Photos by Dori Arrington

Santa Cruz, California as a Cruising Destination

California could easily be divided into two states, both in culture and climate. Southern California has more sunshine, palm trees and people, compared to the fog, cooler temperatures and redwood forests found in Northern California. Bridging this gap is the central coastline city of Santa Cruz, where these contrasts blend into a haute bohemian way of life that locals treasure and visitors seek.

Santa Cruz is well known for its laid-back atmosphere, evident in the coffee shops and surf shacks lining the streets downtown. Extending into Monterey Bay from the center of town is one of the nation’s longest and most iconic piers. At a half-mile long, the Santa Cruz pier—or “wharf,” as it’s locally known—is an amazing structure. The sixth to stand in its place, the current wharf is supported by more than 2,000 70-foot-tall Douglas fir pilings, each driven 21 feet into the seabed. Atop the pilings rests a wharf community unto itself. With a diverse collection of restaurants, shops and public facilities, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the wharf year-round. Visitors are treated to unrestricted views of the surrounding bay, with sea lions, otters, dolphins and whales frolicking in the water below.

As if having the longest ocean pier wasn’t enough, Santa Cruz’s waterfront is also blessed with the oldest seaside amusement park on the West Coast. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is one of the city’s most prized possessions, with the wood-framed Giant Dipper roller coaster and hand-painted horses of the Looff Carousel as a couple fan favorites. Frequently referred to as California’s Coney Island, generations of children cherish their memories sparked by summers spent at the Boardwalk.

Situated on the northern end of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is perched on the edge of a marine wonderland. Below the surface is one of the deepest ocean canyons along California’s coast. Nutrient-rich water welling up from thousands of feet below the surface anchors a food chain as diverse as anywhere in the Pacific. The bay is home to six National Marine Protected Areas that aim to enrich the biodiversity for future generations.

Santa Cruz offers easy access to all Monterey Bay has to offer. Whether it’s kayaking the rocky shoreline, scuba diving in the kelp forests or spending the day fishing for record-size halibut and giant lingcod, there is plenty of ocean action for boaters to enjoy.

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Visiting boats will find a welcome home in Santa Cruz Harbor. Cut almost a mile deep into Woods Lagoon, the well-protected harbor is a popular stop for boats transiting the coast. With more than 1,000 slips, the harbor’s marina is the largest in Monterey Bay. End-ties within the marina are open to transient boats on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Services are readily available for the boat and crew within walking distance of the harbor. Local knowledge is easy to pick up over a cup of coffee at the nearby Verve Coffee Roasters or at one of Aldo’s waterfront tables overlooking the marina.

Adjacent to Santa Cruz is California’s oldest beach resort in the colorful seaside village of Capitola. Originally settled as a seaport for lumber and agriculture in 1869, the property’s owner saw the potential to develop it into a seaside resort. The Santa Cruz
mountains carry their ridges all the way to the shore, with steep cliffs giving way to Capitola’s beaches. Downtown Capitola was built into a depression within the cliffs. The popular tourist area and shopping district downtown funnels through mountain ridges directly onto Capitola Beach, with hotels and restaurants built on the cliffs above.

There is no bad time to visit Santa Cruz and Capitola, as the weather is fairly mild throughout the year. With a Mediterranean-like climate, this area typically has cool, wet winters and dry, warm summers. Influenced by the climate of Monterey Bay, fog and low overcast skies often settle in during the nighttime and early morning hours, especially in the summer. If you can’t decide whether to visit Northern or Southern California … then don’t. Just drop your anchor in Santa Cruz and enjoy the best of both.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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