SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Sol Lipman is a Silicon Valley veteran who has worked for such companies as AOL and Yahoo and commuted to tech hubs in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, California, for years.
But when it came time to launch a new startup (YaDoggie, a subscription dog food company), he was adamant that it be based in his hometown, just a few miles away from the heart of the tech scene, but eons apart in lifestyle.
With its rugged coast, nearby mountains and arguably one of the best spots for surfing in California, Santa Cruz, (population 65,000) says Lipman, is a “unique gem,” that’s “incomparable to any other place in the Bay Area."
Unlike their monied neighbors in the Valley, Santa Cruz citizens seem to value lifestyle over status. "There's something about wandering through the redwoods and feeling the ocean breeze that keeps us grounded, reminding us to enjoy life. It helps us to pursue our passions – whether a startup, a mural or a mountain-bike ride."
Santa Cruz is also a magnet for tourists in the summer months, when the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is open seven days a week, one of the few coastal communities with a full, functioning amusement park directly by the sea. Visitors can ride the 1924 wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster with its commanding views of Monterey Bay.
The area attracts beachgoers from Silicon Valley and San Francisco (a 90-minute drive up the coast) who have their own beaches, but the old quote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” explains why so many make the drive. Santa Cruz does have foggy mornings, but once that fog burns off, the weather gets traditional summer-warm.
Beyond the Boardwalk, tourists can enjoy the funky arts-filled downtown Main Street collection of mom-and-pop shops, galleries and foodie fare. Town boosters push the surf as well, even if you’re not a surfer.
Indeed, Surfer.com recently called Santa Cruz the No. 2 best surf town in the United States (sandwiched in-between two small communities on Oahu and Maui, Hawaii) for "abundant surf," the short 45-minute hop to Silicon Valley or slightly longer to San Francisco, "and access to massive expanses of natural beauty."
After exploring the beach and historic downtown, which dominates the town, other things to do in Santa Cruz include:
- Hiking and cycling. SantaCruz.org lists a large collection of waterfront walks and areas for mountain-bike rides through the redwoods. For hikes, areas recommended include DeLaveaga Park and Quail Hollow Ranch, which both have free admission. A fun visit to the redwoods should also include University of California Santa Cruz, where the arboretum offers self-guided tours of the UCSC Farm & Alan Chadwick Garden every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- The Mystery Spot, a fun attraction in the California redwoods that calls itself a "gravitational anomaly" that wows visitors with "puzzling variations of gravity, perspective and height.."
- Best surf spots: Santa Cruz is the birthplace of mainland surfing in the United States and is known for its surfing because of the multiple point breaks that offer consistently good waves – small, medium and huge. There are 29 miles of coastline in Santa Cruz County, with Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point key surf spots frequented by seasoned wave riders. Head to scenic West Cliff Drive by the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse to watch some amazing surfing, even if you don't feel like jumping in the water (you shouldn't, unless you know what you're doing), recommends Christina Glynn of the Santa Cruz County Film Commission. If you can't find it, just ask a local where the surf statue is. Steamer Lane is just up the road.
If you go…
Santa Cruz is off the beaten path, and not on the main Highway 101 that runs from Los Angeles to San Francisco. For those arriving by air, fly to the Mineta San Jose International Airport, rent a car and drive up Route 17 to get to Santa Cruz. If you’re driving from the south, take 101 to Route 1 in Castroville, about 30 minutes away from Santa Cruz.