Santa Cruz, California is a beautiful coastal town with plenty of fun things to do. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a must-visit, as it is one of the oldest seaside amusement parks in the country. For a more relaxed experience, take a stroll through one of the many redwood forests in the area or walk along the scenic West Cliff Drive.
Nature lovers will also enjoy visiting the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, which features an impressive collection of rare and endangered plants from around the world. And of course, no trip to Santa Cruz would be complete without spending some time surfing or lounging on the beach. Whether you’re looking for excitement or relaxation, Santa Cruz has something for everyone.
Best Attractions and Things to Do in Santa Cruz California
1. Eat at Abbott Square
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite or a sit-down meal, you’ll find something to your liking at Abbott Square Market. The buzzing marketplace is located in the downtown area and has a half dozen cool eateries—from pizza to sushi to burgers.
2. Peek into the Bigfoot Discovery Museum
The Bigfoot Museum is the perfect place to learn about one of the most elusive creatures in North American folklore. Visitors can view a collection of footprints, photographs, and hair samples that have been allegedly left by Bigfoot. There is also a replica of a supposed Bigfoot nest, as well as a cast of a giant footprint that was found in the 1970s!
In addition to learning about the evidence for Bigfoot’s existence, visitors can also explore the various theories about its identity. Some believe that Bigfoot is a member of an undiscovered species of ape, while others believe it is a type of cryptid, or hidden creature. What do you believe?
3. Browse the Titles at Bookshop Santa Cruz
The Bookshop Santa Cruz is unlike any other bookstore you’ve ever been to. First of all, it’s huge! There are shelves upon shelves of books, organized by genre. There’s even a section for local authors. But the best part of the Bookshop Santa Cruz is the staff. They’re all super passionate about reading and they’re always happy to recommend a good book. Whether you’re looking for your next favorite novel or just want to browse, the Bookshop Santa Cruz is definitely worth a visit.
4. See a Show at Del Mar Theatre
Built in 1926, the Del Mar is a historic movie theater—one of the first in Santa Cruz County. Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the theater has a classic red tile roof and stucco exterior. The Del Mar was originally a single-screen theater, but was converted to a three-screen multiplex in 1986. Today, the theater is home to a wide variety of movies, from classics to new releases.
5. Take a Whale Watching Cruise
Whale watching is one of the most popular tourist activities in Santa Cruz. Every year, thousands of people take cruises out into the open ocean in search of these majestic creatures. While there are many different types of whales, the most commonly seen in Santa Cruz are humpback whales. These massive animals can grow up to 60 feet long and weigh over 40 tons. Humpback whales are known for their acrobatic breaches, and their distinctive songs can be heard for miles underwater. Watching these gentle giants is an unforgettable experience, and one that should not be missed while visiting Santa Cruz.
6. Stroll Through Downtown Santa Cruz
Downtown Santa Cruz is the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll on a beautiful California day. The streets are lined with trees and flowers, and there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the view. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of shops and restaurants to explore, as well as some of Santa Cruz’s most striking architecture.
Highlights include the historic clock tower, the ornate Victorian buildings on Pacific Avenue, and the colorful murals on Locust Street. Whether you’re looking to do some shopping or just soak up the atmosphere, Downtown Santa Cruz is sure to please.
7. Stand Amongst the Redwoods at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Nestled among the rolling hills of central California lies the magnificent Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. This lush wilderness is home to some of the world’s tallest trees, including the awe-inspiring redwoods that tower over everything around them. These towering giants are a sight to behold, with their massive trunks and sprawling branches spreading into a canopy of emerald-green leaves. And just as impressive as these towering sentinels is their age: many of the trees at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park are well over 1,000 years old.
Whether you want to take quiet walks among the trees, explore hidden pathways tucked away in the forest, or simply enjoy some time alone with your thoughts, this incredible park is sure to delight and inspire. So why not pack a lunch and head on over for a day in nature at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park? You won’t be disappointed!
8. Zipline Through the Santa Cruz Mountains
The Santa Cruz Mountains offer some of the most beautiful scenery in California. And what better way to take it all in than by zip-lining through the tree tops? Zip Line Canopy Tours take you on a journey through the redwoods, offering breathtaking views of the forest floor far below.
You’ll whizz through the air at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, crossing ravines and rivers as you go. And with eight different zip lines to choose from, ranging from beginners’ lines to advanced “double black diamond” runs, there’s something for everyone. So if you’re looking for an exhilarating adventure in one of the most stunning locations in the state, this is it!
9. Take the Lost Boys Tour
If you’re looking for a fun and adventurous way to explore the beautiful city of Santa Cruz, then look no further than the Lost Boys Tour. This tour is perfect for anyone who loves outdoor adventures, as it takes you deep into the woods of Santa Cruz’s wilderness. You will explore wooded areas, hillsides, and even pristine beaches that are seldom seen by locals or visitors alike. Along the way, you’ll learn about local history and folklore from your guides, who are all true adventurers in their own right.
10. Be Amazed at the Mystery Spot
If you’re looking for a little bit of mystery and intrigue in your life, then you need to check out The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. This quirky attraction is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Nestled deep in the redwoods, it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, but once you enter this unique spot, you’ll be transformed into a whole new world.
Here, gravity seems to act in strange ways, objects defy the laws of physics, and time stands still. Whether you believe it’s all an illusion or evidence that we don’t understand the universe as well as we thought we did, one thing is for sure: at the Mystery Spot, anything is possible. So come discover what could be hiding in plain sight at this mysterious spot and prepare to have your mind-blown! And don’t forget to pick up a sticker on your way out!
11. Visit Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is a must-see for any nature lover visiting Santa Cruz. The highlight of the park is the monarch butterfly grove, where monarchs congregate each year from October to February. monarchs have a very specific habitat requirement, and Natural Bridges is one of the few places in the world where they can find all the elements they need to survive. Another highlight of the beach is its natural bridge, which was formed by centuries of wave action.
Today, the bridge is a popular spot for picnics and sunset watching. Visitors can also enjoy exploring the tide pools, or simply relaxing on the sand. Whatever your preference, Natural Bridges State Beach is sure to offer a fun thing to do in Santa Cruz.
12. Learn To Surf
If you’re looking to master the art of surfing, there’s no better place to learn than in Santa Cruz. With its endless sunny days, thriving surf culture, and world-class rides, this is one beach town that’s great for anyone who wants to perfect their skills on the board.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete beginner, there are surf schools all over town that can help you take your game to the next level. So if you’re ready to hang ten for the first time or want to dial in your existing technique, get yourself down to Santa Cruz and learn how to surf! So what are you waiting for? Grab your bikinis and boards – it’s time to ride those waves!
13. Hang Out at the Beach
California’s Central Coast is a mecca for beach lovers, and Santa Cruz is certainly no exception. With its mild climate, beautiful beaches, and laid-back atmosphere, Santa Cruz is the perfect place to while away a lazy summer day. Pleasure Point Beach is a great spot for surfing, sunbathing, and picnicking, while nearby Seacliff State Beach offers stunning views of the coastline. And of course, no visit to Santa Cruz would be complete without a stroll along the Boardwalk Beach. So whether you’re looking to catch some waves or just relax in the sun, Santa Cruz is sure to have the perfect beach for you.
14. Take a Steam Train Through the Redwood Forest
Looking for a unique and adventurous way to explore the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains? Look no further than Roaring Camp Railroads, where you can take a scenic steam train ride through the stunning redwood forest. As you wind your way along the tracks, you’ll be able to soak up all of that gorgeous natural scenery, from luxurious groves of trees to majestic stands of towering evergreen trees.
Along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife like deer, hawks, and other wildlife, who call this part of California home.
15. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
At the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, there is no shortage of things to do and see. Whether you want to test your nerves on the giant dipper roller coaster or go on a deep-fried twinkie food adventure, there is something for everyone here. The boardwalk has been a local favorite for generations, and its central location right on the ocean makes it a popular draw for tourists as well.
With so much excitement happening all around you, it’s easy to see why the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has become a must-visit destination for people of all ages. So if you’re looking for some good old-fashioned fun at the beach, then be sure to add this attraction to your itinerary today!
16. Ride the Santa Cruz Beach Train
The Santa Cruz Beach Train is a unique and fun way to experience the beauty of Santa Cruz. The train departs from the Santa Cruz mountains and travels all the way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (and back, if you’d like). The train is a great way to spend an afternoon, and it’s a great option for families or groups.
17. Visit the Santa Cruz Mission
At the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park you can wander through restored buildings dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, marveling at the craftsmanship of the original settlers. It is also home to the only building left of the 12th California Mission.
When the Spanish first came to California in the early 1700s, they had grand visions of establishing settlements throughout the region. One such settlement was Mission Santa Cruz, which was established in 1791 on the northern edge of what is now Santa Cruz, CA. From its humble beginnings as a small adobe chapel, Mission Santa Cruz grew to become an integral part of California’s history.
Today, Mission Santa Cruz serves as a reminder of the early days of European colonization in California and a testament to the enduring spirit of this historic community. Though it has evolved significantly over time, Mission Santa Cruz remains a proud symbol of this unique corner of America.
18. See the Works at Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH)
If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly place to spend an afternoon, then the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History is the perfect spot. With its wide variety of exhibits covering everything from local history to modern art, this fantastic museum has something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in checking out one of its rotating exhibits on world cultures or perusing its classic film collection, this awesome museum offers tons of unique and engaging experiences.
19. See the Summer Shakespeare Show
Whether you’re a Shakespeare buff or just looking for something fun to do, you won’t want to miss the summer’s Shakespeare Santa Cruz! Every summer, the city of Santa Cruz hosts a Shakespeare show at Audrey Stanley Grove in DeLaveaga Park. The cast and crew work tirelessly for months to perfect the retelling of stories like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.
20. Visit the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
Located right near the water in beautiful Santa Cruz, the Surfing Museum is a must-see for any true surfing enthusiast. With its vast collection of vintage surfboards and other artifacts, this museum offers a unique look at the history of one of California’s most iconic pastimes. From ancient Hawaiian boards to the latest state-of-the-art equipment, the Surfing Museum has something for everyone, making it a must-stop on any trip to Santa Cruz.
21. Take the Santa Cruz Trolley
The Santa Cruz Trolley is a great way to see the city and get around without having to worry about traffic or parking. The trolley makes stops at all of the major attractions in town, including the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park, and downtown Santa Cruz. It’s also a great way to get to and from your hotel if you’re staying in one of the downtown hotels.
22. Enjoy the Santa Cruz Wharf
Located along the beautiful Santa Cruz coast, the Wharf is one of the most iconic spots in all of California. Hundreds of boats sail into the marina every day, filling its docks with a festive atmosphere and an endless array of colors.. Whether you’re looking for some great seafood or just want to wander along the scenic boardwalk and watch the waves roll in, there’s something for everyone at the Wharf.
23. Visit the Seaside Town of Capitola
The seaside town of Capitola is a must-visit for anyone looking for a fun and relaxing vacation. This charming town is located on the Monterey Bay and is known best for its colorful houses, which line the cliff that overlooks the beach. In addition to its picturesque setting, Capitola also offers a variety of activities to keep visitors entertained. The town has a number of shops and restaurants, as well as a pier where you can go fishing or simply enjoy the view. There is also a beach where you can sunbathe, swim, or surf.
24. Explore the Seymour Marine Discovery Center
The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a great place to learn about the ocean and the animals that live there. It is a public aquarium and marine education facility, located on the UC Santa Cruz campus. The center houses more than 30 sharks, rays, and other fish in its million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit. Visitors can also see giant kelp, anacondas, and African penguins.
25. See the SS Palo Alto
The SS Palo Alto is a shipwreck that is located off the coast of Santa Cruz. The shipwreck is visible from the shore and is a popular spot for scuba diving.
The SS Palo Alto was a cargo ship that was intentionally sunk in 1919 to create an artificial reef off the coast of California. The shipwreck is now a popular destination for scuba divers, who can explore the inside of the ship and see firsthand how it has been slowly deteriorating over the past century. But, it is also visible from the shore making it a popular spot for photographers.
26. Walk Across the Felton Covered Bridge
The Felton Covered Bridge is a beautiful example of 19th century engineering. Located in the small town of Felton, California, the bridge spans the San Lorenzo River and was built in 1892. It is one of only a handful of covered bridges still in existence in the state. The bridge is open to pedestrians and it is a popular spot for picnics.
27. Get at Cone at The Penny Ice Creamery
The Penny Ice Creamery is a must-visit destination for any ice cream lover. This local gem has been winning awards and raving reviews ever since it first opened back in 2009. With its innovative flavors, fresh ingredients, and fun atmosphere, it is no wonder that the Penny Ice Creamery has become such a hit with visitors and locals alike. Whether you are looking for something classic or something totally unexpected, the talented team at Penny will have you coming back for more again and again.
28. Visit the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden
The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a gem in the heart of the Santa Cruz mountains. The garden is home to over 150 different species of plants, including cacti, palms, and ferns. Plus, with its pristine grounds, majestic trees, and colorful array of blooming flowers, it’s a paradise for nature lovers from all around the world. But what truly sets this botanic garden apart is its dedication to preservation and conservation. The arboretum works closely with local organizations to protect species that are indigenous to this region, such as the iconic Santa Cruz redwood tree.
29. Check Out Walton Lighthouse
The Walton Lighthouse is a Santa Cruz landmark that has been guiding ships to safety for over 150 years. Built in 1858, the lighthouse stands among the rocky shore from the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.
Visitors can take a short hike to the lighthouse for spectacular views of the coast and an up-close look at the historic structure. The Walton Lighthouse is best known for its unique Fresnel lens, which magnifies light to provide a powerful beam that can be seen for miles. Today, the lighthouse is fully automated, but it still serves as an important navigational aid for ships passing through Santa Cruz waters.
30. Walk the Scenic West Cliff Drive
There’s nothing quite like a stroll or bike ride along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. The beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and the sparkling beaches below make this one of the most scenic spots in the city. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or just looking for a relaxing day out in the sun, West Cliff is sure to be one of your favorite places to explore.
The route is just under 3 miles long and begins at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. It takes you through some epic Monterey Bay views and ends at Natural Bridges State Beach and Park. As you walk or ride, you’ll see people fishing, running, and picnicking along the path. If you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of some whales or dolphins splashing in the water!
31. Take a Walk Through Wilder Ranch State Park
Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or an adrenaline-pumping activity, Wilder Ranch State Park is sure to please. This park features miles of trails for hiking and biking, as well as a gorgeous coastline for picnicking, fishing, or simply taking in the views. You can also explore the historic Victorian farmhouse or learn about the area’s history at the museum. And if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s even a zip line! Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or an adrenaline-pumping activity, Wilder Ranch State Park is sure to please.
32. Go Wine Tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains
The Santa Cruz Mountains offer a unique wine tasting experience. Beauregard Vineyard is set amongst the redwoods, and their wines reflect the natural terroir of the region. The Regale Winery is located in an old stagecoach stop, and their focus is on small-batch, single vineyard wines. Both Beauregard and Regale offer a variety of tastings, from traditional flights to more intimate reserve tastings.
Whether you’re a wine aficionado or just looking to try something new, a Santa Cruz Mountain wine tasting is sure to please.
33. Go Coffee Shop Hopping
Looking for a great coffee shop in Santa Cruz? You can’t go wrong with 11th Hour, Verve, or Cat & Cloud. 11th Hour is known for its killer espresso and baked goods, while Verve is a favorite among local coffee aficionados. And if you’re looking for a relaxed vibe, Cat & Cloud is the place for you. All three coffee shops source their beans from local roasters, so you know you’re getting the freshest cup of coffee around. So whether you’re looking for a quick caffeine fix or want to spend some time chatting with friends, be sure to check out one of Santa Cruz’s amazing coffee shops.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Santa Cruz, from exploring the vibrant downtown area to visiting the world-famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And of course, no trip to Santa Cruz, California would be complete without taking a ride on the iconic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an action-packed vacation, Santa Cruz has something for everyone.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Santa Cruz? Let us know in the comments below!
Best Tips for Visiting Santa Cruz, California
Getting There: Mineta- San Jose International Airport is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, you can take a shuttle, rent a car, or take a taxi or a bus.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Hampton Inn Santa Cruz West, Ca is a great choice in the Westside, Santa Cruz. For something on the less expensive side, try Santa Cruz Hostel located in Westside, Santa Cruz. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Dream Inn Santa Cruz. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to VRBO that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Driving in a new destination can be a bit of a challenge, but if you choose to rent a car, RentalCars.com has great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of other options. Taxis, Lyft and Uber are available all over the city. For a more budget friendly option, you can take the public bus or metro.
- Beginner Surf Lesson in Santa Cruz
- Mermaid Experience & Photoshoot
- Introduction to Wilderness Survival Clinic in Santa Cruz
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
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