Planning a Trip
Getting There -- Santa Cruz is 77 miles southeast of San Francisco. The most scenic route to Santa Cruz is along Highway 1 from San Francisco, which, aside from the "you fall, you die" stretch called Devil's Slide, allows you to cruise at a steady 50 mph. Faster but less romantic is Highway 17, which is accessed near San Jose from I-280, I-880, or U.S. 101, and ends at the foot of the boardwalk. The exception to this rule is on weekend mornings, when Highway 17 tends to logjam with beachgoers while Highway 1 remains relatively uncrowded.
Visitor Information -- For information, contact the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council, 1211 Ocean St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (tel. 800/833-3494 or 831/425-1234; www.santacruzca.org), open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm, Sunday from 10am to 4pm.
Special Events -- Special events include Shakespeare Santa Cruz in July and August (tel. 831/459-2159; http://shakespearesantacruz.org), and the Cabrillo Music Festival in August (tel. 831/426-6966; www.cabrillomusic.org).
Seven Money-Saving Tips for Santa Cruz Tourists
- On Friday nights in summer, head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Beach Bandstand for free concerts with live music from the '60s, '70s, and '80s -- Greg Kihn, Eddie Money, the Fixx, Survivor -- at 6:30 and 8:30pm.
- On Mondays and Tuesdays after 5pm in summer, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk holds 1907 Nights, celebrating the year it opened by reducing prices to 65¢ a ride (that's $2.50 off). Hot dogs, sodas, and cotton candy are also just 65¢. The special typically runs from late June to the end of August.
- Great Mexican food at cheap prices is served daily from 10am to 9pm at the Las Palmas Taco Bar at 55 Front St. near the wharf (tel. 831/429-1220). This grimy little corner cafe has been a local's favorite since 1955. You can smell the frijoles frying from the beach. Get a couple of beef tongue soft tacos brimming with pico de gallo and salsa verde.
- To skip the entrance fee to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, drive 1 1/2 miles south of the main entrance on Calif. 9 to the Ox Road parking lot. Park for free and then follow the trail into the park, which takes you past a popular swimming hole called the Garden of Eden.
- A far better walk than the boardwalk is along the 2-mile ocean-side paved path on West Cliff Drive (west of the wharf). The scenery is spectacular, particularly at sunset, and it won't cost a cent.
- Carmelita Cottages, 321 Main St. (tel. 831/423-8304; www.hi-santacruz.org), is a hostel in Santa Cruz that will rent you a bunk bed for $21. The gaggle of white-washed Victorian cottages is a few blocks north of the Boardwalk, in a quiet, residential neighborhood. The hostel also reserves a few rooms for couples and families. (It's not exactly Romance Central, but for $50 a night for your own room at such a prime location, it's hard to complain.)
- Don't pay to park in downtown Santa Cruz. Along Cedar and Front streets are three parking garages and 13 surface lots that offer 3 hours of free parking.