveaga Park or the De Laveaga Golf Course and Lodge, or experience the baffling phenomena at the Mystery Spot.
Live Oak is a diverse collage of neighborhoods located between the eastern border of Santa Cruz and Capitola. Over the last century and a half, the sporadic housing development transformed several large chicken ranches in this area into a “residential potpourri,” with homes in a variety of styles and price ranges (it’s not unusual to see a brand-new townhouse on a small lot next to an old, two-bedroom cottage with a two-acre yard). At the border of Live Oak and Capitola, the Opal Cliffs area is a favorite spot of surfers from around the world. While there is no downtown area, there are several schools, many businesses and restaurants, and a family swim center.
A gated community of upscale homes surrounds the beautiful Pasatiempo Golf Club, where you can spend the day golfing, dining, and relaxing.