Hit the town. Pacific Avenue is a great place for people-watching. You'll likely find a number of street performers along its length. To get oriented and learn more about the area, stop at the Downtown Information Center (1126 Pacific Ave.; 831/459-9486).
Warm up. Santa Cruz offers a world of coffee shops. Our favorites: Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company (1330 Pacific; 831/459-0100) and Lu Lu Carpenter's (1545 Pacific; 831/429-9804). Or snag a rum-soaked marzipan treat at Hoffman's Bakery Café (1102 Pacific; 831/420-0135).
Catch the zeitgeist. Get into the Cali-cool mood at neighboring surf shops Pacific Wave (1502 Pacific; 831/458-9283) and O'Neill Surf Shop Downtown (110 Cooper St.; 831/469-4377).
Cruz and shop. Handmade glass creations at Annieglass (110 Cooper; 831/427-4260) make showy party platters or pretty wedding gifts. Shop for organic cottons and hemp products at Eco Goods (1130 Pacific; 831/429-5758). Bugaboo Mountain Sports has travel clothing, maps, and adventure gear (1521 Pacific; 831/429-6300).
Local lore. The Museum of Art & History (11-5 Tue-Sun, 11-7 Thu; $4; 705 Front St.; 831/429-1964 or www.santacruzmah.org) presents the area's past, with exhibits on Ohlone Indian life and the tenacious bootlegging industry, plus contemporary art. Next door, the Museum Store has creative gifts.
El dinner. Sopas and tostadas are stars at El Palomar (1336 Pacific; 831/425-7575), a Mexican restaurant where you can catch live music on Wednesdays and Fridays. For some quality jazz in an intimate club, head over to downtown's Kuumbwa Jazz Center (320 Cedar St.; 831/427-2227).