Santa Cruz is one of our favorite places in California, and coincidentally the first place we stopped on our US road trip.
It’s a wonderful surfing town with a relaxed feel and a bohemian vibe, a funky town center, and many beaches and hiking opportunities nearby.
This town ticks all our boxes, as we love the beach and love to hike!
7 Best Things To Do In Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been in operation since 1907 and is one of the many great things to see in this small beachside town. One of the first things to do in Santa Cruz when you get there is to take a walk down the boardwalk and check out the iconic scene.
The boardwalk is home to two historic landmarks, the 1924 Giant Dipper and the 1911 Looff Carousel.
The Giant Dipper, a wooden rail coaster, travels at 47 MPH over half a mile of track, and the Looff Carousel, the boardwalk’s oldest ride, has 73 hand-carved wooden horses and two Roman chariots.
Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Stretched out along half a mile, the Santa Cruz Wharf is the longest wharf on the US coast.
It is home to restaurants, shopping, water sports, fishing hire, and an array of animals like sea lions and birds, and if you’re there in the right season, dolphins, whales, and otters.
Santa Cruz boasts beaches for all. In warmer weather, people flock from all around to sunbath at Main Beach (adjacent to the boardwalk) and Cowell beach on either side of the wharf.
For surfers, there are plenty of spots nearby providing options for all, depending on your level of expertise.
Check out this great article on some of the best beaches in Santa Cruz for surfing.
Enjoy an interesting collection of photographs and surfboards at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
Located at picturesque Lighthouse Point overlooking Steamer Lane, one of Santa Cruz’s well-known surfing hotspots. The museum has over 100 years of surfing history for the whole family to enjoy!
The Mystery Spot is a popular tourist attraction that opened in 1940. Located just outside Santa Cruz, this spot has amazed people from all over the world as they appear to defy gravity thanks to some exciting illusions.
Natural Bridges State Park has lots to offer. Apart from the beautiful scenery, you can enjoy the rock pools at low tide that reveal all the little wonders of the ocean, migrating whales, birds, seals, and possibly otters.
The area is also home to Monarch Grove, which becomes home for migrating butterflies. They usually begin arriving in October and leave in February.
Santa Cruz and surrounds boast many State Parks and hikes for everyone. One of the most popular is the Skyline-to-Sea-Trail at the Big Basin Redwood State Park.
With giant old redwoods, waterfalls, and views of the Pacific, this trail has something for everyone.
The Redwood Loop Trail is only 0.6 miles (almost 1km) and is wheelchair and pram accessible. If you have half a day or even a full day, there are more challenging hikes that are not for the faint-hearted at 12.5 miles (20km) and 1000ft elevation.
Check out the park’s website here for more detailed information on the hikes and their level of difficulty.
Are you heading to any of the National Parks on the West Coast? Check out our post on our National Parks Road Trip!