O'Neill Wetsuits has its headquarters in Santa Cruz, where it has been since the 1950s. The company is credited with inventing the modern wetsuit.
The still-popular Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the country's oldest amusement park, operating continuously since 1915. It houses a still-running 1924 wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster and a 1911 Charles I.D. Looff Carousel.
Three Hawaiian princes surfed the mouth of the San Lorenzo River on locally made redwood surfboards in 1885. The account of their visit is one of the first public mentions of Santa Cruz.
"Paddle Out" by Sublime is about surfing in Santa Cruz. The song mentions Natural Bridges, Steamer Lane, Mitchell's Cove and Stockton Avenue.
Much of the 1987 film "The Lost Boys" was filmed on location in Santa Cruz. Many scenes were shot at the Boardwalk, the Santa Cruz Wharf and Pogonip club house.
In Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film, "Pulp Fiction," John Travolata's character, Vincent Vega, wears a UC Santa Cruz t-shirt throughout parts of the film. The t-shirt features the iconic banana slug mascot wearing glasses and reading a book, which happens to be Plato. Tarantino also references the city of Santa Cruz in his film "Reservoir Dogs."
Ohlone Native Americans inhabited the area now known as Santa Cruz long before any Europeans laid eyes upon the land. The region was officially discovered in 1769 when Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola stumbled upon it while he was traveling to Monterey. He named the river that cuts through the valley floor and flows into the sea "San Lorenzo" and the rolling hills from which the river comes "Santa Cruz." He was followed in 1791 by Father Fermin Lasuen, a Franciscan monk from Spain, who declared the establishment of the Mission of Santa Cruz, the 12th mission founded in California by the Spanish.
Five years later, a military party of about 73 men was ordered by the Viceroy of New Spain to look after the Spanish military garrisons of Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Diego and San Francisco. To this end, the Villa Branciforte was founded across the San Lorenzo from the mission as one of three civil settlements, or pueblos, in California. Branciforte is now the name of a major road in East Side Santa Cruz.
Eventually, the mission and pueblo merged and formed the municipality of Santa Cruz. In the 1820s, after Mexico gained its independence, California came under Mexican control. Immigrants from the United States flocked to California in huge numbers, and naturally many of them landed in Santa Cruz. Following the Mexican-American War of 1848, Mexico ceded the territory of Alta California to the U.S. and California became the first of the newly annexed territory to become a state in 1850.
By the turn of the century, logging, lime processing, agriculture and commercial fishing came to dominate the local industries. The biggest lime query in the area was at the current location of UC Santa Cruz. Kilns used for lime extraction are still visible on campus, and a popular campus gathering spot is the Query. Santa Cruz's idyllic scenery and climate turned it into a popular resort destination.
While the town prospered, it also saw a surge in political activism and counter-culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Hells Angles, founders of the feminist movement, anti-war veterans, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters and a slew of average people with revolutionary ideas descended upon Santa Cruz.
Coinciding with the anti-establishment movement was the opening of the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1965. Early students and faculty at the university pioneered an approach to environmentalism that is still prominent in the city today. The university became one of the most famously liberal in the country, and even recently has garnered criticism for enforcing a leftist ideology on its students, which it has vehemently defended. It famously didn't award letter grades to students for most of its history until 1997 when it allowed students to opt into receiving a letter grade for their course work. Every year, thousands gather in Porter Meadow to celebrate 4/20, an event that has garnered national media attention for attendees flagrantly flouting marijuana laws. Most recently, the university received national attention for being one of two UCs, the other being UC Davis, to stage take-overs of university buildings in protest of detrimental school budget cuts and student fee increases.
Liberally minded alumni and faculty now living in the area turned the predominately Republican region into a markedly left-leaning voting bloc.
Santa Cruz continues to be a bastion of liberal politics, environmental and social activism and alternative modes of thinking. The city became one of the first in the country to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana. In 2003, the Santa Cruz City Council became the first city council in the United States to denounce the Iraq War. Since 1983, it has hosted the annual Take Back the Night event, a rally and march focusing on the issue of violence against women.
Independent media is a source of pride for the Santa Cruz community. UCSC's student run radio station, KZSC, has been named one of the best college radio stations in the county. A pirate radio station, Free Radio Santa Cruz (FRSC 101.1 FM) operates without a commercial license, doesn't play commercials and must hide its broadcasting location to avoid raids by the FCC.
In 2008, it was announced that the archives of the Grateful Dead would be housed at the UC Santa Cruz's main library, McHenry Library, beating out petitions from UC Berkeley and Stanford University.