We passed Santa Cruz on our way from the south airport in Tenerife with our hire car on the way to Puerto de la Cruz. You just take the TF5 motorway from Puerto or the TF1 motorway from the south of Tenerife. Aim to park near the Plaza de España. There's an underground carpark there, and you can walk into the "tourist" area of Santa Cruz quite easily from there.
The centre of Santa Cruz radiates from the Plaza de España roundabout with dozens of shops in its more-or-less pedestrianised shopping area of the Plaza de Candelaria. Situated as it is directly on the coast (Santa Cruz is still a major port in Tenerife) we found it a bit breezy and chilly in January.
If shopping is your forté then Santa Cruz will not leave you disappointed. I don't quite know why but the centre of Santa Cruz left me cold (and not just because of that chilly wind). Far better was the market set up directly by the exit of the underground car park next to the Plaza de España. This was a sort of craft market with all sorts of quality goods on show. We bought a couple of T-shirts, some ear-rings and couple of other knick-knacks. Whether this is a permanent feature of Santa Cruz I cannot say.
Read all about Santa Cruz in the AA Spiral Guide of Tenerife and La Gomera (ISBN 0-7495-3560-1) available at WH Smith and other bookstores too, for about a tenner. Worth it's weight in cold pressed latinum (that's like gold to non-Star Trek fans) it details everything there is to know about Tenerife. If you buy one book about Tenerife make it this one. If you buy two, buy this one and Lonely Planet.
If you fancy a 10 minute walk or so, from the Plaza de Espana, you can reach the typical spanish market known as "Mercado Nuestra Señora de Africa". It sells all sorts of things you would expect to find in an outdoor market (although many of these stalls are, in fact, covered shops). It is on two levels so allow an hour or so to go round.
A word to the wise: get there early enough, as it starts at 6am and is more or less finished and shut up by about 2pm. I suspect if you get there before noon you will be able to experience it to the full.
Outside the market, which you enter via a moorish archway, is another type of market that sets up shop in the afternoon ready for the evening.
We were leaving as they were setting up so could not really see much of what was being offered. Additionally there were tremendous road works going on directly in this vicinity so you had to dodge the diverted traffic too!
Santa Cruz Shopping Centre
As you approach Santa Cruz, at around junction 4 of the TF1 motorway, or at the end of the TF2 motorway that links the TF1 and TF5, you will see signs for Santa Maria and "Centro Commerical" which basically means "Shopping Centre" - Milton Keynes style.
There is a large Carrefour on 4 floors there with free parking so there's no excuse not to indulge for an hour or two one day. You can see the Carrefour building and sign on its roof from the motorway. The one-way system round the shopping centre is a bit confusing but if you take it slow you will see where everyone is headed. It only opens at 10am so there's no mad rush. You can reach it within about 30 minutes from Puerto de la Cruz.
Sun Sea and Sand?
When you leave Santa Cruz head north for a little while towards San Andrea and then keep going for a mile or so. The road will sort of peter out after a bit and you'll be forced to either turn inland on the TF12 or park in the beach car park, which is what we did. This is a little haven of a beach, although all the beach huts and vendors were shut in January so I suspect it only really gets going in the warmer months.
That said, it's very picturesque and quite warm enough for a T-shirt in January so you could sunbathe (and, yes, there were people doing this) if you had the inclination. When you come out of the car park head back down to Santa Cruz to pick up the signposted motorway for either Puerto (north) or Playa de las Americas (south).
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