Top 5 Places for Public Art in Santa Cruz County

One of the greatest joys in exploring a new place is stumbling upon a beautiful piece of public art. Local murals, sculptures, and mosaics showcase the artistic and cultural flavor of the area and inspire you to discover more. Thanks to Santa Cruz County’s deeply rooted art community, there are spectacular pieces of public art on – and around – every corner. Whether you’re up for a day of mural and public art spotting or just want a taste of the local art scene, here 5 great spots for public art that you won’t want to miss!

“Community Quiltage” by Thomas Campbell – Downtown Santa Cruz

Located in Downtown Santa Cruz, Abbott Square is a vibrant plaza that combines art, eateries, culture, and community. Abbott Square Market is a collection of restaurants offering a variety of food options – Neapolitan Style pizza, sushi, creole, street tacos, and burgers to name a few – and has a large communal outdoor patio area in the heart of the downtown art hub. As you dine al fresco, look up and see the iconic Community Quiltage by Bonny Doon artist, Thomas Campbell. The mural cloaks the plaza and Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) in colorful patchwork imagery. It is juxtaposed by Beacon, an eye-catching hanging sculpture of bright red marine buoys reflected by mirrored panels, providing the illusion of a full circle. Ready for more public art? Stroll Pacific Avenue and side streets for additional signature downtown murals and sculptures.

“Sharky-Go-Round” by Kirk McNeill – Tannery Arts Center

While there are many pieces of public art on display at the Tannery Art Center, you won’t want to miss Kirk McNeil’s interactive piece, Sharky-Go-Round. The playful art around the Tannery will have you feeling like a kid again, especially when you give Sharky a little push. Contrasted against a vividly blue sky, Sharky-Go-Round will make you feel like you’re under the waves of the nearby Monterey Bay, looking at these sharks as they “swim” above you.

“I-Spy Creatures of the San Lorenzo River” by Sarah Bianco with Human Shaped Animal – San Lorenzo River Walk

I spy with my little eye… a nature-inspired mural! On the San Lorenzo River Walk by the Tannery, keep your eyes peeled for I-Spy Creatures of the San Lorenzo River, an interactive mural by Sarah Bianco with Human Shaped Animal and poet Jasmine Schlafke. Between poetry and geometric shapes are a variety of flora and fauna that can be found along the trail and in and around the San Lorenzo River. Can you spy a newt, a monarch butterfly, and a rainbow trout?

“Watsonville Brillante” organized by Kathleen Crocetti – Downtown Watsonville

Truly a community effort, Watsonville Brillante is an ongoing mosaic mural project, led by conceptual artist and organizer Kathleen Crocetti. Designed by varying artists, a patchwork of mosaics represent the different cultural threads of Watsonville’s people and history. The community has come together to work on these pieces using sparkling ceramic tiles, which transform an ordinary parking garage into a stunning quilt of imagery.

Around the corner in Watsonville Plaza is The Triumph, a Picasso-inspired mural that has been dedicated to the people of Watsonville. Artist Jaime Sanchez recently restored its brilliant blue hues, which are framed in a striking red. You don’t want to miss this massive, Guernica-inspired beauty.

“To Honor Surfing” by Jeff Oberdorfer – West Cliff Drive

Taking a stroll along scenic West Cliff Drive, you’re bound to come across a Santa Cruz classic: the famous Surfer Statue. To Honor Surfing was sculpted in 1992 by Jeff Oberdorfer, and this surfer has been watching over the waves for over 30 years. And a fun little note: depending on the season or holiday, you just might find the “surfer bro” in some festive attire! Santa hat, pumpkin head, American flag, fall wreath – he’s rocked it all.

Continuing along West Cliff Drive you will find Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, an operational lighthouse serving as home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Learn about Santa Cruz’s deep surfing roots and over 100 years of surf history. Take some time to catch sight of the massive waves of Steamer Lane, a hot spot to watch experienced surfers paddling out and surfing the swell. 

With new public art pieces being added continuously, like the recent Sea Walls mural project, Santa Cruz’s local art scene is always growing. Keep a keen eye out, because you never know when you’re going to spot some artistic beauty, just waiting around the next corner…

All photos by Caryn Hewlett