santa cruz is definitely bikeable, i didn't own a car when i was there. ucsc is up a pretty big hill from town, but real cyclists see that as an opportunity rather than an obstacle
also if for some reason you need it, santa cruz has a really good bus system that's free to students, and you can put your bike on the front of the bus.
plus you get to go downhill on the way home, i used to be able to ride from the door of the physics building to my front door without pedaling once!
the fire trails above the UC campus are amazing if you've got a mountain or cross bike, and there are two bike co ops in town. the bike church is on pacific ave. in town and ucsc has a co-op on campus.
what will you be studying? i'm a former banana slug, and it was probably the best four years of my life (to date, of course).
for places to live, i agree that the beach flats near the boardwalk aren't great. places east of town like capitola, soquel, etc. are still close enough to be within very reasonable riding distance (esp. compared to new york) but tend to be cheaper.
the beer scene has pretty much been covered. plenty of access to good beer and quite a few homebrewers. seabright was my neighborhood brewery and i always liked what i had there.