In the 1950s, planning for the University of California Santa Cruz chapter began. Planners traveled to the redwood forest in Felton, California to the beaches in Western Santa Cruz. After witnessing a scenic view from the top of a hill, in Western Santa Cruz, it was decided that the campus would be developed there. In 1964, construction began and in 1965 classes were first held, with 650 students, in the eastern athletic field area.
The first UC Santa Cruz class participated in a protest against the ongoing Vietnam War.