Travel Blog

Your Guide to First Friday

If you have yet to attend a First Friday, Santa Cruz County’s massive monthly art party, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Yet once you go, you’ll understand why the popular event draws a lively, fun-loving crowd. Below, we’ve broken down First Friday basics-what it is and what to expect-so you can mark your calendar and join the fun!

First Friday at the Tannery Art Gallery

WHAT TO EXPECT

On the first Friday evening of every month, Santa Cruz galleries, shops, and cultural venues open their doors to showcase the works of Santa Cruz County artists. With a block party-like vibe, the multi-venue event provides an opportunity to discover local creative talent in a fun and festive setting. The great food and drink help too. Many venues entice attendees with yummy cheese-and-wine-filled spreads, while others have food trucks joining in on the fun.

“First Friday is so much more than paintings on walls, it’s an interactive, engaging experience,” says Bree Karpavage, Director First Friday Santa Cruz. “First Friday gives the community an opportunity to explore our creative culture and experience the vibrant and thriving energy of the Santa Cruz art scene.”

First Friday at the Tannery Art
First Friday at the Tannery Arts Center

WHERE IS IT HELD?

First Friday is a countywide event, which means you’ll find hubs of activity venues in Downtown Santa Cruz, the Tannery Arts Center, Midtown, Westside, Eastside, and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Popular First Friday destinations include Curated Gallery, RREVV Gallery, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), The Tannery Arts Center Galleries and Studios, Radius Gallery, Santa Cruz Art League, Treehouse Dispensary, and the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center.

But as you will soon see, there are many more places to explore. Find additional participating venues and artist information on the First Friday website and follow them on social for sneak peeks, artist features, and more.

First Friday at the Tannery Art
First Friday at the Tannery Arts Center

WHERE SHOULD I START?

The best advice is to start where you are. If you’re on the Westside, start at the R.Blitzer Gallery. If you’re near Downtown Santa Cruz, start at one of the Downtown anchor venues like the MAH, Curated Gallery, or RREVV Gallery and work your way to the Tannery. On the Eastside, start at the Treehouse Dispensary which hosts 3 artists and a makers’ pop-up, plus live music each month. For Midtown, stop in the Santa Cruz Art League. And if you’re in the San Lorenzo Valley area, Santa Cruz Mountain Art Center is a great hub for First Friday!

With that all being said, the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz is worth making your starting point (regardless of where you are) if you aren’t quite sure where to begin. On First Friday, they have a dozen or more artist’s studios open, unique exhibits, live music, free and easy parking, plus food trucks on site to fuel your evening of exploration. Speaking of those unique and unusual exhibits, in April of 2022, the Tannery featured the lighted kinetic dragonfly sculpture by Burning Man artist Brian Argabrite. They have more public art installations in the works for future events, so stay tuned.

Radius Gallery, Printmakers at the Tannery, and Indexical – a site for radical and experimental work – are highly recommended for First Friday Tannery must-visits.

First Friday at Downtown's Artisan and agency.
Photo courtesy of Artisans & agency

IT’S MORE THAN JUST GALLERIES

In addition to rubbing elbows with local artists and fellow art lovers, you’ll also discover new (and new-to-you) shops and galleries. Artisans & agency has long been an enthusiastic supporter of local artists. They were one of the first venues to feature prominent local artists like September Wren and the late Doug Ross. On First Friday, Artisans & agency hosts additional Santa Cruz artists such as Diana Hartman, who has the motto, “Paint on Everything – I haven’t met a thing that can’t be painted on;” Annika James, a painter with a fondness for landscapes; Peter Koronakos, an assemblage artist who uses found objects to create animal sculptures; and Erika Perloff, a plein air painter native to the Bay Area.

It’s not just artisan shops that are participating. On First Friday, boutiques, wineries, and cultural venues are transformed into temporary galleries. Botanic and Luxe finds space between its curated collection of earthy and luxurious goods for featured artists and a specialty cocktail bar for their First Friday experience. Stylish boutique, Stripe, also hosts a lively artist reception for First Friday.

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History on East Cliff Drive, waves admission to the museum on First Fridays; features artists; and hosts special outdoor festivities, including a Makers Market, food, and drinks.

First Friday at Abbott Square Night Time
Photo courtesy of Abbott Square Market

Looking for those block party vibes during your First Friday expeditions? Abbott Square Market hosts energetic weekend concerts, and on First Friday, the square gives a celebratory atmosphere with live music, libations, and great eats in their outdoor space at the MAH. It is the perfect place to end the night dancing with locals and celebrating the amazing Santa Cruz County arts and community. 

“First Friday is such a fun way to explore Santa Cruz County’s vibrant arts community,” says Jim Brown, Executive Director of Arts Council Santa Cruz County. “With more artists per capita than almost all US cities, there is always something new to discover. Whether it’s an evening out with family, meeting up with friends, or a shopping excursion for art that will brighten your home, Frist Friday is one of the best ways in Santa Cruz to start your weekend.”

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