Tourism is a major economic engine in Santa Cruz, and being able to easily navigate is critical to a positive visitor experience. In 2010 the City launched a wayfinding effort to evaluate and improve upon the experience of navigating around Santa Cruz.

The main goals and objectives of the Wayfinding project include the following:

  1. To create and implement a user-friendly and visible navigational system that will guide visitors and residents to and from City of Santa Cruz destinations
  2. To market Santa Cruz assets, including entertainment, cultural, historical, outdoor, and other venues and activities
  3. Support unified messaging for the City of Santa Cruz that can be reflected in the Wayfinding signage and carried throughout other aspects of the City’s marketing efforts
  4. To enhance the success and market potential for arts, entertainment, outdoor recreation, and other tourist sectors that build on core Santa Cruz assets.
  5. To help direct visitors to Downtown, the Boardwalk, UCSC, the Harbor and other destinations from Santa Cruz’s major arteries as well as ease their wayfinding with the downtown core.

More than 20 firms responded to an RFP for phase one analysis. The consultant team of MERJE Design, Lance Wyman, Timerie Gordon and Rick Engineering met with a diverse group of stakeholders, completed an evaluation of existing conditions and prioritized recommendations and strategy for improvements.

The Wayfinding Plan was adopted by City Council April 26, 2011 and the report can be viewed here.

The report considers the variety of tools that users may encounter as they navigate to and through Santa Cruz, and recommends an overarching goal of decreasing visual clutter while communicating clear, friendly and integrated messaging on multiple platforms, including web, phone, signage and print materials. Achieving this goal will require continued and ongoing leadership in a complex environment of multiple stakeholder interests and evolving navigational platforms. First priority projects recommended to be initiated include the following:

  • Work with Caltrans to update highway signage
  • Update parking and vehicular directional signage programs
  • Develop pedestrian signage between the Downtown and Beach Area
  • Develop bicycle signage for the West Cliff and San Lorenzo River Levee loops
  • Develop orientation and online map, and hotel staff training
  • Develop primary gateways into Santa Cruz (Ocean Street and Mission Street) including gateway signage
  • Update and expand banner program to include district banners

Unique approaches will be required for different projects, however the partnerships developed in the first phase of this project with stakeholders and the Steering Committee will provide a key foundation for implementation.

In 2019, the City worked with Hunt Design to develop the designs and begin installation of the new wayfinding signage systems. The final design seen below, includes directional information on the front and images local murals and sculptures on the back of the sign (see example below). Often left blank, the back of the sign provides us with an opportunity to both reflect the built environment and provide exposure to our local artists through the display of images from our community murals

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John Rawls, local art enthusiastic and branding and graphic design professional, was brought onto the team as the Mural Curator. John was responsible for identifying murals for use in the project, determining which images from the murals will be included, and identifying possible narrative themes that could be used throughout the entire wayfinding system. The City Arts Manager, in concert with Economic Development Department staff, coordinated outreach to artists and property owners, and the mural subcommittee of the Arts Commission reviewed the final selection of the mural images to be featured on the signs.

Working with Hunt Design, local professionals and community stakeholders, the City has developed a wayfinding system with a focused design that makes it easy to navigate within the City, more intuitively directs visitors to desired destinations and nearby parking and reflects the Santa Cruz brand. The final design has a clean and simple front that provides clear directional information and a back of the sign that celebrates Santa Cruz as a vibrant art community through the display of local murals.

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wharf wayfinding

Wharf Master Plan

The Wharf was originally built as a hub for the economic development of the city and region. As of 2015, it’s a century old.

Kaiser Permanente Arena

In 2012, the Kaiser Permanente Arena was developed as a public-private partnership between the City of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, and the NBA team, the Golden State Warriors.