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There so many amazing things to do in Santa Cruz California, and here you find a complete list of them.
If you want to have an experience of a lifetime during summer this is a great destination. Because summer is the best time to take long for vacations, and vacations should be fun!
If you are finding a hard time to decide where to go? This is an exemplary California beach town. And if that is what are you looking Santa Cruz is the right place. And it is great for a vacation any time of the year.
I am giving you a detailed list of things to do. And this list is divided by areas because even Santa Cruz is a small town it has so many areas where the beach and mountain. So, you want to make sure what is close by. I got you cover to make the most of your time there with the most complete and easy way to find what to do.
List of Things to do in Santa Cruz with kids: Santa Cruz area
As I mentioned before Santa Cruz has so many different areas. Here are the details of things to do in what in known as the City Santa Cruz area.
Here is the list of Things to do in Santa Cruz with kids:
1. Play at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a beautiful and fun amusement park at the seaside along the beautiful sandy beach. It features almost 40 rides, including different thrill rides, baby rides, indoor games, and many more.
This boardwalk it is a California Historical landmark. It was founded in 1907 and is one of the oldest amusement parks in California. It drives many visitors, and you can expect everything from flying chairs, soaring roller coasters with ocean views and a real train going to the redwoods.
Taking rides is a must thing to do in Santa Cruz, California! These include the Pirate Ship, Sky Glider, Shockwave, Undertow, Giant Dipper, Rock ‘N Roll, Sea Swings, Wave Rider, Tsunami, Twirling’ Teacups, Cyclone, Ghost Blasters, Space Race, Fireball, Cave Train, and Sea Serpent rides. Not to mention the fun arcade and mini golf area where it used to be a great Salone and indoor pool back on the days.
I suggest that if you plan to spend your day at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, heading to the park early in the morning is a better idea to avoid crowds specially in the summer.
Don’t forget your sunscreen and be ready to have fun at this place. You can be riding a flying chairs overlooking the ocean!
Also. this is a fun place for a walk along the shore in this charming location while enjoying the game of Volleyball. Exploring Santa Cruz feels peaceful when getting your toes in the soft sand at the beach of Santa Cruz.
Location : 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz California 95060
Tips: Make sure to arrive early to find parking since parking on the street is cheaper than the main parking lot. However, if you get a seasonal pass you can get a parking discount to the main parking lot, which is worth it if you are planning to stay all day.
You can find more information about the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk here.
2. Explore and watch the Sea Lions at the Santa Cruz Wharf
An interesting fact is that the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf was constructed in 1914 and still in great shape. At some point, it was part of the sardine cannery before it was demolished in 1922.
This wharf is an attraction due to the many restaurants and shops and held many events. Also, it is one of the favorite places for sea lions to hang out. When you walk down there, you will start hearing them, go to the middle of the wharf and you will be able to see them hanging and sleeping by the wharf support pillars. It is a fun show, and you will be surprised to find other sea creatures around them.
They love hanging out at the poles. There is so many of them. How do they get there? When the tide gets hide enough, they jump to the wharf pillars and hang in there. Sometimes you can see some starfish hanging out at those poles. So cool.
Find more history of the wharf here.
3. Shop and dine at any of the Santa Cruz wharf restaurant
The Santa Cruz Wharf has a variety of restaurants and dining options to choose from, ranging from casual eateries to more upscale seafood restaurants. Many of the restaurants offer stunning views of the ocean, making for a picturesque dining experience.
It is always a fun experience. Some of the restaurants in Santa Cruz Wharf are:
Stagnaro Bros. Seafood Inc.: This is a well-known seafood restaurant that has been around for over 70 years. They offer fresh seafood dishes, including crab, calamari, and fish and chips, along with an extensive wine list.
The Wharf House Restaurant: This is a fine dining restaurant that specializes in seafood, steak, and pasta dishes. They offer a variety of menu options, including vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Splash! on the Wharf: This is a seafood restaurant that offers outdoor seating with ocean views. They offer a variety of seafood dishes, including clam chowder, oysters, and crab cakes, along with other non-seafood options.
Makai this has a fun bar that spins in circles. It is so unique and fun dinning experience.
Olitas: This is a more casual eatery that offers a variety of Mexican-inspired dishes, including tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. They also have a full bar and a variety of margarita options.
The view of the boardwalk from here it is beautiful!
In addition, there are wineries as Vino Locale Santa Cruz Wine Bar & Tapas. Ass well as Coffee shop like the Woodies Cafe !
Adding to the dining experience, the Santa Cruz Wharf also has a variety of shops and boutiques that offer souvenirs, gifts, and other items. You can find everything from beach gear and clothing to jewelry and artwork.
4. sunbathe at Santa Cruz Main Beach
The beach is in the heart of Santa Cruz and offers beautiful views of the ocean and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Right on front of Boardwalk is located Main beach a great one for sunbathing and relaxing.
This beach has public restrooms, outdoor showers available for use. Also, you can rent beach gear such as umbrellas, chairs, and boogie boards, and there are also beach volleyball courts available for use.
During peak season and on weekends, Santa Cruz Main Beach can be quite crowded. Arrive early to secure a spot on the beach and don’t forget the sunscreen!!
5. Take surf lessons at Cowell beach
Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz is popular for surfing. Taking surfing lessons at Cowell Beach can be a fun and rewarding experience for anyone interested in learning to surf, and there are several surf schools and instructors that offer lessons for all levels of surfers, including beginners. Specially because this is a great beginning spot.
If you are up to learn surfing there are plenty of surf schools provide all the necessary equipment, including surfboards and wetsuits. It’s important to wear appropriate gear for the cold ocean pacific water.
Remember surfing can be a physically demanding activity, so it’s important to be in good physical condition and know your limits. It’s also important to follow safety guidelines, such as staying within designated surfing areas, avoiding crowded surf spots, and wearing a leash to prevent your surfboard from getting away from you.
The Lesson Length and Cost Surf lessons is typically 1-2 hours, and it costs anywhere from $50 to $100 per person. Many surf schools also offer package deals for multiple lessons.
There are several surf schools that operate in the Cowell Beach area in Santa Cruz. Like Club Ed Surf School, Richard Schmidt Surf School, and Santa Cruz Surf School.
6. Ride bikes on West Cliff drive
This scenic 3 miles cliff path is perfect for walking or biking and extends from Natural Bridges State Park to the Boardwalk area by the Santa Cruz Dream Inn. Locals and tourists alike enjoy these gorgeous cliffs in Santa Cruz.
After visiting Natural Bridges, take some time to walk or ride your bike along West Cliff Drive, it truly is one of the locals’ favorite places.
It is a great spot to take in the views and people watch, walk your dog and appreciate nature’s beauty. You will find runners, cyclists and amazing surfing at Steamer’s Lane, one of the best surf breaks anywhere.
Location: It starts at the Dream Inn Hotel passing the Boardwalk, running until Natural Bridges State park, around 3 miles away. Note: the storm in 2023 has damage part of the trail but still possible stroll around the coastline
7. Learn about Santa Cruz history visiting Mission Santa Cruz:
Mission Santa Cruz is known for being the oldest building in Santa Cruz. Partially reconstructed it was home of the Mission Santa Cruz founded in 1971.
Its Park Museum and Store reflects the Ohlone and Native American residents living experience before the Spanish invasion.
Also, the history post invasion and the live experience through a Historical exhibition. There are Guide available to offer programs at the Mission, all you must do is check the calendar for the timings of the topic of your interest. I will recommend you take them to take more of this place.
The park setting at the Mission, with picnic tables and grassy areas all set!
Location: 120 Emmett St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Find more information here
8. Visit the Seymour Marine Discovery Center:
The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a marine science education center. It is an amazing place to explore the marine life of the Monterey Bay and part of the University of California, Santa Cruz. It has a blue whale skeleton on display outside a real one! Stop and read about its history.
On the 20,000-square-foot visitor center the guest can touch a shark and explore the latest discoveries in ocean science. Learn and view of the spectacular diversity of marine life and it is surrounded by spectacular landscaping.
I think is a great place for kids and adults as well.
The Center offers a deeper dive into the research conducted at Long Marine Lab through school fieldtrips and summer youth programs. It is an opportunity for kids to find their inner scientist with these experimental programs.
At the Seymour Marine Lab, you will find Interactive Marine Science Museum & Aquarium, Hands-on Exhibitions: you can touch a tiger shark and A Touch Pool fun for local and tourist. Plus offer a great hiking area nearby.
Cost: free and accept donations
9. Check out the Native Plants at Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden
An arboretum in Santa Cruz is a beautiful spot to visit. Santa Cruz is enclave between redwoods and the beach and with great micro climes. This is one of the botanical gardens in Bay area and home of many endangered plants since UCSC studies them. Visit this place is one on a kind experience.
During your visit you will admire many different gardens including stunning native plants. Many trees, shrubs, and herbs are cultured for scientific and educational purposes. Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden features trees and rare and unique plant species.
This place is a modern botanical garden and is open to the public. Its current collection of plants and scientific knowledge associated has built it a great reputation.
It has California native plants and plants from many other from countries of the world. It is set up in different areas to explore for each continent. It is nestled in the hills above the UCSC campus. It has a wonderful succulent’s collection, and it is a truly hidden gem for nature lovers.
It’s a super peaceful place, where visitors can sit on a bench and soak in nature, take pictures of exotic and nearly extinct plants, bird watch, or see insects, butterflies, bees, and spiders. There are well maintained paths to stroll around and with strategically situated picnic tables.
In addition you can buy some plants on its shop.
Location: 1156 High St, Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Cost: $5 for adults and $2 for Children (6 to 17 years old), and free under 6
Find more information here
10. Take a taxi ride at the Santa Cruz Harbor
The Santa Cruz Craft Harbor is situated in Santa Cruz, California on the site of the former Woods Lagoon. In general, locals and visitors use this harbor specially for boating and extra-curricular activities but also if you are fun of marine life this is your place!
One unique thing to do here is take the Harbor Taxi and operates from June-September. The taxi helps to access both sides of the Harbor.
Kids really enjoy this ride and sometimes get to see otters and sea lions.
Just after few minutes you could find seals chilling at the harbor as well as playful sea otter since this area is in the Monterey Bay National Marine Life Sanctuary!
In addition, something you will find for sure at the Harbor are incredible sunsets!
By the harbor, you can find volleyball nets set up, with benches close by. People love playing volleyball in this area and during the summer you find the crow’s nest outdoor concerts on Thursdays performing different local bands, selling BBQ, sandwiches, beer and wine.
Further during holiday time the harbor holds a fun holiday parade. This is the time where boats light up, bringing the festive spirit.
Location: 135 5th Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Find more information here
11. Paddle board or kayak at Santa Cruz Harbor
Paddleboarding at Santa Cruz Harbor can be a great experience for people of all skill levels. The harbor provides a calm and protected environment that is perfect for paddleboarding, and there are several rental shops and tour operators in the area that can provide everything you need to get out on the water.
Santa Cruz Harbor is a perfect spot for it. One of the benefits of paddle boarding at here is that the water is usually calm and free from waves, which makes it easier for beginners to learn the basics of the sport. The harbor is also home to a variety of marine life, including sea lions, otters, and birds, so there’s always something to see while you’re out on the water. You will just need to be aware of boats coming in and out.
In addition to the calm waters of the harbor, there are also several nearby beaches and coves that can be explored by paddleboard. For example, the nearby Twin Lakes State Beach and Seabright State Beach both offer opportunities for paddle boarding in the ocean, which can be a fun and challenging experience for more experienced paddle boarders.
There are several places to rent paddle boards at Santa Cruz Harbor. I have use SUP Shack and Kayak Connection that is right by there. Rentals typically include a paddle, life jacket, and board.
If you’re new to paddle boarding, it’s a good idea to take a lesson from a qualified instructor. Kayak Connection and SUP Shack both offer paddle boarding lessons for all skill levels. Paddle boarding can be a safe and enjoyable activity, but it’s important to follow safety guidelines. Always wear a life jacket, stay within designated areas, and be aware of the weather and water conditions.
Paddle boarding at Santa Cruz Harbor can offer a chance to view a variety of wildlife, including sea lions, otters, and various species of birds.
12. Visit Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges is the iconic landmark of Santa Cruz. It is a small beach named after the natural Bridge that stay there. In this area families relax on the sand as their kids splish-splash in the sea!
It is a small, enclosed beach where you can enjoy relaxing in the fine-textured sand, flying a kite in the gentle sea breeze, dipping toes in the foamy water, and taking in the ocean view.
Also, it is a sandy cove and one of the best spots for tide pools. During tide pools low tides reveal sea stars, shore crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life. It is so much fun.
To get in the park parking lot you will need to pay $10 per car.
13. Stroll the Monarch butterflies Trail and visitor center
At Natural Bridges State Park, you will find the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve Grove trail. This is a must visit! The butterflies love nesting by the eucalyptus trees that become their refuge from late fall until spring. This is a sanctuary for the Monarch Butterfly.
Because this area provide protection for wind and for the mild temperature. Specially during cold month, the gather and hang in these trees. Then later during warm weather they start flying around.
There is a boardwalk that led you to the grove. It has Picnic benches by the parking area and public bathrooms with showers. Also, Large area of coastal scrub and grasslands, with bright native wildflowers in the spring. Make sure to check the Natural Bridges visitor Center.
FEES – There is a $10 vehicle day-use fee, Senior $9
Dogs are not allowed on the beach and trails only in the parking lots and picnic areas.
14. Visit the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers markets and explore the shops at Downtown Santa Cruz
The Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market is a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike. The market takes place every Wednesday and Sunday and features a wide variety of locally grown produce, artisanal food products, and handmade crafts. Santa Cruz is a unique place and is a great way to experience the local culture and community of this vibrant coastal town.
In addition to the Farmers Market, Downtown Santa Cruz is home to a variety of shops, boutiques, and galleries that are worth exploring.
Pacific Avenue is the main street in Downtown Santa Cruz and is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s a great place to wander and explore, with plenty of interesting stores and unique finds.
Bookshop Santa Cruz is one of my favorite spots and a popular independent bookstore that has been a fixture in Downtown Santa Cruz for over 50 years. It offers a wide selection of books, as well as author events, readings, and other literary events.
And do not miss The Penny Ice Creamery, a local favorite that offers handmade, small-batch ice cream using local and seasonal ingredients. It’s a great place to cool off on a warm day or indulge in a sweet treat.
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History: The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History is in the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz and features exhibits, events, and programs that explore the history and culture of the area.
Other shops and galleries: Downtown Santa Cruz is home to a variety of other shops and galleries that are worth exploring, including The Art Cave, Stripe, and Many Hands Gallery.
15. Take a picture at Surfing Museum at Lighthouse Field State Beach
The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is located at Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz, California. The museum is housed in a historic lighthouse building that was built in 1967 and features exhibits, artifacts, and memorabilia that document the history of surfing in Santa Cruz and the greater Northern California area.
The museum’s exhibits cover a wide range of topics related to surfing, including the history of surfboard design, the evolution of surfing culture and fashion, and the development of the local surf industry. Visitors can also learn about the famous surf breaks in the area, such as Steamer Lane, and the surfers who made them famous.
One of the highlights of the museum is its collection of vintage surfboards, which includes examples from some of the earliest surfboard makers in the area, as well as boards ridden by famous surfers like Tom Curren and Mark Foo. There are also interactive exhibits that allow visitors to experience the sensation of riding a wave and to learn more about the physics of surfing.The museum is in a beautiful spot overlooking the ocean, and visitors can take in stunning views of the coastline and surfers riding the waves below. Admission to the museum is free, although donations are accepted to help support its ongoing operations and programs.
16. Explore the past at the Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History in Santa Cruz is known among locals as “The Whale Museum.” It is one of the earliest in the state of California. The museum has linked the visitors and locals to the wonders of Native American and Santa Cruz geology and fossils. In this small and local museum, you will find a Great display of shell and fossils.
In addition, displays natural and cultural history. Its mission is to connect people with nature and science and inspire management of the natural world through an arrangement of educational programs. And has a great collection of archaeologic artifacts, and natural history specimens.
Location: 1305 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Find more information here
17. Visit Seabright State Beach
It is a popularly known Sandy beach very next to Santa Cruz’s main beach. It is on state-owned property as a part of Twin Lakes State Beach. A great place for volleyball, swimming, surfing, windsurfing, fishing and paddle boarding.
One thing Seabright beach is very popular as a great spot for evening beach bonfires. Grab some wood and toast your marshmallows here! There are pits to use on a first come, first served bases during summer season. Don’t forget to pick up your garbage if you visit!
Its easy and convenient vicinity of the Beach Boardwalk make it the perfect beach for visitors to explore and soak up more of the local’s vibe.
East Cliff Dr. at Seabright Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
- Dogs are permitted on leash only. Lifeguards are on duty for the summer only.
- Parking and beach access is available at the west end of East Cliff Drive near Alhambra Avenue, Mott Avenue and at the end of 3rd Avenue.
- It could be difficult to find parking during the summer and you may need to walk few blocks.
18. Meditate at the Land of the Medicine Buddha
Santa Cruz is not just a beach town. Thanks to unique geography it is also the home of amazing forests. If you are lover of soft, quiet environments, it’s time for you to get into your hiking boots and traipse through redwood forests to the Land of Medicine Buddha. The place is open for tourists from Sunrise to Sunset.
This is an incredible and unique place where the redwoods mix with Buddhist temples that brings serenity. It is a secluded meditation retreat center that opens its trails to the public.
At the entrance you are welcomed by a huge Golden Buddha and a prayer wheel to spin and a gong surrounded by a redwood tree grove. After you pass the retreat center, a short hike up hill is required to reach the upper level where another set of Bhuddas and prayer wheels are.
After following the path you will find the wishing temple. If you keep going you will reach the circumambulate (built to walk around it).
The path to the forest changes from Redwood and Douglas Fir to the grooves of Oak Trees. This loop hike is called Eight Verse Pilgrimage Loop.
At this loop the you find a series of signs and flags with welcoming benches where you can meditate, soaking up the stunning surroundings.
Location: 5800 Prescott Road, Soquel, CA 95073, USA
Tips: Prescott Road is narrow. Dogs have to be on leach. The hike is easy to moderate. Respect the quite environment of the retreat and enjoy
Parking: priority is given to people who are participating in courses and retreats. Day visitors may have to park outside.
Bicycles: not allowed on our paths or fire roads.
19. Hike Pogonip State Park
Pogonip is an exciting vision of natural beauty. This place offers a hiking and biking trail network among redwood and oak forests.
Over the years, the landscape of Pogonip has been transformed by human influence. In Pogonip’s multiple trails you will find: mountain bikers, hikers, horse riding and disc golf players.
The Pogonip trail system totals approximately 11.5 miles. There are a number of trails and fire roads, some connecting with the UCSC trail system. From the meadow by the abandoned club house, you get an expansive view of the city and bay.
Pogonip is a perfect place to explore the natural beauty of Santa Cruz and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. This place offers hiking and biking trail network among redwood and oak forests. Also, has a wide variety of plant and animal life, including redwood trees, madrone, oak, and a diverse array of bird species.
Over the years, the landscape of Pogonip has been transformed by human influence. In Pogonip’s multiple trails you will find mountain bikers, hikers, horse riding and disc golf players. The park covers over 600 acres and features a network of hiking and biking trails that wind through the redwood forest and open meadows.
The hiking trails in Pogonip vary in difficulty and length, so there are options for both casual walkers and more experienced hikers. Some of the most popular trails include the Spring Box Trail, which leads to a natural spring and a small waterfall, and the Lookout Trail, which offers panoramic views of Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay.
Another popular activity in Pogonip is birdwatching. The park is home to a diverse array of bird species, including hawks, owls, and woodpeckers, among others. There are several designated birdwatching areas within the park, and visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars and field guides to help with identification.
Disc golf, also known as frisbee golf, is a popular sport that can be played in Pogonip Park. The park features a disc golf course that winds through the trees and open spaces of the park. Disc golf is like traditional golf, except instead of hitting a ball with a club, players throw a disc (like a frisbee) towards a target, such as a metal basket. The object of the game is to complete the course with the fewest number of throws.
The disc golf course at Pogonip is free to play, but players are required to bring their own discs. The course has 18 holes and is suitable for players of all skill levels, from beginners to experienced players.
Location: 333 Golf Club Drive
Dogs must be always on a leash where they are permitted. The park has different entrances:
Golf Club Drive On- street parking on Golf Club Drive between the trestle & HWY 9 (Hiking only/Dogs on leash)
Harvey West Park – Trailhead near Friendship Garden (Hiking only/No dogs)
Spring Street – Limited parking on residential street (Hiking on/Dogs on leash)
UCSC Upper Campus – Fuel Break Road – Multi-Use Trail Entrance (Hiking, Bicycles and Horses permitted/No Dogs)
Henry Cowell State Park – Rincon Connector Trail – Multi-Use Trail Entrance (Hiking, Bicycles and Horses permitted/No Dogs)
20. Have a spa day at Chaminade Resort
Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz, California is known for its luxurious spa and wellness center. The Spa at Chaminade offers a wide range of services and treatments, including massages, facials, body wraps, and other spa therapies designed to relax, rejuvenate, and invigorate.
The spa has a steam room, a sauna, and a hot tub. You can take advantage of the resort’s outdoor pool and fitness center, which offers a variety of exercise equipment and classes.
It is a great choice for a day of pampering and self-care. In addition to its spa services, Chaminade Resort & Spa also offers upscale dining options, outdoor activities like hiking and tennis, and beautiful accommodations that make it a popular destination for weekend getaways and special events.
21.Go Surfing at Pleasure Point:
One of the most popular surf spots is Pleasure Point. It is an excellent surfing spot for experienced wave riders to challenge their abilities. The sporting spirit of surfers can be.
In this laid back neighborhood you will find surf shops, charming beach cottages, and vibrant surf vibes a path with surfers and beach goers. A great place to visit, no wetsuit or surfboard required!
The Jack O’Neill Park that over looks the surf spot The Hook and has views of the Monterey Bay. This park honors the surf legend who lived in the huge green house on the same cliff.
22. Go for a stroll on East Cliff drive
This widely extending cliff-side pathway linking Capitola and Santa Cruz is a dazzling waterfront promenade – part of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail. It lays along the along coastal bluffs overlooking the sparkling ocean.
East Cliff Drive is the cliff-side walkway, the sports exciting seaside views passing through the heart of Pleasure Point’s beach culture. Start your stroll at the 41st and East Cliff where you will find The Hook, a world-famous surf spot!
Spring is more colorful at East Cliff as the flowers bloom along the walkways. When you come to 32nd Street, Pleasure Point spectators can watch surfers putting on quite a show. One of Pleasure Point’s biggest draws is East Cliff Drive.
The incredible beauty of this cliff makes it one of the favorite places for locals to stroll and admire the surfing.
23. Check out the Iconic Jack’s O’Neil house
Jack O’Neill was a surfing legend and innovator who founded the iconic surf brand O’Neill in Santa Cruz, California. His home, which is in the Pleasure Point neighborhood of Santa Cruz, is a popular local landmark and a must-see for surfing enthusiasts and fans of the brand.
The house is a modest bungalow-style home that is painted in a distinctive light blue color and features a large O’Neill logo on the front. It is located just a few blocks from the beach and is easily accessible by foot or by bike.
Visitors can stroll by the house and take in the unique architecture and design, as well as the beautiful landscaping and ocean views. There are also several historic markers and plaques that provide information about Jack O’Neill’s life and contributions to the sport of surfing.
While the house is not open for public tours or visits, it is a popular spot for taking photos and soaking up the laid-back, surf culture vibe of Santa Cruz. The nearby Pleasure Point neighborhood is also home to a variety of surf shops, cafes, and other attractions that are worth exploring for those interested in the local surfing scene.
24. Take Surf lessons and Visit Capitola Beach and Village
One of the oldest beach resorts on the West Coast is Capitola beach. It is a popular tourist town known for its trendy and stylish shops and restaurants. The shore connects it to a fishing wharf and large sandy beach.
Capitola is a charming little town with cute beach shops and good restaurants. People hang out either at the main beach or at the “Jetty,” another surf point for beginners and intermediate surfers.
There is plenty of restaurants, from sushi to Mexican food and Ice cream stores. You will even find some wineries as well.
Here you find different events all the yearlong. For example, concerts during summer nights and Easter egg hunts during spring, or wine festivals in the fall.
There are plenty of surf classes held at this beach which is considered a beginner surf break. Make sure to book your surf class if you are up to the adventure of learning to surf.
Location: San Jose Ave and Esplanade, Capitola, CA 95010
Tips: parking at the village is maximum 3 hours. If you are planning to stay longer or spend the day you best option are the parking lots situated a little bit farther.
There are plenty of surf classes held at this beach which is considered a beginner surf break. Make sure to book your surf class if you are up to the adventure of learning to surf.
25. Visit Twin Lake Beach:
Twin Lake State Beach is another popular beach in Santa Cruz. This because its proximity to the Harbor. It is situated at the mouth of the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor and is bordered by the Santa Cruz Harbor Beach to the east.
Twin Lakes Beach is known for its wide expanse of sand, where people enjoy playing volleyball, a popular beach sport. IT has beautiful view of the Harbor and at sunset is gorgeous. You will find here people sunbathing, swimming, surfing, and beachcombing. The beach is also home to the Santa Cruz Harbor, where visitors can find a variety of restaurants, shops, and recreational activities.
Tourists love the adjacent Schwan’s Lake, an excellent location for bird watching, dog walking, with great bay views.
26. Boogie board at Sunny Cove beach
Sunny Cove is a gem in Santa Cruz a great spot to enjoy a quiet day at the beach. Which is not easy in high season. However, this beach always has a seclude feeling because it is accessible via a narrow, steep staircase, which adds to its secluded feel.
Sunny Cove Beach is known for its scenic beauty and calm waters, making it a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. The beach is also popular among surfers, especially beginners, who come to catch small waves. It could be crowded on holidays, weekends, and evenings in Summer! Also hard to find parking but once you do you will love it there.
27. Park your RV at New Brighton Beach State Park:
While you are in Santa Cruz, you should surely pay a visit to New Brighton State Beach, known as one of the most popular and visited State Park campgrounds in California.
This park extends along the beautiful and attractive coast of Santa Cruz. It is open for tourists for 7 days a week from 8 am till sunset. This means that you would never want to miss an amazing sunset at the New Brighton State Beach.
Getting camping sites at this state park is not easy but look in advance. It is ideally because its proximity to the beach.
In addition to this, New Brighton State Beach offers numerous facilities like:
Picnic Areas Tent, RV camping, RV hookup available.
28. Sneak into Private’s Beach
In the Opal Cliffs area of Santa Cruz is the Private beach, also known as a local surfer’s beach. The amazing spot needs a key to get entrance to the sand from the street. The Santa Cruz beaches are the heart and soul to the coastline of Santa Cruz.
With little beach space this is a local treasure and great spot for surfing as well.
29. Visit Neary Lagoon Park
Among the well-known parks is Neary Lagoon, which features a trail which eventually extends into floating walkways over the Lagoon. A must do and great for birdwatching due to its natural beauty.
While passing through Neary Lagoon Park there are several activities to participate in Playgrounds available for children to play and enjoy, Tennis court and basketball court located in the park.
Enjoy a stroll in the Coastal and observe the abundant wildlife on this peaceful scenery (bird watching)
In addition, this is a great spot for you to enjoy barbecuing with family and friends.
30. Take a Whale-Watching Cruise
Yes, there are whale-watching cruises available in Santa Cruz. These cruises offer visitors the opportunity to see a variety of marine life, including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and other animals that live in the waters off the coast of Santa Cruz.
There are several companies that offer whale-watching tours in Santa Cruz, including Stagnaro Charters and Santa Cruz Whale Watching. These companies typically offer 3–4-hour cruises that depart from the Santa Cruz Harbor and travel out into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is one of the most biologically diverse marine areas in the world.
During the tour, you can expect to see a variety of whale species, including humpback whales, gray whales, and blue whales, as well as dolphins, sea lions, and other marine mammals. Specially during season. The tour guides are typically knowledgeable about the local marine life and provide interesting information about the animals and their behavior.
Whale-watching tours in Santa Cruz are typically offered year-round, although the best time to see whales is from April to November when the migration patterns of these animals bring them closer to the coast. Prices and availability vary depending on the company and the time of year, so it’s a good idea to check ahead of time and book in advance.The best time of year to go whale watching in Santa Cruz is from mid-April to mid-December. Humpback whales are the most spotted species in the waters around Santa Cruz, and they can be seen feeding and breaching during their
annual migration. Gray whales are also occasionally spotted during their annual migration between Alaska and Mexico.
While there are opportunities to see whales throughout the year, the peak season for whale watching in Santa Cruz is typically from mid-July to mid-November, when the humpback whales are most active and visible. It’s worth noting that whale sightings are not guaranteed, as the animals are wild and can be unpredictable.
31. Take a sailing cruise.
There are sailing cruises available in Santa Cruz. There are several companies that offer sailing cruises and tours, which provide visitors with the opportunity to explore the stunning scenery and wildlife of the Monterey Bay.
One popular sailing company is the Chardonnay Sailing Charters, which offers daily sailing tours of the Monterey Bay. The tours typically last 1.5 to 2 hours and include views of the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and the surrounding coastline. Visitors can also expect to see a variety of marine life, such as sea otters, harbor seals, and dolphins.
Another popular option is the O’Neill Yacht Charters, which offers private sailing charters for groups of up to six people. These charters provide a more personalized experience, with the ability to customize the route and itinerary based on your interests and preferences.
Whether you’re an experienced sailor or a novice, there are sailing options available in Santa Cruz for all skill levels. It’s worth noting that prices and availability vary depending on the company and time of year, so it’s a good idea to check ahead of time and book in advance.
32. Ride a catamaran !
In addition, and another way to enjoy Monterey Bay Area Sanctuary is by catamaran cruises available in Santa Cruz. Offering visitors, a unique and memorable experience on the water.
One popular catamaran cruise operator in Santa Cruz is the Chardonnay Sailing Charters. They offer a 2-hour catamaran tour of the Monterey Bay, which includes scenic views of the coastline, the Santa Cruz Wharf, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The catamaran tour also provides visitors with the opportunity to see a variety of marine life, such as sea otters, harbor seals, and dolphins.
Another popular option is the Adventure Cat Sailing Charters, which offers private catamaran charters for groups of up to six people. These charters can be customized to suit your interests and preferences and may include stops at popular attractions such as the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or the iconic Natural Bridges State Beach.
Catamaran cruises in Santa Cruz are typically available year-round, although prices and availability may vary depending on the company and the time of year. It’s a good idea to check ahead of time and book in advance to ensure availability.
The main difference between a catamaran and a sailing cruise is the type of boat used for the cruise. A catamaran is a multi-hulled vessel that has two parallel hulls of equal size. It is designed for stability and speed and can be powered by sail or motor. Catamarans are known for their stability and smooth ride, which makes them a popular choice for leisurely cruises. While sailing cruise, uses a traditional sailboat for the cruise. Sailboats are typically smaller than catamarans and have a single hull. They rely solely on the power of the wind to move.
Things to do in Santa Cruz California with kids: Ben Lomond, Felton, and Scott Valley area.
33. Explore Henry Cowell Redwood State Park:
Henry Cowell is a Sate Park is situated in the Santa Cruz mountains and is well known for its famous 40-acre grove of old towering growth redwood trees. It is one of the earliest preserved redwood groves in the state.
Above is one of the examples where you can see a tree 1500 years old. The visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, horse riding, picnicking, swimming, and camping there. There is a flat trail in a small loop of redwood trees about a mile long where you can enjoy the view and their survival adaptation.
At the small information center you can find what animals live in this park. Some of them are black-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, and steelhead trout.
It is a fantastic place to enjoy quality time with your family and friends. Pack your bags and let your soul be at peace, surrounded by tall trees and soft grass.
The tallest tree in the park is approximately 277 feet tall, about 16 feet wide, and around 1,500 years old.
In addition, inside this 6,400+ acre park you will find camping areas (vehicles must enter the campground east Felton, via Graham Hill Road) The garden of Eden is a local swim spot specially in the summer. In addition Roaring Camp is located directly adjacent to the park.
Location: 101 Big Trees Park Rd, Felton, CA, 95018
Tips: watch for poison oak on trails. Bring sunscreen, good hiking shoes and watch for banana slugs. Dogs are allowed on leash.
Cost: $10 per car and senior discount $9
More information about Henry Cowell State Park can be found here.
34. Ride a train at Roaring Camp:
In addition to many great other great places, Santa Cruz has Roaring Camp Railroad which you definitely need to check out when you’re in town. It is located inside Henry Cowell State Park. The railroad engine starts from Roaring Camp in Felton and run up steep grades through towering redwood forests.
A fun fact about this place is that most of its engines are quite old, authentically preserved from the 1890s. They are still capable of providing regular passenger services to tourists which I find totally amazing!
Here you can choose between different trips including the one that takes you all the way down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It runs along the San Lorenzo river until the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. This place holds events all year long. Some of them are Easter egg hunting, Father’s Day, a Day Out with Thomas and the Holiday Lights train.
Tips: Be prepare to spend all day here. There’s more than just trains, beautiful scenery, food and exhibitions.
Find more information here
35. Defy gravity at the Mystery Spot :
What comes to your mind when you hear the term Mystery Spot? The Mystery Spot is a dent in the space time continuum, in the Redwood forest outside Santa Cruz. This place will undoubtedly stun your perceptions of gravity and physics and It is a experience that you should have at least once in your life!
The Mystery Spot has confused many visitors so much that they have visited this place repeatedly to experience puzzling variations of gravity and height. Hence, the spot remained Mystery Spot!
In fact its prime location among the redwood and its gravitational anomaly has amazed many since 1940. This is one of the reason has been listed as a California landmark since 2014.
Be prepared to be stunned as your perceptions of the laws of physics and gravity are questioned on this circular area of effect around 150 feet or 46 meters in diameter.
Location: The Mystery Spot , 465 Mystery Spot Road ,Santa Cruz, CA 95065 USA
Cost: $8.00. Children 3 and under are free if pay online in advance
Tips: Bring cash if you are planing to pay at the door because they accept only accept cash or check. My advice is to get there early to find good parking. This is a great place for kids and any age. You can get to do a short hike on the property on a trail open that takes about half hour.
Find more information, click here.
35. Hike at Fall Creek unit:
Fall Creek Unit is a section of the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The park covers over 4,650 acres and offers a wide range of recreational activities for visitors to enjoy, including hiking, biking, camping, picnicking, and wildlife viewing.
Located on the western side of the park and is known for its scenic beauty, old-growth redwood trees, and tranquil streams. The area is home to a variety of plant and animal species, including ferns, mosses, salamanders, and black-tailed deer.
There are several hiking trails here, ranging from easy to challenging, and offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. One popular trail is the Fall Creek Trail, which follows the creek through a lush forest and passes by several waterfalls. The trail is approximately six miles long and is rated as moderate.
36. Boulder Creek scout reservation:
If you are member of the scout this is an amazing facility in the redwoods this is an ideal setting for youth to learn and grow through outdoor experiences and adventure.
Boulder Creek Scout Reservation is a 250-acre camp owned and operated by the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council of the Boy Scouts of America, located in Boulder Creek, California, USA.
It is a beautiful area that offers variety of outdoor activities, including camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, archery, rifle shooting, and more. The camp also has several program areas, including an ecology center, a climbing tower, and a challenge course.
Boulder Creek Scout Reservation has several campsites available for overnight camping, including traditional campsites, platform tents, and cabins. The camp also has a dining hall that serves meals during the summer season.
The reservation also has several rental facilities available, including a lodge, cabins, and a chapel. These facilities are available for rent by scouting groups, schools, and other organizations.
37. Boulder Creek Golf and Country club
Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club is a public golf. The course was designed by Jack Fleming and opened in 1961.
The course features 18 holes and covers over 6,500 yards of rolling hills and scenic views. The layout of the course is challenging, with several water hazards and well-placed bunkers. The course also has several elevated tees, which offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club also has several practice facilities available, including a driving range, putting green, and chipping area. The course also offers golf lessons for players of all skill levels.
In addition to golf, the club also has a restaurant and bar, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes, including burgers, sandwiches, salads, and seafood.
Overall, Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club is a beautiful and challenging course that provides a great golfing experience in a scenic setting.
38. Ride a pedal boat and Fish at Loch Lomond
Between the Santa Cruz’s surprises, Loch Lomond is among the most lovely of its secrets. Veiled among the luxurious redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the sparkling reservoir grabs the attention with scenery, serenity and extra-curricular activities including Boating, Fishing, and areas for Picnicking.
It is a great spot for locals to fish. If you want to do so while enjoying this view, do not hesitate and grab your fishing pole! Also, you can rent paddle boats and Kayak.
Location: 100 Loch Lomond Way, Felton, CA 95018
Cost: Vehicle $8
More Useful Information:
- No outside boats/paddle-boards allowed with the exception
- A limited number of boats can be rented (on a first come, first served basis)
Electric Motor Boat
- 2 hr minimum M-F, $30 first 2 hours, $15 each hour thereafter, $90 all day
- 3 hr minimum on weekends and holidays before noon, $45 first 3 hours, $15 each hour thereafter, $90 all day
Row Boats , Paddle Boats and Nucanoes:
- 2 hr minimum, $15 first 2 hours, $7.50 each hour thereafter, $45 all day
Things to do in Santa Cruz with kids: Bonny Doon, and Davenport area
39. Visit Davenport Beaches
To the north of Santa Cruz is the tiny town of Davenport, which offers scenic views and amazing surf. It is located 10 minutes from Santa Cruz and around 100 yards away from the Ocean. It’s surrounded by Organic Farms, Boutique Vineyards, State Beaches, and great hiking spots.
There are several beaches in the area that are collectively known as the Davenport Beaches. One of the most well-known Davenport Beaches is the Davenport Beach County Park, which is located just off Highway 1, north of the town of Davenport.
To get to this beach go from Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 North for about 11 miles. Turn left onto Davenport Landing Road. Follow the road for about a mile until you reach the parking lot for the beach.
Another Davenport Beach is Panther Beach, which is a secluded beach located just south of Davenport. It is a popular spot for hiking and sunbathing, but it can be dangerous for swimming due to strong currents.
To get to Panther Beach From Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 North for about 11 miles.Look for the parking lot on the ocean side of the road, just south of Davenport. Park in the lot and walk down the trail to the beach.
Be careful to reach there and enjoy!
The first one is easily accessible and the other one is not. Here there are high cliff walls and an impressive tall rock known as the “Davenport Crack.”
40. Explore Wilder Ranch State Park
Wilder Ranch is a State Park with 7,000 acres and it is situated right along the coast. It extends from the crest of Ben Lomond mountain, the landscape rolls down to the seashores and it has 35 miles of trails. You can adventure deep into the Santa Cruz Mountains, or walk along the stunning coastal bluffs. This is one of the gems 💎 in California so make sure to save this post for future visits. You don’t want to miss it!
Things you can do here include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and exploring the old ranch buildings.
The historical and old area of Wilder Ranch includes: Machine Shop, Farmhouse, Live barn Animals.
🚲The biking routes are great, don’t miss them, because it is such a fabulous place for long rides with gorgeous natural views.
We had enjoy having picnics there in several ocassions on the front lawn while visit the farm animals. The ranch offers events during the year. One of our favorites is the 4th of July when lots of volunteers dress up in period costumes.
Wilder Ranch State Park has so many different trails with beautiful scenic views. One of them is 2.3-mile loop along the coastal bluffs from where you can watch seals, birds and other animals in their natural habitat.
The historical 1897 Victorian home is surrounded by Native American plants. Here also you can experience a cool water-powered machine shop dating to 1896. The kids have been lucky to have field trips here to “operate” a circa-1900 dairy ranch during this hands-on learning experience which includes interacting with the farm animals that call Wilder Ranch their home today!
Another great thing to do is see the diverse marine life – bring binoculars and you may get a chance to see seals 🦭on the beach.
Location: 1401 Coast Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Cost: $10 vehicle day-use fee. seniors $9
Tips: dogs are not allowed at Wilder Ranch (except for service animals). There are free public ranch tours offered every Saturday and Sunday at 1pm.
41. Shark Fin Cove
Santa Cruz is a beautiful coastal city, a home to some of the most beautiful attractions in the State of California.
Among the best beaches of California is the Shark Fin Cove. This beach is situated south of the Davenport, with amazing and fantastic view. If you have never seen Shark Fin Cove, this place is a must paying a visit to.
To access to this coved and protected beach you need to go down a narrow stair. It is formed by an extension of the mudstone cliff that encloses this beach. Over the years, the force of the ocean eroded the rock and carved on its actual shape.
When you are down the beach you will find the Sea Cave. It is absolutely a very interested place to visit. Unfortunatelly, recently visitor hasen’t kept it clean so if you do visit please do your best to carry back everything you bring.
To get there you park at the Bonny Doon parking lot and walk close by the train tracks and hike down . No parking fees. There’s a hike down to the cove for a walk through it and a close up view of the fin.
Keep in mind it’s not a huge area to explore but the whole area is beautiful.
42. Enjoy a day at 4 miles beach
4 Mile Beach is another California Gem. This secluded beach is located at Wilder Ranch State Park. About four miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, (that is what the name come from).
To get there, you need to park in a dirt parking area on the left side of the road, there are not many spots. You need to walk half-mile walk down to the beach. if you visit this area is beautiful and we must keep it this way.
Also, you can get here hiking 1 mile from wilder ranch or just park on the side of the road. Warning the parking area is not in the best shape has a bunch of potholes.
The beach is surrounded by cliffs, and the hike down can be steep in places, so be sure to wear appropriate footwear and take caution. Once you reach the beach, you can enjoy the beautiful views, explore the tide pools, or try your hand at surfing (although this beach is recommended for experienced surfers only due to the strong currents and high waves).
During the low tide this is a great place for family that love nature, not many people and kids can enjoy finding creatures in the tide pools and you can see the birds love to hang out here.
Don’t leave valuables in the car. Make sure to leave no Trace.
43. Explore the Bonny doon beach
Bonny Doon Beach is another beautiful beach Santa Cruz has. Its scenery includes rugged cliffs, expansive sands, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The beach is a popular spot for swimming, surfing, sunbathing, and other outdoor recreational activities.
To get to Bonny Doon Beach from Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 North for about 8 miles. Turn left onto Bonny Doon Road. Follow the road for about 3.5 miles until you reach the parking lot for the beach.
This area is home to the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, which features a diverse range of plant and animal species, including several rare and endangered species. Visitors to the reserve can explore the various hiking trails, observe the wildlife, and learn about the importance of preserving natural habitats.
44. Stop by the Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport
Before you leave Santa Cruz if you are coming from Highway 1 make sure to stop in this that is one of my favorites:
Swanton Berry Farm is an organic farm located in Davenport, California, USA, along the scenic Highway 1 on the coast of Santa Cruz County. The farm specializes in growing organic strawberries, blackberries, and olallieberries and is also known for its farm stand, bakery, and cafe.
Swanton Berry Farm is committed to sustainable and organic farming practices, using natural methods to grow their crops without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Fresh Produce: The farm grows a variety of berries, including strawberries, blackberries, and olallieberries, which are available for purchase at the farm stand or in local grocery stores and farmers markets.
The farm stand at Swanton Berry Farm offers a variety of fresh produce, as well as homemade jams, pies, and other baked goods made with their farm-fresh berries. They also sell coffee and tea and have a seating area for visitors to enjoy their treats on site.
You must go inside their desserts are delicious and has an apple cyder to died. Get your treats and have a picnic by their benches enjoying the ocean view!
Swanton Berry Farm is dedicated to supporting its local community and promoting social justice. They are a worker-owned cooperative and pay their workers a living wage and donate a portion of their profits to local organizations working for social change.
Things to do in Santa Cruz Cruz California : Aptos area
45. Take a hike at the Forest of Nisene Mark State Park
A few miles away from the Pacific Ocean, outside the quaint village of Aptos, the scenic Forest of Nisene Marks State Park rising from sea level to steep coastal mountains of more than 2,600 feet.
If you ever come to Santa Cruz, go explore the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, a 10,000+ acre wonderland! You can see the redwoods without going too far into the mountains.
It is the dense second- and third-growth redwood forest rises from near sea level to steep coastal mountains. Visitors enjoy the dense Redwood forests and deep canyons of the forest.
Visitors love the varied landscape ranging from sea level to steep coastal mountains. Here you can go for Hiking, Biking and Jogging Trails.
Also, this park’s main fire road was previously the bed for the railroad of the Loma Prieta Mill that cleared almost all of today’s redwood forest after year of logging frenzy lasting dozens of years. The logging stopped due to lack of economically viable trees to cut.
This forest is a monument to forest regeneration and the future and it is a wonderful place to soak up nature. We love to visit here any time of the year even after rain to play in the puddles and It is easy to spot banana slugs! My kids love to visit.
Today, the park showcases a forest in recovery, with so many hiking trails to explore. According to All Trails there are about 32 hiking trails. Some great trails are the Aptos Rancho Trail, Split Stuff Trail, Terrace Trail, and Vienna Woods Trail.
The geography of this park is influenced by different earthquakes faultlines. The epicenter of the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 is located here.
Visitors can hike to the epicenter of the Loma Prieta Earthquake by taking Aptos Creek Fire Road to the Epicenter Trail.
Location: 664-784 Aptos Creek Fire Rd, Aptos, CA 95003
Cost:There is a $10 per vehicle day-use fee.
Tips: Dogs are only allowed on Aptos Creek fire Road. Bicycles are allowed only on Aptos Creek Fire Road.
46. Have a beach day at Seacliff Beach State Park
Seacliff State Beach is a beach park on Monterey Bay in Aptos, Santa Cruz, California. This beach is located off Highway No 1. and has great facilities. Some of them including picnic areas, Visitor center, RV camping.
It is very well known for the Cement Ship, a concrete boat that was purchased in the 1920’s and has become a local landmark. It is a half sunken concrete boat and the fishing pier that connects to it was a place to visit. Each year, the ship is sinking and breaking up a bit more. In addition, sadly the pier suffered severe damage with late storms and has been removed completely.
Despite that sharks sightings, Seacliff is popular for swimming! It is important to mention it for all the joggers, for you runners this is a favorite spot to use the stairs, that go from the upper parking lot to the pier, for exercise.
Dogs are allow with leach Day-use fee.
Things to do in Santa Cruz : Soquel area.
47. Try a glass of Wine at on of The Many Winery and Tasting Rooms
Did you know the Santa Cruz is home to one of the oldest wine growing regions in California? These wineries of Santa Cruz are small, warm and family-run. Many times, your glass will be filled by the winemakers themselves, and by the owner at other times.
Consequently, if you are a wine lover, and are planning to visit California these wineries of Santa Cruz should be on your radar!
Did you know that there are over 200 small vineyard producers in the Santa Cruz Mountains? In addition, theSanta Cruz Mountains have more than 70 wine grape varieties.
Some of the best wineries in the area are: Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards, Loma Prieta Winery, Pelican Ranch Winery, Ridge Winery, and Soquel Vineyards.
Things to Do Near Santa Cruz with kids
48. Visit the Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park
If you are coming from San Francisco take Highway 1 when arrived At Año Nuevo State Park. Get a guided tour of the elephant seal colony. Guided tours are required from December 15th through March 31st, which is the elephant seal breeding season. Stay at least 25ft apart! These animals are faster than humans in land and weight tons.
The tour takes approximately 2 hours and covers about 3 miles on uneven terrain. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, dress in layers, and bring sunscreen and water.
Afterwards Drive to Pescadero for lunch at @duartestavern (famous for its artichoke soup) or @lacostanerarestaurant (with delicious Peruvian food and the Highway 1 Brewing Company (which serves up delicious pub fare and craft beer).
After lunch, drive a few miles south to Pescadero State Beach. This beautiful, secluded beach is a great place to relax and take in the ocean views.
49. Learn about reedwoods at Big basin
Big Basin Redwoods State Park was closed for several months in 2020 due to the wildfires that impacted the area. The park has since reopened, but some areas may still be closed or have limited access due to ongoing recovery efforts or other factors.
This is a large in the Santa Cruz Mountains and it was known for its towering old-growth redwood trees, stunning waterfalls, and diverse plant and animal life.
It was home of the oldest and tallest redwood trees in the world, with some reaching heights of over 300 feet (91 meters) and ages of over 2,000 years. Waterfalls, Hiking Trails, and wildlife.
The redwood trees in Big Basin Redwoods State Park are fire-adapted, meaning they have evolved to survive and even benefit from fire. Redwood trees have thick bark that is resistant to fire and can help protect the tree’s vital cambium layer, which is responsible for transporting water and nutrients up and down the tree. Additionally, many redwood trees have a layer of dead wood at the base, which can help insulate the tree’s living tissue from the heat of a fire.
Like any living organism, redwood trees can be damaged or killed by fire if the fire is too intense or burns for too long. In August 2020, a series of wildfires swept through Big Basin Redwoods State Park and surrounding areas, burning tens of thousands of acres, and causing significant damage to the park’s infrastructure and ecosystems, including some of the park’s redwood trees. However, many trees in the park are still standing and will continue to survive and recover over time, thanks to their resilience and adaptation to fire.
We visited recently but were not able to hike to far because we didn’t have reservation. The park is accepting visitors with reservation to reduce the impact of visitor in the recovering environment.
However, they let us do the nature loop trail that took about 15 minutes.
What to do in Santa Cruz at night (for parents and kids)
Santa Cruz besides been a beach town and be blessed with the natural beauty of the mountains it is also a College town, with UCSC. It has a night life and here are few things you can do at night in Santa Cruz.
Stroll along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The boardwalk lights up at night and offers a fun and festive atmosphere. You can enjoy the rides, games, and live music.
Explore downtown Santa Cruz: Downtown Santa Cruz is a bustling hub of activity at night, with a variety of bars, restaurants, and shops. Check out Pacific Avenue for some great nightlife options.
Catch a movie at the Del Mar Theatre: This historic movie theatre offers a unique movie-going experience. With its Art Deco design and classic films, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Visit the Santa Cruz Wharf: The wharf is a great place to walk and take in the ocean views at night. You can also grab some seafood at one of the many restaurants or check out the shops.
Go on a ghost tour: Santa Cruz is said to be haunted, and there are several ghost tours available that take you through the city’s spooky past.
This is no for kids . Enjoy live music at the Catalyst: The Catalyst is a legendary music venue that has hosted some of the biggest names in music. Catch a show and enjoy the intimate atmosphere.
Take a night hike in the forest: The Santa Cruz Mountains offer some great hiking trails that are open at night. Bring a flashlight and enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature.
No for kids. Try your luck at the casino: The Oceanview Casino is open 24/7 and offers a variety of table games and slot machines. It’s the perfect place to test your luck and have some fun.
These are just a few ideas for things to do in Santa Cruz at night. Whatever your interests, you’re sure to find something to enjoy in this vibrant and exciting city.
Restaurants in Santa Cruz California:
Some of few options I will suggest will be these. I have personally visit each one of them
Oswald – a modern American restaurant with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients.
Laili – is one of my favorites because it’s delicious Mediterranean with a fusion of Afghan and Persian food. And the restaurant is beautiful as well.
The Crow’s Nest – a seafood restaurant located on the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor with stunning views of the ocean.
Cafe Brasil – a Brazilian restaurant serving traditional dishes like feijoada and moqueca.
Charlie Hong Kong – an Asian-inspired restaurant that specializes in organic, vegetarian, and vegan cuisine.
The Picnic Basket – a beachside eatery known for its sandwiches, salads, and homemade ice cream.
La Posta – a cozy Italian restaurant featuring handmade pastas and wood-fired pizzas.
Alderwood – a contemporary American restaurant with a farm-to-table menu.
How to get to Santa Cruz, California
There are several ways to get to Santa Cruz, California, depending on your starting point and mode of transportation:
By car: Santa Cruz is located off Highway 1, which runs along the California coast. If you’re driving from San Francisco, you can take Highway 101 south to Highway 85, then exit onto Highway 17 towards Santa Cruz. If you’re driving from San Jose, you can take Highway 17 south directly to Santa Cruz.
By bus: Greyhound and Amtrak both offer bus service to Santa Cruz. Additionally, the Santa Cruz Metro bus system provides local transit around the area.
By train: The Amtrak Coast Starlight train stops in nearby Salinas, where you can then transfer to a connecting bus to Santa Cruz.
By air: The closest major airports to Santa Cruz are the San Jose International Airport (SJC) and the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). From there, you can rent a car or take a shuttle or public transportation to Santa Cruz.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz, CA
Hyatt Place Santa Cruz is a hotel located in downtown Santa Cruz, California. Is a modern hotel with comfortable rooms, convenient location, and amenities such as a fitness center, outdoor pool, and complimentary breakfast.
In terms of location, Hyatt Place Santa Cruz is situated in downtown Santa Cruz, within walking distance of boardwalk, shops, restaurants, and attractions such as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Pacific Garden Mall.
I love this hotel and I visit for its spa. Chaminade is a luxury hotel, and the resort is situated on 300 acres of forested hillside. It has stunning views of the Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Is in the Soquel area and too far from the main attractions. You can spend great time just in this resort itself. The resort also offers a range of amenities and activities for guests to enjoy, including a full-service spa, two outdoor heated pools, a fitness center, tennis courts, hiking trails, and a restaurant serving locally sourced cuisine.
Also, the resort has its own hiking trails nearby Santa Cruz. With a great restaurant!
Hotel Paradox is a boutique hotel located in downtown Santa Cruz, California. The hotel is known for its modern and stylish decor, eco-friendly practices, and convenient location near popular attractions such as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the University of California, Santa Cruz.
It has outdoor pool and hot tub, and during the summer has DJs a fitness center, a restaurant and bar serving locally-sourced cuisine and craft cocktails, and a coffee shop offering organic coffee and pastries. The hotel also has a focus on sustainability, with features such as electric car charging stations, a rooftop solar panel system, and a recycling program.
Hotel Paradox is a pet-friendly hotel, welcoming dogs and cats up to 50 pounds for an additional fee. The hotel provides pet beds, bowls, and treats for furry guests.
Common Questions about things to do in Santa Cruz
Is Santa Cruz worth visiting?
Yes, Santa Cruz, California is worth visiting. Located on the northern coast of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is known for its beautiful beaches, redwood forests, surfing culture, and lively boardwalk.
Why choose Santa Cruz, California as your Holiday Destination?
One thing that comes up too many people’s mind when they think about Santa Cruz is the beach! Tourists visit Santa Cruz beaches every summer because of the 3S: Sun, Sand, and Summer Fun!
Do you know Santa Cruz is famous for its moderate climate and natural environment? Not just this, Santa Cruz also has a diverse landscape, including coastline, community lifestyle, and beautiful parks.
Of course, I am bias because I love this town. But let me tell you that because Santa Cruz has so many beautiful landscapes, it’s nearly impossible for tourists to pick just one place to visit in Santa Cruz, California. Being a home to 14 state parks and beaches, tourists get inspired by its landscapes and love to experience exciting activities.
However, if you already know Santa Cruz and want to explore more of the amazing local spots you stop on the right place!
What is Santa Cruz best known for?
Some of the top attractions in Santa Cruz include:
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – a historic seaside amusement park with thrilling rides, games, and entertainment.
Natural Bridges State Beach – a scenic beach with a natural bridge rock formation and tide pools.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park – a forested park with hiking trails and giant redwood trees.
The Mystery Spot – a gravity-defying attraction where visitors can experience strange optical illusions.
Monterey Bay Aquarium – located nearby in Monterey, this world-renowned aquarium is home to a vast array of marine life.
In addition to these popular attractions, Santa Cruz has a vibrant arts and culture scene, as well as many shops, restaurants, and cafes to explore.
What are the best beaches in Santa Cruz?
Here are some of the most well know beaches in Santa Cruz:
Cowell Beach (great learning surfing spot), Twin Lake beach, New Brighton State beach, Pleasure Point (surfing spot), Natural Bridge State beach, Capitola Beach (surfing area), Private Beach, Seabright beach, Black beach, Seacliff Beach, Rio del Mar Beach, Platform beach, Beer Can beach, Sand Dollar beach.
What is the Santa Cruz Landmark you should not miss when visit?
Some well-known landscapes and parks of Santa Cruz that one should pay a visit include:
Henry Cowell State Park
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Mission Santa Cruz
Seymour Marine Discovery Center
What is Great Park in Santa Cruz you should visit?
Land of the Medicine Buddha
Nisene Marks State Park
Wilder Ranch State Park
Shark Fin Cove
The above-mentioned are great places to visit beautiful landscapes of Santa Cruz add to your experience, and each of them is discussed below in detail.
How do you spend a perfect day in Santa Cruz?
There are many great ways to spend a perfect day in Santa Cruz, but here is one possible itinerary:
Start your day with a visit to Verve Coffee Roasters, a popular local coffee shop known for its specialty coffee and friendly atmosphere. Then head to the beach – Natural Bridges State Beach is a great choice if you want to see the famous natural bridge rock formation and explore the tide pools. Alternatively, if you’re up for a little adventure, rent a surfboard or take a surf lesson at one of the many surf schools in town.
Grab lunch at Picnic Basket, a gourmet deli and bakery with picnic tables overlooking the beach. Then head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a historic amusement park with classic rides, games, and entertainment. Ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster, play some carnival games, and indulge in a classic corn dog or funnel cake.
As the sun begins to set, head to the west side of town to watch the sunset from West Cliff Drive, a scenic road with stunning views of the ocean and coastline. Then, enjoy dinner in one of the good restaurants in Santa Cruz.
End your perfect day in Santa Cruz by checking out some live music at one of the many venues in town. The Catalyst is a popular spot for both local and touring bands, and Moe’s Alley is another great choice for live music in a more intimate setting. Alternatively, if you’re in the mood for a movie, catch a flick at the historic Del Mar Theatre downtown.
How to spend A winter day trip itinerary in Santa Cruz:
Grab breakfast brunch at Jack O’Neil restaurant or at the flower bar in Santa Cruz. Walk along west Cliff Stop at the wharf to see the sea lion. Ride some of the Santa Cruz boardwalk ride and play on. The arcade and enjoy mini golf. Also check the Boardwalk winter wonderland
Next, Grab lunch at Makai Santa Cruz at the rotator restaurant with a view! Take a train ride. End the day visiting the Santa Cruz Harbor and check the boats decorated with Christmas Lights.
Why is Santa Cruz so popular?
Santa Cruz is popular for many reasons. Here are some of the main factors that contribute to its popularity:
Beautiful natural surroundings: Santa Cruz is located on the northern coast of Monterey Bay and is surrounded by beautiful beaches, redwood forests, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The natural beauty of the area draws visitors from all over the world.
Surf culture: Santa Cruz is known as a surf mecca, with some of the best waves in California. The surf culture is a big part of the town’s identity and attracts surfers from all over the world.
Amusement Park: The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a historic seaside amusement park that has been entertaining visitors since 1907. It is the only remaining seaside amusement park in California and is a major draw for families and thrill-seekers alike.
Art and culture: Santa Cruz have a thriving arts and culture scene, with numerous galleries, theaters, and cultural events throughout the year.
Outdoor activities: With its mild climate and beautiful natural surroundings, Santa Cruz offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, kayaking, and more.
Overall, Santa Cruz’s unique blend of natural beauty, surf culture, amusement parks, art and culture, and outdoor activities make it a popular destination for visitors of all ages and interests.
What is there to do between Monterey and Santa Cruz?
The drive between Monterey and Santa Cruz is along one of the most scenic stretches of the California coast, with plenty of attractions and activities to enjoy. Here are some things to do and see along the way:
This scenic drive takes you along the coastline through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove, with stunning views of the ocean, rocky coastline, and beautiful homes and golf courses. There is a small fee to enter the 17-Mile Drive.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve:
This beautiful reserve is located just south of Carmel and features hiking trails with stunning views of the ocean, rocky cliffs, and wildlife such as sea lions and otters.
This historic street in Monterey was once home to sardine canneries and is now a popular destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Don’t miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located at the end of Cannery Row.
This lively wharf in Monterey offers a variety of seafood restaurants, shops, and attractions, including whale watching tours and bay cruises.
This small town between Monterey and Santa Cruz is home to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, a wetland reserve that is home to hundreds of species of birds, fish, and other wildlife. Take a guided kayak tour or hike along the trails to see the wildlife up close.
Known as the “Artichoke Capital of the World,” this small town is home to the Giant Artichoke Restaurant, which serves a variety of dishes made with this unique vegetable.
Overall, there are plenty of attractions and activities to enjoy along the drive between Monterey and Santa Cruz, making it a great road trip destination.
Best time of year to visit Santa Cruz CA
The best time to visit Santa Cruz, California, largely depends on your preferences and what you want to do while you’re there. Here are some factors to consider:
Weather: Santa Cruz has a mild, Mediterranean climate, with temperatures typically ranging from the mid-50s to mid-70s Fahrenheit throughout the year. The summer months (June to August) tend to be the warmest and driest, while the winter months (December to February) are cooler and can be rainy.
Crowds: Santa Cruz can get crowded during the summer months, especially around popular attractions like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. If you’re looking for a quieter, more peaceful visit, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring (March to May) or fall (September to November).
Activities: The best time to visit Santa Cruz for outdoor activities, such as hiking, surfing, and beachcombing, is during the summer months when the weather is warm and sunny.
For whale watching, the best time is during the winter months (December to March). If you’re interested in cultural events, consider visiting during the summer when the city hosts several festivals and events.
What to pack when visit Santa Cruz with kids
Ready to go? what to pack to visit Santa Cruz California?
When visiting Santa Cruz, California, here are some items that you may want to consider packing:
Clothing: Pack comfortable, casual clothing appropriate for the season. Santa Cruz has a moderate climate with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-60s in the winter and the mid-60s to the mid-70s in the summer. Be sure to also pack a light jacket or sweater for cool mornings and evenings, as well as a swimsuit and a hat for a day at the beach.
Footwear: Comfortable walking shoes are a must, especially if you plan on exploring the city on foot. Additionally, you may want to bring sandals or flip-flops for the beach, and closed-toe shoes for any water activities like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.
Sun protection: Santa Cruz has plenty of sunny days, so don’t forget to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Beach gear: If you plan on spending time at the beach, you may want to bring beach towels, a beach blanket, and beach chairs or a beach umbrella.
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Technology: Pack your smartphone, charger, and camera to capture memories of your trip.
Cash and cards: Santa Cruz has many restaurants, shops, and attractions to enjoy, so be sure to bring cash or credit cards for any purchases you may make.
Personal items: Pack your usual toiletries, medications, and any other personal items you may need.
Optional: If you plan on doing outdoor activities such as hiking or biking, consider bringing appropriate gear such as a backpack, water bottle, and a map of the area.
Wow, now you know about so many places to visit in Santa Cruz!
So what are you waiting for?
If you ever happen to visit other parts of California, make sure to check out this blog!
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