When planning a trip to Santa Cruz, the beach tends to have a starring role on the itinerary. If sleeping near the waves that helped put this Northern California surf spot on the map is on your wish list, it’s hard to get any closer than Dream Inn.
Set on the always-popular Cowell Beach, the hotel has been welcoming beach lovers since the mid-1960s. Step into the lobby and a colorful collection of O’Neill surfboards makes it clear the hotel draws its inspiration from its seaside surroundings. Though its beachside perch is obvious, many guests might not realize Dream Inn is located on the site of the O’Neill brand’s first surf shop.
The hotel features 165 rooms, all of which boast a patio or balcony overlooking Monterey Bay. I stayed on the 8th floor in an Ocean View Cloud room with two queen beds. The rooms was whimsical with a surf-centric feel — think fun, patterned wallpaper, beachy artwork, and an overall bright color palette of blues and oranges. Because of its primo location looking at the beach, the relaxing sound of crashing waves (and barking sea lions hauled out on the pilings of the nearby Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf) can be heard day and night.
The compact bathroom had a single sink, shower/bath combination, and toilet. Popular Lather toiletries are provided, but unfortunately still in small, single-use plastic bottles as opposed to more eco-friendly, refillable bottles.
Room amenities include a small refrigerator and single-serve coffee maker. Tea drinkers should note there are no tea supplies in the room and the hotel does not offer electric kettles.
The oceanfront, heated pool offers easy access to Cowell Beach. Those not interested in getting sandy can opt for a dip in the hot tub or relax at one of the fire pits with a cocktail from the pool bar. The pool is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is very popular with traveling families.
Onsite Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge serves breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Menus are inspired by what’s available from a network of close to two dozen local farms and seafood that adheres to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch sustainability standards. Selections range from a trio of Eggs Benedict selections and Steel Cut Oats in the morning, to Almond Crusted Mussels and Short Rib in the evening. Room service is also available.
It’s just a five-minute walk to a handful of additional eateries and shops on the Santa Cruz Wharf. Tack on a few more minutes to reach the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and its infamous wooden roller coaster. (Opened in 1924, the coaster makes appearances in a number of movies including Sudden Impact, The Lost Boys, and Dangerous Minds.) If it’s your first visit to Santa Cruz, or you have kids in tow, chances are you’ll spend a good chunk of your time here.
Dream Inn’s prime location means that most guests can park their cars and forget about them. Both valet and self-parking are available for a fee. However, with the lodging’s proximity to tech-focused Silicon Valley, it was somewhat surprising there was not an electric car charger, or specific advice available on where to find one in the area.
San Jose International Airport is a 40-minute drive; expect a good hour to reach San Francisco International Airport.
Review and photos by San Francisco Bay Area travel writer and television correspondent Dana Rebmann. Her stay was organized by Dream Inn, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.