From Monterey, Hwy. 1 carries you quickly northward, as a four lane (or greater) freeway over much of the route. That was fine with me, since I had seen enough of the coast the day before, and was ready for a little change of scenery. So I decided on making just one more stop before motoring on up the road to San Francisco: Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz may very well be the perfect Pacific Coast destination. This small town has a picture-perfect downtown, which you’ll probably drive past, as you head for the beach. Once at the water, you’ll find plenty of attractions to keep you (and your kids) busy.
Walk out on the pier, and you’ll find great seafood restaurants and gift shops. Back on land, there’s a giant arcade (known as the Casino), a wide, sandy beach, and the main attraction, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which you can see in the picture above.
You can almost see one of Santa Cruz’s two lighthouses in this photo. Eat at one of the restaurants on the pier, and you’ll have an excellent view.
A closer view of the Casino and Boardwalk.
Look closely! That dark spot in the water is either a seal or a sea lion. If you don’t have a close encounter with one while you’re swimming, you’ll find quite a few of the creatures hanging out at the end of the pier.
There were plenty of people on the beach during my visit on Memorial Day weekend, but as you can see, there was still plenty of space left on the beach.
The sky ride provides a great way to orient yourself to all of Santa Cruz’s attractions. From up here you can see it all, the boardwalk, rides, beach, lighthouses, and pier.
A look back at the pier, from the sky ride.
Another view of the beach, from the sky ride.
In the distance you can see the brand-new Walton Lighthouse, one of two that light up Santa Cruz Harbor at night.
The Giant Dipper’s big dip.
I-280 Into San Francisco
Leaving Santa Cruz, Hwy. 17 takes you north, and gives you a choice. You can either speed towards San Francisco along Interstate 280, or US 101. Both are multi-lane freeways, and both will get you there in about the same amount of time. I chose 280, since parts of it are designated as a scenic route (that’s right, an 8 lane scenic route). While the freeway does pass over some rolling, green mountains, and it does provide a few turn-offs which lead to scenic viewpoints, it’s difficult to think of a giant freeway as “scenic”.
One good thing about I-280: it dumps you right downtown in San Francisco, near Pacific Bell Park. From there, it’s fairly easy to find your way to wherever you’re going in the city.
Note: This trip was first published in 2004.