You can blame California all you want for being artificial, but sometimes it’s that postcard perfection that we fall in love with. Santa Cruz, with its lush trees, indie cafes and thrifty boutiques, was exactly this.
Santa Cruz is a university town, home to The University of California SC, and this was obvious from observing the kind of company it attracted. The place was buzzing with young creatives, meeting up for coffee or sitting on a park bench, reading a Hemmingway novel or something.
We went shopping in some cute boutiques, but was reluctant to buy anything on the very British basis that cheap means cheap, but I wish I had, so when someone asked, I could say “oh yeah, I got this from a rad boutique store, one of a kind,” rather than “I got this for £10 in Forever 21.”
The boutiques are what my Mum would call “quirky,” so you sometimes have to dig deep to find a gem. There are also what the hipsters call “mainstream” shops like American Eagle and Urban Outfitters, yet funnily enough attract hipsters far and wide.
Speaking of which, staying true to the area’s liberal foundations, hippy stores are everywhere. I accidentally walked into a hippie style boutique store, and it was one of the best accidents of my life. The colours of the clothes were comparable to those found in a kaleidoscope, and I wasn’t sure whether to shield my eyes or dance naked round a field. I did neither in the end, but I did go exploring with a constant expression of wonder on my face.
Further at the back of the store was a beautifully decorated zen garden, with gushing fountains, trails of engraved pebbles with motivational messages such as “hope.” It was also somewhere people could come and sit in a circle, hold hands and sing kumbaya without anyone judging you and thinking you’re a stark raving leftie.
Ten minutes away from the Santa Cruz town is Capitola Beach, known as the oldest beach resort on the West Coast. It’s popular with tourists because of its trendy shops and restaurants and on the shore directly connecting to a fishing wharf and its large, sandy beach.
The last time I was at a beach, I was in Devon armed with a blanket and a raincoat, freezing my everything off; so I was thrilled to be sunbathing with actual real sun. The beach is also a great place to people watch, and the people you see are almost as diverse as the ice cream flavours (which you need to try each of, by the way.)
That’s the thing that took me away the most about Santa Cruz; it really is a melting pot of different backgrounds, tastes and cultures cultures. Everyone does their own thing, a long standing value of the San Franciscans, and for me, this is my kind of utopia. Whether you’re people watching whilst lounging on the beach or sipping a chai latte in Peet’s coffee and tea shop (which does the best chai lattes, by the way,) I got the sense that everyone had a story to tell. Although quiet and serene, I expect life in Santa Cruz is far from boring.
Further from Santa Cruz was Santana Row, the richer, bitchier older sister of Santa Cruz. Mercedes and Porches pulled up outside of Gucci, with high powered business women clip clopping their way to a new $2,000 handbag. With its angled streets and geometric plants, it felt too proper, and a stone’s throw away from the liberal attitude of Santa Cruz that I was infatuated with.
We sat up the top of the Valencia hotel, overlooking the town, and I felt like an imposter sipping my diet coke and adjusting my poorly thought out outfit of a baggy t-shirt and canvas shorts, whilst groups of men talked about their wives and stock market prices over a whisky on the rocks.
I went into the Gucci store just to see if they would kick me out for my poor choice of dress that day. I hid in a corner as my brother had the nerve to ask how much a bag was, knowing that if you have to ask the price of something, you can’t afford it. The store assistant replied with a figure with too many noughts on the end, and he laughed nervously whilst we did the walk of shame towards the exit.
Although Santana Row went over my head and my budget, Santa Cruz was exactly on my wavelength. It’s refreshing, with its own quirky style and enough thrift stores to make Macklemore proud. Granted it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if life is this chilled out and carefree in Santa Cruz, I’ll have what their having.