SANTA CRUZ – There is a lot of beauty in this part of central California which is just south of San Francisco and part of the Monterey Bay. My travels to Santa Cruz were directed by my searching for an apartment for my son Jonathan who left NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in search of completing his PhD at Santa Cruz University.
In the past, I had the option of buying SantaCruz.com in the 1990’s for only $25,000. I sadly passed on it. Developing SantaCruz.com would have been a wonderful and fun website to create. This time around my travels to the area were more academic.
Santa Cruz was the setting for the 80’s vampire film The Lost Boys, which featured Kiefer Sutherland. The area was perfect for the film’s nighttime scenes (vampires despise sunlight).The tapestry of light, in which beach life transcends to the redwoods that surround the Santa Cruz campus, make it the perfect Ying and Yang of cultural diversity. There is a lot to see here even for me, who has lived in California since 1986.
While I’ve visited the area 5 times over the last three months, I will focus on my last trip in July. My son, wife, and I made reservations at the Casablanca Inn on the Beach (SV). It’s situated at the foot of the Wharf-so I knew it would probably be pricey. We registered for a room with a balcony which was around $350 a night. Other rooms at the Inn go as high as $600 a night. High-priced, but if the views, service, and accommodations warrant it, it could be worthwhile and memorable.
On our 5-hour drive from Santa Barbara we decided to look up more reviews. When I had used the Priceline hotel reservation portal, the 5 reviews I saw were both 9’s and 10’s. Along the way we looked at Trip Advisor’s reviews which appeared to be a lot worse. We started having doubts about spending that kind of money and worrying after reading complaints that seemed to run the gambit.
We asked ourselves-could the pandemic have placed the Casablanca Inn in a tough situation that was beyond their control? The complaints mostly centered around the higher prices, expecting more than what travelers got. Were the rooms not as clean and in need of repairs as the reviews suggested? We were about to find out.
When we finally reached the hotel, it looked like it was fully booked up. Yes, it was right on the beach! The summer in Santa Cruz is a busy time for the area including the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Amusement Park (SV) and Wharf pier (SV).
When I reached the front desk, Mathew greeted us, and I handed him my reservation. He looked at me and said that there was no reservation under my name. When he looked further, Mathew noticed that I had booked the room a day later than I thought! That was on me, but what was I going to do now? He was very accommodating and said there were two rooms he could show me. Lucky me!
The first room he showed us was not too bad, but the furniture and room looked older and used. Some of those reviews I had read started to enter my mind. I then asked to see the other room, which was on the upper floor and had a balcony. Room 223 (SV) was nice looking, modern, and had a balcony where you could watch the many groups of people on the beach playing volleyball. It also overlooked the Boardwalk amusement park to the south and the pier Wharf to the west. We took that room. I realized we needed more towels, and the front desk gave us whatever we needed. They were very accommodating and pleasant.
Room 223 was worth the money and the only criticism I had was that the latch on the bathroom door wouldn’t lock, and the balcony floor could have used a washing
We decided to get some dinner and noticed that the Santa Cruz Wharf has many restaurants. The pier is literally out the front door of the hotel. The wharf was built in 1914, the last of six built on the site. With a length of 2,745 feet (836.68 m), it is the longest pier on the West Coast of the United States.
We chose the Riva Fish House (SV) to dine at. After a 45-minute wait for a table we were finally seated on the water. The wait for our food was long (20 to 30 minutes) but the meal was good. The restaurant ambiance was salty and worn but lively. Notice to management-the saltshaker was completely empty.
Most readers probably know Santa Cruz by its beach lined amusement park. The pier reaches so far out that the whole Boardwalk is visible for some great pictures. There are many sealions that you can see perched on the pier pilons below.
The next day we went apartment searching for Jonathan. We noticed several things-even for California, the rents are high and getting higher. Figure in the two to three-thousand-dollar range for a studio between 300 – 600 square feet. When reaching out to rental management or landlord, they hardly ever contacted us back. There seems to be a nonchalant, laid back, non-business mentality in the area which for me was annoying. Maybe once you become part of the Santa Cruz community that mindset is desirable.
We looked at apartments in the downtown area which had a very appealing look. The area is trying to be vibrant and is somewhat succeeding. Tables and trees line Pacific Avenue where we stopped for coffee at Verve Coffee Roasters (SV). Great coffee, tea and nice employees that make you feel comfortable and welcome.
Afterwards we visited the University of California Santa Cruz. This is a special place up in the hills, overlooking the bay and surrounded by redwoods. It is a captivating environment, nestled by nature, all-those-majestic-trees and so quiet. What a great place to learn. Combine the Sequoia National Park and The New York Public Library and you get the feel of this campus’ learning experience.
The Paradox (SV) is another hotel we booked a room at. A huge eucalyptus tree, which is native to Santa Cruz County, greets you as the front desk area. After asking how they got the tree in the front door, we were told that the building was built around this great giant. There was also a wine tasting table when we arrived, and we were lucky enough to have a couple glasses of sparkling champagne to enjoy.
This hotel was a surprise. It was very secure, clean, with a great interior design, and more of a 5-star resort within the downtown Santa Cruz proper. The room was as expected but the pool area presented a nice outside decor which made the feel more welcoming and personal. We dined at the Solaire restaurant, and the food was exceptional. This restaurant could survive well on its own and I would dine there again even if I wasn’t staying at the Paradox. SOLAIRE RESERVATIONS: (888) 236-2427
There is so much more to experience and explore in Santa Cruz. My overall view is that Santa Cruz must have been THE place to visit in the 80s. Homelessness is profound on the west coast, and it is also obvious in Santa Cruz, but the city does take time to provide care to the homeless with tent areas and sanitary accommodations like porta potties. While the city is renovating several areas, it has a tired and worn look. Maybe the severe drought in California is playing a part in its surface look while water is scarce. Santa Cruz is in need of a citywide spay washing of its sidewalks or maybe a week-long rain shower. Still, the natural beauty of this coast and its interesting lifestyle make Santa Cruz and place to visit if but once. I rate Santa Cruz a 6.5 out of 10.