20 Great Attractions & Things to Do in Santa Cruz with Kids
Santa Cruz, often underestimated in its family-friendly offerings, unfolds as a tapestry of joy waiting to be discovered. As you navigate through the diverse attractions, each moment becomes a brushstroke, painting a portrait of shared laughter, exploration, and wonder. Santa Cruz with kids is not just a trip; it’s a journey into a world where every corner holds the promise of a new adventure, creating memories that linger in the hearts of your family for years to come.
A sojourn to Santa Cruz Conservation Park transcends the boundaries of a typical tourist experience. It is an invitation to connect with the essence of the natural world, to witness the interplay of life in its purest form, and to leave with a renewed sense of awe for the wonders that exist beyond the confines of our daily lives.
Exploring Santa Cruz with Kids: A Hidden Wonderland
Santa Cruz, a coastal gem, harbors an array of delightful activities for both adults and kids that often go unnoticed. Beyond its picturesque landscapes and serene beaches, this city unfolds as a hidden playground for families seeking a blend of adventure and relaxation.
Crafting Memorable Moments: A Well-Planned Trip
The key to unlocking the wonders of Santa Cruz with kids lies in meticulous trip planning. As you traverse this enchanting city, ensuring a seamless blend of attractions for both young ones and adults becomes paramount. From captivating sights to engaging activities, Santa Cruz holds the promise of a memorable family adventure.
Location and Description
Nestled along the breathtaking coastline, Santa Cruz emerges as a coastal gem, where azure waves meet golden shores. Located on the central coast of California, this idyllic city is renowned for its stunning beaches, vibrant boardwalk, and a perfect blend of natural beauty and modern amenities. The cityscape is adorned with palm-lined streets, charming neighborhoods, and the refreshing scent of the Pacific Ocean in the air.
As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky over Santa Cruz transforms into a canvas of warm hues, casting a mesmerizing glow on the serene waters. The coastline is dotted with picturesque cliffs and coves, inviting both adventure seekers and those seeking tranquil moments to indulge in the soothing rhythm of the tides.
History of the Enchanting Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz boasts a rich tapestry of history, woven with threads of Native American heritage, Spanish exploration, and the California Gold Rush. The city’s name, meaning “Holy Cross” in Spanish, echoes its Spanish colonial roots. The Mission Santa Cruz, founded in 1791, stands as a tangible testament to the city’s historical significance.
In the 19th century, Santa Cruz witnessed a surge in prosperity with the discovery of gold in the nearby hills. Victorian-era architecture still graces the city, offering a glimpse into the opulence of that era. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, inaugurated in 1907, is an iconic landmark that stands as a living relic of the city’s amusement park history.
Why Visit the Coastal Haven
Santa Cruz beckons visitors with a myriad of compelling reasons to explore its enchanting landscapes. The pristine beaches, such as Main Beach and Natural Bridges State Beach, offer not only sun-kissed sands but also opportunities for surfing, beach volleyball, and serene sunset strolls.
For nature enthusiasts, the towering redwoods of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park provide a serene escape into the heart of California’s ancient forests. The city’s vibrant arts scene, punctuated by galleries and street performances, adds a cultural flair to the coastal experience.
The Santa Cruz Wharf stands as a bustling hub of activity, offering delectable seafood, unique shops, and panoramic views of the Pacific. As the evening unfolds, the Boardwalk comes alive with the nostalgic sounds of carnival games and the scent of cotton candy, creating an atmosphere that transcends time.
Things to do in Santa Cruz with kids
You’ve come to the proper place to find out useful things to do in Santa Cruz with kids. Santa Cruz and Capitola are filled with locations your children will love! As a bonus, they’re additionally completely enjoyable for adults, too! Take a look at these household pleasant things to do in Santa Cruz Country with kids.
1. Unveiling the Santa Cruz Seaside Boardwalk
In the vibrant expanse of Santa Cruz, the renowned Seaside Boardwalk beckons with an irresistible allure. Familiar to many, this iconic destination radiates a nostalgic, old-world charm that transcends generations. The star attraction, the historic Massive Dipper roller coaster, stands tall, a testament to the enduring thrill of classic amusement. Nestled within this lively atmosphere is a captivating relic from 1911—a meticulously crafted carousel that weaves its enchanting tale.
As you tread the wooden planks of the boardwalk, a panorama of age-appropriate rides and activities unfolds, catering to the whims of both the little tykes and their older counterparts. The laughter of children mingles with the distant echoes of crashing waves, creating a symphony of joy that lingers in the air. If your children aren’t already clamoring for a visit, the boardwalk promises to be an unexpected delight that will surely win them over.
2. Santa Cruz Youngsters’ Museum of Discovery
Nestled within the vibrant confines of Capitola Mall, the Santa Cruz Youngsters’ Museum of Discovery (MOD) stands as an immersive haven tailored for the inquisitive minds of children aged 0-12. Within its walls, a myriad of interactive exhibits unfolds, seamlessly blending science, art, and technology into a captivating tapestry of exploration.
One notable highlight is the innovative tinker lab—a sanctuary where young minds can engage in the delicate dance of experimentation, wielding tools to fashion their imaginative contraptions. It stands as a testament to the city’s commitment to fostering creativity in the younger generation, making it an indispensable stop on the list of things to do in Santa Cruz with kids.
3. Exploring Santa Cruz Seashores
Santa Cruz, nestled along the coastline, unveils a treasure trove of scenic wonders through its extensive stretch of seashores. A paradisiacal choice for those seeking a day brimming with sun-soaked activities, Santa Cruz’s beaches stand as a testament to the city’s allure. Among the plethora of things to do, the beaches offer a playground for both young and old, making it a delightful family experience.
Picture this: the soft grains of sand beneath your feet, the laughter of children resonating in the air as they engage in the timeless art of building sandcastles. Embrace the coastal breeze while flying a kite or take a refreshing dip in the ocean waves. Consider venturing into the adjacent state parks or exploring the recreational haven of Half Moon Bay for an added layer of adventure.
4. The Enigma of the Mystery Spot
For those with curious minds and a penchant for the unknown, the Mystery Spot emerges as an intriguing escapade just beyond the borders of Santa Cruz. Nestled in the ethereal redwood forest, this enigmatic location challenges the very fabric of our understanding of physics and gravity. A haven for inquisitive minds, especially the perennial questioners – children. Have you ever been stumped by your little ones’ relentless inquiries? Enter the Mystery Spot, where questions beget more questions, and answers seem to dance in the realm of uncertainty.
Ponder over the inexplicable occurrences that defy the laws of physics. The anticipation builds as you secure tickets, priced at $6 in advance, and $5 at the door, with the added perk of children aged three and below gaining free entry. Embark on this whimsical journey into the unknown, exploring the anomalies that beckon at every turn. For additional details, delve into the mysteries at http://www.mysteryspot.com/.
5. Roaring Camp Railroads
Embark on a nostalgic journey through time by hopping aboard the Roaring Camp Railroads’ 1880 Steam Train. As the wheels set in motion, a picturesque panorama of the Santa Cruz Redwoods and Mountains unfolds, painting a living canvas of nature’s grandeur. This Spring, an extra touch of enchantment graces the ride—the Easter Bunny joins the locomotive caravan. Amidst the rhythmic chug of the train, an exciting egg hunt ensues, adding an element of thrill and joy to the scenic expedition. As a bonus, participants stand a chance to claim enticing prizes, elevating the Roaring Camp Railroads experience beyond a mere locomotive ride into an immersive celebration of nature and festivity.
6. The Whimsical Haven: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
Reverently dubbed “the whale museum” by locals, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History emerges as a sanctuary of wonderment. The entrance is graced by a formidable concrete whale sculpture, a magnetic force drawing children like a siren song. The universal adoration for this majestic creature becomes palpable as little adventurers find it nearly impossible to resist the temptation to ascend its sturdy back.
Within the museum’s embrace, the narrative of the Monterey Bay area unfolds—a tapestry woven with threads of diverse plant, animal, and human communities. The exhibits, meticulously curated, promise an engaging odyssey for young minds. A tide pool exhibit becomes a tactile adventure, where hermit crabs, sea stars, and anemones invite gentle exploration (a reminder to the young ones to handle with care).
Journeying deeper into history, an exhibit dedicated to the Ohlone people, the original inhabitants of Santa Cruz, offers a poignant glimpse into their lives. Here, children have the unique opportunity to grind acorns in a stone mortar and pestle, forging a connection with the past. Like the enchanting whale and the tactile tide pools, the humble acorns emerge as unexpected heroes, captivating the imaginations of the youngest visitors.
In the heart of Santa Cruz, where waves dance with laughter and history whispers through exhibits, the museum stands not just as a repository of knowledge but as a testament to the captivating magic that awaits families exploring this coastal haven.
7. Seymour Discovery Middle: A Glimpse into Monterey Bay’s Marine Marvels
Nestled within the vibrant coastal town of Santa Cruz, the Seymour Discovery Middle stands as a petite aquarium that boasts an intimate encounter with the mesmerizing sea life dwelling in the depths of Monterey Bay. As you peer through the expansive windows, you’ll find yourself immersed in a visual feast, showcasing the rich diversity of marine creatures that call the bay home. The recent addition of a captivating exhibit allows visitors a unique opportunity to not just observe but also gently pet a swell shark— an experience that seamlessly blends safety and coolness, leaving an indelible mark on your aquatic adventure.
8. Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab
Immerse your child in the wonders of marine life at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, nestled within the expansive Long Marine Lab. As your little one wanders through this marine haven, their eyes will widen at the sight of the world’s largest whale skeleton, an awe-inspiring spectacle that fuels curiosity and sparks the imagination. The center’s deliberate size ensures that it captivates your child’s attention without overwhelming their senses.
Encourage your child to explore and learn through the myriad exhibits, enchanting aquariums, and interactive touch tanks that provide a tactile connection to the underwater realm. For a hands-on experience, engage in the daily craft projects tailored for children, available from 1 pm to 3 pm. If you have older kids, consider embarking on the Marine Mammal Research “behind the scenes” tour, a fascinating journey offered on select Thursdays and Sundays.
Operating from Tuesday to Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM, and on Sundays from noon to 5 PM, the center welcomes visitors with an admission fee of $6 for adults, $4 for children aged 4-16, and seniors aged 64 and older. A bonus for families with toddlers—children three and under are admitted free of charge, making it a delightful and affordable Santa Cruz experience for all. Dive into the details of tour times and directions at Seymour Center Visitor Information.
9. Gilroy Gardens: A Haven for Young Adventurers
When embarking on a family-friendly escapade in Santa Cruz, Gilroy Gardens stands out as a beacon for those with youthful hearts and curious minds. This whimsical theme park, nestled in the heart of the city, boasts an impressive array of over forty rides, attractions, and educational exhibits, creating a fantastical realm of joy and learning. Immerse yourself in the enchanting landscapes of majestic gardens that serve as a backdrop to the park’s vibrant energy.
Delight your taste buds with culinary delights within the park or opt for a picnic with your chosen snacks and beverages. A crucial tip for summer visitors: ensure to pack ample water to combat the scorching heat that envelopes the surroundings. For detailed information, and inquiries, and to plan your adventure, contact the park at (408) 840-7100 or visit their website at http://www.gilroygardens.org/.
10. Exploring Hidden Villa: A Rural Haven in the Santa Cruz Mountains
Nestled within the picturesque landscape of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Hidden Villa stands as a sprawling 1600-acre nonprofit working farm, captivating visitors with its blend of natural beauty and educational endeavors. The mission of Hidden Villa goes beyond its agricultural pursuits, aiming to enlighten the community about environmental sustainability and social justice.
As visitors traverse the vast expanse, they encounter not just the typical farmstead scenes but a living classroom where the flora and fauna serve as the curriculum. Natural gardens and amiable animals populate the grounds, offering an interactive learning experience for all ages. The ambiance is one of hands-on education, where children can delight in the opportunity to pet and play with a menagerie that includes chickens, cows, pigs, and more.
For those eager to immerse themselves in this rural haven, Hidden Villa welcomes the public from Tuesdays to Sundays, creating a space where the wonders of nature unfold from 9 am to dusk. While there is a nominal $5 parking fee, this is gracefully waived with the acquisition and use of a season pass, making repeated visits a convenient and cost-effective option. To plan your visit and learn more about this enchanting destination, explore http://www.hiddenvilla.org.
11. Wetlands Wonder: Watsonville Nature Middle
Nestled within the heart of Santa Cruz, the Wetlands of Watsonville Nature Center emerges as a haven for nature enthusiasts and curious minds alike. This ecological oasis unfolds a captivating tapestry of wetland animals and unravels the rich historical narrative embedded in the landscape. Families can embark on exploration walks every Sunday at 1:30, immersing themselves in the vibrant biodiversity and absorbing the tales of the past.
12. A Journey Through Time: Agricultural History Mission
Dive deep into the agricultural roots of Santa Cruz with a visit to the Agricultural History Mission—a treasure trove of educational exhibits and historic archives. The Codiga Center & Museum stands as a testament to the region’s farming legacy. Delve into the intricacies of agriculture research, gaining insights that transcend generations. For an immersive experience, seize the opportunity to embark on a delightful hayride, meandering through the landscapes that echo the stories of the land. As a cherry on top, savor an on-site lunch, creating a sensory symphony of flavors. A humble request of a $2 donation per person opens the doors to a journey through time and agriculture.
13. Unveiling Nature’s Canvas: Bird Watching Extravaganza
For those enchanted by the winged wonders, Santa Cruz offers a mesmerizing bird-watching experience at the Wetlands of Watsonville Nature Center. The wetlands play host to a myriad of avian species, their vibrant plumage and melodious tunes creating a living, breathing canvas of nature’s artistry. Sundays become a rendezvous with feathered friends during exploration walks at 1:30, a delightful activity for families and avid bird enthusiasts alike.
13. Cultivating Curiosity: Family Activities Galore
The spirit of Santa Cruz thrives in its commitment to family-friendly activities. The Wetlands of Watsonville Nature Center stands as a beacon for fostering family bonds through immersive experiences. Engage in hands-on activities, discover the wonders of the wetlands together, and create lasting memories. The heartwarming ambiance of the center welcomes families to explore, learn, and bond amidst the captivating beauty of nature.
14. [Santa Cruz] Gem: Codiga Center & Museum
Immerse yourself in the soul-stirring journey of Santa Cruz’s agricultural heritage at the Codiga Center & Museum. Beyond the educational exhibits and historic archives, this gem beckons visitors to connect with the essence of the land. A mere $2 donation per person opens the doors to a wealth of knowledge and an enriching experience. Embark on a hayride, relish an on-site lunch, and let the echoes of the past guide your exploration through this living testament to Santa Cruz’s agricultural legacy. Visit aghistoryproject.org to plan your adventure through time.
15. Whale Watching Adventure: Navigating the Waters with Kayak Connection
For a family day out that combines the thrill of water activities with an enriching marine experience, look no further than the offerings of Kayak Connection, an establishment that beckons adventure seekers to explore the azure depths of the Santa Cruz coast.
Delving into the aquatic realm, Kayak Connection provides an array of options, from daily kayak rentals to guided kayak tours, wetsuit rentals, boogie board rentals, and stand-up paddling lessons. The allure of this experience is heightened by the presence of guides who seamlessly balance their roles as watercraft navigators and marine biology students at the renowned UC Santa Cruz. This dynamic mix ensures that your journey is not only filled with the excitement of water sports but also enriched with fascinating insights into the diverse marine life inhabiting the coastal waters.
As glowing Yelp reviews attest, the staff at Kayak Connection embody a perfect blend of friendliness and patience, making it an ideal choice for families seeking a harmonious aquatic escapade. Whether you’re a seasoned water enthusiast or a novice adventurer, the offerings at Kayak Connection cater to all skill levels, promising an immersive and enjoyable experience for everyone.
To plan your whale-watching adventure and explore the possibilities that Kayak Connection offers, reach out to them at 831-479-1121 or via email at [email protected]. Detailed information can also be found on their website: http://www.kayakconnection.com/.
16. Santa Cruz Seaside Boardwalk: Where Fun Meets Ocean Breezes
For an experience that blends the thrill of amusements with the calming whispers of the ocean, the Santa Cruz Seaside Boardwalk emerges as a prime destination. While offering an array of larger, exhilarating rides, the boardwalk has recently expanded its offerings to cater specifically to the younger demographic.
Nestled in proximity to sandy beaches and the iconic wharf, this locale presents a myriad of options for those seeking reprieve from the rides or the bustling crowd. With the rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves as a backdrop, visitors can revel in the perfect synthesis of excitement and relaxation. Dive into the details of upcoming events and additional trip information by visiting http://www.beachboardwalk.com/. In Santa Cruz, a day at the boardwalk is not merely an amusement; it’s a harmonious symphony of joy by the sea.
17. West Cliff Drive / Lighthouse Field
Embark on a sensory journey along the picturesque West Cliff Drive, an idyllic expanse that unfolds as a beautiful combination of a scenic beach and a meandering bike path, perched atop the breathtaking cliffs. This coastal oasis is not just a path but an invitation for families, surfers, tourists, and even wintering monarch butterflies to revel in its splendor.
As you stroll, breathe in the salty sea air, absorbing the tranquility that permeates the atmosphere. The expansive views of Monterey Bay stretch before you, a panoramic canvas of nature’s artistry. Find a quiet spot, perhaps on a weathered bench, and let the rhythmic sounds of the waves serenade you.
For a dash of excitement, fix your gaze upon the surfers gracefully navigating the waves at Steamer Lane. Marvel at the historic lighthouse that stands sentinel, a silent witness to the ebb and flow of time. West Cliff Drive is not merely a drive; it’s a sensory symphony that captures the essence of Santa Cruz’s coastal charm.
18. UCSC Arboretum: A Tranquil Picnic Amidst Nature’s Tapestry
Embark on a sensory journey at the UCSC Arboretum, an enchanting haven situated on the campus of the esteemed University of California, Santa Cruz. For a modest fee, indulge in the simple pleasures of a stunning afternoon picnic surrounded by the vibrant tapestry of flowers and the occasional glimpse of wildlife. It’s a rendezvous with nature that promises to captivate the imagination of your little ones or provide a serene backdrop for meaningful family bonding with older children.
The arboretum, guided by the ethos of “Take only notes, leave only footprints,” subtly emphasizes the need for supervision, discouraging the picking of flowers. Canine companions, unfortunately, need to stay behind. Admission fees stand at $5 for adults and $2 for children, while those seeking a more informed exploration can opt for guided tours at $8 per person. The arboretum’s website, http://arboretum.ucsc.edu/, is your gateway to a tranquil escape into nature’s embrace.
19. Roaring Camp & Massive Timber Railroad
Embark on a captivating journey through the heart of Santa Cruz with the Roaring Camp & Massive Timber Railroad. Picture yourself aboard a seashore train, traversing the scenic landscapes along the meandering San Lorenzo River. The rhythmic clatter of wheels echoes over a historic 1909 steel truss bridge, enhancing the nostalgic charm of your voyage. The adventure takes a thrilling turn as the train delves through an enchanting 1875 tunnel, unveiling a portal to the city streets leading to the iconic Santa Cruz boardwalk.
For a more immersive experience, opt for the narrow-gauge steam locomotive departing from Roaring Camp. This remarkable locomotive propels you into the embrace of towering redwood groves, navigating over trestles and ascending a winding narrow-gauge grade to reach the summit of Bear Mountain. It’s an excursion that stands out as one of the premier family-friendly activities in Santa Cruz.
Dive into the plethora of train options and routes offered by Roaring Camp, each promising a unique perspective of Santa Cruz’s natural beauty. To add a touch of exclusivity, visit their website and select a specific event weekend tailored to your preferences. The Roaring Camp & Massive Timber Railroad operates daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, with ticket pricing varying, including a nominal $8 fee for parking. Detailed event schedules and pricing information can be found at Roaring Camp’s official website.
20. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Delve into the mesmerizing world of marine wonders at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a captivating destination that promises an enriching experience for visitors of all ages. Nestled in the heart of Santa Cruz, this aquarium beckons with a myriad of stunning exhibits, interactive touch pools, and educational opportunities showcasing the diverse marine life inhabiting the Monterey Bay.
A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is not just a tour; it’s an immersion into the depths of oceanic fascination. Children, in particular, will find joy in the carefully curated displays that bring them face-to-face with the wonders of the aquatic realm. The aquarium serves as an invaluable educational resource, fostering an understanding of marine ecosystems and the importance of conservation.
Don’t miss the chance to explore this aquatic haven, where every corner unveils a new facet of underwater marvels. Whether you’re fascinated by playful sea otters, graceful jellyfish, or the majestic kelp forests, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a can’t-miss destination in Santa Cruz. Check their schedule for exciting events and plan your visit to this aquatic paradise. Compensair: A service that helps customers receive compensation for flight delays, cancellations, or denied boarding
Seaside Bliss at Capitola: Capitola Seaside Home 4100
For those seeking a coastal retreat spanning a few days or perhaps indulging in a more extended stay of a couple of weeks, the coastal region of Santa Cruz and Capitola boasts an array of enchanting seaside home rentals. The allure of Capitola lies in its quaint offerings, ideal for smaller families seeking an intimate coastal escape. On the flip side, for those with a larger entourage, sprawling beachfront residences with mesmerizing ocean vistas are readily available, ensuring a haven for the entire group.
Nature’s Bounty: Seasonal Wonders in Santa Cruz
Spring & Summertime Months
Embark on a delightful adventure during the berry-picking season, where numerous local farms around Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay graciously open their gates to the public. This experience is a sensory feast, with vibrant berries ripe for plucking. A word of advice: don closed-toed shoes as the fields may prove a delightful mess, adding a touch of adventure to one of the most family-friendly activities in Santa Cruz. Travel essentials, accessories, kit & items on Amazon
As the seasons transition towards autumn, Santa Cruz transforms into a haven for pumpkin enthusiasts. Venture into the whimsical realm of Santa Cruz Pumpkin Patches, where the landscape becomes adorned with nature’s bounty in the form of vibrant pumpkins. Dressed in fall hues, children can revel in the joy of selecting the perfect pumpkin while capturing priceless moments against a backdrop of orange and gold. Some farms elevate the experience with hay mazes, petting zoos, pony rides, and even haunted houses, ensuring an autumnal escapade full of memories.
In neighboring Half Moon Bay, the Art and Pumpkin Festival takes center stage, captivating visitors with a myriad of activities. From face painting to pumpkin carving contests, the festival creates a wonderland for the little ones. A culinary adventure awaits as well, with pie-eating contests promising delectable indulgence. This multifaceted celebration adds a delightful layer to the seasonal festivities, making it an essential stop on the itinerary of those exploring the wonders of Santa Cruz with kids.
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