Santa Cruz may be smaller than San Francisco and lack the glam of Los Angeles, but when it comes to a thriving, dynamic creative scene, our Bay-side city can punch above its weight.
Situated along the California coast in the outer Bay Area, our little beach town is home to micro-breweries, artisanal food trucks, art shows, and more—a veritable treasure trove of inspiration for any creative who makes the trip.
8:30am Start your day at the The Babbling Brook Inn. Originally an 18th-century grist mill, it has become a Santa Cruz staple for the curious creative looking for a unique and charming stay or a nice meal.
9:00am After breakfast, drive down to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Head to the end of the pier to watch the sea lions play, or walk up the hill to make the trek down the famous coastline along West Cliff Drive.
This area offers some prime real estate for watching the surfers in action at Cowell’s Beach, with a view that extends down the central coast. Before moving on, pop into the lighthouse and tour around the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
11:00am Walk down West Cliff Drive and land at Natural Bridges State Beach, a 65-acre state park. Here is where monarch butterflies take up residence before making their great migration each spring. You can walk up from the beach, through the thicket, down long wooden stairs down into the grove to immerse yourself in the Monarch Reserve.
12:30pm When it’s time for lunch, most Santa Cruzians also think, “time for a beer.” Head over to West End Tap and Kitchen , a rustic, industrial gastropub offering an array of craft brews. Once you’ve had your fill, walk across the way to have another beer at brew institution Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing—an organic, family-owned watering hole offering award-winning seasonal and traditional brews.
1:30pm After lunch, hop on the freeway for a quick drive south to Capitola, an adorable beach town cherished by the Santa Cruz community. Peruse the shops and stop to admire the Venetians (a lane of multi-colored houses overlooking Capitola Beach)—and if you’re still hungry, grab a piece of pizza from Pizza My Heart or satisfy your caffeine fix with cup of joe from Mr. Toots.
3:00pm As you head back into the city, swing by the Tannery Arts Center, a joint project developed by the City of Santa Cruz and Artspace Projects, Inc. The Tannery is the result of the city’s quest to build affordable space for artists and for arts organizations to collaborate. Explore the art community and be sure to take in Radius Gallery, a professional art venue with exhibitions, events, workshops, and art shows.
3:30pm Book a Brew Cruz tour, a popular activity among the Santa Cruz microbrew community. Jump in Betty Jane, a restored 1989 school bus, for a fun-filled evening at the top breweries in town. You’ll sample beer, tour the facilities, and meet the knowledgeable staffers responsible for the draught in your hand.
7:45pm If you happen to be in town for the first Friday of the month, you’re in luck.
Every first Friday, Santa Cruz becomes is a city-wide art expedition, and it is a crucial way to support local business. Local shops and galleries offer an assortment of snacks, beverages, and entertainment to the public and, more often than not, admission is free!
8:30pm Stop for dinner at the Food Lounge, a new, commercial incubator kitchen and full-service food organization. Located just a few streets away from HZ’s office, the Food Lounge hosts rotating weekly pop-ups and is always cooking up something in the kitchen!
9:30pm Continue down Pacific Avenue, the main strip in Downtown Santa Cruz, and check out some additional First Friday festivities, including live music and a ton of other performances.
12:00am For your last stop, enjoy a midnight film at the historic Del Mar theater. The art deco–style theater shows everything from independent, foreign, and cult films to big-budget Hollywood blockbusters and was a favorite spot of Alfred Hitchcock. Don’t believe us? Check out his photo right there in the lobby.