Slugs converge on Santa Cruz business district for Downtown Day

A large and enthusiastic crowd turned out for Downtown Day. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

Last Friday, so many UC Santa Cruz students converged on downtown that they kept bumping into each other. 

“Oh, sorry, excuse me,” was a constant refrain as groups of beaming undergraduates edged past each other on busy Pacific Avenue sidewalks. 

The big draw was the first-ever Downtown Day, the result of a partnership between UC Santa Cruz and the Downtown Association. Informal, interactive, and fast-paced, the day included a scavenger hunt, street performances by student groups, and a free screening of Jordan Peele’s horror movie, Us, at Santa Cruz Cinema. Peele’s movie was filmed in several locations in Santa Cruz, including the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

This spirited group of students—a mix of first-years, transfers, and returning third- and fourth-years—looked excited, grateful, and a bit overwhelmed by the bustle and activity. 

“This is really fun, but it’s a bit chaotic—so many students!” said Jasmine Nemerovski (Oakes ‘25, psychology). “I really appreciate all the local businesses and how welcoming they are. We just got a free taco.” Her freebie snack came courtesy of Snap Taco on Pacific Avenue.

Kate Twist (Oakes ‘25, education) enjoyed the street scene but admitted that she was “kind of nervous” at the prospect of seeing the Jordan Peele horror film. 

“I want to go see it, but I won’t go by myself," she vowed. 

Downtown Day was also a chance for students including Scarlett Orantes (Oakes ‘25, art & design: games and playable media) to discover what may well be their future hangouts. 

Orantes found herself drawn to Comicopolis, the comic book store on Front Street near Bookshop Santa Cruz. 

“This area seems so different from what I’m used to,” said Orantes, who comes from Los Angeles County. 

That sunny and breezy Friday, students ate burritos, browsed through used-record bins, admired crystals, examined board shorts, and puzzled over bottles of so-called “Shark Repellent” hot sauce at Pizza My Heart. 

While a crowd of students lined up 50 deep at a kiosk handing out maps and instructions for the scavenger hunt focusing on local businesses, Andrew George, the prepared foods manager for the New Leaf Community Market in downtown Santa Cruz, stood by in admiration. 

“Look at all these people," he said. “I am amazed, frankly. I moved to Santa Cruz at the height of the pandemic. It was mostly a ghost town. Now it is so vibrant and full of people. I even saw a protest—a walk against climate change!” 

The scavenger hunt had cleverly worded instructions designed to tantalize students without confusing them too much. 

One business provided the following clue: “I was founded on the ‘hottest day in Santa Cruz’ in 2010, and I’ve been helping locals cool off ever since. Unfortunately, I do cost a little more than a penny!” 

That clue directed students straight to the Penny Ice Creamery on Cedar Street, which is co-founded and co-owned by alumna Kendra Baker (Crown ‘01, language studies). And fortunately, there was a helpful index on the other side of the clue card providing the answers to all seven scavenger hunt questions. 

The festive day included performances by the Sabrosura Latin Dance Troupe, as well as Cloud 9 A Cappella, the popular all-Slug singing group, which started its set with a creative mashup of several popular tunes, including “Kansas City,” a rhythm-and-blues song recorded by Fats Domino; “Roadhouse Blues" by the Doors; and “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

Downtown Day was so popular that a group of greeters ran out of their pile of 250 free goodie bags by 3 p.m.

“This is our first year doing this, and I was a little bit nervous because it’s during the week, school is in session, and I wondered how many people would turn out," said Haley Morrow (Stevenson ‘20, cognitive science), communications specialist for Government and Community Relations at UCSC. “But this is such a great crowd.

“UC Santa Cruz students are vital to the downtown economy," said Morrow, who planned the logistics of Downtown Day in collaboration with the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz. 

“We wanted to make sure that students always feel welcome downtown," Morrow continued. “Even though their home is up on the hill at UCSC, their home is here, too.”