Archeological excavations carried out in the area where the present day Santa Cruz is reveal that this territory had been populated about 12,000 years ago, even before the famous Egyptian pyramids were erected. These early people established a permanent settlement in the Scotts Valley area. They lived in small groups, gathering seeds and hunting animals.
About 8,000 years ago the Ohlones moved there from the Sierra Nevada and settled along the coast. They took advantage of numerous marine life found there, such as salmon, seals, shellfish, otter, and birds.
This area was discovered by the Europeans in 1769 when the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola spotted the picturesque land area with a nice flowing river. He named the river San Lorenzo in honor of Saint Lawrence. He named the hills above it Santa Cruz, which means holy cross.
In 1791, Father Fermin de Lasuen founded a mission at Santa Cruz. The Spanish founded Villa de Branciforte across the San Lorenzo River. It was one of three civil settlements in California, the other being San Jose and Los Angeles. With the time Villa de Branciforte merged with the Mission Santa Cruz community.
At the beginning of the 19th century Mexico controlled that area and by the 50's lots of Americans settled there. In 1849 California became a state, and the next year Santa Cruz County was established as one of the twenty-seven original counties.
By the 20th century such industries as fishing, agriculture, logging and lime processing had developed in the area. Blessed with favorable climate and unsurpassed scenic beauty Santa Cruz also became a popular resort area and destination for holidays.
In 1866 Santa Cruz officially became a town and obtained its first charter as a city the next year. Initially the city was governed by a Mayor and Common Council that consisted of four members. Fred Swanton in the effort to draw tourists to the city opened a casino in1904. When it got burned down in 1906, he opened another one which is today known as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Other city attractions include the Looff Carousel installed in 1911 and the Giant Dipper roller coaster that appeared in 1923.
In 1907 a new charter was adopted. According to it a Mayor was a chief executive and a City Council included seven members. The construction of the railroad spurred the development of the tourism industry. Andrew Hill initiated the creation of the first state park at Big Basin in 1902.
In 1948, the most recent City Charter was adopted. It provides the legal basis for transferring to a Council-Manager form of government. The charter stipulates that a Mayor and six Council members are in charge of setting city policies while a city manager's job is to oversee and implement those policies. The Charter, with amendments, is still in effect today.
The residents and guests of the city can learn about the artistic legacy and trace the history of the area at the Museum of Art and History opened in 1996. In fact, it was a merger of the two local museums, the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County and the History Museum of Santa Cruz County. Due to membership support, private donations and grants the museum maintains the Historical archives, the Evergreen Cemetery and the Davenport Jail.
The Santa Cruz Mountains boast the reputation of the leading wine producing region. Since the late 19th century local winegrowers started to receive numerous awards for their high quality wines in national and international competitions. Even though most of the original wineries were closed during the prohibition, lots of new wineries have sprung up since the 1940's.
In 1981 the Santa Cruz Mountains Viticultural Appellation received federal recognition. In fact, it is one of the first American viticultural areas defined by geophysical and climatic factors. The appellation comprises the Santa Cruz Mountain range, stretching from Half Moon Bay to Mount Madonna.