Throughout our travels we have come across so many towns, but never one quite like Santa Cruz. There are several cities in our great nation that have adopted a slogan of something similar to the phrase “Stay Weird”, as if it were a goal that can be intentionally pursued. I must defy that thinking by stating that I believe authentic “weirdness” is only achieved and maintained unintentionally. In other words, people cannot force a label of weirdness in their area, instead it must exist in and of itself. I stand by my thoughts on the subject, and I will let you in on a secret: an authentically weird place that meets my standards exists. It is Santa Cruz, California.
Santa Cruz sits at the northernmost edge of Monterey Bay, about 1 ½ hours south of San Francisco. It boasts being the home of the first surfing in North America and proves itself a formidable partner in the organic food movement. The University of California has a branch campus within its limits, which is also the location of the Grateful Dead archive. The downtown has a slight grandness to its architecture and larger buildings, but there are also some neighborhoods retaining their cottage-like, seaside homes. Although the price of real estate does not show it, the majority of the homes are modest in looks. The large, popular beach area provides a pier and amusement park. While there are many permanent residents of Santa Cruz, there is a transient feel about the place supported by the random vans with surfboards fastened to the top parked in odd places and the overwhelming traffic in all parts of town.
I must confess that I likened my time in the town to what it must have felt like to experience a train station in the 1800s. People from all walks of life converging in one area for varied purposes. Pedestrians crossing in every direction with a determination to defy cars, carriages or others to pass in front of them. An independent schedule of its own, not confined to a typical 8-5, 40 hour work week. Places where upper class visits, but lower and middle classes make a living. In Santa Cruz, the waves draw surfers seeking rebirth with as much excitement and fervor as the West called to passengers seeking to begin anew. Both present a physical dichotomy: in Santa Cruz mountains and redwood forest meet beach and the Pacific Ocean, and along the frontier stations the East met the West. Santa Cruz has its gaudy amusement park defacing the pristine Monterey Bay, just as the dirt of the station clung to the women’s gloves and dresses.
Add all of the eccentricities together and throw in surfing culture and Santa Cruz stands out as weird, in a brilliant way. So, make sure that Santa Cruz makes your list of stops for a California roadtrip, because even if you don’t get to try surfing like Chris did, you will be glad you experienced authentic weirdness that draws on Santa Cruz’s many strengths and appeals.
Although Santa Cruz is crowded, it does offer some places away from the bustle to enjoy some quiet. We stayed at Cotillion Gardens RV Park near the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Here is a peace-filled video of one of our walks through the redwoods…
Thank you, Lord, for the weirdness of Santa Cruz, the smell of the redwoods and all of the people drawn to this unique place.