Searching for the soul of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a pretty sweet city. It’s gorgeous. There’s a beautiful beach, tons of restaurants, shops, and things to do. A few good breweries. Nice views, hikes nearby. It was selected as one of Outside’s most desirable places to live (Portland too!). But after a few days here, I’ve found myself wondering: where is the soul of this city? And I haven’t found it.

Time on the beach is great, the sand is pleasant with the sound of the surf and the seagulls, a heavy sun radiating powerfully, beautiful people building sand structures to watch them erode with the tides. Several lighthouses are visible from any given shore. But I don’t feel the soul there.

Downtown is small, but pleasant. There are several coffee shops. Three bookstores. Restaurants galore. A venue for shows. Surf shops, gift shops, clothing stores, water pipe outlets. But I don’t feel the soul there. Starbucks and Peet’s. Borders. Even the local store feels like it wishes it were a Borders. No local artist showcase that I could find. No outlet for local expression. And Logo, the used book and music store. Almost there, but still it is unwilling to carry the torch. Unwilling to offend.

Walking the streets, I felt a strange familiarity. Santa Cruz felt to me a bit like Las Vegas, a softer expression, the opposite in so many ways, but the same. A stand of naive liberalism lacking a grounding in reality where Vegas stands for nothing but is deeply entrenched in all too vivid reality.

The experience has been sanitized. Overdeveloped, too expensive, a facade of beauty but is there anything underneath? Keep it safe, keep it clean. Do the right thing. Recycling is the law.

But I know it’s out there. Local talent. Individuals. Stifled and forgotten, but not gone. A scene, something that is the character and the culture. Or is that it? Is the culture this soccer-mom turned surf and skate shuttle world? If you know, if you can help me find it, please show me the way.

  • Nedra

    I even looked for local clothing in some of the boutiques and I still didn’t find any true local artists being displayed……

  • John M.

    I lived in Santa Cruz many years ago and used to dream about the day I would become successful enough that I could return to and live in Santa Cruz. Absent living there, I used to go back as often as I could, either staying with friends or camping just south of town at Manressa state park.

    I still return to Santa Cruz on occasion, but not nearly as often as I once did. It seems almost amzing to me that this will be the second year in succession that I will not attend the wharf to wharf run there.

    I agree the town seems to have somehow lost its heart, something I have to say I never thought could happen…. but ever since the Loma Prieta earthquake, it seems to me the town has not been the same. Prior to that event I would hang out the BookShop Santa Cruz or Pergolesi’s, and maybe later go for a walk down the Pacific Garden Mall, stopping (always) breifly in front of the Cooper House on my way to the Catalyst, Tampico’s or the Poet and Patriot.

    Other then the Cooper House, all those places remain to this day. However, pergolesi’s and the bookshop have had to relocate to new homes, and nothing can ever really replace the Cooper House. For that matter, the garden mall just doesn’t have the vibe/feel it once had.

    Santa Cruz is still a nice place to visit, and in the summer the weather is unparalled, but it’s no longer the place I dream of returning to. I’m resigned, I think, to the realization that that place no longer exists….

  • maria

    how sad!!! I also lived in Santa Cruz in the 70’s and had my children there, went to a church called mission street fellowship…….sigh