The beach town of Santa Cruz was where surfing first came to the mainland U.S.: Back in 1885, three Hawaiian royals used redwood boards to ride the waves where the San Lorenzo River meets the ocean.
Today, Santa Cruz’s Steamer Lane is one of the best spots in California to watch surfers, and the classic bach town is also home to three O’Neill Surf Shops, founded by the late California surfing legend and wetsuit innovator Jack O’Neill. You can’t get more “core,” to put it in surfer lingo, than O’Neill—who was as famous for his pirate-like patch (a surfing accident cost him his left eye) and unruly beard as his contributions to the sport.
O’Neill opened his first Santa Cruz retail business in 1959, maybe 100 yards from Cowell Beach, and now the company operates shops near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, in downtown, and on 41st Avenue in Capitola. Shop at any of them—the selection for surfers and non-surfers alike is huge—and you’ll catch a bit of surfing history. The Capitola store even displays O’Neill’s original wetsuit top.