things to do in santa cruz
Beach & Bay

31 Best Things to Do in Santa Cruz – A to Z Guide

(Last Updated On: April 9, 2021)

Flanked by coastal redwoods and Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz blends Southern California’s seaside city vibes with Northern California’s rugged attractiveness with many things to do in Santa Cruz. With 300 annual days of sunshine, you’ll discover most residents outdoor on bikes, trails, or surfboards.

It’s right here that browsing was launched to the mainland within the 1880s, and at the moment, surf tradition informs practically every side of everyday life. The official costume code is flip-flops and hoodies, but it’s not all seaside bums sleeping in their VW vans. A brand new wave of younger enterprise homeowners is lending the as soon as a sleepy city a jolt of recent vitality with trendy boutiques, craft brews, and trendy eateries.

Greatest things to do in Santa Cruz

1. West Cliff Drive

What’s it? A 3-mile, multi-use pathway that hugs the shores of Monterey Bay from the Santa Cruz Wharf to Pure Bridges State Seashore with loads of secluded seaside coves and scenic overlooks alongside the way in which.

Why go? Stroll this wildly scenic promenade and also you’ll quickly be ringing native realtors to see if relocation is a choice. Come at sundown and watch the sky gentle up with sufficient colorful hues to rival a Holi fest.

2. Santa Cruz Seashore Boardwalk

What’s it? This timeless beachfront amusement park is filled with thrill rides, halfway video games, and ooey-gooey treats that can have you ever pretending deep-fried Twinkies are completely Keto.

Why go? Soar excessive above the beachfront in candy-colored Sky-Glider carts, descend into the spooky depths of the Haunted Fort, and go screaming over heart-racing drops on the historic Large Dipper curler coaster. Throughout summertime, watch basic flicks on the seaside together with “The Misplaced Boys” whose teen vamps famously made the Boardwalk their native hang-out.

3. Steamer Lane

What’s it? A world-renowned surf break that hosts quite a few surf contests and regulars who glide alongside double overheads.

Why go? Be a part of the crowds gathered alongside the adjoining blufftop and get stoked on the native surf scene. A couple of steps away, the Santa Cruz Browsing Museum shows classic browsing treasures—together with a surfboard chomped by an incredible white shark—inside a memorial lighthouse. Close by Steamer Lane Provide serves takeaway poke bowls, fish tacos, and artistic quesadillas loved on benches overlooking the surf.

4. Backyard of Eden

What’s it? A magical beach-lined swimming gap hidden inside a redwood forest.

Why go? Because the San Lorenzo River wends its manner by means of Henry Cowell Redwood State Park, it often collects in deep swimming pools as on this aptly-named oasis ringed by towering redwoods. Reached by way of a scenic .75 mile trek, the swimming gap contains a huge sandy shore the place you may throw down a towel and reside off your cooler for the day. Simply keep in mind: respect the paradise and pack your trash!

5. Brew Cruz

What’s it? A tour of native taprooms and breweries aboard a tricked-out college bus dubbed Betty Jane.

Why go? Santa Cruz is a sleeper craft beer vacation spot with 14 breweries that includes worthy brews that you just doubtless won’t discover elsewhere. Highlights embrace barrel-aged sours at Sante Adairius, distinctive gastropub fare at Discretion Brewing, and hazy IPAs and an energetic beer backyard at Humble Sea Brewing Firm. With educated drivers and onboard coolers, you may refill on native insights and newly bought beers.

6. Outdated Cove Touchdown Path at Wilder Ranch State Park

What’s it? A blinding 2.5-mile path that skirts steep coastal bluffs—an uplifted historical sea ground—with unspoiled views of the Pacific.

Why go? You’re more likely to spy frolicking dolphins, seals, and the humps and misty plumes of migrating whales. You’ll additionally cross Fern Grotto Seashore, a secluded seaside cove backed by an inland sea cave dripping with ferns.

7. Sawyer Land & Sea

What’s it? A surf-themed boutique that provides trendy gear and attire to go well with a coastal way of life.
Why go? Outfit your self like an area at this Westside neighborhood cease that’s one half surf store, one-half REI. The store options domestically formed surfboards, covetable tenting provides, and males’ and ladies’ clothes from manufacturers equivalent to Katin, Mollusk, and Aviator Nation. Little ones can look the half, too, with Sawyer’s kids’ line, Salty Little Sliders.

things to do in santa cruz

8. Shark Fin Cove

What’s it? A mesmerizing seaside cove with turquoise waters and a large, namesake rock formation sitting simply offshore.

Why go? You’ll scramble down an uneven path from a blufftop, dust parking zone, however, you’ll quickly uncover a cinematically lovely seaside bounded by sky-high coastal bluffs, a sea cave, and a dramatic fin-shaped outcrop. It feels as if a younger, harpoon-wielding Leonardo DiCaprio may stroll out at any second.

9. Level Market

What’s it? An unassuming nook mart that sits steps from the shore and simply occurs to serve one of the best breakfast burritos in California.

Why go? Though the kitchen presents a prolonged menu of breakfast and lunch dishes, everyone seems to be right here for the breakfast burritos. They arrive in two sizes—massive and larger—and bursting with eggs, cheese, potatoes, homemade salsa, and extras together with bacon, pesto, and Soyrizo. For a quintessential Santa Cruz second, take pleasure in it on the adjoining mini-park overlooking surfers using waves again into shore.

10. Abbott Sq. Market

What’s it? A buzzy public market and plaza with a set of native eateries and arguably one of the best cocktail bars in the town.

Why go? A wide range of meals stalls presents one thing for everybody, from charcuterie-topped Neapolitan pies at Pizzeria la Bufala to West African-tinged vegan dishes at Veg on the Edge. Begin the day with a third-wave brew at Cat.Cloud.Companion or wind it down with knowledgeable cocktails from Entrance & Cooper. The bustling downtown hub is a challenge of the adjoining Museum of Artwork & Historical past which often presents festive occasions and resides music on the sprawling, light-strung patio.

11. Bigfoot Discovery Museum

What’s it? An enjoyable roadside ceases alongside twisty, redwood-shrouded Freeway 9.

Why go? The 2-room shrine to Sasquatch contains a nostalgic assortment of Bigfoot toys and popular culture appearances, from “The Six-Million Greenback Man” to “Harry and the Hendersons.” Issues get hairier within the subsequent room with plaster casts of outsized ft and a wall-sized map dotted with colored pins denoting current sightings. After chatting cryptozoology with the proprietor, head into the woods and hunt down the massive man your self.

12. Choose Up Contemporary Produce & Extra For a Picnic at One of many Farmers’ Markets

There are 5 totally different farmer’s markets in Santa Cruz and the encircling space, together with one proper downtown and within the Westside and Dwell Oak neighborhoods.

Felton and Scotts Valley, simply minutes away within the mountains, provide markets too, so odds are, you’ll discover one open when you’re right hereexamine the current schedule to search out out which of them are open. The markets usually provide plenty of native natural products and also you’re more likely to discover stylish health meals like bone broth and handcrafted items too.

Choose up some scrumptious gadgets after which get pleasure from a picnic in any one of many many parks or seashores in Santa Cruz.

13. See a present at the Rio Theatre

Rio is certainly one of Santa Cruz’s most enduring landmarks. It first opened on June 12, 1949, with a double characteristic of “Tune of India” and “Legislation of the Barbary Coast” on its “cyclorama” curved display and is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

Within the years that adopted, it weathered many adjustments within the film trade but in some way managed to remain intact as an artifact from its native decade.

The theater’s well-known signal, marquee and ticket sales space has served as a touchstone for Santa Cruzans of a bygone period. As we speak, it’s thought-about one of many nation’s most distinguished efficiency venues, internet hosting stay music concert events, comedy reveals, lectures and movie festivals, and it’s actually a should to expertise when you’re within the metropolis. It doesn’t matter what time of 12 months you arrive, there’s certain to be one thing implausible on the faucet.

14. Be part of the Santa Cruz Meals Tour

Santa Cruz has the scene of a dynamic meal, and if you wish to pattern a number of the metropolis’s finest eats whereas studying about native historical past, tradition, structure and the historic neighborhoods, be part of the Santa Cruz Meals Tour.

You’ll go to quite a few off-the-beaten-track locations and in between, you’ll discover Victorian structure and Santa Cruz historical past in two downtown historic districts so that you simply have time to digest all that scrumptious meals earlier than heading to the following eatery.

15. Stroll or cycle West Cliff Drive

A stroll, or journey, alongside West Cliff Drive, wherever from Pure Bridges State Seashore to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, is assured to supply breathtaking views of the Pacific, multi-million greenback houses, and other people out having fun with a number of the finest the world has to supply.

This 2.75-mile stretch of sidewalk that principally runs properly alongside the ocean, is essentially the most scenic and accessible shoreline stroll within the metropolis and is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

The paved path passes a lighthouse, Steamer Lane surf break, the Santa Cruz Browsing Museum and most of the metropolis’s best seashores and coves.

In case you want to discover it on wheels and don’t have a motorbike with you, you’ll be able to lease one via quite a few outfitters, together with the Household Biking Heart.

16. Catch a wave at Pleasure Level

So long as you’ll be able to swim, it’s best to actually give browsing an attempt when you’re in one of many sport’s high locations within the world- and, should you’re already a skilled surfer, properly it’s a given.

Not solely is Santa Cruz a Nationwide Browsing Sanctuary, host of the annual O’Neill Chilly Water Traditional contest, and residential to quite a few professional and big-wave surfers, however, the sport is ingrained in a lot of them on a regular basis tradition right here.

Cowell’s Seashore close to the Boardwalk or 36th and East Cliff at Pleasure Level are two of one of the best spots for inexperienced persons, although you’ll most likely wish to take browsing classes earlier than you head out on aboard. Surf Faculty Santa Cruz boasts a number of the metropolis’s high professionals, each of your board and wetsuit are offered, and classes happen at the legendary Pleasure Level.

Other than being popularized within the 2012 movie Chasing Mavericks, the Pleasure Level neighborhood has a ton of nice eating places, cafes, surf outlets, and native boutiques.

17. See the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park

In case you’re within the space through the wintertime, from about mid-December via the tip of March, you should definitely go to Ano Nuevo State Park and is one of the great things to do in Santa Cruz.

That is the house for elephant seals, named due to their massive dimension and lengthy pendulous noses on the male, which use the sand dunes right here to relax and mate. The park gives guided walks, led by volunteer docent naturalists, to see the large creatures of their pure habitat contained in the Pure Protect.

The breeding season for the animals begins in December when the primary males arrive. From 14- to 16-feet lengthy and weighing as much as two-and-a-half tons, the massive bulls interact in violent battles to ascertain dominance, with the profitable bulls doing a lot of the breeding.

Then in late December, the females, which common 10- to 12-feet in size, weighing 1,200 to 2,000 kilos, arrive. Inside every week after their arrival, the females give beginning to the pups that had been conceived the earlier 12 months.

They mate about 24 days after giving beginning, and the entire cycle begins once more. It’s fascinating to see these ginormous animals in particular person – and properly well worth the lower than 30-minute drive up the coast from Santa Cruz.

18. Take pleasure in wine tasting

There are greater than 70 wineries and tasting rooms within the Santa Cruz Mountains, which unknown to most is likely one of the oldest wine areas within the nation, famed for award-winning pinot noirs and different nice wines. With so many to select from, the place do you begin?

One fabulous and simply accessible choice is Surf Metropolis Vintners, positioned properly in Santa Cruz. It is an assortment of 11 native boutique wineries, most of that are housed in a cluster of charming renovated warehouses on the west aspect of the city, providing handy tasting expertise.

Or, you’ll be able to take the Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Path, following Freeway 35 to Bear Creek Street, visiting great wineries among the many redwoods, together with Thomas Fogarty Vineyard & Vineyards, Ahlgren Vineyard, Byington Vineyard & Winery, David Bruce Vineyard, and Burrell Faculty Vineyards, positioned in a historic 1890 schoolhouse.

19. Hunt for mushrooms within the forests of the San Lorenzo Valley

Mushroom searching is a well-liked exercise right here within the San Lorenzo Valley, the world within the Santa Cruz Mountains between Felton and Boulder Creek.

The southern area of the “mushroom vary,” the nice and cozy local weather and distinctive habitats assist a surprising range. The area is dwelling to greater than 1,000 totally different species, and to search out them, simply head to the hills. The blended evergreen forest of Douglas fir bushes, oaks, tanoaks and madrones, assist essentially the most numerous assemblage of mushrooms of any habitat.

They’re considerably much less plentiful within the redwood forests, because of the decreased variety of tree species and is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

However you should definitely do your analysis first – understand that choosing mushrooms is prohibited at most parks, and also you by no means wish to eat one without checking with the specialiststhey are often lethal. The golden rule is to “gather much earlier than you eat any.”

20. Discover the Surfers’ Museum Then Watch the Surfers Journey the Waves

Top-of-the-line spots to look at the various gifted surfers who come to Santa Cruz to journey its well-known waves are alongside West Cliff Drive at Steamer Lane. And, right here you’ll additionally discover a tiny browsing museum housed inside a lighthouse that may take you again via 120 years of browsing historical past. Established in 1986, its collections date again to the earliest years of browsing off the shores of the U.S. mainland.

21. Journey the rails at Roaring Camp

Roaring Camp, positioned in Felton, a 10-minute drive from Santa Cruz, isn’t only an excellent spot to take the children in addition to the kid-at-heart and anybody who likes trains.

It’s an implausible strategy to step again in time, using one of many oldest narrow-gauge trains in existence that also carries passengers, via the gorgeous Redwood forests, touring to Bear Mountain via old-growth redwood groves within the one-hour, 15-minute round-trip journey and is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

Or, you’ll be able to take the standard-gauge Santa Cruz Seashore Practice which makes its approach down a winding path to the Santa Cruz Seashore Boardwalk alongside the San Lorenzo River in a three-hour out-and-back journey.

Henry Cowell State Park is a true subsequent door, providing picnic areas, fishing and 30 miles of mountaineering trails.

22. Expertise the thriller of the Thriller Spot

In case you just like the magical and the mysterious, you should definitely head to the Thriller Spot, a spot that’s been alluring and mystifying guests since 1940. Simply three miles from downtown Santa Cruz, it’s positioned within the Redwoods, and right here the legal guidelines of gravity apparently don’t apply.

You’ll see some fairly weird issues, like balls rolling up hills, water that seems to circulation upward and bushes with branches that solely develop on one aspect.

You possibly can even turn into part of the tour if you wish to. And, even should you don’t imagine what you’re seeing, skeptics are inclined to have enjoyable simply trying to debunk the thriller and is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

23. Take a stroll down the wharf to see the ocean lions

The ocean lions are probably the greatest issues to do in Santa Cruz, and they are often seen year-round on the finish of the Santa Cruz Wharf which is adjoining to the Boardwalk.

Some will likely be snoozing away on the rafters beneath, whereas others hang around on the platforms alongside the aspect of the wharf, and nonetheless others could be seen splashing about within the water.

In case you’re in search of a chunk to eat, it is an excellent spot for that too, with all the things from upscale eating places with ocean views to small seafood markets the place you’ll be able to decide up a crab cocktail and a beer to get pleasure from whereas taking in the complete scene.

Along with the ocean lions, whales can often be noticed, otters ceaselessly move by and pelicans usually land properly on the pier to scoop up guests’ leftovers.

24. Play on the Santa Cruz Seashore Boardwalk

Top-of-the-line seaside amusement parks within the nation, if not the easiest, the Santa Cruz Seashore Boardwalk is the preferred attraction on the town, stuffed with rides for nearly everybody, from the heart-pounding Big Dipper, one of many oldest curler coasters within the nation, operating for over 90 years, to a quaint 1911 Carousel and the Sky Glider, which gives the possibility to take spectacular panoramic views of the park, seashore and the limitless expanse of the Pacific.

On Friday nights in the summertime, you’ll be able to get pleasure from free stay concert events whereas absorbing the solar and the sand, and year-round children and teenagers will love the large arcade with over 300 of the preferred video and pinball video games, laser tag, simulators, video games of talent and extra.

There are additionally a number of outlets promoting beachwear, souvenirs, items, and different gadgets, together with the standard eateries that serve corn canine, cotton sweet, snow cones, pizza and extra.

25. Uncover a phenomenal and extra peaceable stretch of seashore

On the seashores proper in Santa Cruz, persons are packed in like sardines, battling for their very own spot on the sand, however only a brief drive north, and also you would possibly simply get to get pleasure from a seashore all to yourself.

Greyhound Rock Seashore, simply 17 miles north alongside scenic Freeway One is good. You possibly can’t see it from the street, which might be why many individuals don’t enterprise down – it additionally requires a steep, however brief, strolls down a cliff, and whereas it retains the crowds away, it’s straightforward to navigate for many and is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

As soon as there, even though the busy summertime months, you’ll often discover that few others are round, although you would possibly spot an elephant seal having fun with the tranquility. By making the simple climb up Greyhound Rock, which juts out into the ocean, you’ll have an ideal vantage level for viewing the dolphins that ceaselessly move by, leaping from the surf.

26. Test Out the Monterey Bay Nationwide Marine Sanctuary Exploration Heart

Positioned simply throughout the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, this nice little new exploration heart is free to go to and gives a journey via the underwater atmosphere of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. It contains participating multimedia and interactive reveals that enable guests to have enjoyable whereas studying.

Simply a number of the prospects embrace feeding a turtle jellyfish and serving to information it because it travels throughout the Pacific, driving an underwater submersible or taking a journey wherever on the earth utilizing Google’s Liquid Galaxy.

27. Hike to the waterfalls in Large Basin Redwood State Park

California’s oldest state park is positioned in Boulder Creek, within the coronary heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains a couple of 20-mile drive from downtown Santa Cruz.

Whereas its foremost attraction is the traditional coast redwoods, a few of that are 2,500 years outdated, over 500 ft round and greater than 300-feet-tall, the park can be dwelling to quite a few lovely waterfalls.

In case you’d wish to see them, hike the Waterfall Loop which begins on the park headquarters and follows the Sundown Path downhill via the forested canyons to a sequence of three dramatic falls.

Berry Creek Falls is a favorite, with the 60-foot cascade distinguished by lush ferns and moss that cowl the rocks across the waterfall. The viewing platform close to its base is a perfect location for a picnic.

28. Take a refreshing dip within the Backyard of Eden

A real hidden gem within the redwoods between Felton and Santa Cruz, the Backyard of Eden is a pure swimming gap the place locals congregate to chill off on a sizzling day.

You’ll hike in a couple of miles, parking on the Ox Path turnout off Freeway 9, following the railroad tracks for a couple of half-mile earlier than continuing down the Eden path.

Whereas it’s not precisely straightforward to get right here, it’s well worth the trek as you’ll be able to get pleasure from some wonderful deep river swimming within the swimming pools that sit amongst large boulders within the gorge. Simply bear in mind that because it’s pretty distant, some get pleasure from a dip within the nude, and you may too, should you’re up for it.

29. Look ahead to whales

A whale watching tour in Santa Cruz gives an incredible journey, permitting passengers to soak up attractive views, the great salty air, and delicate swells, in addition to to identify humpback whales between April and November, because the creatures that spend the winter months off the Mexican coast return north to the central California coast for the feeding season.

These whales are identified for being particularly curious, and infrequently come proper as much as the boat to do their very ownindividuals watching.” Grey whales could be noticed between December and April, and transient killer whales could be seen at any time, although they’re commonest within the spring. Along with the whales, there’s an abundance of dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, sea lions and all forms of birds that may be noticed as properly and is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

30. Go sand greenback searching at Sundown State Seashore

Sundown State Seashore, simply south of Santa Cruz, will not be solely an exquisite place to camp close to the Pacific, nevertheless, it’s probably the greatest seashores for beachcombing for sand {dollars}. Sand {dollars} are sea creatures that stay on the underside of the ocean, burrowing into the sand to remain shielded from particles and predators.

They have dried up exoskeleton stays, which is what is usually collected by beachgoers, are sometimes utilized in DIY ornamental gadgets. You’ll examine the tide tables and go about an hour earlier than low tide.

Lifeless sand {dollars} will likely be white, or off-white, in shadein the event that they’re nonetheless alive, they’ll be reddish-brown and have a fuzzy look, make certain and go away these the place you discover them.

The seashore additionally gives a picnic space and the biggest dunes within the nation, mountainous 200-foot-high sand dunes that construct up in entrance of the coastal bluff.

The seashore itself stretches right down to the place it meets the mouth of the Pajaro River, offering three miles of unobstructed, beautiful shoreline is one of the crazy things to do in Santa Cruz.

31. Store and other people watch at Pacific Backyard Mall

Whenever you’re within the temper to buy, you’ll discover bargains galore within the Pacific Backyard Mall and a complete lot extra.

That is the anchor of downtown Santa Cruz, and it’s most likely not the kind of mall that you simply anticipating due to each of the individuals and the environment.

That is an outside mall the place the outdated Santa Cruz hippy tradition is saved alive, although new improvements appear to occur each day.

You possibly can nonetheless discover all types of characters, with road performers amongst them, dancing, strumming a guitar or singing.

It’s additionally an incredible place for espresso or dinner, and with a bunch of excellent thrift shops, consignment outlets in addition to cool music and bookstores, you’re certain to search out an incredible deal on that merchandise you at all times needed or didn’t know that you simply needed however apparently did.

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