Great surfing, beautiful beaches, warm sunshine, and an exciting boardwalk: There really are so many Santa Cruz activities with kids, couples, or friends looking for an amazing vacation or weekend getaway.
If you’re looking for an easier way to get around than just driving (especially if you don’t have access to a car), we’d recommend using Lyft!
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Indulge Your Inner Kid At The Santa Cruz Boardwalk
You’ll find plenty of Santa Cruz activities at California’s oldest standing amusement park. If you’re a thrill-seeker like us, you can venture over to the rides, which features the famous wooden roller coaster, Giant Dipper. On the western end of the board, there is a pirate-themed recreation center, Neptune’s Kingdom, that has an indoor arcade and miniature golf course. We came across the mini-golf course by accident during our trip, and we were not disappointed! It featured a two-story course with black-light holes and pirate action at every hole. Right next to this building is the Casino Fun Center, with activities such as laser tag waiting for you inside!
Love Marine Life? Visit The Seymour Marine Discovery Center
Do you love the world’s oceans as much as we do? If so, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center’s educational laboratory is the perfect destination for you to get up close and personal with some local animals from Monterey Bay. The aquarium features various species of marine life, including swell sharks, sea nettles, cabezon, and purple urchins. You’ll also find the world’s largest blue whale skeleton on display, known as “Ms. Blue”. Her body was found washed up on shore at Fiddlers Cove in 1979. The skeleton is 18 feet tall and 87 feet long! Isn’t it crazy how large these animals really are?!
Visit The Barking Sea Puppies (Sea Lions) At The Wharf
We love Sea Lions and seeing them as much as we can around California! They can be found at all times of the year right next to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Whether they’re sleeping, playing, or swimming, they’re always such a sight to see! While you’re there, be sure to check out the food that the Wharf offers, including upscale restaurants and seafood markets.
Figure Out What’s Behind The Mystery At The Mystery Spot
The Mystery Spot is just as mysterious as it sounds…it’s all about illusions! Located in the Redwoods just 10 minutes outside of Santa Cruz, The Mystery Spot will have you stunned and questioning the laws of physics and gravity. Also known as the “gravity box” or “tilted house”, you’ll see many puzzling attractions here including balls and water appearing to roll uphill, people tilting without falling, shorter people, and much more.
Get A Work-Out In With Sea Kayaking
Kayaking is a perfect way to get some exercising in and do some sightseeing! There are kayak rentals all over the area, making it a favorite among Santa Cruz activities. It’s the perfect way to see sea otters, sea lions, and occasionally even dolphins and whales! A few recommended companies from Yelp include Venture Quest Kayaking, Blue Water Ventures, Mountain Sea Adventures, and Kayak Connection.
Go Do Some Hunting At Sunset State Beach for Sand Dollars
You may often find sand dollars in a local beach store, but have you ever wondered how awesome it would be if you could actually find your own? Sunset State Beach is the ideal place for beachcombers, In order to find these interesting creatures, you’ll need to make sure to go about 1 hour before low tide. A dead sand dollar’s skeleton often becomes bleached from the sun. If you find a sand dollar that is still brownish in color and covered in short, dark, furry looking spines, there’s a good chance the sand dollar is still alive. You want to make sure you only pick up the bleached, white sand dollars!
Sunset State Beach also features a great place to camp and some of the largest dunes in the country, reaching about 200 feet high!
Sand dollars are also known as “flattened” sea urchins. The outside of the sand dollar is actually their exoskeleton and houses their organs that lie inside. The animal has very few predators and they live as long as 10 years!
Whale, Whale, Whale…What Do We Have Here? Go On A Whale Watching Tour!
A whale watching tour offers you the opportunity to see a wide range of marine mammals, including humpback whales, gray whales, killer whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, and sea lions. Each time of year will bring different whales. Between April and November, you’re more likely to spot some humpbacks as they return for feeding after spending their winter off the coast of Mexico. Gray whales are spotted between December and April. Killer Whales are seen at all times of the year but are most common during the months of spring.
Get Your Cowabunga On With Some Surf Lessons
Did you know that Santa Cruz is a National Surfing Sanctuary and host of the annual O’Neil Cold Water Classic contest, as well as home to multiple pro and big-wave surfers? The local beaches are ideal for all surfing skill levels! Whether you’re a beginner or an expert surfer, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in this beach town!
A few popular spots around Santa Cruz ideal for surfing is Cowell’s, Steamer Lane, Pleasure Point, The Hook, 30th and East Cliff, Natural Bridges, Four Mile, and Scott Creek. If you’re a beginner, we’d recommend getting a surfing lesson or check out beaches, such as Cowell’s. If you’re a more experienced surfer, check out the other spots that I listed…Especially Steamer Lane, the most famous surf spot in Santa Cruz (and only recommended for really experienced surfers).
Take A Ride Around Town On A Bike
If you’re looking for a great way to experience a lot of Santa Cruz activities and a better way to get around than driving, then consider renting a bike! You can ride them around the beautiful town, the boardwalk to grab some food, or to the beach to get your tan on. A few highly recommended rental spots in the area are Pacific Ave Cycles, Cycle Works, Current eBikes, and Bicycle Trip.
The Garden Of Eden
The Garden Of Eden is just as wonderful as the name implies! Although this hidden gem can be somewhat difficult to find, it offers a beautiful swimming hole, sandy beaches, and a 30-foot cliff to jump off for all of our adrenaline junkies out there. If you’re looking for a spot that’s beautiful and not filled with as many tourists, the hike is definitely worth it.
How to get there:
You’ll want to leave your car at the Ox Trail turnout off Highway 9. When you see two green metal plates, you’re at the right place! If you reach Toll House Resort, you’ve gone too far. You’ll then enter through the southernmost gate and follow a wide trail until you reach a fork, where you’ll go right. If you see train tracks, you’re going the right way! You’ll follow these tracks until you see “No Campfire” and “No Alcoholic Beverages” signs on your left. Follow that steep trail and before you know it, you’ll reach this beautiful piece of paradise!
Take A Hike In The Redwoods
While staying at Santa Cruz, visitors are just minutes away from beautiful views and hiking trails! There are many beautiful Redwood trails around Santa Cruz, with the most popular being Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where you’ll likely be able to come across beautiful waterfalls! Other great trails in the area include Castle Rock State Park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Wilder Ranch State Park, and Pogonip City Park.
Go Get Your Drink On At A Winery
Don’t worry…I didn’t forget about all of you wine lovers out there! Of course, California is known for its wine, but not just in Napa Valley. The mountains are home to more than 70 wineries and tasting rooms and is, surprisingly, one of the oldest wine regions in the country! One of the most accessible wineries located right in Santa Cruz is Surf City Vintners, which includes 11 local wineries. Another fantastic option to indulge your wine needs is to take part in the Mountain Wine Trail, which includes wineries all along with the Redwoods.
Where to Stay?
The local area has great hotels, Airbnb options, and camping!
When we travel, we love getting the chance to camp as much as we can! Santa Cruz is a wonderful destination for campers due to its proximity to the Redwoods. If you came with the right equipment, such as a tent, we recommend Manresa Uplands State Beach, Forest Of Nisene Marks State Park, and Castle Rock State Park. If you didn’t pack the necessary equipment, but still want to camp under the stars, don’t worry, there are options for you too! KOA Santa Cruz offers accommodations for tents, luxury cabins, and trailers. Big Basin Redwoods State Park is another great spot! They offer opportunities for car camping and tent cabins that they’ll even stock for you if you’re running short on time!
Airbnb is also a favorite option for us as they are inexpensive and gives you a much more “local” vibe when traveling. While enjoying all of our Santa Cruz activities, we had a fantastic experience at Ellen’s Cypress Dream home, just a few blocks from the beach. We were skeptical about having a shared bathroom, but it was actually really private! The owner wasn’t there much (came home late at night and left early the next day) and our room was cozy and welcoming. We also were able to use the fire pit and sitting area outside, which was nice to have on a cool March night!
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Did we miss any Santa Cruz activities? Let us know in the comments below!