The area was first settled by Ohlone Indians, Native American hunter-gatherers. Santa Cruz was colonized in the mid-1700s by the Spanish, who established both a mission (Mission Santa Cruz) and a secular settlement named Branciforte. The town was named, as many of the early Spanish settlements were, for the Catholic feast day on which it was 'discovered'. The Ohlones were concentrated by the Spanish into the mission and suffered a rapid decline due to diseases and overwork.
Santa Cruz was settled by Americans in the 19th century. Immigrants from Scotland, Italy, China and Portugal also added distinctive contributions to the area's culture. In the 19th Century forestry and commercial fishing were primary industries, as well as dairy farming and leather production.
Santa Cruz is today best known for the prestigious University of California, Santa Cruz, which was built starting in the 1960s as an 'alternative' campus. Overlooking the Monterey Bay among the redwood trees, UCSC is arguably the most beautiful of the University of California campuses. UCSC was long known for its lack of letter grades and organized sports teams, although this has been changing in recent years, with letter grades now provided for most classes. Their mascot is the banana slug.
Santa Cruz is also well-known for surfing, and is the home of O'Neill and Santa Cruz Surfboards.
Santa Cruz is also notable for the extensive damage it suffered during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which leveled the mostly unreinforced-brick downtown, killing five people. The downtown area, the Pacific Garden Mall, has been rebuilt almost from scratch.
The principal industries of Santa Cruz are agriculture, tourism, and high technology. Santa Cruz is a center of the organic agriculture movement, and many specialty products such as artichokes, grown in the Castroville area. Tourist attractions include a classic boardwalk on the beach, the redwood forests and the unspoiled Monterey Bay, which has been protected as a marine sanctuary.
In recent years, because of its close proximity to Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz has supported a large high technology industry, particularly in the Scotts Valley area. Many workers from Silicon Valley live in Santa Cruz and the surrounding towns. The influx of workers from Silicon Valley, in combination with growing enrollment at the university, have caused growing traffic problems and a high cost of housing; Santa Cruz is regularly listed among the five most expensive housing markets in the United States.
Camper Van Beethoven was spawned in Santa Cruz.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 40.4 km² (15.6 mi²). 32.5 km² (12.5 mi²) of it is land and 8.0 km² (3.1 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 19.67% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 54,593 people, 20,442 households, and 10,404 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,682.2/km² (4,356.0/mi²). There are 21,504 housing units at an average density of 662.6/km² (1,715.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 78.74% White, 1.73% African American, 0.86% Native American, 4.90% Asian, 0.13% Pacific Islander, 9.14% from other races, and 4.50% from two or more races. 17.39% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 20,442 households out of which 25.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.0% are married couples living together, 9.6% have a female householder with no husband present, and 49.1% are non-families. 29.3% of all households are made up of individuals and 7.6% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.44 and the average family size is 2.98.
In the city the population is spread out with 17.3% under the age of 18, 20.5% from 18 to 24, 32.6% from 25 to 44, 21.0% from 45 to 64, and 8.5% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 32 years. For every 100 females there are 99.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 97.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $50,605, and the median income for a family is $62,231. Males have a median income of $44,751 versus $32,699 for females. The per capita income for the city is $25,758. 16.5% of the population and 6.6% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 12.5% are under the age of 18 and 4.8% are 65 or older.