Gay Santa Cruz is fun in the sun, counterculture central. A coastal city washed by the salty Pacific air and sandwiched between the towering redwoods and golden sand beaches.
With its beautiful wooden boardwalk and long wharf of eateries and shops the stretches into Monterey Bay, it’s easy to see the appeal for any visitor of this leftie-liberal paradise. Gay travelers to Santa Cruz are all but guaranteed to have a hassle-free visit, just don’t expect crazy Las Vegas nightlife as the extremely easygoing attitude and hippie vibes of Santa Cruz have actually left the city somewhat ‘post-gay’ and without any real need for a dedicated gay bar.
Thankfully this void in the queer space has been filled by a vibrant and well-organized Santa Cruz gay community who organize plenty of events throughout the year.
With rugged mountains to hike, soaring redwoods and crashing surf beaches you will probably be too exhausted to actually spend all night dancing – but if you like, Santa Cruz is home to the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) so you will never be short of a party! You’re just as likely to rub shoulders with Silicon Valley millionaires as college students and hippy stoners, but telling the difference is getting harder and harder all the time.
The biggest gay parties are all arranged around Santa Cruz Gay Pride held annually in June – a real highlight if you can time your trip correctly. Either way be sure to slow down, embrace the relaxed beach lifestyle and enjoy the bohemian vibes of Gay Santa Cruz.
Are you relocating? This guide will help travelers discover the queerer side of the city. However, if you are lucky enough to be considering a move here, we recommend getting in touch with a local gay realtor. They can happily give you no-obligation advice and all the information you'll ever need to know about your new city. And if you then want their help to find your dream home, you are guaranteed fair, equal, and honest representation. No surprises or awkward conversations necessary!
Gay Santa Cruz Guide: The Essential Guide To LGBT Travel In Santa Cruz California
In this article we will cover...
Gay-friendly Attractions in Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz tourism scene is booming on multiple fronts thanks to its gorgeous beaches, diverse nature, laid-back vibes and proximity to the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland area. Our favorite memories in Santa Cruz were exploring the rugged coastal line with a rental car, wandering the boardwalk at sunset and dancing the night away with new friends.
Oh, and don’t forget those mammoth redwoods! Still… it helps to have some kind of idea what is going on, so here are the best things to do in Santa Cruz according to us! Though there are plenty more activities here if you don’t like our tastes…
- Gay Beach In Santa Cruz CA – There are no official gay beaches in Santa Cruz but Bonny Doon Beach, Trestle Beach and Laguna Creek Beach are popular with older gay men, especially the nude part. Each is pretty quiet and rather beautiful.
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Wander the iconic amusement park on a beach, with plenty of games, rides and a sandy beach. Don’t miss the 1911 Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster.
- Downtown Santa Cruz – Wander around Pacific Avenue to find quirky cafes, art galleries, fun vintage shopping – and maybe stop off for a cocktail or two!
- Natural Bridges State Beach – A beautiful natural formation home to plenty of sea lions and shorebirds with a nice beach. Monterey Bay – Hope on a boat and explore this large bay with year-round sunset cruises & trips to observe marine life including migrating humpback whales.
- Santa Cruz Wharf – A pier that seems to extend forever out into the ocean, now filled with shops, seafood restaurants and cute sea lions.
- Steamer Lane – A famous surfing spot that has been pumping for almost 100 years. Watch pro’s take on the waves or check out the surfing museum in a historic lighthouse on the cliffs next-door.
- Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park – Walk amongst giants in this stunning natural park offering hiking, picnicking or camping. Not to be missed!
- Big Sur Road Trip – One of the most beautiful drives in the world, its a full day but hire a car and head south to take in the simply incredible coastline between San Simeon and Carmel. Look beyond your first instinct of Santa Cruz and you will find things hidden in plain sight: Rugged mountains, majestic redwoods, vibrant communities, and much more.
- Surf Lessons – No trip to Santa Cruz would be complete without at least giving the waves a test. Learn the basics of how to paddle out, pop up, balance, and catch a wave, along with surfing etiquette and understanding the ocean. At the very least you are sure to spot plenty of cute guys (and girls).
Gay-friendly and Gay Hotels in Santa Cruz California
LGBT tourism is booming in Santa Cruz and pretty much every hotel and hostel in Santa Cruz can be considered gay-friendly. After all being gay-friendly is not all about upscale luxury, but about friendly and open service and welcoming everyone with open arms.
Having said that, it is completely normal to want to be surrounded by like-minded people, and as such a few hotels in Santa Cruz have a solid reputation as spots for gay travelers to stay – it seems everyone likes to follow trends! Though there are plenty of other hotels in Santa Cruz you could consider, these options are the closest to a gay hotel in Santa Cruz.
Staying central within walking distance of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz downtown is ideal – though we found a few nearby mountain retreats we really liked the look of. No matter where you choose to stay it pays to book as far ahead as you can because occupancy rates in Santa Cruz are extremely with demand routinely exceeding supply. Competition keeps prices from varying too much – but quality varies greatly. As one top hotel in Santa Cruz told us a month before-hand ‘Oh, that’s cute you think we still have availability’… Whether you want a fun and social hostel, a cheap but private place to crash after a night of partying or a chic luxury option with a pool to spend the day lying by, Gay Santa Cruz as something for everyone!
- Dream Inn Santa Cruz ☆☆☆☆ – Sure it’s not an exclusively gay hotel in Santa Cruz, but this is our #1 choice when staying in town. A luxurious hotel right o Cowell beach with a natural, laid back atmosphere and incredible ocean views. Everything is minutes away as the hotel is literally between the Santa Monica Boardwalk and the beach! Retro-chic design, a large pool and the Happy Hour cocktails at the legendary Jack O’Neill Lounge mean we are just dying to get back here!!
- Chaminade Resort & Spa ☆☆☆☆ – Staying in Santa Cruz is over-rated, just head a little out-of-town and enjoy a blissful mountain retreat with unparallel views over the forest and out to the cost. Large, clean rooms, plenty of nature, a short drink to all the attractions and a spa that has been described as the 8th Wonder of the World.
- Hotel Paradox, Autograph Collection ☆☆☆☆ – A boutique hotel in Santa Cruz offering a mixture of natural and urban design elements. Gay-popular, with bold contemporary rooms – We loved the free hire of cruiser bikes, outdoor firepits, poolside cocktails and cozy private cabanas – plus adults only swim times! Delicious on-site dining at the Solaire Restaurant + Bar all the eco-friendly touches complete the package.
- Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley ☆☆☆☆ – A beautiful retreat nestled in a redwood forest with homely vibes. Only a few minutes drive from the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the gay nightlife in Santa Cruz. We loved the cozy interiors, forest views, heated outdoor pool and private whirlpool tubs in the suites!
- Beach Street Inn and Suites ☆☆☆☆ – A boutique hotel on the beach which has undergone an extensive renovation recently. Beautiful modern rooms with sea-views, large swimming pool and the cute Picnic Basket café on-site.
- Continental Inn ☆☆ – A basic hotel with enviable location in town and surprisingly beautiful rooms. Photos are accurate and you won’t be disappointed – especially as they also have on offer an outdoor pool and hot tub. The best budget hotel in Santa Cruz with stellar reviews.
- The Islander Motel ☆☆ – Close to Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk and only a few blocks from the nightlife, the Islander Motel is a blast from the past. With unfussy, traditional furnishings, a recent renovation and the lowest prices in town. Throw in a seasonal outdoor pool and free breakfast/parking, you can’t really complain.
Gay Nightlife in Santa Cruz CA
Although Santa Cruz is college town – its seems all the queers are too busy studying or enjoying the beautiful nature nearby as there is no longer any gay bars in Santa Cruz…Not a single one! Luckily, however, we put in the hard yards to determine the most gay-friendly or mixed bar, but we have to say Santa Cruz is relatively ‘post-gay’ and we felt welcome everywhere.
With 75% percent of the population being liberally-minded we can’t imagine you will have any more issues in any bar than you would in other liberal towns in America like Austin – but if you really want to find your gay family you could also plan around these LGBTQ events in Santa Cruz.
Gay-Friendly Bars and Clubs in Santa Cruz CA
- The Blue Lounge – The closest thing to a gay bar in Santa Cruz. Really diverse crowd with gays, some metalheads and college dudes. But it all works out! Great karaoke, cheap beer, dark divey-ambiance and some seriously cool events including the occasional burlesque and drag nights.
- Blue Lagoon Cocktail Lounge – Another super diverse spot with a funky, eclectic crowd. LGBT popular with cheap drinks, a big bar and pool table area giving it the real classic bar feel. Nothing fancy – but we don’t mind since the prices match.
- Motiv – Probably the best nightclub in Santa Cruz, which many years ago used to be a gay bar called Dakota. It’s really not anymore but it’s often the most buzzing place in town with a busy dance floor and fun cocktails.
- 515 Kitchen & Cocktails – If your sick of the student scene this fun cocktail bar is perfect for a grown-up night out of conversation. Nice balcony and patio upstairs (and delicious food if you’re hungry).
- Front & Cooper – A cool spot in downtown Abbott Square that is kind hidden away. This is the bar for hipster-vibe with a fabulous G&T (we loved the #4) and actually separated into a beer/wine bar and a cocktail bar. We love the post-industrial modern vibes and talented cocktail makers.
- The Red Room – A cozy vibe that takes the red theme a bit far – but the UCSC students seem to love it. Nice mix of indoor and classic rock, strong drinks and a fireplace. The perfect place to arrange to meet in a casual setting.
- Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing – Yes, micro-brewing is slowly taking over the world but if you’re a beer enthusiast you have to go here. Rave review, a great selection of all-organic beer and a nice tasting room. It’s also it a cool complex with other businesses around that are worth exploring.
Gay Events in Santa Cruz CA
While the gay bars of Santa Cruz might be non-existent, there is still a strong and prideful community here which often organizes events for the LGBT community. We can’t possibly keep up with them all but there are a few of the longest running and on-going gay events in Santa Cruz – either weekly, monthly or annually.
People in Santa Cruz are laid back but very welcoming so any time you choose to go to visit you are almost guaranteed to hear about something somewhere (or check out the Santa Cruz LGBT events Facebook page)
- Queer Grads Student Nights Out – Taking place on the 3rd Thursday of every month if your studying here or a visiting student wanting to connect they meet at 8: 30-10: 30 pm @ Seabright Brewery. Seasonal so get in touch to confirm.
- Fab Friday’s – A monthly gay meet up for men hosted in different venues around Santa Cruz. Always a good time and perfect for a induction in the gay scene of Santa Cruz.
- HOMOtiv – A Santa Cruz Weekly LGBTQIA Happy Hour held at the Motiv Dance Club every Saturday at 3.30 pm. This is one way to get cheap drinks, start a night out early and have fun with your new queer family.
- Sin Sisters Burlesque – Famous in these parts, this fabulous burlesque show takes place on the 2nd Saturday of every month at 9 pm. Very popular with locals in the LGBT community, but we would go just to see these girls in action.
- LezCruz – A social community for lesbians who live and work in Santa Cruz and Monterey County areas and host various events through the year. Feel free to ask questions and help here from your local sisters.
- Santa Cruz Diversity Center – A very active community center running a variety of events and programs aimed at helping the local LGBTQ+ community. One of the most well-organized we have seen. Most of their events focus on helping local youth through support groups but check their site as a few others pop up now and then.
- Surf City Aids Ride – A longtime community tradition to raise funds to support men, women and children who are HIV positive living in Santa Cruz. Everyone from professional athletes to casual riders are welcome. A super fun way to explore the scenic roads of the Central Coast (from redwoods to beaches!).
- Dyke Trans March – For 25 years this rally has taken place on the Saturday before Santa Cruz as is a poignant reminder that queer space is not optional. There is also a Pink Party held afterward at Bocci’s Cellar!
- Santa Cruz Pride Parade & Festival – A fabulous parade through Santa Cruz when the gay community is at it’s most visible. Now in its 44th year, this is one event in Gay Santa Cruz with planning your trip around – held on the 3rd Sunday of June – and we really hope to attend one year soon! After the parade, there is the Pride Festival which features LGBTQ musicians, spoken word artists, and other performers.
Gay Bath House & Gay Saunas In Santa Cruz
Sadly for those looking to spice up your gay seaside getaway – There is currently no gay sauna in Santa Cruz. We guess everyone is here simply to relax or are content with meeting gay Santa Cruz men via hook up apps or in the gay bars.
If you consider yourself a bit of a gay sauna connoisseur you might consider making the 45-minute drive to San Jose which has the nearest gay sauna, The Watergarden. If you just want to meet other guys in a relaxed surrounding you could try the Santa Cruz Queer Hikers Club, the Wednesday Night Gay Volleyball meet-ups or the monthly Fab Friday social group of Santa Cruz Gay Men.