Retro Beach Chic at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn

The Santa Cruz Dream Inn‘s website calls it’s decor “retro-chic” and there’s no better way to describe not just the aesthetic of the hotel but the whole vibe of the property,  and actually, even Santa Cruz itself.

For more than 100 years, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been a fixture of the city, with its massive casino arcade, carnival games and rides, and historic 1924 wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper. On the beach below, sunseekers lie on the sand, kids play in the water, and surfers wait for the perfect wave. It’s a little slice of southern California just two hours from San Francisco, with a retro vibe that hearkens back to the days of “Gidget” and her beach bunny friends.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Wharf from above

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Wharf from above

The whole experience of Santa Cruz is about the surf and sand, the beach and boardwalk, and good times. And the Dream Inn brings that “fun in the sun” carefree feeling to its accommodations in the center of the Santa Cruz action on Cowell’s beach, next to the historic Boardwalk.

From the balcony of my room on the 9th floor, I could see just about everything that draws people to Santa Cruz: the half-mile long Santa Cruz Wharf, sandy Cowell’s beach dotted with beachgoers, surfers, and volleyball players, and the twinkling lights of the rides on the Boardwalk. Withing walking distance were the Wharf and Boardwalk, the restaurants and shops of downtown, several beaches, and the 2.5-mile scenic Cliff Walk.

The white towers of the Dream Inn, as seen from the scenic Cliff Walk

The white towers of the Dream Inn, as seen from the scenic Cliff Walk

In addition to the view, my Cloud King room (Cloud rooms are located on floors 8-10) was decorated in clean whites and bright pops of oranges and greens. Green plantation shutters added to the beachy feel, and photos of surfers and the Boardwalk’s iconic ferris wheel ensured the room had a definitive sense of its place on the California coast.

The room had a plush King bed, a flatscreen TV, desk, private balcony with chairs, iPod docking station, a small bar area with fridge and coffee machine,  laptop-sized safe, and free wi-fi. I especially appreciated the room’s little touches, like the desktop outlets (no searching around on the floor to plug in my devices) and the deliciously-scented bath products.

My King Cloud room, with a balcony and view of the beach

My King Cloud room, with a balcony and view of the beach

Poolside rooms, which are on lower floors, feature the same amenities, with the addition of a private patio with chaise lounges and direct access to the pool.  Suites are also available.

Though the fun of Santa Cruz awaited, once I checked in to the hotel, I found no need to leave the property too soon. The Dream Inn offers direct access to the beach as well as a heated pool (with ample lounge chairs), a pool bar, and a jacuzzi. There’s an onsite lounge and restaurant (in-room dining is also available) as well as a 24-hour business center and meeting and event spaces which are often used to host weddings.

My husband and I watched the sunset with a tropical cocktail in the Jack O’Neil Lounge, named after the local surfing icon, followed by dinner in the Aquarius restaurant. Culinary offerings at both allude to the hotel’s location, using California ingredients and fresh flavors to create dishes like the creamy clam chowder, spicy fried bay shrimp, Monterey Bay salmon, and Lagunitas beer-battered fish and chips. For the meat-eaters, there are burgers, ribeye steaks, and (my entree choice) deliciously tender hangar steak with chimichurri sauce.

That night, we relaxed on our patio and later fell asleep to the sound of waves through our open patio door.

Cowell's Beach and the Dream Inn Pool, as seen from the 9th floor

Early morning on Cowell’s Beach and the Dream Inn pool, as seen from the 9th floor

The next day, though it was hard to pull myself away from the sunny view from my balcony, it was time to advantage of the hotel’s proximity to Santa Cruz’s attractions. Valet parking includes in-and-out privileges, but given the shortage of street parking on weekends, I was grateful that the hotel’s location meant I could walk everywhere.

My husband and I took a morning stroll along the Cliff Walk, past surfers waiting for waves, past the one-room Surfing Museum, and past happy dogs frolicking on the beach. After check-out, the hotel held our luggage while we spent the early afternoon racing from ride-to-ride on the historic Boardwalk and taking a bone-jarring turn on the wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster.  With more time, we could have taken a surfing lesson, gone kayaking in the bay, or hiked in the nearby Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Though to be honest, we probably would have opted for the hotel pool and a chance to linger a bit longer in the sunshine of Santa Cruz.

If you go:
Room rates start at $199-$349 per night. Check-in is at 4pm and check-out is at 11am. Parking (valet or self-park) is available at $24 per day. You can also compare rates at,

I was a guest of the Dream Inn but all opinions are my own. 

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