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Santa Cruz Harbor

by Whitney Wilde

harbor hike

I love secrets… secret gardens, secret paths, and the best secrets—the ones only the locals know. Santa Cruz Harbor is full of secrets for you and your pooch to discover throughout the year.

Santa Cruz Harbor recently suffered almost $50 million in damage from a tsunami, but you would hardly notice today. Due to the quick actions of the harbor personnel, there are no sunken or damaged boats in sight, just missing docks.

The harbor, initially built in 1964, is a giant U-shape. The middle part of the “U” is the upper harbor, and the “legs” are the lower harbor near the beaches.

Saturday mornings are a great time to walk on the east side of the harbor, off 7th Avenue, starting with a delicious cup of coffee at the Kind Grind. It shares its dog-friendly patio with Café El Palomar, which offers $1.50 tacos during happy hour!

Secret #1: Aloha spirit

Every Saturday morning, from 10am to noon, the Sons of the Beach gather to play ukuleles on the patio of the Kind Grind. Bring your own uke and join them! It’s not unusual to see over 50 people strumming and singing, with plenty of pooches enjoying the fun.

When you are full of aloha spirit, start walking along the pathway towards the upper harbor.

Secret #2: Canine couture

Does your pooch need a Hawaiian shirt, a bikini or a hula skirt? Nautical Treasures & Leo’s Sportfishing sounds like an unlikely place to find cool stuff for your dog, but it has a unique selection of canine fashions as well as everything for ocean-related decor.

Continuing up the harbor, you will come to…

Secret #3: Fresh, local, caught-today seafood

Imagine eating salmon, halibut or crab the same day it was caught! Far West Marine (underneath Johnny’s Harborside) sells fresh, locally caught seafood, as well as frozen.

Continue on, going under the Murray Street Bridge, and notice the rebuilding of all the docks that were destroyed in the tsunami.

Secret #4: The Harbor Water Taxi

At X-1 dock, during summer months, you can catch the Harbor Water Taxi* and ride back to where you started. The water taxi is free (supported by the local businesses and restaurants in the harbor), but I always tip the boat captain to thank him for being dog-friendly. The water taxi also stops at docks near Far West Marine, Aldo’s ,and the Crow’s Nest. My dog, GiGi, loves riding the water taxi and there is mutual fascination with the “water dogs” (seals and otters). The water taxi has no set schedule, so be patient when waiting for it.

If you continue walking to the top of the upper harbor, keep your eyes open for the resident sea otter. Especially in the evenings, he can be seen floating on his back eating his marine meal.

harbor walk

Secret #5: Secret way to Arana Gulch

At the very top of the harbor, there is a path that leads to Arana Gulch —another fine place to walk your dog on-leash.

At this point, you are halfway around the harbor. Across from G-2 dock is a set of stairs that leads to Frederick Street Park with its large, unfenced, off-leash dog area. We like to start walks at Frederick Street Park so that GiGi has some doggie social time.

Secret #6: Free parking

Parking along Frederick Street is free and does not require a permit.

Secret #7: The secret path

Leaving Frederick Street Park, walk towards the harbor stairs, but instead, take the dirt path to the right. It goes behind the houses, looking down into the harbor, until it ends at a gazebo (currently closed for refurbishment). Go left and down the stairs, and you are back in the harbor!

Secret #8: The Secret Garden

Just before you go under the Murray Street Bridge, take the dirt path to the right and walk about 15 feet. There is an overlook to the “Secret Garden,” an oasis that neighboring resident Bud Cummings has created over the years from a pile of berry bushes, weeds, and trash. There is a beautiful creek, as well as cannas, lilies, and eucalyptus that hold a breeding colony of Great Blue Herons in March and April. Everything, including the huge stone Buddha head, has been hauled down the steep embankment using ropes. The garden is not open to the public, but the view is free.

Back on the harbor trail, under the bridge, continue on and you will come to Aldo’s with our favorite dog-friendly deck (see Rover’s Review in this issue). Continue past Aldo’s to Walton Lighthouse at the mouth of the harbor. It’s not unusual to see dolphins swim by there at sunset.

NOTES: The harbor kindly provides poop bags in dispensers all around the harbor. Parking in the harbor is either in a pay lot or metered. (Be prepared to feed them with MANY quarters.)

* From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Harbor Water Taxi runs up and down the harbor from 10am to 6pm to take you from the parking areas of the upper harbor, down to the many great dog-friendly restaurants, such Aldo’s, the Kind Grind, and Café El Palomar.


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