SoCal may have Hollywood and sun-streaked blonde skaters, but surfers know to head north to Santa Cruz, an easygoing, bohemian town just south of San Francisco. Beginners can learn at Capitola beach, while pros can try their stuff at the world-class swells of Steamer Lane and Mavericks. In any case, pack for a summer weekend by riffing on the best surfer styles both on and off the board.
With the sun shining high overhead, pick up a pair of Madewell shades ($49.50) in a translucent sea-glass blue. They'll help you scope out the incoming waves, like Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush, naturally, while in your bikini or one-piece. Solid colors, being easier to match, are great swim choices when you're on the go. Or try a reversible style like this two-piece by Basta Surf ($172). Before paddling out on your Kookbox surfboard ($875), see if a short wetsuit is necessary for the brisk Pacific waters. Cynthia Rowley, a surfer herself, has designed stylish yet functional wetsuits ($195) sold on her website.
As the sun dips lower on the horizon, cover-ups are casual in this mellow destination. These Roxy board shorts with laser-cut lace ($48) give the usual sporty look a more feminine touch, while get in touch with the local surf brand Santa Cruz, by snagging one of their zip hoodies ($49.95). Top it off with these beachy Soludos espadrilles ($36) in a cheerful color-block.
Surfer style has always had a bold quirkiness to it, such as the neon neoprene of the 80s–you can study up on the sport's counterculture by snagging Surfing 80s by the photographer Jeff Divine ($40) before your trip. Bright color is still in, although just barely toned down, such as these Vans classic sneaks in scuba blue with red laces ($45). Kick them off before you jump on your retro-style wood plank paddleboard ($1,699) in a pair of funky polka dot board shorts by Saturdays NYC ($75).
Good thing you have your waterproof camera ($128.15 by Kodak) with you to document your adventures. And before the day is done and after you've dried off, you'll have a sunny short-sleeve henley ($15.50 at American Eagle), a nice tweak on the usual v-neck tee, stashed in a utilitarian backpack, like this gray on black style by Quiksilver ($49.50).
What to Do
With nature at your doorstep, the best daytime activities are outdoors. Try your hand at hanging ten, by hitting up Cowell's Beach Surf Shop for rentals, lessons, or insider tips on the spot to catch the best waves. If you're feeling for an ocean break, the area is blessed with gorgeous hiking terrain. Wilder Ranch state park is literally abutting the coastal city and offers 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
For the ambitious or hardcore outdoors buffs, tackle the difficult yet rewarding 30 miles Skyline to the Sea Trail, starting from Castle Rock state park and dropping you off at Waddell Beach. The total hike takes about 3 days, but day hikers can join in at multiple points along the way.
With the chilled out local surfer community, there's a like-minded contingent of yogis, including those at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute at the Pacific Cultural Center. There are classes for all levels, and even a Little Yogis class for ages 2-5 if you brought the kids along.
Being so close to San Francisco has its perks, like the diverse cultural programs throughout the year. The 20th annual Santa Cruz Blues Festival takes over the city this Memorial Day weekend. And come October, there's the Cold Water Classic surfing competition and Pacific Rim Film Festival.
For food choices, this is a locavore's haven, with ingredients harvested from sea and land. Le Cigare Volant at the Bonny Doon Vineyard features a new chef, Ryan Shelton, who worked as chef de cuisine at the Baumé, a Palo Alto restaurant that nabbed two Michelin stars.
Thinking of a trip to California?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, as well as the best planning advice, check out our California Travel Guide.
Photo credits: Women's: (top left), Madewell Inc.; (bottom left), Basta Co. LLC.; (middle left), Thalia Surf Shop; (top middle right), Cynthia Rowley; (top middle bottom), PACIFIC WAVE SURF SHOP; (top right), Roxy; (bottom right), Soludos LLC. Men's: (top left), Coreban International; (bottom left), Kodak; (top middle), Quiksilver Inc.; (bottom middle), T. Adler Books; (top right), AEO Management Co.; (center right), Saturdays; (bottom right), Vans, Inc.