Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz has surfing and more


Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz has surfing and more

Christine Delsol, Special to The Chronicle

Friday, November 25, 2011

Santa Cruz’s East Side is a little like the red-haired stepsister – not mistreated though, merely ignored – to the sexier West side, home to world-famous Steamer Lane and the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

Along East Cliff Drive, this unincorporated community in Santa Cruz has been a best-kept secret, except to a few of the surfing world’s most beloved characters. Wetsuit pioneer and surfing entrepreneur Jack O’Neill, for one. His surf shops are in downtown Santa Cruz, at the Beach Boardwalk and in neighboring Capitola, but he still lives in a clifftop house overlooking the ocean in Pleasure Point. Prominent surfer and renowned teacher Richard Schmidt, for another. He lives in another neighborhood but conducts many classes there.

And then there’s Jay Moriarity, the preternaturally talented young surfer who captivated the world in 1994 with a sensational wipeout at Mavericks that landed him on the cover of Surfer Magazine at age 16. Pleasure Point was his proving ground and his home until he died while free diving in Malaysia in 2001, a day before his 23rd birthday.

More and more visitors, surfers and landlubbers alike, are finding their way to Pleasure Point. It’s a small, close-knit community where a goodly percentage of the population begin their days on the waves instead of the freeway. Nonsurfers get that Beach Boys vibe without (much of) the attitude surfing cliques are notorious for, along with plenty of low-key – dare I say mellow? – diversions to round out their days.

Why now? The coming year is bound to propel Pleasure Point onto the public stage. A Curtis Hanson-directed movie about Moriarity, “Of Men and Mavericks,” just wrapped filming in his old neighborhood and is scheduled for a fall 2012 release. And O’Neill marked its 60th year in business last month and will continue celebrating until next October.

Back story: During Prohibition, Pleasure Point had such a rowdy reputation that the Santa Cruz Fire Department wouldn’t go there after dark, so volunteers formed the Pleasure Point Night Fighters. It was the nucleus of a supportive beach community that mingles easily with newcomers and visitors.

Jack O’Neill opened his first surf shop in a San Francisco garage in 1952. When the business outgrew its birthplace, O’Neill moved his shop, and his following, to 41st Avenue in Santa Cruz. Today, Pleasure Point has six or seven surf shops to serve those who ride the waves at nearly a dozen famous surf breaks.

Checking in: I was a bit skeptical when my husband and I arrived at the Bella Notte Inn; its motorcourt-style origins were discernible despite a handsomely revamped facade. But when we got to our room, it was like entering an uptown hotel. We had acres of space, heavy, understated furniture, a fireplace, and my first (blissful) experience with a heated bathroom floor. Orders of magnitude more than we expected for the price.

If you want to be in the middle of Pleasure Point’s activity and are willing to pay for it, the Pleasure Point Inn combines elegance and comfort with an ocean view.

Spend your day: Well, there’s surfing, of course. After decades of recreating in Santa Cruz, Pleasure Point inspired me to finally try a lesson…

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