There is no better way to spend a Sunday morning than enjoying a fresh cup of coffee, and some French toast on a sunlit porch, reading the paper, and watching the neighbor’s children play in the street. Another day in paradise awaits, where the locals ride their beach cruisers along the cliffs, surfers put on their wetsuits and wax their boards, kids play in the water, and couples enjoy their time together chilling on little benches overlooking the ocean. This description may sound like a cliché opening to a movie, but this really is life in Santa Cruz and it is hard to believe that one would ever want to leave this place.
In fact, many locals, the ones “born and raised in SC”, often go to live in other places and travel around but most of them eventually do come back, knowing that there is hardly any other place in the world that compares to Santa Cruz. It seems as if this little beach community just knows how to preserve a really mellow and easy-going way of life. People appreciate their jobs, friends, and family, and, despite the ups and downs of life, know how to be grateful for what they have. It does not seem difficult to be grateful if the beach is your front yard and bonfires and surfing are as much a part of your life as eating and sleeping. One might think that it is easy to get used to a life like this and to take it for granted at some point. Yet, this is exactly one of the beautiful aspects of reality here: people do not seem to forget that it is truly special to live in a place like this and it almost seems as if this sense of gratitude is carried over into every other part of life here.
Locals pride themselves with the uniqueness of Santa Cruz and do everything to “keep it weird”. This little town that lies along the 1, a highway that runs across the West Coast, seems to be a gathering point for many people from various backgrounds, and all different stages of life. It doesn’t matter why and how people end up in Santa Cruz and what they are looking for, but they can be sure to find it here. It almost seems as if everyone in this town had his or her own unique purpose and reason for being here, which gives this place an absolute magical flair. Whether one is trying to find a path in life, or has already found it and is now raising a family in this wonderful free-spirited environment, this community does not fail to provide spiritual nourishment.
Aside from being a temporary or even permanent destination for one’s personal journey through life, Santa Cruz still has plenty to offer. With the University of California Santa Cruz and one of the best community colleges in California this is truly a college town. This means that during finals week it is almost impossible to get a table at the local coffee shops, and that it is not unusual to have cops show up on your street to crack down yet another party on “Tipsy Tuesday” or “Wasted Wednesday”. While almost every college freshman seems to go through the typical phase of really letting lose for the first time, many students here are interested in more than just partying. When the weather is nice on a Wednesday afternoon it feels as if everyone came down from campus to meet at the local Farmer’s Market downtown to stock up on organic and local produce, to get the best samosas in town and to watch some local band play music.
Just down the street is the infamous hipster hang-out, Pergolesis. This is THE place for people with an odd sense of fashion to drink black coffee or beer, smoke cigarettes, talk about making, or actually make art, contemplate life, study, or just chill with friends. People either love or hate Pergs, but it sure never gets old.
If you want to get the full experience of just how weird Santa Cruz can get, just sit out front off the “Roaster” (The Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company) in the heart of downtown. Sipping an organic, fair-trade, freshly brewed cup of coffee you can just lean back and enjoy the craziness as you watch people passing by. If you stay for more than 30 minutes you are bound to see some real characters that seem to be part of the Santa Cruz landscape just as much as the Boardwalk and the palm trees. Downtown Santa Cruz is both charming and sketchy; it all depends on what time of the day you are on which side of Pacific Avenue.
On the one hand cute, little boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, a grocery store, a movie theater, surf shops, two bookstores, and even a cookie place give downtown, formerly known as the Pacific Garden Mall, a relaxing and enchanting vibe. However, on the other hand also bums, the usual drunks, and shady bars belong into the picture. Perhaps it is exactly this vast contrast and, for the most part, peaceful co-existence of these two different worlds that add to the weirdness and uniqueness of Santa Cruz.
And maybe it is exactly this paradox that creates the impression that Santa Cruz is such a liberal and open-minded community. Instead of ignoring people that clearly live a different lifestyle than the norm – either by choice or by circumstance – or turning a blind eye on them, they are just accepted and considered a part of, without even making too much noise about it. While one might think that such an attitude could easily lead to sweeping social issues under the rug, almost the opposite is true. One gets the feeling that everyone enjoys the freedom to be exactly who they want to be or think they are.
Now, just throw a heightened level of political, social, and economic awareness in this mix of numerous different personalities and you got a very active civil society that likes to get involved in any way they can. If you want to explore the magnitude of your political capacity Santa Cruz is a great place to learn of what works and what doesn’t work in politics. The great political activism of the locals gives this town the reputation of being such a progressive community, which is true to a certain extent. However, there is also a lot of idealism and people are in fact very protected from the “real world”. Santa Cruz is often referred to as bubble, which is certainly true, for no matter how politically or socially aware people are, they get to live in an environment that allows them to be authentic and create their very own identity, without having to fear major consequences.
Folks who neither care about political nor social issues too much will find that coming to Santa Cruz to discover the captivating nature is reason enough to fall in love with this place. From the Red Wood Trees to Four Mile Beach, Mother Nature shows her most beautiful sides in Santa Cruz. A walk though the forest or the beach is equally relaxing, and if you stop by either one of the two lighthouses and take a moment to look across the seemingly endless ocean you can’t help but feel am overwhelming sense of wholeness. Sunsets, especially during the winter, are a spectacle that cannot be missed. The sun sets and the sky is painted in all shades of purple, blue, pink red and yellow. The environment of Santa Cruz lets you simply be and if you take the time to draw a couple breaths of fresh ocean air you may suddenly feel one with everything around you.
And this is where the circle closes: No matter what you do in Santa Cruz you are bound to have a spiritual experience of some sort; or at least enjoy your time and once you leave you will always want to come back. Considering that this manifold beachtown has something to offer to anyone and that it also lies in an extremely powerful energetic field it is no wonder that there is some sort of magical attraction going on. An old Native American myth says that there is a spell casted on Santa Cruz, which makes it impossible to leave. I can only vouch for this to be true. After having left three years ago and been fortunate enough to see some other beautiful places in this world I am still bound by the magic of Santa Cruz.
This article was also written about three years ago and besides the last couple of lines it has not been edited any further. When I have the chance to return it might be revised with additional impressions. Right now I cannot judge if anything has changed but what I do know to be still true today is the same I wrote three years ago:
At least I know for myself that no matter where I will go my heart and soul will always be in Santa Cruz.