Storied History of Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor Reflects Local Charm and Character

Before the Santa Cruz harbor was built, boats were tied to the municipal wharf and quickly removed at any sign of trouble. One fisherman recounts, “we were nomads, running for our boats at the first sign of bad weather. Clouds and the wind ruled our lives and the fear of losing our boats was always with us.” The harbor is not only a refuge for vessels it is also a sanctuary for people; providing a sense of peace and calm as well as community.

Some joke that the harbor was originally bought with begonia bulbs. Worth Brown, who owned Brown’s Bulb Farm, sent begonia bulbs to every influential legislator he knew. There was much political wrangling from 1949 to the completion of the harbor in 1964. The first step to completing the harbor, as we now know it, was identifying Woods Lagoon as the location. Next, the Port District was established which operates as a government-owned business. And last, the south harbor was completed in 1964 and the north harbor, which extends inland past the bridge, was completed in 1972. In total, there are roughly 950 boats in slips, 325 boats on trailers, and 250 kayaks and rowing boats in storage. Although initially funded by local tax(es) the harbor has long been economically self-sufficient and is governed by a five person Board of Commissioners elected by residents within the thirty square mile Port District. Some are drawn to the harbor to sit and listen to the deep rumbles of boats yawing and tugging in harmony with chiming masts. Others come for the many recreational activities that the harbor has to offer. There are the ocean sports of fishing, sailing, kayaking, out-rigging, and paddle boarding. For the more leisurely, there are whale watching tours, champagne cruises, and dining at one of the five restaurants (six if you include the yacht club).

Of course, many come simply to play at the beach where there are volleyball tournaments, weekly ukulele gathering(s), a Polynesian festival and the Crow’s Nest summer beach parties with outdoor music and BBQ. There’s also the unforgettable annual lighted boat parade that illuminates the harbor during the holidays.

Harbor officials have acknowledged that the harbor’s entrance, which is down coast from the San Lorenzo River mouth, is less than ideal, requiring dredging every winter to remove sediment. It is believed that this sediment along with the design of the harbor led to damage of docks and boats caused by the tsunami of March 11, 2011. “There is a possibility that both the narrowing and change of angle of the harbor at the Murray Street Bridge caused some intensification of the current” said Port Commissioner Jeff Martin.

One of the byproducts of the harbor Jetty is the natural creation of a deeper sandbar at the Seabright Beach. With such an expansive beach and a vibrant neighboring harbor community, it is no wonder the Seabright Harbor area has become one of the most desirable places in Santa Cruz. There is a strong demand for real estate in this area and prices have remained fairly stable throughout the economic downturn. While there are many homes with ocean views in Santa Cruz, there are few homes that also have views of the yacht harbor.

Pertria’s office is located at 365 Lake Avenue overlooking the yacht harbor and its picturesque views. You are always welcome to contact us for a tour of our office and a walking tour of the harbor and its many offerings and activities.

1. David Clark & Gus Gregory, Reflections of the Santa Cruz Harbor (printed in Santa Cruz in 2005)
3. J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel (3/19/2011)
4. Gary Griggs & Deepeka Shrestha Ross, Santa Cruz Coast.
(Arcadia Publishing 2006)