There’s no shopping area in California quite like the Pacific Garden Mall (Pacific Ave., 831/429-8433). Hanging out “on the Mall,” as the locals call it, is a pastime for many teens and adults from Santa Cruz and beyond. The Mall runs on Pacific Avenue and its offshoots, and is usually open to (very slow) auto traffic. Park in one of the structures a block or two off the Mall proper and walk from there.
At the north end, shoppers peruse antiques, boutique clothing, and kitchenware. Down at the seedier south end of the mall, visitors can get shining new body jewelry, a great new tattoo, or a silicone sex toy. In the middle (and to a lesser degree throughout the Mall), you can grab a bite to eat, a cappuccino, or a cocktail in one of the many independent eateries.
You’ll find only a select few chain stores on the Mall, and those are uniformly reviled by the fiercely anti-mega-corporation residents of Santa Cruz. The Borders across the street from the Book Shop Santa Cruz (1520 Pacific Ave., 831/423-0900, www.bookshopsantacruz.com, Sun.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. until 11 p.m.) takes shockingly little business away from its local independent rival.
Sure, you will find an O’Neill Surf Shop (110 Cooper St., 831/469-4377) on the Mall, but surf shops are a staple of Santa Cruz. This one specializes in surfboards, wetsuits, and brand-name clothing. If your trip to California has gotten you hooked on riding the waves, and you just have to invest in your own equipment, O’Neill can be a good place to start. (If you’re an expert who prefers custom work, you already know that pre-fab chain stuff isn’t for you.) You can also buy a T-shirt or some sweats here—handy if you didn’t pack quite right for Central Coast summer fog.
If you’re wanting to buy clothes in Santa Cruz, chances are you’re looking for a secondhand store. This town has plenty of ’em. One of the largest of these sits only a block off Pacific Avenue—the aptly if redundantly named Thrift Center Thrift Store (504 Front St., 831/429-6975). This big, somewhat dirty retail space offers a wide array of cheap secondhand clothes. You’ll need to hunt a bit to find that one perfect vintage item that’s just too perfect, but isn’t that the fun of thrift shopping?
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition