While Santa Cruz can be broken down into a number of sub-neighborhoods, the city is most simply divided into “east” and “west.” The designations refer to land on either side of the San Lorenzo River, once an almost impassable obstacle between the two. Today, of course, locals pass effortlessly over the river every day, but “Eastside” and “Westside” are still very clear lines of demarcation in Surf City, USA.
The Eastside, or East Santa Cruz, is located in Santa Cruz’s heart, just across the river from downtown and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. East Santa Cruz is a diverse and unique place where change and tradition do battle daily, where ocean view lots command seven-figure prices while just a few blocks inland, the streets are lined with modest homes. It’s where surfing is spiritual and the tourist economy, which bustles nearby at the Boardwalk, seems only a faint noise in the far-off distance.
Because of its size, it’s difficult to summarize the Eastside “lifestyle.” Over the years, it has inherited a reputation as a grittier, more working-class alternative to the Westside, though in parts it’s as high-end as its glitzier next-door neighbor. The Eastside is where you’ll find the DeLaveaga Golf Club and the Banana Belt, the sunniest district in Santa Cruz. It includes an esoteric commercial district on Soquel Avenue and another in nearby Pleasure Point, the legendary surf spot that spawned industry pioneer, Jack O’Neill.
The Eastside’s real estate market features diversity of architecture, lifestyle and price. It has room for everything from entry-level apartments to multi-million-dollar oceanfront residences. But this is no Malibu; even the Eastside’s beachfront neighborhoods of Seabright, Twin Lakes and Sunny Cove have ample apartments, condos and modest single-family buildings mixed in among their more spectacular homes. And the Eastside is more than “merely” a beach community. Whatever your fancy, you will likely find it in East Santa Cruz.
That the Eastside of Santa Cruz “is no Malibu” is a point of pride with locals. They enjoy access to all that their city has to offer without sacrificing their low-key way of life. Residents enjoy the beach, the Boardwalk, yearly festivals like the Santa Cruz Film Festival and, the O’Neill Cold Water Classic surfing competition and Santa Cruz Warriors professional basketball games. Theirs is a life of nighttime strolls along the Santa Cruz Riverwalk, breakfast burritos at “The Point”, trading Victorian restoration tips or gardening advice with neighbors, meeting other locals at once-secret spots for some dawn patrol surfing before work. If they’re lucky, they look out their windows to a view of the glittering Pacific. Maybe they see the ocean in the distance, such as from a hillside in Prospect Heights.
Embedded in Santa Cruz culture is a friendly rivalry between East and West, borne of a decades-old dispute between surfers over which surf spot was superior, Pleasure Point (Eastside) or Steamer Lane (Westside). Whichever side you choose, at the root of the rivalry is an undeniable truth: that Santa Cruz offers potential residents distinct options of lifestyle, character, geography and price point. The Eastside (or East Santa Cruz), with its beaches, hills, urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods, its funky commercial districts and its undeniable natural beauty, is an option that remains popular with all types of homebuyers.
History of East Santa Cruz
The modern history of Santa Cruz’s Eastside predates the Mexican land grant era. In 1797, Villa de Branciforte was established by the government of Spain as one of only three civil settlements (the others being Los Angeles and San Jose) in Alta California. While not a religious mission, Villa de Banciforte had a similar intent, providing Spain a foothold in “upper California” against other European countries with designs on the land. However, because Villa de Branciforte did not have a religious mission, it was populated not by missionaries but by seculars, essentially anyone the Spanish governor of California, Diego de Borica, could convince to put down roots in the untamed land.
Unfortunately, without the spiritual aspect, Villa de Branciforte had trouble attracting settlers. Those that did come were ultimately a motley crew of “vagabonds and criminals with their families… sick, destitute, indolent and immoral,” according to the plaque which today marks Villa de Branciforte as California Historic Landmark #469. These settlers found little of the infrastructure that had been promised. The disorganized, somewhat hedonistic lifestyle that inevitably followed was frowned upon by the missionaries of the nearby Santa Cruz Mission, who quickly tired of losing acolytes to a neighboring settlement whose motto, “Pleasure Before Business,” accurately indicated a place where drinking, fighting, gambling and horse races occurred seven days a week, even on Sundays.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its missteps, Villa de Branciforte existed as a separate town, known locally as “Spanish Town” and “East Santa Cruz” until it was annexed by the city of Santa Cruz in 1905. Today, the site of Villa de Branciforte is where you’ll find the Branciforte Small Schools Campus. All that remains of the original settlement is a single adobe building on South Branciforte Avenue that is now a private residence.