21 Best Things to Do in Santa Cruz California: Art. Adventure. Fun.

21 Best Things to Do in Santa Cruz California: Art. Adventure. Fun.

A Little About Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a unique beach town in California (the Golden State) located on its Central Coast. This amazing place is surrounded by forests and mountains but within lies twenty-nine miles worth of golden beaches. Santa Cruz is famous for its surfing, natural environment, and gorgeous weather.

Although the sun is always shining in Santa Cruz, the coastal location makes the place less humid and cooler. The moderate climate can make days out more enjoyable, and escape the typical unbearable heat. Santa Cruz takes pride in the fact that the sun is shining three hundred days out of a year.

Surfing is the prominent attraction of Santa Cruz, due to the tides and rich history of the sport there. The love for surfing has given the place a laid back vibe. This coastal city also has no shortage of opportunities to take part in other water sports like kayaking, sailing, and paddleboarding.

In Santa Cruz, there are fourteen state parks, all of which offer an individual experience and an escape from the city life. You could also see the parks as potential accommodation options with cabins and campsites being available within the parks.

Furthermore, Santa Cruz has been deemed one of the top one hundred places to live in the world, notably for its safety, variety of leisure activities and a world-class university.

We have researched some of the best things to do in Santa Cruz and produced a list for you to help you plan your trip effectively and save you time.

Why Go to Santa Cruz?

Surfing culture is at the heart of this Californian beach town in fact, it is where surfing was introduced in America! So, the locals take pride in the sport, with an excellent display of the sport’s history with museums or if you fancy a more hands-on approach to it there are lessons available for all abilities.

The diversity in Santa Cruz is wonderful, if you are going for a family getaway there is amusement parks and beaches galore. Or if you want a relaxed holiday full of sunbathing and waves, there are 29 miles worth of beaches to choose from. Perhaps you are looking for some alternative shopping, Santa Cruz is not short of quirky shops.

Santa Cruz’s quirky but vibrant downtown area is home to shops, which you will find nowhere else. This area is particularly popular with students from the city’s university; as it is not short of places to eat, drink, and shop. Santa Cruz is well-known for its liberal politics and accepting culture, this is truly emulated in the downtown area.

In addition, Santa Cruz is an excellent spot to see some wildlife. With no shortage of ocean, it is not uncommon to see whales between April and September. Frequently, when exploring tidal pools, all sorts of small sea creatures can be found. However, if you take a walk through the thick redwood forests, you may spot bobcats, coyotes or foxes.

During the evening in Santa Cruz, strolls along the beaches to view the crashing waves amongst the sunset backdrop are highly recommended. This is a free and enjoyable way to spend your evenings in Santa Cruz and to embrace the natural beauty of it.

Santa Cruz has a huge variety of eating out options however visitors always pick up on the quality of the seafood (no surprise). Fishermen spend most of their time out on the sea in Santa Cruz, and restraints buy in their daily catches to serve at night.

We think we have made our point; there is truly something for all in this gorgeous city. Below you can read the list of the ’21 Things to do in Santa Cruz’, to find inspiration for your trip. We have made the list as diverse as we can.

21 Best Things to do in Santa Cruz

1) Santa Cruz Wharf

Santa Cruz’s Wharf opened in 1914 and has become the central tourist attraction however, we must give a nod to it for its amazing views, restaurants, and electric nightlife. The highly popular tourist destination has a range of activities to participate in, such as a large number of boat tours, live jazz bands, and delicious food. When you visit the famous Wharf, keep an eye out for sea lions when admiring the coastal views!

2) Steam Train

To embrace the natural side of Santa Cruz, then taking a steam train through redwood forests is an alternative way of doing so. With plenty of flexibility with a choice of departure times, you can kick back on the train and take in the wonderful scenery of the forests. Included in the ride is commentary from the train conductor, who will discuss the history of trains in California and find out more about the place itself. This is perfect if you want to combine relaxation with some education.

3) Beginner Surf Lesson

If you have never touched a surfing board in your life that is not a problem – take part in a beginner’s lesson! Surfing is at the heart of Santa Cruz’s culture, so if you want to get involved with it and surf some waves, then taking a three hour beginner’s lesson will allow you to experience it, take away some knowledge, and perhaps even spark a new hobby. The sessions are conducted by an expert surfer, who will educate you on safety and surfing techniques with all of the equipment provided at a very reasonable cost.

4) Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz’s Beach Broadwalk is a brilliant day out and plenty of fun for everyone. The amusement park lives up to all of the nostalgic expectations, with daring rollercoasters, children’s rides, and entertainment. If you aren’t a thrill-seeker, then the park includes an arcade with a mix of new and old games. Besides all of the fun to get involved with, it is next to the coast, so there is a gorgeous view to accompany the thrills.

5) Capitola Village

Capitola Village is a small seaside village in Santa Cruz, which overlooks a beach known for its live music and film showings (during summer). Or if you’re looking for a stroll, you can take a walk along the artistic backdrop consisting of colorful houses and artwork shown nearby. Capitola Village is ideal if you want to get away from the tourist and   bustle, but not go out too far.

6) Surfing Museum

Santa Cruz’s surfing museum is one of the top-rated tourist attractions at the moment, it displays artifacts, stories, and images of some of the places best surfers in an old lighthouse. Even the location (Steamers Lane) has a story to tell, being one of the oldest surfing spots in California, where you can watch people take on the waves.

7) The Lost Boys Tour

The ’80s cult classic ‘The Lost Boys’ was filmed in Santa Cruz, you can go on guided tours which happen on a regular basis or go on a self-tour by choosing your favorite places from the movie. t is a great opportunity to take selfies next to some of the main landmarks of the film. The most notable location from the film is ‘Atlantis Fantasyworld’ on Cedar Street, where Sam met the Frog Brothers.

8) Big Basin State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is the oldest state park in California. In the park is the famous ‘Berry Creek Falls’, which leads you on a hike with beautiful surroundings including other waterfalls. Visitors of the park widely acknowledge the variety of wildlife for viewing, from the typical squirrels to rare lizards. Another appealing feature is the camping faculties available to use, there are over 140 sites in the park to choose from.

9) The Mystery Spot

Do you think defying gravity is impossible? You should think again! The Mystery Spot or ‘Gravity Hill’ is a popular tourist attraction which was discovered in 1939, in which the hill is slightly tilted. Therefore, there is a visual illusion that you are defying gravity. The Mystery Spot is good fun and a perfect spot for some photo-taking to show off to family and friends back home. If you want to find out more about the science behind this visual illusion, you can click on the following link to be taken to their site: https://www.mysteryspot.com/

10) Downtown Market

Downtown Santa Cruz is an area that is filled with unusual shops and is very popular with students. The Downtown market takes place every Wednesday afternoon with stalls with a huge selection of food, including vegan and vegetarian options. Local farms are always present and providing the very freshest farming goods. To add to the amazing vibe, there is always live music playing from local bands of all genres.

11) Natural Bridges State Beach

If you want to experience the natural beauty of Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges State Beach should definitely be on your agenda. The sea arch was naturally formed, and if you look on out to the sea it is common to see whales during the spring and summer, as well as other sea creatures like otters. Scattered on the beach are many tidal pools, which are always good for seeing small sea creatures, but also for finding some natural keepsakes like shells and stones.

12) Santa Cruz Shakespeare

Santa Cruz Shakespeare is a non-profit theatre, who entertains audiences of all ages by performing both Shakespearian plays and other classical pieces. They offer a slightly alternative experience, as the plays are performed outside, so you can take in the captivating performance as well as their beauty. The SCS suggest you bring a picnic so you can relax whilst experiencing their art.

13) Bigfoot Discovery Museum

Bigfoot has been an infamous American mystery for years, and this museum brings together all of the theories into one place. Contained within are artifacts that  ‘prove’ the existence of Bigfoot, a map that pinpoints the apparent sightings in the local area, as well as everything in pop culture related to it. It is a one of a kind attraction; which may help you make up your mind if you believe or not…

14) Brew Cruz

Brew Cruz is a bar and brewery tour of Santa Cruz’s best craft beer stops. You will be taken around in an old school bus named Betty Jane, the driver is always a bit of an expert when it comes down to finding the best beers around and will take you on an alcohol fuelled adventure. There are 2 choices of tours, either a public one which anyone can join in on or a private hire of 8-15 people if there is a larger party traveling. To find out more about joining in on one of the tours, you can click on the following link to be navigated to their site: https://www.scbrewcruz.com/

15) Penny Ice Creamery

Penny Ice Creamery provides some of the wildest flavors of ice cream, which new additions being constantly added. The ice cream shop works closely with local farmers, and it is all made fresh and in-store; the only one in Santa Cruz to do so! Some of our favorite flavors include exotic balsamic fig, Pomegranate Lime Sorbet, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Ripple.

16) Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Seymour Marine Discovery Center is an interactive educational center, which allows all visitors to delve further into the subject of marine biology. All visitors are encouraged to engage with the sea creatures with touch pools, where you can even touch a shark! Also, visitors can find out about ongoing research being conducted about our oceans, this is on a local and global scale. There are also displays for you to find out more about how marine biologists work.

17) Sanctuary Exploration Center

Sanctuary Exploration Center overlooks the ocean and is located near the beach boardwalk. The center provides an exciting educational experience to all of its visitors. The state-of-the-art center involves interactive features, which display information on life under the sea. The aim of the center is to involve visitors with the marine environment and bring it into their everyday life more. A particularly exciting exhibit is the ‘Submarine Canyon’, which visitors look into a navigate a robot around to find deep-sea creatures. To find out more about this exhibits, you can click on the following link to be taken to their website: https://montereybay.noaa.gov/vc/sec/about.html

18) Picnic Basket

The Picnic Basket is a cozy and friendly cafe that serves all locally sourced food in a variety of ways. The Picnic Basket provides the cafe classics such as grilled cheese, but you can add a twist with organic chutney into the mix. During summer months, this creative hub for food adds the famous Penny Ice Creamery to their menu.

19) Museum of Art & History

Santa Cruz’s Museum of Art and History is located in the ultra-trendy downtown area, it proudly displays all of the place’s art and history in one place. This museum is the perfect place for creatives, as it provides space for modern artists to have their own exhibits, and this rotates on a regular basis.

20) Kuumbwa Jazz Center

Kuumbwa Jazz Center is a non-profit theatre and hall which has been central to the Santa Cruz community since 1975. The stage is a place where jazz performers play for the local and wider community, in order to provide a jazz experience that can be appreciated by all ages. There are shows that focus on various types of jazz, on nearly all nights of the week.

21) 515

515 is a trendy cocktail parlor with quirky interior decor, with vintage armchairs and mix-match furniture. Whilst you are enjoying a cocktail, you can order in some light but delicious snacks, such as truffle fries, chili and garlic prawns, and roasted pumpkin seeds. If you click on the following link, you will be able to view a full menu of food and drinks: https://www.515santacruz.com/

In Santa Cruz, there is something for everyone. With this list, we have outlined plenty of options, and we hope this will help you plan your perfect trip to this gorgeous beach town!

Further read:

Jodie Chiffey

Jodie is an avid traveler who loves camping and hiking. With over 10 years experience tackling some of the best mountain ranges in Europe and North America, she has now got her sight set on conquering Asia. Over the years, Jodie has worn and used her fair share of travel gear, giving her valuable insights as to what is worth taking when backpacking.
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