Santa Cruz’s Seaport Dreams: How Surfing Almost Wasn’t

Santa Cruz’s Seaport Dreams: How Surfing Almost Wasn’t

Cover photo by Brocken Inaglory

From the 1850s to the mid-1960s, Santa Cruzans wanted their town to be a center of industry and economic activity. Promotion of business and development was paramount. The vision was to be a hub for transportation of lumber, lime, and agricultural products produced within Santa Cruz, and also for goods that came from the Central Valley.

To be a great seaport hub, Santa Cruz needed a great harbor. The problem was that Santa Cruz’s natural harbor was a fine anchorage in the summer but in the winter gales from the south made it treacherous and often damaged the wharves.

Several plans were drafted between 1850 and 1950 to create a giant breakwater and turn Santa Cruz’s natural harbor (and its famous surf spot: Steamer Lane) into perpetually calm water. Several of these plans involved breakwaters starting at or near Lighthouse Point and extending eastward into the harbor for a quarter mile or longer.

Locations and dates of proposed breakwaters in Santa Cruz Harbor. Dashed lines indicate location is approximate. Figure adapted with permission from "The Great Seaport Dream" by Frank Perry.
Locations and dates of proposed breakwaters in Santa Cruz Harbor. Dashed lines indicate location is approximate. Figure adapted with permission from “The Great Seaport Dream” by Frank Perry.

Due to its proximity to San Francisco and the huge expense of creating a large harbor, Santa Cruz never became a great port city. Although dreams lived on through the 1940s, largely by trying to bring the US Navy here, a large harbor never materialized.

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  1. Sources Used

    • The “Great Seaport Dream.” Frank Perry. Santa Cruz County History Journal, S.C.C. Historical Trust, Inc. 1995;(2):53–63.

    • Lighthouse Point: Illuminating Santa Cruz. Frank A. Perry. Santa Cruz, California: Otter B Books; 2002.



About The Author

I really enjoy field trips. I love being in a cool place and having someone tell me about it. The problem is, you can’t always find a professor or park ranger-type to tell you all they know about the local rocks, plants, and history. So I decided to combine my love of things natural with mobile technology.

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