Pleasure Point: Iconic landmarks and can’t-miss institutions

The famous green house of the late Jack O'Neill.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Pony Park

Nestled between Schwan Lake and 17th Avenue, Pony Park is a hidden gem for nature lovers. A grove of giant live oak trees provides a dense series of pathways that circle the park, some with tree branches the size of tree trunks! These living giants are perfect for kids to climb or as a romantic perch where couples can sit and hang their feet.

It’s a great place to bring the dogs for a sniff or two, with a street-sized main track and tons of smaller trails to explore. Midway through the hike, the forest opens up, providing a few spectacular vistas of Schwan Lake. As preteens, my friends and I used to explore the forest and shoreline, where we’d wade into the reeds and catch bullfrogs. Pony Park is a local treasure, hidden in plain sight.

Address: Access Pony Park via the Simpkins Family Swim Center parking area, 979 17th Ave.

Freeline Surf Shop

Straddling the border of Pleasure Point and Capitola, the iconic Freeline Design Surf Shop is arguably the most “core” mom-and-pop surf shop in Santa Cruz. With 53 years of history, the shop has gone through some dramatic changes, but the vibe inside is still the same — we’re here to take care of you. Established by surfboard shaper and world champion kneeboarder John Mel in 1969, Freeline is now run by John’s son, Peter, and his wife, Tara, becoming a family legacy.

Walking into a surf shop, a customer should hope that the person selling them their new wetsuit or surfboard knows what they’re talking about. The Mels certainly do. Pete’s only the best big-wave surfer on earth! No biggie. Rinsing stinky wetsuit rentals was my first job (apart from my ill-fated paper boy stint). And Freeline was my first surf shop sponsor as a kid dreaming of being a pro surfer someday. The shop means a lot to me and it’s an honor to be part of the family.

Address: 821 41st Ave.

KSCO

As a kid, I used to have dreams that Corcoran Lagoon was a landing spot for UFOs, which would sink beneath the water, guided by giant flashing towers. There’s been no UFO spotting … yet; however, there is a tiny radio station, KSCO. The radio towers rise from the lake, with blinking red lights signaling some programming in progress.

KSCO (or K-Santa Cruz’s Own) is a commercial AM radio station, broadcasting a talk radio format here in Santa Cruz at 1080 AM, with offices on Portola Drive. The station, nestled right on the banks of the lagoon, can be heard over much of Central California during the day. Its iconic radio towers rise so high I can see their red lights blink from my seat at the dinner table, a few blocks away.

The station programming is a mashup of local and syndicated programming, and offers available air time for self-produced shows. Its eccentric hosts and dedication to democratizing our local airwaves makes it a longtime Live Oak favorite.

Address: 2300 Portola Dr.

Pleasure Point Market

Well before the dot-com boom and throngs of sightseers lining the Point, a small market stood at its apex. Owned during the 1980s through the mid ‘90s by a charming and kind Korean couple, Jimmy and May, the old Point Market was a cherished part of the community. At that time it served more as a grocery store, and regulars could even keep a tab with the trustful shop owners. In grade school I would save every penny I could find to grab their famous egg rolls and dim sum.

The Point Market.
(Via @thepointmarket Instagram)

Things changed when Jimmy and May sold their business, with the space going through several rehabs and reboots. Eventually, Hassan Ayyad purchased the prime real estate and created The Point Market as we know it today. Despite the lack of egg rolls and rice gum, The Point has become a haven for breakfast burrito aficionados and is constantly humming with customers.

Address: 23040 East Cliff Dr.

Grey Bears

In the heart of Live Oak lies a unique, nonprofit business operation, Grey Bears. If you’ve got unused electronics, clothes, food, and even real estate, you can donate there, and the proceeds of their resale will go toward improving the health and well-being of our seniors, and in turn our local community as a whole. What can’t be reused is recycled, with reducing our carbon footprint being one of the charity’s primary goals.

With Santa Cruz being so exorbitantly expensive to live in, our community’s vulnerable seniors are the focus behind the work being done at Grey Bears. It gives them a place to volunteer, provides them essential nutrition, and aims to acknowledge and respond to the difficulties of aging and living with disabilities. Hundreds of volunteers donate thousands of hours to this service a year, and it’s a highly valued operation within Santa Cruz.

Also, in this age of consumer electronics, it’s a great place to get rid of all your cords and outlets before their presence explodes your brain, while doing a good deed at the same time.

Address: 2710 Chanticleer Ave.

The SPCA

For decades, the Santa Cruz Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has given stray dogs and cats a second lease on life, pairing them up with empathetic local animal lovers. In fact, it’s where I first met my beloved cat, Linx, and pooch, Ozzy.

According to Alison Talley, SPCA’s executive director since November 2018, the SPCA is a nonprofit organization and relies solely on donations, bequests and other private sources of funding. Its main objective is rescue, adoption, education and community assistance and, because of space, is limited to accepting only dogs and cats.

For years, the SPCA’s headquarters couldn’t accept medium to large-size dogs due to space limitations. Now the SPCA has a new home on Chanticleer Avenue, six times larger than the previous space, allowing more room for dogs to stretch their paws and places to explore for curious kitties.

Address: 2601 Chanticleer Ave.

The famous green house of the late Jack O'Neill.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Jack’s

In the 2010s, I would paddle in from surfing to walk up the stairs at 36th Avenue, and there he’d be, all bundled up, swaying gently in his hammock, surveying the domain that shaped his fortune. Jack O’Neill made some pretty solid gambles throughout his life, but purchasing the lot overlooking the beginners break known then as “38th” might have been one of his best bets. Arguably the most iconic businessman in Santa Cruz’s short history, O’Neill, the inventor of the wetsuit, deserved the pithy perch for all that he’s done for our town and surfing as a whole.

In 1952, he founded the O’Neill brand while opening one of California’s first surf shops in a garage near Ocean Beach in San Francisco, close to his favorite bodysurfing break at the time. O’Neill International has gone on to become one of the world’s top wetsuit and surf clothing companies.

O’Neill’s modest two-story house is one of the very few that sits directly on the bluffs above Pleasure Point and is a longtime landmark on the county shoreline. After his death in 2017, O’Neill’s son Pat inherited the properly preserved property and hasn’t changed a thing.

Address: East Cliff Drive between 36th and 37th avenues

The Dirt Farm

Just south of Jack’s, there’s a cliffside cove known as the “Dirt Farm.” This natural sandstone hangout was presided over by a group of raucous, beer-guzzling bronzers for decades. Everybody would set their boards aside the cliffs and grab a nice cool one after their summer surf session. The king of the Dirt Farmers was Jeff “Govie” Plucy, who lived on my street — I revered the loose-living longboarder but was terrified of his giant dogs.

Like most aspects of Pleasure Point, the party has died down, with remaining members few and far between. Yet for those 40-plus years, the Dirt Farm sat mostly hidden from sight down below, blending in with the varying cuts and crevices along Point. If you knew, you knew — there was one secret spot where surfers could hang loose.

Address: End of 37th Avenue