Santa Cruz County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. In the original act, the county was given the name of “Branciforte” after the Spanish pueblo founded there in 1797. A major watercourse in the county, Branciforte Creek, still bears this name. Less than two months later on April 5, 1850, the name was changed to “Santa Cruz” (“Holy Cross”).
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 607 square miles (1,570 km2), of which 445 square miles (1,150 km2) is land and 162 square miles (420 km2) (27%) is water. It is the second-smallest county in California by land area and third-smallest by total area. Of California’s counties, only San Francisco is physically smaller. The county is situated on a wide coastline with over 29 miles (47 km) of beaches. It is a strip of about 10 miles (16 km) wide between the coast and the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains at the northern end of the Monterey Bay.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Santa Cruz County had a population of 262,382. The racial makeup of Santa Cruz County was 190,208 (72.5%) White, 2,766 (1.1%) African American, 2,253 (0.9%) Native American, 11,112 (4.2%) Asian, 349 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 43,376 (16.5%) from other races, and 12,318 (4.7%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 84,092 persons (32.0%).
Today, it is a strongly Democratic county in presidential and congressional elections. The last Republican to carry the county was Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the last Republican to win a majority in the county was Richard Nixon in 1968. The last Republican to represent a significant portion of Santa Cruz in Congress was Burt L. Talcott, who was defeated in 1976 by Leon Panetta. In 2008, 71.4% of voters in Santa Cruz County voted against Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to ban same-gender marriages.
Four-year universities: University of California, Santa Cruz (public) in Santa Cruz, California Bethany University (private, now defunct) in Scotts Valley, California Two-year college: Cabrillo College (public) in Aptos, California