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

The Del Mar Theatre: 5 Unique & Overlooked Facts

Del Mar Theatre Santa CruzThe Del Mar Theatre was once called the “crown jewel of Pacific Avenue.”

Some might argue that it still is.

As the oldest theatre in the city of Santa Cruz, the Del Mar combines rich history with modern technology and comfort. Most locals know the Del Mar Theatre as an illustrious old fashioned 3-screen theatre where you can catch the best independent films, or a midnight movie.

The Del Mar also has a few well kept secrets that many locals are unaware of…

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From Neil Young to Tyler the Creator: How the Catalyst Became Santa Cruz’s Most Iconic Venue

The Catalyst in Santa CruzThere are plenty of venues where you can hear live music in downtown Santa Cruz, but there’s only one club that can boast about a storied past that includes performances by the Beach Boys, and about having the best pizza-by-the-slice deal in town.

That club is the Catalyst, and it’s been serving Santa Cruzans with affordable music and nightlife for over sixty years.

The History

Although the club’s current facade with the Catalyst lettering now feels iconic, the Catalyst so many know and love today wasn’t even in the same location before 1973.

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Descent into Madness at the Del Mar’s Secret Film Festival

Secret Film FestivalWhy the hell am I wearing a garish seventies tunic right now?

There are only three possible reasons:

a. It’s Halloween,
b. I lost a bet, or…
c. The Secret Film Festival was last weekend.

Let’s take it back to the beginning.  Approximately 48 hours ago I walked into the Del Mar Theatre, and also into the most trying test a film lover can face this side of Hollywood.

The eighth annual Secret Film Festival was twelve hours of back-to-back movies, many of them under-the-radar indie or foreign films, and all of them never before screened in Santa Cruz.

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