Santa Cruz Harbor is located on the northern shores of Monterey Bay on California's central Pacific coast. It is just 22 nautical miles north of Monterey Harbor and about 73 nautical miles south-southeast of the Port of San Francisco. In addition to having a large and beautiful beach, Santa Cruz Harbor is near glorious redwood forests in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz Harbor is a popular location for surfing and a favorite tourist destination. In 2000, over 54 thousand people lived in Santa Cruz Harbor, and more than 255 thousand lived in the Santa Cruz-Watsonville metropolitan area.
In addition to tourism, agriculture, high technology, and education are important sectors of the local Santa Cruz Harbor economy. Home to the California Certified Organic Farmers' headquarters, Santa Cruz Harbor is an important center for the organic agriculture movement.
Before Europeans settled the Santa Cruz Harbor, the Awaswas peoples, a division of the indigenous Ohlone, had a settlement at the site of modern Santa Cruz. In 1769, Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola came to the area in his efforts to get to Monterey. He named the river he found there San Lorenzo, and he named the nearby hills Santa Cruz. In 1791, Father Fermin Lasuen established Mission Santa Cruz in order to convert the Awaswas people and nearby Ohlone villages to Christianity.
Captain Pere d'Alberni led Spanish irregulars in 1796 to Spain's military garrisons at Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and to Santa Cruz Harbor. Alberni established a town in what is now East Santa Cruz, on the San Lorenzo River, calling the town Villa Branciforte. Eventually the town and the mission grew together and were merged into Santa Cruz Harbor. In the following two decades, many settlers arrived from the United States. After Mexico ceded its territories to the US at the end of the Mexican-American War, California became a state in 1850.
In the late 19th Century, the need for a harbor became apparent to local businesses, boaters, residents, and commercial fishermen. The US Army Corps of Engineers first conducted a survey for a harbor of refuge in 1879. It took much longer, however, to get those facilities in Santa Cruz Harbor. After World War II, locals organized to demand a harbor. In 1949, the Corps of Engineers resurveyed and recommended the formation of a special local district to develop and manage Santa Cruz Harbor.
Citizens presented a petition with three thousand signatures to the County Board of Supervisors, and an election was held in 1950 to form the Santa Cruz Port District. The District would provide and operate small craft facilities in Santa Cruz Harbor. After many years of jurisdictional issues, federal legislation was passed in 1958 to authorize the Santa Cruz Harbor for Small Craft and Beach Erosion Project.
The State of California's Department of Parks and Recreation started acquired land for Santa Cruz Harbor and related areas between 1958 and 1960. In 1962, funds were appropriated for dredging and dredging of the south harbor basin. Other funds were secured for the pilings, docks, and land facilities like parking and restrooms.
In order to secure the loans, the State required that Santa Cruz Harbor be a state/regional resource. For that reason, the Port District must provide equal boating opportunities to California residents. Final construction of the south Santa Cruz Harbor began in 1962, and 360 slips were dedicated in 1964.
Santa Cruz Harbor was a great success, and interest in expanding the facilities grew quickly. In 1968, a planning study looked at the feasibility of adding more slips. Based on the study's conclusions, 455 more slips were constructed and completed in 1973.
Santa Cruz Harbor has long been a center for social activism and liberal politics. In 1992, it became one of the first cities to allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. In 2005, the City Council set up an office to help residents get medical marijuana. The following year, voters made enforcement of laws against marijuana a "lowest priority" for local law.
There is also an active veteran community in Santa Cruz Harbor. Its United Veterans Council has a community-based program to help veterans re-enter society, and the Bill Motto VFW post sponsors peace and anti-war efforts across the United States. The Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz Harbor was established in 1976, making it one of the oldest such organizations in the country. In 1998, Santa Cruz Harbor declared itself to be a nuclear-free zone. In 2003, the City Council in Santa Cruz Harbor became the first in the country to oppose the war in Iraq and issued a proclamation in opposition to the post-911 United States' Patriot Act.
California's Miss America Pageant was held in Santa Cruz Harbor since the 1920s until a group of local feminists began to protest the event, forming the "Praying Mantis Brigade." In the 1980s, the group began staging a counter-pageant where women dressed in meat, and they poured the symbolic blood of raped women across the entryway to the pageant. This counter-event was held for nine years before the Miss California pageant moved out of Santa Cruz Harbor. Since that time, local feminists have operated a non-profit "Media Watch" group to monitor women's images in the media. Since 1983, Santa Cruz Harbor has been the site of the annual Take Back the Night candlelight protest highlighting violence against women.
Over a 20-year period from 1964 to 1984, large schools (from one to two thousand tons) of anchovies have come into the inner Santa Cruz Harbor area, consumed the water's oxygen, and died. The Santa Cruz Harbor Port District has worked to identify causes and solutions for this problem. As a result, the Santa Cruz Harbor is equipped with 30 aeration units that supply oxygen to the water during the summer months. Other solutions have been explored, such as netting the area off so that the anchovies could not enter the waters or introducing sound sources that would make the area inhospitable to the anchovies. However, the Santa Cruz Harbor Port District recognizes that they may not be able to stop this natural phenomenon.