Stepping out of my friend’s big silver Sequoia (which is a type of car in addition to a genus of tree, I know now) I spot the first sign we’re on the right track: a dumpster with “Taylor Swift” spray-painted in sloppy white font. Now keep in mind I listened to Folklore on repeat as I drove through rural Washington and fully cosplayed as Harry Styles for an ex-boyfriend’s Taylor Swift-themed party in college. Also, keep in mind I am no surfer extraordinaire, just a run-of-the-mill kook. But when I recommend 11th Hour Coffee, and when I say a lazy Taylor Swift joke is just the tip of this joyous iceberg, it’s not in spite of those facts but indeed because of them; for a good time surfing in Northern California’s surfing holy land, not taking anything too seriously, there’s nothing better than rejuvenating at this downtown house of caffeine after the fact.
Now, the garbage sense of humor is likely not attributed to anyone at 11th Hour Coffee. (And, again, we love a road trip sing-along to “Wildest Dreams.”) The patio outside is quite spacious, a perfect place to drip dry. Enormous plants — a collection to make Pomona Sprout’s head spin — rest just to the left when you walk in, a continuation of the natural high you felt after sliding into that first wave of the day.
A churning coffee roaster gives off a full waft of that good-good coffee smell, and a huge indoor dining area sprawls just behind the counter. Which, of course, brings you to the menu: the range of coffees here are, on the whole, dope. Black coffee is just $3.25 and the fantastical Raspberry Mocha Magic latte of Mutari chocolate and house-made syrup costs maybe $6.75. (A hearty almond butter banana toast runs just 25 cents more.) The myriad options at this lo-fi aesthetic and aromatic cafe, stuffed with soothing sights and sounds, are just right for the comedown from a simultaneously energizing and exhausting surfing session. Santa Cruz indeed may be god’s gift to the surfer, and, if so, then this coffee shop is god’s gift to Santa Cruz.
You don’t need me, or Gerard Butler for that matter, to tell you Santa Cruz is the go-to for surfing. From beginner spots like the wide football fields of Cowell’s to the infamously intense breaks at Steamer Lane, it’s as cool as anyone’s wayward tee shirt or bumper sticker would like you to think it is. Believe it or not, it’s actually even cooler than that in fact. For those in the Bay Area, it can be intimidating to roll down Interstate 280 or the gorgeous stretches of Highway 1 to take a shot at the belt. Maybe you’re part of the cause of the 35 percent increase in surfing since COVID and are, rightfully, a bit sheepish to hit a locals-only spot. Maybe surfing breaks are so flooded by macho guys that it’s just not worth it. (Peep Brown Girl Surf if this sounds familiar.) But I assure you that if, comfort- and skill-wise, it works out to rip around the many wonderful surfing haunts in Santa Cruz, 11th Hour Coffee is the best spot to decompress.