Downtown Santa Cruz

Pacific Avenue, the anchor of downtown Santa Cruz, might technically be a mall, but it’s probably not like any mall you’ve ever visited.
That’s because of both atmosphere and people. The outdoor mall creates a wide-open feel — wide enough to include all kinds of people and places.
This is a place where a college student with oversized glasses and an overgrown beard might sip his independently-brewed coffee while walking past a family of five, all of them clutching Starbucks ventis, followed by a street performer, dancing or strumming a guitar, with a cup full of change, not coffee. Downtown is where the old Santa Cruz hippy culture is kept alive, but it’s also where new innovations are happening every day.
And it’s also just a great place to catch dinner, a movie, and a scoop of ice cream.


Pacific Avenue has roots that date back to the 1860s, but it wasn’t until about a century later that it became a mall of sorts. Locals fondly remember the original Pacific Garden Mall as a lush, sprawling road wrapped around trees and benches and lights.
The Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 badly wounded downtown Santa Cruz — three people died, and about 31 buildings were either damaged or completely collapsed. However, this paved the way for a new Pacific Avenue to rise out of the rubble, into the small town mainstreet-meets-destination that it is today.


Between weekly events like the Wednesday farmers’ market to annual events like the Greek Festival, downtown Santa Cruz has plenty of culture to offer. Some favorites include the explosion of art and culture that happens every first Friday of the month, as well as the antique faire, every second Sunday.


Whether you’re looking for clothing, accessories, groceries, books, music, or just something that’s that special brand of Santa Cruz weird, downtown has a variety of options for you.
Just as the broad range of people mingle into the same space, chains and independent stores coexist alongside each other. This means you can buy some spiffy socks at the Sock Shop to match that great shirt you just got at The Gap, or compare the hipster garb at American Apparel and locally-owned Stripe before making decisions about what to purchase. Downtown doesn’t just have stores — it has options.

Kaiser Permanente Arena

Built less than a year ago, Kaiser Permanente Arena has already become a big presence in Santa Cruz life. Both the Santa Cruz Warriors, Santa Cruz’s new NBA Development League team, and the Santa Cruz Derby Girls play there — and both teams usually dominate. Whether your favorite SC athletes wear sneakers or skates, Kaiser Permanente is quickly becoming the place to be in downtown Santa Cruz.


Downtown has a variety of restaurants, of different flavors, atmospheres, and price ranges. Some of the best finds look like holes in the wall (like Gabriella Cafe) or aren’t even in the wall (like Cafe Campesino’s, a delicious Mexican kiosk).
With the exception of a few upscale places, most downtown restaurants are kid-friendly. Even more kid-friendly is the plethora of ice cream places open for dessert, like the Penny Ice Creamery and Mission Hill.
Also not to be missed are the multiple coffee and tea shops downtown. Verve, a national-award-winning cafe, is probably the best, but there are plenty of worthy contenders.


There are a lot of bars and clubs downtown, but finding the right ones takes some navigating. Try a standard like the 515, The Poet and the Patriot, and Soif WIne Bar, and you probably can’t go wrong.


Downtown Santa Cruz offers a variety of housing options, from beautiful old Victorian homes to inexpensive apartments for rent. The population tends to be younger and feature more single people than other areas of town, but plenty of families also enjoy living in walking distance from so many destinations.


Most families living in or near downtown Santa Cruz send their kids to Bay View Elementary School, Mission Hill Middle School and Santa Cruz High School.
Located near the Bay and Mission intersection, Bay View Elementary was founded in 1865, and designates itself with the slogan “Where Everybody is Somebody.” The school offers art and music programs, a Lifelab, GATE classes, and an after-school program.
Mission Hill Middle School, on King Street off of Mission, exceeds state averages on most of its testing areas, and offers a wealth of electives, such as Spanish, band, orchestra, chorus, industrial arts, ceramics, animation, and stained glass.
Santa Cruz High School, a stately white building on Walnut Avenue off of California Street, is relatively small for a public high school, with only 1,100 students. The school puts an emphasis on preparing students for college, and uses the excel block schedule.
-Blair Stenvick

Walnut Avenue Cafe: A Breakfast Favorite in Santa Cruz since 1994

Walnut Ave Cafe Santa CruzYou know a restaurant is serious about brunch when they aren’t even open for dinner.

In Santa Cruz, that restaurant is the Walnut Avenue Cafe, located downtown off Pacific Avenue.

Since opening in 1994, Walnut has been known as a go-to spot for locals and visitors alike to catch up with family members, nurse hangovers with friends, or share a romantic brunch with a love interest.

Open from early in the morning till three or four in the afternoon depending on the day, Walnut offers the perfect brunch menu, hitting every possible desire.

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Santa Cruz Antique Faire

Santa Cruz Antique FaireIf your idea of sophisticated is slightly scuffed, if you prefer dusty over designer, and if you know vintage is about more than just wine, then the monthly Antique Faire in downtown Santa Cruz is for you.

If you’ve ever been antiquing, you know that not all antique shops are the same.

Some focus on furniture, some focus on clothes, some focus on memorabilia, and some are a hodgepodge of whatever the proprietors come across.  Some feature only those antiques of the finest condition and charge a bundle, while others walk that line between being vintage and thrift.

What’s great about the Santa Cruz Antique Faire is that there’s a little bit of everything, all crammed together on Lincoln St.  Think of it as a sort of monthly pop-up mall where everything’s super old, and indulge accordingly.

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Hell on Wheels: The Santa Cruz Derby Girls

Santa Cruz Derby Girls Part Mardi Gras on wheels and part rockabilly hockey without the puck, women’s roller derby is the type of sexy, sporty, full-contact entertainment that fits Santa Cruz perfectly.

These are your Santa Cruz Derby Girls and they go by stage names like Pippi Hard Socking, Inflict Her Pain, Shamrock N. Roller, Liv N. Letdie, Sharon D. Payne and Bettie the Kid.

The names may be in good fun, but on the flat track, they’re all business. The action is real, the outcome matters and Santa Cruz loves every second of this hip-checking, thigh-bruising sport on skates.

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