By the Numbers
AVERAGE COMMUTE 35 minutes
MEDIAN AGE 31
MEDIAN INCOME $53,998
MEDIAN HOME PRICE $777,500 (Santa Cruz County)
BIGGEST EMPLOYERS Santa Cruz County (2,669), Dominican Hospital (2,000), UC Santa Cruz (1,500)
TELLING STATISTIC Santa Cruz has 15 independent custom surfboard shapers
*All population figures are 2005 census estimates
IF MANHATTAN IS the epicenter of urban culture, Santa Cruz is the epitome of the California beach lifestyle. Predawn longboarding, midday burritos, singletrack mountain biking, afternoon kiteboarding, and fine local wines it all goes down in a spectacular natural setting. Santa Cruz hugs the northern shore of Monterey Bay a national marine sanctuary and nothing but open coast runs to the north and south. The 3,000-foot Santa Cruz Mountains buffer this Aquarian paradise from the city streets and very high-paying jobs of urban San Jose. And that has a lot to do with how set apart Santa Cruz can feel: old-time hippie culture, complete with dreadlocked street urchins and lots of wheat grass, blending with the Volvos and BMWs of the high-tech crowd.The marquee local businesses are Santa Cruz Skateboards and O'Neill Wetsuits; independent bookstores like the Literary Guillotine cater to graduate students from the University of California at Santa Cruz; and Neil Young drops down from his mountain home for occasional unannounced concerts. But what really brings this eclectic crowd together are the pleasures of living in a place with 29 miles of beaches, 14 state parks, a surrounding greenbelt of organic farms and 50 wineries, and ridiculously good weather.
The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Dave Wholey, a 47-year-old sales manager for a medical-devices company:
Hit Kelly's French Bakery (831-423-9059), then rent a demo mountain bike at Another Bike Shop (anotherbikeshop.com) and head to Wilder Ranch State Park (santacruzstateparks.org) for some of California's best trail riding. Back in town, munch fish tacos at Olita's on the wharf and check the wind and swell at Cowell's, a good longboarding spot (rent a board and wetsuit at Cowell's Surf Shop, cowellssurfshop.com). Warm up afterwards in a private hot tub at Well Within (wellwithinspa.com), then taste local wines at the Soif Wine Bar (soifwine.com) and dine on swordfish at Pearl Alley Bistro (pearlalley.com). The next morning, after French toast at Aldo's (aldos-cruz.com) on the pier, grab a picnic lunch from the New Leaf Community Market (newleaf.com) and hike in the redwoods of Henry Cowell State Park. Finish the day at the 100-year-old Santa Cruz Boardwalk (beachboardwalk.com), on the Big Dipper roller coaster, before dinner at Gabriella Café (gabriellacafe.com) and live music at the Catalyst (catalyst-club.com).
San Francisco, CA
pop. 739,426 (city)
An hour and a half north of Santa Cruz, San Francisco has miles of waves at Ocean Beach and a surf scene that's recently blossomed into a full-blown subculture with art shows and film screenings. Beyond that, 70 acres of asphalt have been removed at Crissy Field, and the 1,300-acre Presidio is being turned into a national park.
Stinson Beach, CA
"Phenomenal beach and mountains." Tory Grady