When it comes to the myriad benefits one can enjoy when living in Santa Cruz County, one thing is almost always guaranteed to be discussed: its close proximity to Silicon Valley. And rightfully so. Considered one of the major tech centers in the world, numerous Fortune 1000 and start-up companies are based here, accounting for over 220,000 of the Bay Area’s 380,000+ high-tech jobs.
For homebuyers who want to pursue their careers in the tech and innovation industry, Santa Cruz County is, indeed, a wonderful place to live. If this is you, Amber Melenudo answers some frequently asked questions below.
Living in Santa Cruz County: Frequently asked questions answered
How far is Santa Cruz County from Silicon Valley?
Santa Cruz County shares borders with Santa Clara County where Silicon Valley is located. The former fronts Monterey Bay in the south, while a part of the latter is along the shores of San Francisco Bay.
By private transportation
From Silicon Valley, it only takes less than an hour’s drive to reach the city of Santa Cruz, about 36 miles away. The common and fastest route to take is California State Route 17 (CA-17), which runs north to south, connecting San Jose and Santa Cruz.
An alternate route is to turn left at Cambrian Park and on to California State Route 85 (CA-85), all the way to the Mountain View/Sunnyvale area of Silicon Valley.
By public transport
Coming from Santa Cruz County, the most reliable form of public transit would be the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, more popularly known as Santa Cruz METRO. The bus service operates throughout Santa Cruz County and plies CA-17 to San Jose’s Diridon Station via Highway 17 Express.
The commute can take a while, however— with eight stops between Diridon Station and Santa Cruz Metro Center, travel time can take up to 1 hour and 40 minutes on a good day. If you are coming from other coastal parts of Santa Cruz County (Capitola or Aptos, for instance), expect to travel a little longer.
Long commute aside, traversing the length of CA-17 to San Jose can be a scenic journey as the highway weaves through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Along the way, you may be treated to peaceful forest vistas and glimpses of native tree species such as Douglas fir and Coast redwood, with the latter being one of the tallest tree species on earth.
Why move to Santa Cruz County instead of staying in Silicon Valley?
It ultimately depends on the individual, but here are several reasons why living in Santa Cruz County may be a better option.
- Silicon Valley is one of the most expensives places to live in the country
- Work-life balance can be hard to achieve in Silicon Valley
- More companies are offering remote or hybrid work arrangements
- Silicon Valley’s tech innovations and start-ups are branching out
One can argue that the cost of living in Silicon Valley is largely proportionate to the average salary in the region.
In 2020, before the pandemic, the median household income in Silicon Valley was $138,100 per year— a few thousand dollars higher than San Francisco and more than double the national average ($67,340). At the same time, the median home price in the region was $1,319,000. But for some people, the Silicon Valley price tag is no longer worth it.
When you live so close to where you work, the line between your personal and work life can easily be blurred or altogether erased. And in today’s world where the importance of mental health is slowly being highlighted, your work bleeding into your home life can be detrimental to your overall well-being.
If there is one thing to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the realization that people do not need to be in the office to be productive. Employees are resisting orders to return to the workplace and to cope with this trend that is likely to stay, companies are now more open to remote or hybrid work set-ups.
This has resulted in increased mobility, and for employees who have been wanting to move out of Silicon Valley, the news is a welcome change.
Santa Cruz County is often considered a bedroom community of Silicon Valley, but several companies and start-ups have also established bases across the hill. Some were even founded here. Netflix, the streaming and subscription giant, was originally conceived in Santa Cruz by its founders, Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph before it was launched in nearby Scotts Valley, another Santa Cruz County community.
What is the housing market in Santa Cruz County like?
(How does it compare to Silicon Valley real estate?)
In terms of the median listing home price, Santa Cruz County real estate is slightly more affordable than Silicon Valley. In March 2022, listing prices averaged $1.67 million, which was 26.6% higher than the previous year.
Market offerings based on property types are roughly the same in both markets. Single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and luxury properties are prevalent in the area. But since Santa Cruz County also covers a larger area than Silicon Valley, you also get more variety such as beachfront homes, potentially productive wine properties, and hillside retreats surrounded by old-growth redwoods. Your selection will ultimately depend on where you choose to settle in Santa Cruz County (more of this below).
The demand for homes in Santa Cruz County is also quite high— properties for sale only spend about 16 days on the market. This is because the area is considered a seller’s market, which indicates a relatively low housing inventory when compared to the number of homebuyers in the area.
In conclusion, Santa Cruz County real estate offers better value for money (wide range of real estate options, different settings, and locations, etc.) than Silicon Valley.
Where are the best places to live in Santa Cruz County?
Located north of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz County covers approximately 445 square miles of land area. Four “regions” make up the entire place: the North Coast, South County, the Bonny Doon-San Lorenzo River Valley, and the Santa Cruz area, which also includes Capitola, Aptos, and Soquel. There are only four cities in the county: Santa Cruz (the county seat), Capitola, Scotts Valley, and Watsonville.
The best place to live entirely depends on your individual needs, lifestyle, and preferences. That said, there are plenty of idyllic communities throughout Santa Cruz County that make for strong contenders.
This may be a sentiment often repeated, but it is no less true: Santa Cruz is the quintessential California beach town. It is blessed with perpetual sunshine, the vibe relaxed and the pace of life slow.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk comes complete with amusement park rides and history— it is the oldest amusement park in the state. And as for water recreation, Santa Cruz is known to be the birthplace of mainland surfing. Compared to the Silicon Valley culture, living in Santa Cruz seems like an endless summer vacation.
As much as the waterfront is exciting, Downtown Santa Cruz is the heart of the city. This main gathering place features local restaurants and shops, weekly farmers markets, and an array of community events. Midtown is another hotbed of activity with its live music venues and collection of breweries. Other notable neighborhoods include Seabright, Pleasure Point, and Upper West Side.
Housing options in Santa Cruz: Victorian-style estates, beach condos, single-family homes, and apartments. See the latest Santa Cruz, CA listings here.
Located east of Capitola, the unincorporated coastal community of Aptos consists of a string of lovely villages that are recognized as some of the most sought-after places to live in Santa Cruz County.
Although the ocean plays a significant role in the local lifestyle, Aptos also boasts some inland treasures, most notably The Forest of Nisene Marks— a favorite hiking and outdoor recreation destination in the Bay Area. If you would love to have your feet firm on the sound while having access to the sea, Aptos is unbeatable.
Aptos’s housing market features a combination of coastal homes, urban dwellings (condos and townhouses), and sprawling real estate in the form of ranches and wine properties. Rio del Mar lends a more European flavor to the waterfront living experience, while the village of Seacliff offers luxury oceanfront properties.
Housing options in Aptos: Condos, townhouses, single-family residences, waterfront properties, luxury estates, ranches, and wine properties. See the latest Aptos, CA listings here.
South of Soquel and east of Pleasure Point is the city of Capitola, a popular seaside resort town that has been so for over 150 years. Some say it’s the oldest resort on the entire West Coast— a claim that can be traced back to the city’s origins.
With its waterfront location, Capitola is the capital for water-based outdoor recreation. Surfing is the most popular sport, with the local climate creating some of the best surf breaks on this side of the Bay Area. Inland, local boutiques and restaurants, colorful beachfront buildings, and arts and culture spaces abound. Traces of Capitola’s unique history can be found almost everywhere in the city.
Noteworthy neighborhoods in Capitola include Capitola Village, Depot Hill, the Upper Village, Jewel Box, and Cliffwood Heights.
Housing options in Capitola: Beach homes, condominiums, bungalows, and luxury properties. See the latest Capitola, CA listings here.
Life takes a slightly different turn at Scotts Valley, located up the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains. CA-17 runs through the entire community, allowing for easy connections to Silicon Valley or the coastal towns and villages below along Monterey Bay.
In exchange for sea views, you will be surrounded by breathtaking, emerald-green scenery. You also get to live among living giants—coast redwoods, one of California’s state trees, long-lived and towering. Forests of these ancient trees surround town, as do state parks like Big Basin Redwoods and Henry Cowell Redwoods, which is nearer. But for hiking and mountain biking, you do not need to go farther than Glenwood Open Space Preserve, only a four-mile drive from Scotts Valley.
Impressive real estate options await in Scotts Valley; they blend with the natural character of the place. Once just a carriage stop, Scotts Valley’s housing market commands a median listing price of $1.2 million, with properties only spending a month on the market.
Housing options in Scotts Valley: Ranch homes, single-family estates, new construction developments, Craftsman bungalows, townhouses, and cabins tucked in secluded pockets on the edge of the forest. See the latest Scotts Valley, CA listings here.
San Lorenzo Valley
San Lorenzo Valley offers various unique opportunities if you want to live relatively close to Silicon Valley and the rest of the Bay Area while enjoying an off-the-grid lifestyle. The entire area occupies a swath of the Santa Cruz Mountains, covering the following communities: Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Glen Arbor, and Felton, all linked together by CA-9 and the San Lorenzo River, which flows out to Monterey Bay.
Like its neighbor, Scotts Valley, old-growth redwood forests pepper the landscape in and around San Lorenzo Valley. The higher elevation plus lush tree cover made the area a favored destination for vacation homes in the past, but San Lorenzo Valley’s romance and semi-rural character have convinced plenty of people to make their primary residences here.
Housing options in San Lorenzo Valley: Forest retreats, luxury cabins, Ranch-style homes, Mediterranean-inspired estates, and single-family homes. See the latest San Lorenzo Valley, CA listings here.
These are just some of the many communities that make up Santa Cruz County. Learn more about the area when you check out Amber’s Santa Cruz County community guides.
Aside from Silicon Valley being nearby, what are the highlights of living in Santa Cruz County?
Life in Santa Cruz County is more than being a hop and a skip away from Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, you will find your quality of life richer and your horizon expanded.
Here are some of the highlights of living in Santa Cruz County.
Plenty of avenues for rest and recreation
In Santa Cruz County, you will often find reminders to pause and enjoy leisure time both on land and water. This is perfect if the work-life balance is something you would like to achieve. If you find yourself with time to spare (or spend according to your wishes), local activities you might take pleasure in include:
- Surfing: Santa Cruz County is blessed with approximately 29 miles of shoreline that generates some of the best surf breaks in the country.
Surf spots are found throughout the waterfront, but the local favorites are Cowell’s for beginners; Capitola Jetty for longboarding; Pleasure Point for variety; Manresa State Beach if you want to stay away from the crowds; 30th and East Cliff for advanced and highly skilled surfers; Natural Bridges if you also want to enjoy peaceful scenery between breaks; Steamer Lane, which is Santa Cruz’s most famous surf spot; and Mavericks, with big waves that rival Hawaii’s North Shore.
- Hiking: Trails and state parks abound the Santa Cruz County area whether you fancy a long walk along the coast or a day hike under the canopy of giants.
Some of the best hikes in Santa Cruz County include Wilder Ranch, which has over 34 miles of coastal and inland trails; Quail Hollow, well-loved for its wildflower blooms; Byrne-Milliron Forest in South County, where pets are free to go on long hikes with you; and Castle Rock, with trails that can lead you to the highest points and most scenic vistas in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Great schools and public amenities
The outstanding quality of life in Santa Cruz County is supported by access to a plethora of well-maintained community amenities. Parks and green spaces abound, as do more practical essentials such as health care and other related programs. As for schooling, Santa Cruz County offers plenty of opportunities. University of California, Santa Cruz, well-known for their programs in computer science, psychology, and liberal arts, is located here.
Amber Melenudo can show you the best of what Santa Cruz County has to offer
Both a trusted Realtor and a Santa Cruz County resident for over 20 years, Amber is your one and only guide to Santa Cruz County real estate. Find out how your life can be different for the better when you explore homes for sale in top communities like Santa Cruz, Aptos, Capitola, and Scotts Valley.