Santa Cruz always has a special place for Surf Mei Mei, Kelly, it is the place where she saw her very first surf movie, Step into Liquid, in 2003 at Del Mar Santa Cruz theatre. This spring, both Surf Mei Mei went back to Northern California for business and pleasure as well as experiencing some Santa Cruz hospitality.
Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz is a county in California, which is famous for its mild weather, resort-like community. Located about 1 hour away from San Francisco, is a south-facing coastline surrounded by Monterey Bay. This protected micro-climate is a perfect geography to translate all that endless rolling winter swell into surf, according to Surfline.com. One of the must-go surf towns, Santa Cruz offers gentle waves, such as Cowell beach, or big wave surfing by Steamer lane.
Santa Cruz has a culturally diverse history due to its geographic location and weather: before 18th century, native Americans was settled in the beautiful coastline; The Spaniards took over in late 18th century which helped to develop the economy of the county and many other settlers later influenced the history of this beautiful county. When walking in Santa Cruz, one will find oneself in a historical architectural tour: many Italian style home by the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and many Californian bungalows in the residential area. (For more about Santa Cruz)
Surfing was introduced in late 19th century by the Hawaiians, as one of the first surfing spot in U.S. Mainland according to Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Santa Cruz has been a legendary surf town since. Now, a well-established resort community, Santa Cruz offers variety of surfing, historic tour, architecture, seafood, culture and downtown Santa Cruz for visitors and locals to enjoy this surfers’ favorite spot.
The best and most consistent season for surfing is winter when wetsuits are needed (4/3 with booties and gloves), Steamer lane has offshore wind and overhead wave is a normal phenomenon for the locals.
Summer If you are an experienced surfer, you might want to go somewhere else during summer time. Small waves with crowded tourists and beginners. The worst part is the fog and onshore winds.
Perks: no wetsuit!
Fall Personal favorite season. Clear visibility and offshore, consistent surf.
Wetsuit: 2m to 3/2m wetsuit is needed.
Winter Best season to be if you are a big wave (overhead or bigger) surfer. Similar to the Atlantic Ocean, storms season provide big and consistent surfing with glassy condition.
Wetsuit: 4/3m wetsuit + booties + gloves
Spring Surf Mei Mei got lucky to catch the first overhead and offshore surf when we visited in April. According to surfline.com, surfing in spring can be good with early south swells bumping into late winter swells, and those northwest winds blowing offshore in places. But spring by and large means onshore winds and a slacking off into summer.
Wetsuit: 3/2m and booties
Our drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz
Bus/ Caltrain (2 hours and 30 minutes off-hour)
From San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Caltrain Station
Take train Local towards San Jose Caltrain Station
Destination: San Jose Caltrain Station
Walk to Diridon Station & (Caltrain Depot)
About 2 min
Diridon Station & (Caltrain Depot)
Take Bus17 towards 17 – Santa Cruz Metro via SVTC
1 h (8 stops)
Arrive at Santa Cruz Metro Center & (Pacific Station)
From SF to Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz Metro – (831) 425-8600 Caltrain – (800) 660-4287
Santa Cruz Metro Center is in the downtown center, you can walk 14 minutes walk to the boardwalk or take bus.
Car (around 1 hour)
It is easier if you rent a car from the airport or SF to go to Santa Cruz (1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes drive)
Rental Car Cost: ~ $50 per day
Santa Cruz Dream Inn
We stay at this famous beach front hotel in Santa Crux right in front of Cowell Beach by the boardwalk. You can surf, play volleyball, paddle board and play other sports right in front of this hotel.
The Santa Cruz Dream Inn is located right on Cowell Beach by the Municipal Wharf, as the focal point of the entrance of Santa Cruz. Originally built in mid 20th century, this hotel has been renovated to a modern style but kept its retro surfer’s chic vibe. Now managed by the famed San Francisco firm, Joie de Vivre Hotel, it provides friendly and thoughtful services since early 2000s, to its guests. It boasts an unbeatable location for surfers and all adventurers, incredible view of the ocean , wharf and the boardwalk from your own room and the newly renovated Aquarius dinning room offering organic and local produced cuisine and many more features in this beachfront hotel.
With its 100 guestroom in the 10-story scenic hotel with private balconies and 65 room as part of its original, low-rise architecture, Surf Mei Mei chose the Dream Inn because it is right on Cowell Beach, where activities like surfing, standup paddle boarding, beach volleyball and more are happening right in front of the hotel’s outdoor pool, jacuzzi and Tiki bar. With 10 minutes walk to Steamer Lane, we could not ask for more from other hotels.
24 HOURS IN SANTA CRUZ
2:00 pm: Arrived and Check in with
Dream Inn Santa Cruz
We immediately dropped our luggage and ran out to see the rare big wave sighting in April!
2:30 to 4:00 pm: Surf Check and Surf Shop
Dream Inn is located on the hill of Monterey Bay coastline where Cowell, Steamer Lane and the lighthouse are located. Walking up the hill towards Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is a great tour itself: historical architecture, beautiful coastline and amazing surfing action.
Cowell Surf Shop of Santa Cruz
The shop mostly rents and sells used longboards, fun boards and some shortboards. There’s a great selection for beginner and intermediate surfers and standup paddle boarders. Wetsuits and booties rental available.
4:30 to 7:00 pm: Suit up and Surf
Best Tide: Low to incoming
Best Swell Direction: West, NorthWest, SouthWest
Best Size: Flat to five-feet
Best Wind: East, NorthWest
Level: Beginner to good longboarder
Best Season: Year-round
Crowd Factor: Very, very crowded on sunny days, but it’s mostly beginners.
Local Vibe: Happy
Hazards: Getting run over by the pack or nailed by someone’s longboard
Best Tide: mid tide
Best Swell: West, South, North West
Best Wind: Northeast, North, Northwest
Bottom: Rock, reef, A LOT of Kelp
Level: Intermediate to advanced
Best Season: Year-round (best in winter)
Access: Park in the lot by Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, walk down the stairs. Or many locals jump off from the cliff
Crowd Factor: Very crowded after 3pm and on weekends.
Local Vibe: mixture of tourist and locals. Be respectful!
Hazards: locals, drop-ins, big surf, seals, sea otters, kelp, kayakers, getting pinned on the cliff, that big rock on the inside
*We only mention two obvious and popular surf spots to respect local surfers. More info at surfline.com
7:00 to 8:30 pm Dinner
We yelped this place and the food was pleasantly surprisingly authentic!
The decor was simple but very Thai. We ordered Thai Snack, which is very interestedly refreshing. It is a great dish if you can eat peanuts!
9 to 10:00 pm SNACK
Penny Ice Creamery
They serve up artisanal and organic goodness! Their flavors are original and you can taste the creamy local organic milk in every lick! Caution: extremely creamy and addictive!
7 to 9:30 am Dawn Patrol
Cowell Beach might be a great option when the wave is small or inconsistent. Renting a standup paddle board to surf!
More surf spots info Surfline.com
9:30 to 10:30am Shower and Check out!
10:30 to 11:00 am Breakfast!
We picked this place because we were in a rush and this supermarket has an industrial re-design charm. There’s a deli section with many ready-made food. It turned out to be a nice market place to get fresh and organic to-go food. There is an indoor and outdoor seating for customers. A pint of organic Kale salad was under $5, where can you find that in NYC!
11:00 to 12:00 am Surf Shop
Sawyer Land & Sea Supply
I LOVE THIS PLACE! Located in a re-used industrial-factory-turned-plaza, this surf shop’s interior design continues the industrial exterior but with warm wood tone with clean stream-line look. Sawyer is owned by Stacy, a happy-go-around surfer girl, who knows exactly what you are looking for. You can find high quality design goods from locally made surfboards to a good soft sweat shirt made in California. Sustainability seems to be the theme for the shop.
The visit to Sawyer Land & Sea Supply ends our Santa Cruz trip wonderfully. We successfully done everything we want within 24 hours again!!!
See you soon Santa Cruz!
Do you know which surf break is this?
Photo by Stanton Stephens. Thank you for Stanton for a great collaboration with Surf Mei Mei
All images are originated by Surf Mei Mei & Stanton Stephens
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