California Field Class and Travel


Santa Cruz Boardwalk Beach

Post by Sean Dunn, graduated BSc Geography 2014, current MSc student

The beginning of our trip started in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport with a mixture of excitement for the trip and dreading the long flight ahead of it. After a couple of good films, singing along to songs in Frozen with Amelia, my teddy bear George and I landed in San Francisco. Due to some severe jetlag we barely made it to midnight after a slice of pizza and a local beer. The next morning we made our way to the Airport to meet the rest of the Santa Cruz goers and the lecturers, where our journey began to Santa Cruz in some rather lively minivans playing California themed songs.

Once we arrived in Santa Cruz we had some time to explore and get orientated with this new city. It may be fair to say on the first night some of us enjoyed the local selection of alcoholic drinks and the novelty of being 21 in America. The next day we were taken on a walking tour of the city by the lecturers making friends with some lively seals, crossing a disused railway bridge and exploring local lagoon systems (which we revisited during our group project). The evening was then our own to begin planning for the next working day on our projects.

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My group did a project concerning drought and whether it had heightened arguments between recreational users and conservationists of state parks and wetland areas. I think I speak for all of my group when saying we thoroughly enjoyed this experience and our project. At times we felt a bit out of our depth choosing a more human geography related topic but wouldn’t change it at all in hindsight. Our methods included interview and volunteering days and I believe this way we were fully able to experience the most of being in California and meeting the locals. It was a lot of hard work but enjoyable at the same time. We had the opportunity to travel throughout Santa Cruz County meeting countless interesting locals from keen fishermen all the way up to conservationists for global companies.

As well as our project work the lecturers took us on trips around the County which I really enjoyed as there isn’t much point going so far to visit a place without learning about your surroundings. The locations visited included the University, San Andreas Fault line, Redwood forests and a beach site where the famous surfing brand O’Neil was founded. I feel like I learnt a lot about the city.

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When we weren’t working on our projects, the evenings and night time were ours to do whatever we wanted. Obviously some privileges come with our first trip to the USA being over the age of 21… a well-deserved night out!  One of the best nights was for our pal Liz’s 21st where the lecturers gave her a cake and card. Most evenings were spent on the beach playing volleyball at the public courts and just soaking up the last of the California sunshine for the day. My room and I bought food from the local supermarket to make group dinners and lunches but if you didn’t feel like that there is no shortage in options. I don’t think there was a day when the boys didn’t have at least one Mexican from the little taco joint opposite the hotel! Apart from that there was a large selection of restaurants and small takeaways both in the city centre and along the boardwalk.  One of the best places we visited doubled up as a restaurant and bar. It is a pizza place called Woodstock’s where we searched online finding a voucher which is pretty good. If you sign up to the newsletter you get half price extra-large pizzas which is about 20 inches. There were 8 of us with 4 pizzas and enough for lunch the next day! Whilst there we saw they had a dollar night, so we returned that day. When you buy a beer it is just one dollar for a refill!

After all of our fun in Santa Cruz and 10 brilliant days it was time to leave the city. It was a weird feeling to be returning back to San Francisco Airport. Once we arrived the goodbyes began but not before a big group photo of the whole trip. It feels weird saying it but it was emotional seeing everyone slowly walk off in different directions with suitcases rolling behind them. Everyone had made different plans whether it was travelling, first flight home or visiting family. For us, we were travelling.


Our car

First thing to do was collect the cars. It started well when the guy upgraded us to an SUV for free. I was the person driving and when I saw the car, I was in shock. My car at home is a Ford Fiesta and this was huge! Once I managed to get out the small lanes of the car park we were on our way due south! 8 of us in two cars starting our California Adventure. Our first stop was in Monterey at the opposite end of Monterey Bay to Santa Cruz. We grabbed a bite to eat in a restaurant and had a drink before going back to the hotel. We were absolutely shattered and I was preparing myself the drive the next day.

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The next day was the drive down Highway 1. This is possibly the most picturesque driving I have ever done. Every few seconds was a perfect picture moment. Navigating up and down the cliffs on windy roads we finally arrived at Big Sur. We climbed to the top of the mountain to a beautiful waterfall for a photo moment before climbing the other way to one of the best views I have ever seen: looking out onto the redwood forests with the Pacific Ocean in the background. After this we continued to Santa Maria our rest stop for the night. The next morning we set of for LA. We stayed in a hostel on Hollywood Boulevard and drove up Mulholland Drive to take a picture of the Hollywood sign. This was the best part of LA as from this viewpoint you could see the entire skyline of the city.

Our last driving point was San Diego. This was one of my favourite cities we visited and I finally had some time off from the driving. We spent 3 nights here and did so much in such a short space of time! We drove on the interstate to the last exit before Mexico to an outlet mall. I would 100% recommend visiting one of these! I ended up getting a pair of Reebok classics and a Ralph Lauren polo for the equivalent of £40 where that would be about £120 over here! We also went to watch a baseball match between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants. I couldn’t attend without getting a foam finger! Our last day we spent on a local beach watching the sunset all together before an early night for the morning drive back up the coast towards San Francisco. We stopped only for some lunch in Santa Barbara which was beautiful. Lunch at the natural café for some healthy vegetarian food and a quick look in the thrift stores! One overnight stop and 16 hours of driving later we made it to San Francisco. The next two days we spent walking around the city, sampling the seafood and getting some presents for loved ones at home! Our last night was a bit emotional after spending so long in America!

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I would 110% recommend this trip to anyone. I still look back on it now knowing it was the best experience of my life. The photos just remind me of what a good time we had. It was the most amazing way to end my University experience with some of my best mates over the previous three years! I hope I haven’t bored you too much and I hope you enjoy the photos of my teddy bear and his tour around California!

Geographers on Tour: Santa Cruz Field Class 2014


cali group 1

Post by Samantha Brannan, year 3 BSc Geography Student

Choosing third year modules is never easy, but when faced with the choice of either 2 exams or a 2 week field class in California (with coursework) there was little decision left to make. From the moment I stepped out into San Francisco I knew I wouldn’t regret my choice. I took the opportunity to go out a few days early before the field class started, and my first concern was whether I would have enough time to visit each of the department stores that appeared on every corner, and my second was how much I could fit in my suitcase… Luckily I was only staying in San Francisco for two days. We recovered from jetlag and sampled the local food… burgers and pancakes, and had just enough time to take a trip to Pier 39 before meeting the lecturers and setting off for Santa Cruz (this is where the work kicks in). Just over an hour away from San Francisco, the city of Santa Cruz was a complete contrast to where we had just come from. Being from Liverpool ‘city’ to me means fast paced, high rise buildings and lots of traffic, but this place was anything but. Think sandy beaches, surfers, sea lions, California’s oldest amusement park and sunshine every day… suddenly the thought of doing the equivalent of another dissertation isn’t so bad.

The first day was quite relaxed, we toured the city and started to work out where we would be working over the next two weeks. As my group was doing a study on public perception of drought we had to set up interviews and focus groups, which proved less challenging than expected. People in local Government were really friendly and keen to talk about how their department had been involved in drought mitigation, we were even invited to the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus to speak with the sustainability department. Unfortunately the same enthusiasm was not felt by the locals we were hounding every day to complete questionnaires and it took a lot of perseverance to get enough.

Group evening


For all second years who may be contemplating taking this module, do not be disillusioned, our trip to Santa Cruz was not all work and no play. At 6pm every evening we finished work for the day and took full advantage of the local bars and restaurants, attended a basketball game and visited the Boardwalk (amusement park) on the last day. Apart from the Thai restaurant along the beach (which we recommend you avoid at all costs) there were some really great places to eat out.  If you’re planning on going to Santa Cruz for your final year at Liverpool both the Surfrider Café and Seabright Brewery are a must! In typical “Come Dine With Me” style, girls versus boys, we took advantage of the self-catering facilities and also tried eating in. On average, we managed to cook meals for a cost of around $4 per person so if you’re worried about budgeting whilst you’re away this is a good option.

Once our draft reports were handed in and the field class over, we also took the chance to stay on for a few days before flying home. We made the most of it by taking a night time trip to Alcatraz prison and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately for me, my adventure was then over, but others stayed longer and went on to Yosemite, LA, or continued sightseeing in San Francisco.

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The Santa Cruz field class has been a trip of a lifetime, one filled with unforgettable experiences and great people. I’m glad I got to work on such an interesting topic and as a BSc student, glad I took the opportunity to do a project using human geography methods and gain an insight into the other side of the discipline. At first I was reluctant to step out of my comfort zone, and convinced that I was out of my depth arranging face to face interviews with city council directors, but that was before I arrived in Santa Cruz. After day one I was taken aback by the willingness of people to speak to students, they really make the time for us. , Even the local newspaper was interested in what we were doing and ran a story on us. Doing a project using human geography methods allowed us to see much more of the city than we otherwise would have and although transcribing interviews in coffee shops sometimes felt like cheating (whilst our peers were knee deep in rivers) we can now say we bridged the geography divide and broadened our employability skills – and having tried transcribing and getting people to stop to answer questionnaires, we now know that these methods aren’t as easy as they may seem. Santa Cruz has been a valuable trip as we have been able to put the last two and a half years of learning into practice, as well as it being a fantastic end to our course.  I’ve arrived home with great memories, a list of skills to add to my CV, a suitcase full of banana slug memorabilia and one of the best reasons I can think of for picking a geography degree!

Questionnaire 1