All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
With colorful surf shops, charming beach cottages, and a shoreline teeming with surfers and beachgoers, Pleasure Point is the kind of quintessential beach community that enlivens Hollywood movies and lures envious tourists to California’s sunny shores. Situated on Santa Cruz’s east end, this seaside neighborhood is one of the most vibrant surf destinations along the California coast. The easy going ‘hood earned its hedonistic name from Prohibition-era shenanigans, but you’d swear it’s because spending a day here is such a joy, no surfboard required!
One of Pleasure Point’s biggest draws is East Cliff Drive, a dazzling waterfront promenade—part of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail—that winds along coastal bluffs overlooking the sparkling Monterey Bay. Join the parade of beach cruisers, skaters, and board-toting surfers as you enjoy vistas of quiet beach coves and thrilling surf breaks.
You’ll spot a crowd of onlookers at the mini blufftop park overlooking The Hook (East Cliff Dr. at 41st Ave.), one of the neighborhood's famed surf spots. Spectators belly up to a cliffside fence to take in sweeping views of the Monterey Bay and throngs of wetsuit-clad surfers riding rolling waves into shore. A few blocks away, Pleasure Point Park (East Cliff Dr. at 32nd Ave.) offers another great vantage point of surfer-topped waves from a small overlook guarded by a giant wooden tiki.
Newly christened Jack O’Neill Park (East Cliff Dr. at 37th Ave.) honors the late surf legend and wetsuit pioneer who lived in the house immediately adjacent. It’s a rugged, undeveloped plot of land that offers unspoiled views of the spectacular coastline. In July 2017, it served as the launching point for thousands of surfers who participated in a massive memorial paddle out to pay tribute to O’Neill.
Pleasure Point’s main drag, 41st Avenue, immerses visitors in the town’s rich surf culture. The buzzing thoroughfare is lined with swaying Golden Medallion trees—named for their brilliant yellow blooms—and colorful storefronts filled with surf shops, beachy home stores, and casual eateries. The relaxed neighborhood sports a strict dress code of flip flops, shorts, and surf tees. Outfit yourself like a local at the O’Neill Surf Shop which continues the legacy of Jack O’Neill who first to coined the term “surf shop.”
On Sunday mornings, you’ll find locals bustling about the makeshift public plaza that is the Live Oak Farmers’ Market. Tote-wielding shoppers arrive early to nab fresh seasonal veggies from the region’s many surrounding farms and munch savory breakfast tacos to the toe-tapping tunes of live bands.
EAT + DRINK
Start the day with a jolt from one of the neighborhood’s many third-wave coffee shops. Verve Coffee Roasters debuted its first shop in Pleasure Point before branching out to Los Angeles and Tokyo. Pop into their cozy initial locale on 41st Avenue to enjoy foam art-topped mugs amidst a stylish new interior from Santa Cruz design firm Young America Creative. At Cat & Cloud, you can sip creamy espresso drinks from beans roasted on-site in an Instagram-worthy interior. A case full of baked goods from Companion Bakeshop—and a killer avocado toast—invite lingering on a sunny front patio.
You know you’re in a surf town when there’s a hulking breakfast burrito within a surf leash’s reach. Each morning, locals pour into Point Market and emerge with foil-wrapped beauties assembled in a variety of combos. Ask for extra hot sauce! At Chill Out Cafe, the motto is “Just Chill” which aptly describes Pleasure Point’s laid-back ethos. The number of breakfast burritos they offer—twenty-one by last count—is only outnumbered by the surf and skate stickers plastering their front door.
Surf-themed posters, photos, and boards cover every inch of Pleasure Point Pizza, a neighborhood landmark that serves up hot slices to ravished surfers. The atmospheric eatery played a role in “Chasing Mavericks,” a 2012 feature film that tells the story of local surf legend Jay Moriarty. Check out some of the other local spots featured in the film with this cool movie map.
You’ll find a different kind of starring roll at Kaito, a friendly sushi spot that also dishes up steaming bowls of ramen with all the fixings. Try the Spicy Miso Ramen with BBQ pork and a Pleasure Point Roll bursting with fresh Hamachi, Crab, and Avocado.
With Pleasure Point’s beachfront setting and 300 annual days of sunshine, you know there’s a tasty ice cream spot nearby. The Penny Ice Creamery makes a point of pleasing with scoops of from-scratch organic ice cream made with fresh seasonal ingredients and served in homemade waffle cones. Get it like the locals do with a roasted marshmallow topping!
Walking distance from the hub of activity on 41st Avenue, the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott features spacious two-room suites, a bocce ball court, and an aquatic-themed lobby with a glass jellyfish chandelier that would delight Nemo and Dory. At the nearby Best Western Plus Capitola-by-the-Sea Inn & Suites, notable perks include a heated salt-water pool and hot tub, free WiFi, and an exceptional complimentary breakfast buffet.
You’ll fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves at Ocean Echo Inn & Beach Cottages which overlook a hidden scenic beach that’s a favorite among locals. Fully-equipped cottages and outdoor patios with BBQ grills will have you feeling like one of the neighbors in no time. Beach lovers can also take shelter at Bella Notte, a boutique 10-room property that’s walking distance to Twin Lakes State Beach. Bright citrus trees and climbing vines lend a Mediterranean vibe while lux rooms with Italian bedding and heated bathroom floors ensure a bella notte, or beautiful night.