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.