Santa Cruz County Relocation Guide

Table of Contents


Santa Cruz County Relocation Guide Map

Santa Cruz County Relocation Guide Map

Santa Cruz is a semi-rural county is in Northern California, famed for its sublime climate, redwood forests, sandy beaches, world-class surfing, and laid-back way of life. The seat of the county government is located in the city of Santa Cruz, which is situated just 32 miles from San Jose (“the Capital of Silicon Valley”) and 75 miles from San Francisco.

Given a location less than a 40-minute drive from Silicon Valley, many tech workers with advanced skills call Santa Cruz home. Additionally, the city has also attracted a number of major technology companies, so a growing number of residents enjoy a short drive to leading-edge tech sector jobs.

Less known about Santa Cruz are the outstanding educational institutions. The county’s largest employer is the University of California at Santa Cruz, but there’s another college in the county which drives employment and the need for housing: Cabrillo College, an acclaimed two-year community college with campuses in Aptos and Watsonville. What’s more, a number of the county’s K-12 schools are best-in-class for public schools in California, having earned the California Distinguished Schools designation.

Whether you’re relocating to Santa Cruz for work, school, or recreation you’ll find that the county has a great deal to offer anyone – and what it lacks, you’ll usually find that whatever you’re missing is within an hour or two’s drive. Welcome to Santa Cruz – I know you’ll love it too.


Who is this Guide for?

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This guide is designed for people considering making a move to and/or investing in real estate in Santa Cruz county. Many people moving to Santa Cruz are students attending the University, with parents looking for a way to house their children and make a smart investment while they attend school. If you are one of those students or parents, this guide is for you.

Santa Cruz has historically been a vacation destination. Many families throughout California own second homes in Santa Cruz county which they visit throughout the year. Santa Cruz is peppered with streets bearing the names of other cities in California, especially in neighborhoods close to the beaches. If you are thinking of purchasing a second home in Santa. Cruz county, this guide will get you well acquainted with the various regions of Santa Cruz county, so you’ll be able to zero-in on the right neighborhoods and homes for you.

For the past 40 or more years, Santa Cruz has increasingly become a bedroom community for workers in nearby Silicon Valley. Many would-be Santa Clara county homebuyers are attracted to Santa Cruz for its temperate climate, pristine beaches, clean air, good school system – and prices that are 30-40% below what a similar home would cost in Silicon Valley. With more and more employees being able to work in home, or perhaps just go into the office one or two days per week, increasing numbers of Silicon Valley tech workers are considering a move to Santa Cruz. If you’re one of those people, this guide is for you too!

Demographics of Santa Cruz

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The population of the county whole is estimated at 268,000 as of 2023. Santa Cruz County has a population density of 615 people per square mile (ppsm), making it the 10th most-densely populated county in California. This compares to 1,490 ppsm in Santa Clara county, and 18,553 ppsm in San Francisco.

When choosing a city to move to, it is worth considering the demographics of people living in the area. Overall, the demographics of Santa Cruz are diverse across several dimensions, including race, religion, lifestyle, age, skill level, and sexual orientation. Therefore, if you are thinking about moving to Santa Cruz, you should carefully consider the county’s demographics as part of your research. This relocation guide will provide you with everything that you will need to know to make an informed decision about whether you would be a good fit for the area. The best place to research any area’s demographics is on but you can also try a commercial web site like which you may find easier to navigate.

Age of Residents

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Santa Cruz is one of the youngest cities in the U.S. and the state of California. Although just 13 percent of the city’s population is under the age of 18, 30 percent of the city’s population is 18 to 24 years of age. On the other hand, just 8 percent of the city’s residents are 65 or older. Households are also quite small with 2.39 people living in the average home. Although the city has relatively unusual demographics, the city remains almost perfectly balanced in terms of gender with 100.3 females for every 100 males. Therefore, the city remains balanced and attractive for younger generations of adults, especially those in the tech sector.

Average Income

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The median income per household in Santa Cruz county in 2021 was $96,217, and the median single family home price was $1,275,000 for all of 2023. A quick back-of-the-napkin calculation (5x yearly income = approximate maximum mortgage amount) shows that the median household has nowhere near the income required to pay for a median-price-home mortgage. Indeed, the city and county of Santa Cruz suffer from very low affordability, with only about 13% of households being able to afford a median-priced home with 20% down.

Housing in Santa Cruz

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The county of Santa Cruz is an eclectic area. In no particular order, Santa Cruz is part college town, part Silicon Valley bedroom community, part second/vacation home market, part rural/mountain small town, and part agricultural community. Since Silicon Valley is situated nearby, residents have to compete for housing with many well-qualified buyers employed with some of the biggest names in tech. Nevertheless, the style of most homes is relatively modest, with most of them around 1,500 square feet on average, built in the 1950s through 1970s.  As homes turn over only about once every 22 years on average, it is common to find homes that are out-of-date and with deferred maintenance.

The most popular neighborhoods tend to be those closest to the water, within walking distance of urban amenities like restaurants, coffee shops, bars and shopping, and those homes in the service area of top-rated schools. Also, homes with bay views (especially whitewater views) are highly prized.  Each of the principal regions of Santa Cruz County identified in this report gives both a median home price and average price per square foot for homes in that area.

Schools in Santa Cruz County

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The University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) is the largest educational institution in Santa Cruz County. The University is one of 10 institutions that are part of the higher education system used by the University of California. The county is also home to Cabrillo College (a two-year Community College with approximately 12,000 students), preparatory schools, and plenty of well-regarded and highly ranked public and private K-12 schools.

The Top Ranked Public Schools are:

Parks in Santa Cruz County

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The natural world is one of the greatest strengths of Santa Cruz. Most populated areas are in fact dotted with or surrounded by county, city, State, and neighborhood parks. In fact, Santa Cruz county boasts the highest percentage of park land and open space in all of California’s counties. Aside from the forests, all of the beaches are operated as public parks belonging to the State, County, or the cities of Santa Cruz and Capitola.

Check out these selected parks in Santa Cruz County.

Beaches in Santa Cruz County

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Santa Cruz County has 29 miles of coastline open to the public. People in the area use beaches for a broad range of activities, including swimming, sunbathing, surfing, sailing, fishing, and much more. Most beaches are wide and sandy, but the water tends to be colder than beaches in Southern California.  You’re probably thinking that the beaches play a large role in the lives of people who live in Santa Cruz – and you’re right.  Beach culture thrives in Santa Cruz, and most people who live here or want to call Santa Cruz home gravitate to neighborhoods as close to the coast as possible.

Some of the popular beaches in Santa Cruz county include:


Major Roads in Santa Cruz County

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There are only a few major roads in Santa Cruz county you need to be aware of, to help you orient yourself in the county.

Highway 17

This is the winding road that connects Santa Clara county with Santa Cruz county, over the Santa Cruz mountains. The highway ends in downtown Santa Cruz on Ocean Street.

Highway 9

This is another mountain road which begins near downtown Santa Cruz and becomes River Street. Highway 9 goes up through the San Lorenzo Valley and goes over the mountains to Saratoga. Nearly all of the commercial businesses in the San Lorenzo Valley towns are to be found on Highway 9.

Highway 1 / Mission Street

Highway 1 runs along a big chunk of California’s coast, and it passes through Santa Cruz as well, where it is called Mission Street. It is the main road which will take you from the county’s northern extreme to the southern border, and through the cities and towns of Davenport, Santa Cruz, Capitola, Live Oak, Aptos, La Selva Beach, and Watsonville. The road can be extremely congested during rush hours. It’s not uncommon to spend an hour or so, sitting on Highway 1 going from Santa Cruz to Aptos on late Friday afternoon – a distance of only about 8 miles.

Soquel Avenue / Soquel Drive

Soquel Avenue begins in downtown Santa Cruz and runs through the city and changes its name to Soquel Drive once you cross Highway 1. Soquel Drive runs all the way down to Freedom Boulevard at Highway 1 in Aptos, and from then on to go further to south county you’ll be taking either Freedom Blvd. or Highway 1.

Freedom Boulevard

Freedom Boulevard runs from Aptos, straight into the heart of Watsonville. It’s a rural road for much of its length, running through the less developed areas of Aptos and Corralitos. When it hits Watsonville, it becomes of that city’s most developed commercial streets, before terminating in the heart of town.

41st Avenue

41st Avenue runs from the world-famous surf spot known as “the Hook” at Pleasure Point in Live Oak, and goes on through the city of Capitola. It crosses over Highway 1 which is the edge of Capitola, and terminates on Soquel Drive in Soquel.

Transportation in Santa Cruz County

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 Two public highways – Highways 9 and 17, connect Santa Cruz with Santa Clara county. Highway 1 connects Santa Cruz county with San Mateo county to the north and Monterey county to the south.

Bus service is available between San Jose and Santa Cruz via a number of carriers including Santa Cruz METRO. There is likewise public bus service to Salinas, Monterey, and other parts south.

Highway 1 runs from north to south through most of the county. Highway 1 can be extremely congested during rush hour – or almost any hour. Highway 1 has been widened to three lanes for a distance of about two miles connecting the city of Santa Cruz with Live Oak

The local public bus system is called Santa Cruz METRO. The service provided by METRO has been steadily reduced over the years, and many less-populated areas of the county no longer have any public bus service. METRO does, however, offer a ParaCruz service which is a complementary paratransit service offering accessible door-to-door shared rides for people who are not able to use the bus due to a physical, cognitive, or psychiatric disability.

Taxi service is usually not readily available anywhere in the county, as there are few commercial taxis operating in the area. Fortunately, ride hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft do of course work in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz County Measure D, passed in 2016, did allow for the creation of a number of clearly marked bike lanes throughout the county, but bicycling in Santa Cruz remains a statistically dangerous proposition.

Santa Cruz is home to a mostly abandoned rail corridor, which is owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC or RTC for short). The RTC is planning to establish passenger rail service alongside a pedestrian/bicycle path in the corridor. A vocal contingent of citizens is working to pull the current tracks entirely and convert it to a “trail only,” as it seems unlikely that a small community such as Santa Cruz could afford a project of that scope with such high capital and operating costs.

Online Resources for Santa Cruz County

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Santa Cruz is located just the other side of the hill from Silicon Valley, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Santa Cruz has its own app: “My Santa Cruz”.  This app is designed to allow County residents to report potholes, trash, dead birds, abandoned vehicle, dead deer, encampments, graffiti, illegal dumping, sewer spills, street signs down, tree trimming, standing water and environmental health complaints to local officials and track the progress. The app also enables the public to register to vote, view or pay property tax bills, explore the County’s parks system, schedule Building Inspections and conduct other county business.

My Santa Cruz County App (iOS/Android)

Here are the most useful online resources for Santa Cruz county

Santa Cruz County YouTube Playlist

Santa Cruz Public Library – Local Information

What’s My Parcel Number?

Santa Cruz GISWeb Mapping Site

Parcel Information Report

Santa Cruz Permit History Search

Santa Cruz County Department of Environmental Health Records

Event Calendars

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Visit Santa Cruz County – Upcoming Events Event Calendar

Growing up in Santa Cruz Event Calendar

KZSC Event Calendar

UC Santa Cruz Event Calendar

Organizations, Clubs, Associations and Communities

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Chapters of most major civic and service clubs can be found in Santa Cruz. The Rotary Club, Lions Club, the Elks Club, and Toastmasters all have chapters in Santa Cruz. Hundreds of additional clubs, societies, and meetup groups can be found to meet the needs of residents with almost any interests. You can find lots of groups that have interests similar to yours by searching on and

Here are some of the larger and more popular groups in Santa Cruz County:

Santa Cruz County Business Council Santa Cruz Host Lion’s Club
Leadership Santa Cruz County Santa Cruz Small Business Development Council
Aptos Chamber of Commerce Santa Cruz Swing Dance Club
Capitola/Soquel Chamber of Commerce Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce Architect’s Association of Santa Cruz County
San Lorenzo Valley Chamber of Commerce Santa Cruz Astronomy Club
Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce Coastal Dog Owners Group
San Lorenzo Valley Chamber of Commerce Santa Cruz Bird Club
Santa Cruz County Bar Association Santa Cruz Track Club
Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau Santa Cruz Yacht Club
Santa Cruz SPCA Local Harvest
Santa Cruz Elks Santa Cruz Art League
Watsonville Elks Santa Cruz Toy Makers
Santa Cruz Rotary Santa Cruz Toastmasters
Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS
Insight Santa Cruz
Boulder Creek Business Association
Downtown Association of Santa Cruz

Business Districts in Santa Cruz County

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A variety of shopping centers, districts, and other retail establishments is available to residents of Santa Cruz. Pacific Avenue forms the heart of downtown in the city of Santa Cruz; it is usually bustling with musicians, artists, and street performers who provide entertainment outside shops and cafes.  This area is well known by the name the Pacific Garden Mall and is the best-known commercial district in the county.

Aside from the Pacific Garden Mall, there are a few other notable commercial districts and streets in Santa Cruz County. When it comes to owning residential real estate, it’s a smart idea to buy within walking distance of a commercial district – but not so close that you’ll be overly impacted by traffic and noise. This means that homes which are a distance of about 1-6 blocks from these areas are often the most sought-after.

City of Santa Cruz

  • Pacific Avenue

(aka the Pacific Garden Mall)

  • Mission Street / Highway 1
  • Water Street
  • Ocean Street
  • Soquel Avenue
  • Seabright Avenue @ Murray Street


  • 41st Avenue
  • Capitola Avenue
  • Capitola Road
  • Capitola Village

Live Oak

  • Soquel Avenue
  • Portola Drive
  • Capitola Road
  • 17th Avenue
  • 41st Avenue


  • Soquel Drive
  • Aptos Village
  • Seascape Village
  • Seacliff Village

Scotts Valley

  • Mount Hermon Road
  • Scotts Valley Drive

San Lorenzo Valley

  • Highway 9 in Felton
  • Highway 9 in Ben Lomond
  • Highway 9 in Boulder Creek


  • Soquel Village
  • 41st Avenue


  • Main Street
  • Freedom Blvd
  • East Lake Avenue
  • East Beach Street

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Santa Cruz is thought of as a progressive community, and in some respects that is true. However, there is a deep conservatism ingrained in the community: folks want to keep what remains of the old Santa Cruz. Most developments, residential or commercial, are fought tooth and nail: residents don’t want more people, more traffic, more noise.

In the late 1970s, in reaction to a boom of development in the 1960s and 1970s, the county passed Measure J, which was aimed at slowing growth through a variety of mechanisms. This antipathy towards development has ironically led to a shift in population over time. Many locals have found themselves unable to afford to live in the community, as there has been little commercial or residential development since the passage of Measure J. The population has grown, but jobs, wages, and housing construction have not kept pace.

The population has grown by new entrants into the community, many of whom have high-paying jobs in the Silicon Valley (or the University). “Outsiders” are attracted to Santa Cruz for the relatively low cost of real estate (compared with most other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area), clean air, natural beauty, and decent schools. This is leading to a change in the makeup of the community, and a growing openness to change.

Climate in Santa Cruz

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Santa Cruz enjoys well-deserved fame for its Mediterranean climate. The weather is generally moderate throughout the year. Average highs in Santa Cruz range from 61 degrees in December to 75 degrees in June and July. There are however vast differences in climate throughout the county: the closer you are to the beach, the cooler the temperature. The farther up in the mountains, you can expect less fog and clouds, more sun, and higher temperatures in summer but cooler (and wetter) months in the winter.

Festivals, Activities and Events in Santa Cruz County

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It seems there’s always something going on in Santa Cruz. There are numerous events, expositions, festivals and fairs that go on throughout the year. They come, and they go – some have been around for years, others are new but already very popular and feel like they’re here to stay. Some of the better known are:



Art and Wine Festivals in Santa Cruz County

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There is a monthly art festival in Santa Cruz called First Friday. As its name suggests, First Friday is an art show that takes place on the first Friday of every month. Artists from throughout the local Bay Area bring their artwork to attend.

There’s also the annual Capitola Art and Wine Festival. Grape growers from throughout the greater Bay Area and even from other parts of California, such as Napa Valley, showcase their finest wines at the event.

Not to be outdone, Scotts Valley hosts the Scotts Valley Art, Wine and Beer Festival at Skypark in August. The Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association has been sponsoring the Aptos Wine Wander for the past several years in the spring, and Soquel holds a Soquel Village Sip and Stroll in July.

Health Care in Santa Cruz County

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The health care options in Santa Cruz have grown considerably in the past several years. There are still only two major hospitals in the county (Dominican Hospital, located on Soquel Drive in Live Oak, and Watsonville Community Hospital).

Aside from the hospitals, Sutter Health (aka the Palo Alto Medical Foundation) operates a number of clinics throughout the county. Notably, they operate the Sutter Maternity and Surgical Center, across the street from Dominican Hospital.

Kaiser Permanente has finally made its way to Santa Cruz County as well. Kaiser has three locations in Santa Cruz: Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, and Watsonville.

Sports in Santa Cruz County

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Santa Cruz is home to a broad range of options for sports lovers. While the area is too small to support any major national sports franchises, there is no shortage of local recreational and competitive sporting groups, especially for soccer and baseball. The public is also welcomed to take part in activities on the city’s beaches, including jogging, volleyball, surfing, and much more. Teams are even available for children and seniors.

Santa Cruz / Golden State Warriors

Although Santa Cruz is too small to have its own major league professional basketball team, local basketball fans can watch games at the arena of the Santa Cruz Warriors in downtown Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Warriors are part of the NBA G League. The G League is the official minor league for the NBA, preparing players, coaches, officials, trainers, and front-office staff for the NBA while acting as the league’s research and development laboratory. The Santa Cruz Warriors are directly affiliated with the Golden State Warriors.

Roller Derby

Santa Cruz is home to one of the world’s most famous roller derby leagues in the world. The Santa Cruz Derby Girls is only available to females, but it offers intense full-contact fun for women who enjoy a fast-paced sport. The team is also highly competitive, so it also offers fun that local spectators can enjoy. Home games are played in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium located in downtown Santa Cruz.

Media in Santa Cruz County

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Although much of the local media that people in Santa Cruz consume comes from the nearby San Francisco Bay Area, there is plenty of media coverage available for residents who want to keep up with news in their local community.

Radio Stations

There are a number of radio stations in Santa Cruz County. Some of the most popular include:

  • KZSC 88.1 FM (Variety)
  • KBCZ 90.1 FM (Boulder Creek Community Radio)
  • KSQD 90.7 FM (Public Radio)
  • KXZM 93.7 FM (Regional Mexican)
  • KSQL 99.1 FM (Regional Mexican)
  • KPIG 107.5 (Americana Music)
  • KSCO 1080 AM (Talk)
  • KOMY 1340 AM (Oldies)

Television Stations in Santa Cruz County

As a small community, Santa Cruz does not have any traditional television stations. But two stations serve the Salinas, Monterey, and Santa Cruz markets:

Santa Cruz does have Community Television of Santa Cruz County, which is not broadcast but available on Cable/Satellite TV and on the Internet.

Santa Cruz Newspapers

Although the traditional print newspaper industry has been in decline, many of the bigger newspapers in Santa Cruz have managed to hold on. The Santa Cruz Sentinel, Register Pajaronian, and San Jose Mercury News are the largest papers circulating in Santa Cruz County. The San Jose Mercury News covers the Bay Area as a whole, but the Register Pajaronian and Santa Cruz Sentinel focus primarily on the audience in Santa Cruz.

The Good Times is a long-standing popular weekly newspaper as well, and the Times Publishing Group puts out weekly papers Scotts Valley, Aptos, and Capitola/Soquel. The Press-Banner is a weekly newspaper serving the communities of the San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley.


As an area with a lively and literate community, Santa Cruz is home to several notable magazines. Santa Cruz Waves is the biggest magazine in Santa Cruz, and it covers a broad range of topics about beaches, surfing, and the lifestyle that Santa Cruz epitomizes. The Comic News is another magazine which has been around for years. Growing up in Santa Cruz is a local monthly magazine which is tailor made for families with children (they also have a terrific events calendar).

Facebook Groups

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Like anywhere else, Santa Cruz county has myriad Facebook groups for people who live in (and visit) Santa Cruz County. Some of the most popular Facebook groups which you might want to check into are:

Meetups in Santa Cruz County

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There are a number of meetups in Santa Cruz county as well. By far, the biggest meetup is the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup, with over 4,400 members (which should tell you a lot about what’s going on in Santa Cruz).

Utilities in Santa Cruz County

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Throughout the county, electricity service is provided by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). However, Santa Cruz County has teamed up with Monterey and San Benito Counties to form Monterey Bay Community Power, which is used to supply the area with clean & green power generated from renewable sources, with the electricity sent to homes and businesses through PG&E transmission lines. Every household and business in Santa Cruz has access to clean, renewable energy.

Natural gas is also provided by PG&E, but the service is not universally available. Natural Gas service is available throughout the “suburban” parts of Santa Cruz, including the districts of the San Lorenzo Valley on or near Highway 9. Where natural gas is not available, fuel for heating is often provided by propane. A number of propane companies service the county, but their rates can vary so it pays to shop around.   

Incredibly enough, many homes in the county, particularly in the wooded areas like the San Lorenzo Valley, are heated partially and even exclusively by wood stoves.  Woodsmoke can hang heavy and low in the air in the San Lorenzo Valley in deep winter, so anyone sensitive to airborne particulates should be aware of this before moving to the area.

Water service is provided by a mixture of public and private companies throughout the county. The city of Santa Cruz maintains a drinking water reservoir in the mountains of Felton (Loch Lomond) which is fed by rain and river water. The City of Santa Cruz and the San Lorenzo Valley Water District are the only water systems which are primarily supplied by surface water. The rest of the county’s water systems get virtually all of their water from ground sources.

Santa Cruz county is the only county in California that is entirely reliant on a domestic water supply; it does not import any water from neighboring counties. Many of the county’s groundwater basins are in overdraft, which means more water is being removed than added each year. This puts them at risk for saltwater intrusion, which will result in the groundwater becoming too saline for human consumption. A number of strategies are being employed to fight this, primarily a reduction in water usage but also water recycling and desalination are either being implemented or at least explored.

Residents of Santa Cruz county already have the lowest per-capita water usage in the state of California, which is driven in no small part by high water rates. Because of this, long showers and green lawns are a rarity in Santa Cruz county! The scarcity of water is also used as a frequently cited argument against further development.

Internet Access in Santa Cruz County

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Santa Cruz has high-speed Internet available in most parts of the county. The major ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are Comcast/Xfinity, Charter/Spectrum, AT&T, and Cruzio (our local home-town ISP). Charter is limited to the cities of Capitola and Watsonville, whereas Comcast is available in most of the rest of the county and provides speeds exceeding 200 Mbps. Cruzio also does business as Santa Cruz Fiber, which provides 1 Gbps Internet service to limited, but growing, areas of the county.

Rural areas of Santa Cruz county are increasingly able to access StarLink, and a company called Etheric Networks also provides access to some parts of the county.

Jobs in Santa Cruz

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The Santa Cruz county job market is dominated by the public sector. The largest employer in the county is the University of California at Santa Cruz, which employs about 8,600 people. Other notable public jobs are with the County of Santa Cruz and the school districts, especially the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (the largest in the county).

Most private sector jobs are in low-wage industries such as agriculture, tourism, services, and retail. However, there is a growing number of large and well-paying employers. Most of the highest-earning residents, however, do work in Silicon Valley or elsewhere in the world via the miracle of telecommunication.


Major and Notable Companies in Santa Cruz

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When you live in Santa Cruz, there are plenty of places where you can find a job (and a growing number of employers offering competitive six-figure salaries like Amazon and Google). Santa Cruz enjoys a relatively low unemployment rate, and there is a growing range of top-tier employers who are opening offices in the area. And there are many widely recognized names on the list which you will likely recognize:


Google has been growing its presence in Santa Cruz in recent years. With Google’s headquarters situated just 40 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, the search giant has been eyeing expansion into the city in recent years. In June 2019, Google paid $2.6 billion to acquire Santa Cruz-based Looker, and Google has since begun to repurpose many of Looker’s offices for its main business.


Amazon has been growing its presence in Santa Cruz since fall 2017. Today, Amazon has both a warehouse and a corporate technology office in Santa Cruz. The e-commerce giant is expected to continue to expand its presence in the area because of the University of California’s research campus in the city.


One of the largest U.S. berry sellers, Driscoll’s, is headquartered in Watsonville. The company has annual sales of around $2 billion (about 1/3rd of the U.S. berry market) and has over a thousand employees. While they grow or contract to grow a variety of berries in the county, much of their production is now overseas but coordinated and managed from their Watsonville headquarters.

Granite Construction

Granite Construction is a major general contractor in the civil construction industry. The company has annual sales of $3.3 billion and is also headquartered in Watsonville.

West Marine

West Marine is a major retail supplier of boating components. The Santa Cruz-based company has over 5,000 employees that are spread across the country. Their headquarters had been in Watsonville but they have since relocated to Florida, although they continue to have a number of employees still in the area.


O’Neill is one of the market leaders in surfing gear. In fact, Jack O’Neill, the legendary founder of the company, is credited with inventing the wetsuit. The company was sold in 2007 and is technically now headquartered in Luxembourg, but its U.S. headquarters are in Santa Cruz.


Plantronics has long been one of the leading providers of hardware and software for business communications. In fact, the words spoken by U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong as he stepped on the moon were transmitted through a Plantronics headset. The Santa Cruz-based company is publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has a market valuation well over $500 million. In 2018 Plantronics purchased Polycom for $2 billion and has since changed the name of the company to Poly.


Martinelli’s has been making apple juice in Watsonville since 1868 – clear back to the founding of the city. Martinelli’s juice is available across the country and around the world.

Startups in Santa Cruz

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Santa Cruz county is also home to an increasing number of startup companies, many of which are focused on clean energy and transportation. Some of our notable startups are:

Ambient Photonics

Imagine being able to power IoT devices using ambient light within your offices, stores, and perhaps your house. That’s just what Ambient Photonics is aiming to do. The founder – Bates Marshall – is a Santa Cruz native.

Cruz Foam

The death knell for Styrofoam popcorn and packaging can’t come soon enough. Cruz Foam is using chiton – shrimp shells – to replace the Styrofoam and plastics that are invading our oceans.

Prometheus Fuels

Creating gasoline out of thin air? Yes, Prometheus Fuels is able to convert carbon from the air into fuel for your cars. This is a carbon neutral solution.

Parallel Flight Technologies

They call this the Prius of air – a heavy lift drone that uses both gasoline and battery enabling flight times as long as 1.5 hours. Parallel Flight Technologies is funded in part by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Claret Bio

One of more than 12 new biotech companies in Santa Cruz, ClaretBio builds tools that empower a deeper understanding of degraded DNA molecules, with an emphasis on cell-free DNA sampling and analysis.

Joby Aviation

Joby Aviation is working on an electric-powered VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft, and in January 2020 received a $590 million investment from Toyota. They are creating the Air Taxi of the future.

Zero Motorcycles

Zero Motorcycles produces high performance electric motorcycles that are lightweight, efficient, fast off the line and fun to ride.

Areas in Santa Cruz County

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Santa Cruz is divided into about a dozen or so major areas that are each culturally, geographically, and climatologically distinct. If you are planning to move to Santa Cruz County, you should have a good understanding of each area so that you can choose the place that is right for you. In the sections that follow, therefore, this relocation guide will give you an overview of each of the principal areas in Santa Cruz County.

For each area highlighted in this Relocation Guide, a number of schools, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, markets, and the like are identified.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you’ll find in Santa Cruz county.  Rather, we’ve chosen to highlight the most popular and best-known institutions that in many ways shape and reflect the character of the county.

Each area also lists online resources for the area.  You’re encouraged to explore these:  homes for sale, curated YouTube video playlist for each area, and a link to a custom Google map showing all the items identified in this report for that part of the county.

San Lorenzo Valley

The northern part of Santa Cruz County is known as the San Lorenzo Valley (SLV). The SLV has four communities in it: Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Ben Lomond, and Felton. All of these communities share some commonalities, such as they are mountainous and covered in soaring redwood trees. Like the islands of Hawaii, however, each area is distinct and pulses to its own vibe.

Many of the homes in the San Lorenzo Valley (and in many beach-area neighborhoods as well) began life as seasonal summer cabins but have been upgraded and pressed into year-round use over time.

Boulder Creek

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Boulder Creek is very much a mountain town. Most of the action is to be found on Highway 9, which runs through the heart of downtown Boulder Creek. Downtown Boulder Creek is flat, and there are some homes there too, and they are prized because they’re walking distance to amenities. Most of Boulder Creek stretches out for miles, along Big Basin Road, Highway 9, and Bear Creek Road. Virtually every part of Boulder Creek is covered in redwood forest, and many homes are on steeply sloped lots. Homes on flat, sunny land with good road access are valued at a premium.

Boulder Creek is a very popular choice for young families with at least one breadwinner who works in Silicon Valley, as it is only about a 35-minute drive along Bear Creek Road to Los Gatos from many parts of Boulder Creek. The schools in the San Lorenzo Valley are well-regarded by families who send their children to them.


Boulder Creek is situated at the top of the San Lorenzo Valley. Boulder Creek started as a logging town in the 1870’s before the redwood forests were established as protected areas. Today, there are few jobs in town, so most residents travel south to Santa Cruz via Highway 9 or North/East to Silicon Valley via Highway 9 or Bear Creek Road for work.

Schools in Boulder Creek
Restaurants in Boulder Creek
Bars in Boulder Creek

Joe’s Bar (4.0 on Yelp)

Scopazzi’s (3.5 on Yelp)

Coffee Shops in Boulder Creek
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Entertainment in Boulder Creek

Brookdale Lodge

Accommodations in Boulder Creek

Brookdale Lodge

Online Resources for Boulder Creek

Ben Lomond

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The town of Ben Lomond feels almost just like a wide spot in the road – but it’s actually the sweet spot of the San Lorenzo Valley. It has a tiny downtown with everything you need: a supermarket, coffee shop, bar, and public park along the river – plus a community theater, all right downtown. Henfling’s is a legendary bar/restaurant, with great live music many nights a year. Coffee Nine is a terrific coffee shop. You’ll also find a gas station and an Ace Hardware store.

On the fringes of the town center you’ll find Costa Nostra restaurant and La Placa Family Bakery, both of which have many raving local fans.

Ben Lomond is located in the heart of the San Lorenzo Valley. As with Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond is primarily surrounded by redwood forests. Consequently, it has a relaxed mountain town vibe much like Boulder Creek. However, the land in Ben Lomond tends to be less steep than in Boulder Creek, which makes it more desirable for day-to-day use. Overall, Ben Lomond is a good choice if you are looking to live in a seemingly remote area while still enjoying the benefit of living near Silicon Valley.


The name Ben Lomond comes courtesy of one John Burns, a Scot who settled on the west side of the mountain ridge in 1851. Burns named the mountain after one in Scotland. Ben Lomond means “beacon peak” in Brittonic. Burns became one of the first vintners in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and is usually also credited with naming the community of Bonny Doon (the mountain/forest area to the north of UC Santa Cruz reached via Empire Grade Road).

Schools in Ben Lomond
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Bars in Ben Lomond

Henfling’s (3.5 on Yelp)

Coffee Shops in Ben Lomond

Coffee Nine (4.0 on Yelp)

Breweries, Taprooms & Wineries


Food Markets in Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond Market (3.0 on Yelp)

Recreation in Ben Lomond
Entertainment in Ben Lomond
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Online Resources for Ben Lomond


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Felton is a small town but compared to the other towns in the San Lorenzo Valley, it feels big thanks to the long stretch of commercial businesses down Highway 9 and Graham Hill Road. For people who work in Santa Cruz, it’s a more affordable place to live than in the city, but it’s only a 20-minute drive to the beach down Highway 9 or via Graham Hill Road. For people who work in Silicon Valley, much of Felton is within a 30-minute drive of Los Gatos. It’s also a short hop over Mount Hermon Road to Scotts Valley with its broad range of amenities.

Felton is best known for its two major attractions, the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and Roaring Camp, a train-focused amusement park of sorts which also runs a standard gauge train down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Also of note in Felton is the Felton Covered Bridge, constructed in 1892. It is the tallest covered bridge in the United States and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.


Felton bears the name of John B. Felton, a former mayor of Oakland and Bay Area investor. It occupies the southern end of the San Lorenzo Valley, and the town served as the terminus of the logging flume which began in Boulder Creek in 1875. A narrow-gauge rail line opened in 1880 connecting Felton with San Jose, and a standard gauge railroad arrived in 1909, which helped move more lumber and lime out of the Felton area to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

Schools in Felton
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Accommodations in Felton

Fern River Resort (4.0 on Yelp)

Online Resources for Felton

Scotts Valley

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Scotts Valley is the third largest city in Santa Cruz county, just edging out Capitola and is spread over 4.62 square miles. The city is renowned for its top-notch schools – which is one thing that makes it a prime choice for academically-minded parents.

Scotts Valley is directly east of Felton. Scotts Valley is an incorporated city with a distinctly suburban vibe; however, it is also surrounded by forest giving it a rural feel. Scotts Valley has larger residential areas and more shopping centers than most other parts of the county. California Highway 17 passes directly through Scotts Valley, so residents there can drive to Silicon Valley over Highway 17 in about 20 minutes or reach the beaches of Santa Cruz in a similar period of time. Scotts Valley is also home to some of the best public schools for miles around.


Scotts Valley was named after Hiram Daniel Scott, who purchased Rancho San Agustin, including the valley, in 1850 from Joseph Ladd Majors. Hiram Scott built the Greek revival style Scott House in 1853. This home is today situated behind City Hall and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The city has a population of

Scotts Valley’s growth picked up in the 1930s, exporting peat moss for use elsewhere in the state as planting soil. Sand and gravel were also quarried and exported, but for most of the 20th century Scotts Valley remained rural with a focus on tourism, camping, and recreation. Santa’s Village, a Christmas-themed amusement park, was established in 1957, and it served millions of visitors before closing in 1979.

Borland software company ended up building a large office building on much of the Santa’s Village site in the 1990s, which later became the Enterprise Tech Center. UC Santa Cruz now leases 130,000 square feet of the building for offices. Seagate Technology was founded in Scotts Valley in 1978, and their hard disc drives were originally manufactured there. Seagate moved out of Scotts Valley entirely in 2016.

Schools in Scotts Valley
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Breweries, Taprooms & Wineries in Scotts Valley

Steel Bonnet Brewing Company (4.5 on Yelp)

Food Markets in Scotts Valley
Recreation in Scotts Valley
Entertainment in Scotts Valley

CineLux Scotts Valley Café and Lounge (3.5 on Yelp)

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Online Resources for Scotts Valley

Homes for Sale in Scotts Valley

Scotts Valley YouTube Playlist

Google Maps Companion for Scotts Valley


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Davenport is a small, windswept town along the northern coast of Santa Cruz county. While most of Santa Cruz County wraps around the Monterey Bay, Davenport faces directly onto the Pacific Ocean. Nowadays, Davenport is mostly a bedroom community for Santa Cruz ,and also survives on traffic on Highway 1, which passes through downtown Davenport. There are a couple of restaurants in town, and a small Catholic church and the old jail (now a museum open to the public, now and again) which hearken back to a bygone era.

Davenport is the site of California’s famous Shark Tooth Rock that has been featured in many Hollywood movies. The area also features well-maintained beaches that are open to the general public.


The village hugs the coastline on the far western side of Santa Cruz County. Davenport’s modern history goes way back to 1868 when Captain John Davenport, a sea-based whaler by trade, built a 450-foot wharf off what became to be known as Davenport’s Landing. However, the project proved unprofitable and was abandoned in 1880. By 1905, Davenport sprang back to life and housing was built to provide housing for workers at the new Davenport cement plant, which operated for a century until finally shutting down in 2010.   

Schools in Davenport
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Food Market in Davenport

Arro’s Country Store (5.0 on Yelp)

Breweries, Taprooms & Wineries in Davenport

Bonny Doon Vineyard: this isn’t technically in Davenport, but it’s not a very long drive from the coast up into the mountains where this acclaimed vineyard has been running for decades.

Recreation in Davenport
Entertainment in Davenport

Davenport Roadhouse

Accommodations in Davenport

Davenport Roadhouse Inn (3.5 on TripAdvisor)

Costanoa KOA (3.5 on Yelp)

Online Resources for Davenport

City of Santa Cruz

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The city is perhaps best known for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a seaside amusement park located along the Monterey Bay shoreline. The Boardwalk is home to the iconic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, first opened in 1924 and having served over 66 million riders. The Boardwalk has been featured in a number of Hollywood films, including the Lost Boys, Sudden Impact, Dangerous Minds, and most recently, Us.

Aside from the Boardwalk, Santa Cruz is also famous for the University of California at Santa Cruz which was founded in 1965. U.S. News ranks UCSC as the 84th best University in the United States, but it is ranked #2 in the USA for Social Mobility. The school is particularly strong in Marine Biology as well as astronomy, space sciences, and computer game design. Perhaps fittingly, the legendary American band The Grateful Dead has its archive located at the University’s McHenry Library.

Aside from the Beach Boardwalk and the University, Santa Cruz is also well-known as a surf town. The sport of surfing is deeply ingrained into the culture, with thousands of residents avidly pursuing the sport. The surf is always breaking somewhere in Santa Cruz, making it a highly sought-after area for surf aficionados.


The City of Santa Cruz is the most populous area in Santa Cruz County, and was founded in 1791 as a Spanish Mission (Santa Cruz means “Holy Cross” in Spanish). The city was incorporated in 1866 and is spread out across nearly 16 square miles. Early industries included lumber, lime, gunpowder, and agriculture. Santa Cruz was home to the Santa Cruz Powder Works, which supplied gunpowder during the civil war, and was one of the largest employers in the county for many years before the facility exploded in 1898.

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Live Oak

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Live Oak is an unincorporated area of Santa Cruz county encompassing about 3.42 square files. It is situated between the city of Santa Cruz, the city of Capitola, and Soquel. The town can be seen as an extension of the City of Santa Cruz, and it shares a zip code and mailing address with the east side of the city. In years gone by, Live Oak has been considered the poor stepchild of the city of Santa Cruz, however over the past decade or so the area has become much more popular, and more expensive, with new commercial and residential developments.

In fact, Live Oak boasts some of the highest home prices in the entire county, due primarily to the neighborhood known as Pleasure Point, which hugs the Monterey Bay along East Cliff Drive. Many of these homes are in close proximity to the beach and a number of them offer stunning views. Opal Cliffs is adjacent to Pleasure Point, with a number of luxurious multimillion-dollar homes, many of which are owned by the elite of Silicon Valley.

By no means is the area exclusively for the rich and famous. Live Oak contains a wide variety of housing types, including condominiums, duplexes, mobile home parks, and apartment buildings. There’s something for just about everyone in Live Oak.


Live Oak got its name from the evergreen live oak trees that dot the area. Europeans began to settle Live Oak in the early 1870’s, farming the land for wheat. They established a grange hall and “Live Oak School” in 1872 at what is today the corner of 17th Avenue and Capitola Road. Intensive farming depleted the soil, and people turned to poultry farming. Much of today’s residential lands were originally parceled out as “chicken farms” – long and narrow lots. Over time, these “larger” lots have been divided and sold off, as the population density of the area gradually increased.

Schools in Live Oak

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Entertainment in Live Oak

Moe’s Alley (4.0 on Yelp)

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Online Resources for Live Oak

Homes for sale in Live Oak

Live Oak YouTube Playlist

Google Maps Companion for Live Oak


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Capitola has a well-deserved reputation as a nice place to visit. What’s not as well known is that it’s also a great place to live. The city is well-run and civic leaders are accessible. Even for those who don’t ever step on the sand, the Esplanade along the beach has numerous benches to sit and enjoy the sea air and mesmerizing bay view.

Soquel Creek drains into the sea at Capitola, but the flow is restricted in summer to keep water in the creek along Riverview Drive, which allows for kayaking and other forms of recreation. The now-defunct Begonia Festival would parade up and down the creek. Above the creek is the iconic railroad trestle, which presently does not support any rail operations and is semi-abandoned.

Capitola also is home to one of the county’s major commercial districts along 41st Avenue with a variety of shopping centers, office buildings, big box retailers, and much more. The county’s only enclosed shopping mall, the Capitola Mall, is located along 41st Avenue.


Capitola is a quintessential California beach town, with roots going back to 1869 when it was developed as a beach resort. Today, Capitola is still a very popular vacation destination with many homes owned as vacation or second homes. Short term vacation rentals, though, are restricted to the Capitola Village, the historical core of the city.

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Online Resources for Capitola

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Capitola YouTube Playlist

Google Maps Companion for Capitola


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Soquel is a small area that is tucked in between Live Oak, Capitola, and Aptos. Soquel is a very quiet town, with a quaint village along Soquel Drive and Soquel Creek. Soquel enjoys a prime mid-county location with a warm micro-climate. It’s close to multiple parks, beaches, schools, and shopping areas. It’s also got a convenient freeway onramp to take you to all points north and south, but you can also get to Silicon Valley on the mostly un-congested Old San Jose Road, which goes from Soquel Village to Summit Road, and runs for several miles along the border of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

Soquel is best recognized by Soquel Village with its iconic white church with a tall steeple. There are a number of restaurants, bars, shops, and a few offices in Soquel Village.


Rancho Soquel was granted to Martina Castro in 1833, around the same time Rancho Aptos was given to her father, Jose Castro. Soquel and nearby Capitola grew up around the same time. Today, they are more distinct communities as Highway 1 divides them. Soquel Village has been prone to flooding, the last time was in 1982 when storm debris blocked the flow of the creek.

Fun fact: Soquel was reportedly the site of the first “Acid Test” party in 1965.

Schools in Soquel
Restaurants in Soquel
Bars in Soquel
Coffee Shops in Soquel

The Ugly Mug (4.5 on Yelp)

Breweries, Taprooms, and Wineries in Soquel
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Safeway (2.5 on Yelp)

Recreation in Soquel
Entertainment in Soquel

Michael’s on Main (3.0 on Yelp)

Accommodations in Soquel


Online Resources for Soquel


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Aptos is an unincorporated area of Santa Cruz county, and is perhaps best recognized for the sunken concrete ship, the S.S. Palo Alto, which is today a twisted hulk lying offshore of Seacliff State Beach. Aptos is fairly large area and consists of several distinct neighborhoods and regions: Seacliff, Mar Vista, Rio del Mar, Seascape, the mountain forests, and the inland Day Valley and Pleasant Valley.

Aptos is simply a wonderful place to call home. It’s peaceful, quiet, and clean, with miles of sandy beaches and untold thousands of acres of redwood forests to explore. In the past few years, it’s really come a long way, especially since the redevelopment of Aptos Village which is attracting a number of new businesses to the area, notably Mentone restaurant by Michelin-star chef David Kinch, and Penny Ice Creamery among others.


The historical core of Aptos is Aptos Village, which for decades was mostly an abandoned lot. Recently, however, Aptos Village has been rebuilt and now features a number of condominiums and townhouses in a new commercial development.

The modern era of Aptos began with the Aptos Rancho in 1833, awarded to Raphael Castro by the governor of Mexico. Within a few decades, new immigrants from Europe and the United States moved into the area and the Aptos Rancho was sold off bit by bit. The area was heavily logged for its old-growth redwoods, which were used for building and re-building San Francisco before and after the 1906 earthquake.

In the 1920s, developers attempted to create a resort community, bringing in and sinking the S.S. Palo Alto to create a seaside vacation center, along with a grand hotel, the world’s largest freshwater swimming pool, beaches, and residential parcels for sale.

Unfortunately for the developers, the Great Depression came along and wiped away those plans. Over time, the cement ship cracked, and the hotel burned to the ground. Aptos remained largely undeveloped until after World War II, when it was “rediscovered.”.

Schools in Aptos
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Breweries, Tarpooms, & Wineries in Aptos
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Recreation in Aptos

Severino’s (3.5 on Yelp)

Accommodations in Aptos
Online Resources for Aptos


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Corralitos is where the mountains meet the farm. The area is beloved by locals for it warm, sunny climate and natural beauty. The Corralitos Market is legendary for its sausage, which they serve hot from the deli seven days a week.


Corralitos is in the southern part of Santa Cruz County. It is a rural, unincorporated area with a warm micro-climate and bountiful sunshine. There is a small village at is heart, but mostly it consists of farms, ranches, single family homes, and redwoods.

Schools in Corralitos
Restaurants in Corralitos
Bars in Corralitos

Five Mile Buzz House (4.0 on Yelp)

Coffee Shops in Corralitos

Lito’s Community Cafe (4.0 on Yelp)

Breweries and Wineries in Corralitos
Food Markets in Corralitos
Recreation in Corralitos

Aldridge Lane Park (no Yelp reviews)

Online Resources for Corralitos

La Selva Beach

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La Selva Beach is a hidden enclave located along the coast in the southern part of Santa Cruz County. Relatively few people live in La Selva Beach, and the area is known for its peace, quiet, pristine gated beach, and a tightly-knit community. There’s a little library downtown next to the fire station. El Patio Market is the only place in town for food and beverages.


In 1925 the property was purchased by real estate developer David Batchelor who named it “Rob Roy.” It as a retreat with horse riding, cottages, bath houses, and a private beach. The name was changed to La Selva Beach in 1935. La Selva means “The Forest” in Spanish. In the 1970’s the town convinced state government to remove “Beach” from the direction signs.

Legend has it that decades ago, the residents of La Selva Beach were offered to have sewer service installed, but they voted not to.   Word is they felt a sewer system would allow for greater population density, so the whole area remains on septic systems to this day.

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Coffee Shops in La Selva Beach

You can grab some coffee at El Patio Grocery (see below).

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Food Markets in La Selva Beach

El Patio Grocery (3.0 on Yelp)

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Accommodations in La Selva Beach

Santa Cruz KOA

Online Resources for La Selva Beach


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Watsonville is one of the largest cities in Santa Cruz County – second largest, after the city of Santa Cruz. The city is situated just inland off the coast, and it is known for its businesses in the agriculture (especially strawberries and apples) and food processing industries. Although thought of by many as essentially a farm town, many of the county’s largest and best-known companies are headquartered here.

Watsonville today is one of the most forward-looking communities in Santa Cruz county. It continues to build more housing than any other area and has an appetite for development which is lacking in most of the county.

Watsonville has its own small airport, which mostly serves small propeller aircraft and helicopters. The only jet traffic there is usually from the jets owned by Granite Construction which is based in the city. Background

The first European exploration of California by land was led by Spaniard Gaspar de Portola in 1769. Their mission was to discover desirable sites for the extension of the Baja California chain of Missions into what is today the state of California. When the Europeans entered the Pajaro Valley, they crossed the river and saw a large straw-stuffed bird. They decided to name the river Rio del Pajaro, and legend has it that is how the Pajaro Valley got its name.

Watsonville is located in the heart of the Pajaro Valley, and borders Monterey County at the Pajaro River. The city is renowned for a temperate climate and slower pace of life. The city was incorporated in 1868, and growth in the Pajaro Valley began to flourish when the Southern Pacific Railroad linked the area to the Santa Clara Valley in 1871.

Today, the city features a charming downtown with a classic town square including a bandstand. There are a number of grand, historic Victorian-era houses in and around downtown Watsonville, monuments to some of those original European farming families. Like many other towns in Santa Cruz county, growth exploded after World War II, with most homes having been built in the 1950s through the 1970s.

Schools in Watsonville
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Breweries, Taprooms & Wineries in Watsonville
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Recreation in Watsonville
Entertainment in Watsonville
Accommodations in Watsonville
Online Resources for Watsonville

About the Author

The Ultimate Santa Cruz County Relocation Guide was written by Sebastian “Seb” Frey. Seb is from Berkeley but moved to Santa Cruz in 1988 to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz. He moved away to explore the world in 1993 but returned more-or-less permanently in 1997.

Seb got his real estate license in 2003 and has been actively involved in the Santa Cruz real estate market ever since. He served on the Board of Directors of the Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS from 2017 through 2020 and was the 2019 President. He also served as a Director of the California Association of REALTORS in 2018 and 2019.

Seb operated as an independent broker for many years before joining Compass, the #1 real estate brokerage in northern California.

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Seb Frey helps long-time Bay Area homeowners make their next move easily the next one yet. If you're looking for a minimum of hassle, maximum net cash on sale, and certain results, contact Seb today.