Located south of San Jose and San Francisco, Santa Cruz has long been a bustling city that invites people of all backgrounds and only asks that you have an open mind. The city has been on the forefront of social movements since the 70s and was even one of the first places to legalize medical marijuana. A visit to Santa Cruz offers a laid back culture, stunning landscapes, and some of the finest surfing in the United States. There is a never-ending list of things to do in Santa Cruz and something to do for everyone.
10. Santa Cruz Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is one of the last and oldest oceanfront amusement parks remaining on the West Coast, since their popularity began in the 1950s. The park has been historically used as a destination for visitors since the late 1800s, and still has a 342-pipe organ that was built in 1894. The park is a popular tourist attraction in Santa Cruz and offers fun and excitement for people of all ages, this is sure to be a memorable part of your trip. Spend the day playing games, going on rides, or relax on the beach and go for a swim. A day, afternoon, or evening here with family or friends allows you to experience a carnival atmosphere all while enjoying the sound and smell of the ocean in the background.
9. Nickelodeon Theatre
Want to catch a movie you can’t find in most movie theaters? The Nickelodeon Theatre shows indie and foreign films that you won’t find anywhere else. For movie lovers, this theater is state of the art and the owners put the utmost thought and care into all the movies played on their screens. The atmosphere of the theater provides comfort and beauty so make sure to bring your camera for a picture of the outside building and lobby area. The theater offers a unique choice of movie snacks, such as organic popcorn, Penny Ice Creamery ice cream, and freshly baked goods.
8. Tour a Vineyard
Take a tour of a California wine vineyard and have a romantic day walking the grounds. A stroll through a vineyards in The Santa Cruz Mountains wine region offers peace, serenity, and expansive views appreciated by visitors as you walk along the rolling green hills of vineyards. Sample fine wines of the region by going on a tour that visits multiple vineyards. We recommend the Santa Cruz Experience, a tour company that specializes in wine and brewery tours in the region that allow you to see the coast and countryside and taste wine and beer from unique vineyards and breweries. Private tours are offered, and you can hand pick from over 50 wineries to visit!
7. West Cliff Drive
Take a scenic drive down West Cliff Drive, right along the coast with view of the craggy coastline of the Pacific Ocean. The road stretches from near Cowell Beach and the Santa Cruz Wharf, down the coast to the Natural Bridges State Beach. Along the drive you will pass Lighthouse Field State Beach, the Surfing Museum, and Mitchell Cove Beach. A slow drive along the coast with frequent stops is a great way to spend an afternoon exploring and enjoying the scenery with family or friends. The best part is the view is free.
6. Natural Bridges State Beach
At the end of West Cliff Drive you will find Natural Bridges State Beach, which features a natural rock bridge geological formation right on the beach. The beach is also a great place to see Monarch Butterflies by visiting the natural preserve area when the Monarchs begin arriving in October, but keep in mind that the Monarchs depart and are gone by February, so plan accordingly. This is one of the best places to watch the sunset over the Pacific as you enjoy a serene picnic perched above the ocean.
5. Get on the Water and Kayak or Paddleboard
Surfing has long been a part Santa Cruz’s history, so why not join in on the fun and take a lesson. For other’s maybe surfing isn’t your thing and you would prefer a stand up paddle boarding lesson or kayaking. Being on the water and participating in fun and exciting water sports is a great way to spend the morning or afternoon. The Kayak Connection or Covewater Standup Paddle are customer friendly and offer lessons and rentals. Reservations are not necessary, so visit them today and get out there and enjoy!
4. Santa Cruz Harbor Beach
If you’re looking for a place to lie on the beach, swim, play a sport or enjoy a water sport, the Santa Cruz Harbor Beach is one of the best places to do all three. The beach offers volleyball courts for people who want to be active and restaurants and shops are nearby for when you get hungry and need a break. Enjoy views of the harbor as you soak in the sun and watch the sunset with the Walton Lighthouse in the distance providing a breathtaking view. Kayak and Hobie Cat sailboats are available to rent.
3. Whale Watching
Watch whales as they migrate to and from the Monterey Bay in the summer and winter of each year. Whales spend the winter in Mexico and return to the bay for the summer months to feed in the rich and abundant waters. This is your chance to get up close and see the largest mammals on the planet, and watch them in their natural habitat. In addition to whales, don’t be surprised to see dolphins, sea lions, seals and sharks on your trip. Tickets can be purchased online so if you’re planning a trip, reserve your space today.
2. Go to a Farmer’s Market
Every Wednesday from 1:30-6:30, you will find the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market open in the downtown area. Here you will find artisan breads, prepared foods, fresh vegetables and live music. Spend the afternoon, have lunch, and meet with local farmers and artists. If you can’t get enough, Aptos Farmers Market is another option that is open on Saturdays from 8-noon, and was voted as the best farmers market in California with a huge selection of organic produce available. In 2012 it was also voted as America’s Favorite Farmer’s Market in California and was called one of the “Coast’s Best Farmer’s Markets” by Coastal Living Magazine.
1. Henry Cowell Redwood State Park
A visit to a redwood forest offers a chance to see some of the most magnificent trees on the planet that have been alive for hundreds and hundreds of years. Spend the day hiking around over 15 miles of wooded trails over bridges and around streams, and you might come across small creatures living among the redwoods. For people looking to spend the night in the forest, campers and small trailers are welcome between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Reservations can be made up to 7 months in advance and are encouraged.
You can get to the city by car, train, plane, bus or boat. If you arrive without ground transportation, you can easily rent a bike, hop on the Metro, or hail a cab for quick rides. This is a wonderful destination and there are so many cool places to visit in Santa Cruz, and choose from for a weekend or a weeklong getaway in this bustling city nestled between mountains and hills to the north and the ocean to the south.