Not only does the city have gorgeous redwood forests and world-class beaches, but it has an arts and culture scene unlike any other mid-sized city in America.
But what made Santa Cruz the city it is today?
Here’s a brief history of Santa Cruz so you can see how the city got its start:
The First Settlers
Although anthropologists have found evidence that people lived in the Santa Cruz area over 12,000 years ago, the city’s history began in 1769 when the first settlers made it to the shores of the city.
The first settlers were Spanish explorers on the Portola Expedition. They were the first non-native people to explore the coast of the Santa Cruz region.
Explorer Don Gaspar de Portola set foot on land near the flowing river, which he named San Lorenzo after Saint Lawrence.
After spotting the gorgeous, rolling hills in the distance, Portola named the city Santa Cruz. The name means Holy Cross in English.
Twenty years after this initial encounter with the land, a missionary named Father Lausen established the first mission in Santa Cruz. It was a significant establishment for only being the 12th mission to be founded in the whole of California.
While this mission was being established, the Villa de Branciforte was growing east of the San Lorenzo River. This was a Spanish settlement and one of the three original pueblos (towns) in Santa Cruz.
As both settlements grew in size, they eventually merged to create a large town that spanned over both east and west of the river.
The Changes of the 19th Century
Although the city was established by Spanish settlers, by the 1820s, Mexico had taken control of the area.
It was at this time that the Santa Cruz area saw major changes in its settlement.
One of the biggest changes was that the mission was secularized. All of its remaining adobe structures on Mission Hill were converted from their original use to commercial spaces where merchants could sell goods.
This commercial boom made Mission Hill the center of the action in the Santa Cruz area.
While all of this was going on, California became an official state in 1850 and Santa Cruz County became one of the original 27 counties in the state.
After the county’s incorporation is when more and more Americans began relocating to this city.
The American Invasion
The mid 1800s was a significant time for Santa Cruz. California had just been named a state and Santa Cruz a County. And amid all of this buzz, the gold rush was in full swing, attracting tons of people to the west of the country.
As a result, Santa Cruz County welcomed a multitude of Americans from across the country. The city’s historic adobes turned into churches and its vacant land became the site for new homes.
It was at this point in history that the city saw a major boom in its economy. Industries like logging, agriculture, and commercial fishing thrived in this area, and eventually put this city on the map.
After experiencing significant growth, the city of Santa Cruz was officially incorporated in 1866 and it received its first charter in 1876.
The Santa Cruz We Know Now
Since the late 1800s, Santa Cruz has changed a lot.
The early 1900s brought the infamous Santa Cruz Boardwalk and its roller coasters. The Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster are both National Historic Landmarks that have come to define the city.
Now, Santa Cruz is known as a popular vacation destination for its world-class beaches, incredible surfing waves, and laid-back vibes. It has a vibrant arts and culture scene that can be experienced through events and festivals that happen throughout the year.