Best-known as a home to college kids, surfers, and hippies, the California town of Santa Cruz has a few less stereotypical, newsworthy attractions to boast of this year. Best of all, most of these are cheap (or even free) and you’ll spend less than $25 on gas to make a round-trip from San Francisco. Here’s what to do on a day trip.
The Birthday Trifecta
Three of Santa Cruz’s most iconic attractions are celebrating milestones this year. California’s longest wooden pier, the Santa Cruz Wharf, celebrates its 100th birthday; the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the fifth-oldest roller coaster in the United States, turns 90, and Santa Cruz Harbor celebrates 50 years. All three are good choices for travelers on a budget. Wandering along the wharf and watching the seals is free; a ticket to ride the coaster is $6 (a bit of an increase from the 15 cents charged when it opened in 1924 ), and, on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can take a free water taxi to hop from one side of the harbor to another.
The Grateful Dead Archives
Because the culture of the town embodies the spirit of their music, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead chose Santa Cruz to house their archived footage, photos, fan art, and other memorabilia. The Grateful Dead archive in the newly renovated McHenry Library on the campus of UC Santa Cruz contains artifacts documenting three decades of the band’s recordings and performances and is accessible (and free) to the general public.
The Jack O’Neill Mural and Lounge
Close to the entrance to the wharf sits a permanent mural adjacent to the site of (local resident, wetsuit creator, and founder of the O’Neill surf brand) Jack O’Neill’s Original Surf Shop. The mural, which was unveiled earlier this year, features a collage of historic photos of Jack complete with a bronze plaque.
Surfers can also pay homage to the man at the new Jack O’Neill Lounge at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn. The lounge features floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Monterey Bay, a prototype O’Neill wetsuit under plexiglass, and vintage photos. A new signature drink menu highlights Jack’s favorite libation, a Ketel One Martini. Other drinks on the surf lingo-influenced cocktail list include the rum-based Grom Report and the Coldwater Conqueror, made with vodka and blood orange. Cocktails cost $12. If you overindulge in the cocktails and need to spend the night, rates at the Dream Inn start at $199.