The big city on this stretch of the California coast, Santa Cruz (pop. 62,684) is less manicured than Carmel or Monterey. Long known for its surfing and its amusement-filled beach boardwalk, the town is a mix of grand Victorian-era homes and rinky-dink motels. The opening of the University of California campus in the 1960s swung the town sharply to the left politically, and the counterculture more or less lives on here.
At the same time, the revitalized downtown and an insane real-estate market reflect the city’s proximity to Silicon Valley and to a growing wine country in the surrounding mountains.