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Things To Do in Santa Cruz

Your Guide to Things To Do in Santa Cruz

There are so many things to do that we hardly know where to begin!

Character - as in, He's such a character! - is what you'll discover in Santa Cruz! And these are just some of the things that make this beach town what it is!

What's the first thing that pops into your mind when we say, Santa Cruz? Beaches... surfing... boardwalk? You'd be right, but will you be surprised to discover there's more?

From the carnival-style Boardwalk with its rides and salt-water taffy, to the long, sandy California beaches, to the surf spots beloved by generations of surfers, plus a bonus round of unexpected discoveries - you will love exploring Santa Cruz!

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Things To Do Santa Cruz:
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk; CC Camille and CR HawlaskeSanta Cruz Beach Boardwalk; CC Camille and CR Hawlaske

Of all the things to do Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk probably says it best!

It used to be one of the oldest beach-side amusement parks in the West - now, it's one of the few that are left.

But it's also the best there ever was! It stretches along the beautiful white-sand Santa Cruz Beach for a full half-mile, and it's a half-mile filled with that Something-Exciting's-About-to-Happen ambience of a classic carnival beach town!

You'll find amusement rides like the world-famous Giant Dipper roller coaster; arcades with games; Laser Tag and MiniGolf; restaurants and snack shops; shopping for beach items and souvenirs - all on beachfront property!

You know what they say about real estate: it's all about the location, location, location! The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk couldn't have better location!

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Things To Do Santa Cruz:
Hit the Northern California Beaches

Santa Cruz Beach by Suzi RosenbergSanta Cruz Beach by Suzi Rosenberg

If you're exploring Santa Cruz to find beaches, I guarantee you won't be disappointed! You'll find several beaches North and South of Santa Cruz, each with its own personality.

And heading for the beach is one of those iconic things to do Santa Cruz! You can't possibly go to Santa Cruz without at least taking a look!

It's hard to say which beach is more renowned - Santa Cruz Beach or Steamer Lane. Each has its own claim to fame!

  • Santa Cruz Beach: It may look like one long beach, but it's actually two. Cowell Beach is to the North of Municipal Pier, and Santa Cruz or Main Beach runs along in front of the Beach Boardwalk - it's a wide and long expanse of sand perfect for volleyball, long walks, swimming, and beginner surfing
  • Steamer Lane: Located just below Lighthouse Point, this is the beach of international surfing fame - it's a zoo of young surfers trying out their stuff during smaller surf days; the more experienced surfers jump on their boards when Middle Peak wakes up, in hopes of catching the Big One

But you'll also find these other beaches nearby:

  • Lighthouse Field State Beach: Located along West Cliff Drive, it's the purported birthplace of American surfing and home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
  • Natural Bridges State Beach: Known for its naturally carved stone arches and the Monarch butterflies that Winter over, it's a great place for climbing and exploring North of town
  • Capitola Beach: Located in the little town of Capitola, just South of Santa Cruz, it's lined with charming shops, vacation rentals, and restaurants
  • New Brighton State Beach: A combination of seaside beach and forested bluffs, with picnic areas and campgrounds that are open year-round
  • Seacliff State Beach: Near Rio del Mar, a cute little hamlet with a few restaurants and coffeehouses, Seacliff lays claim to the USS Palo Alto, a half-sunken cement ship originally brought to the area to serve as an amusement center
  • And finally, Bonny Doon Beach: A hard-to-get-to, clothing-optional beach that's North of town, along Highway 1. This is where I first discovered nude beaches in California - many years ago, when our boys were young, we were driving up Highway 1, noticed the cars parked along the side of the road, and decided to explore...

Things To Do Santa Cruz: Try the Surfing

Where there are beaches in California, you'll often find surfing, and Santa Cruz is famous for its surfing!

According to no less than the royal family of Hawaii (where surfing began), Santa Cruz has enjoyed over 100 years of surfing history, beginning when three princes of the royal Hawaiian family introduced surfing to the area in 1885.

Since that time, Santa Cruz has more than earned its Surf City title!

And now there's a plaque to prove it. In 2009 the Kawananakoa family of Hawaii presented the city with a bronze plaque commemorating the introduction of the art and sport of surfing to the Mainland at Santa Cruz.

Take that, Huntington Beach! No, I'm just kidding, Folks. We have this friendly little rivalry going about which is the real Surf City.

10 More Things To Do in Santa Cruz

As for the rest of Santa Cruz' attractions, here are a few of the favorites that keep our family coming back:

  • Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf - another 1/2 mile-long stretch (this time stretching out into the water instead of alongside), the wharf offers family-owned fish markets and seafood restaurants, boutiques, fishing and crabbing off the side, sea lions underneath, and beautiful vistas
  • West Cliff Drive - a 2.5 mile path overlooking the Bay where you can stroll, jog, or ride your bike, enjoying the people-watching and whale watching, the salt-water infused breeze, and the view
  • Santa Cruz Surfing Museum - inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, you'll find the first of its kind surfing museum; be sure to step around to the point and watch the surfers at Steamer Lane as well
  • Neighborhood around the Boardwalk - wander the streets of the neighborhood and you'll definitely feel like you've stepped into a time when beach towns along the coast were as numerous as boutique-y shops are today
  • Downtown Santa Cruz - tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly streets housing Yuppie shops, cafes and bistros, art galleries, nightclubs, and street performers
  • Seymour Marine Discovery Center - a working research facility, the Center sports hands-on exhibits featuring the everyday tools of scientific exploration
  • Monarch Butterflies - the Monarchs migrate every Fall to two places in Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges State Beach and Monarch Grove; truly a sight-to-see throughout the winter
  • Of course, Whale Watching - as well as the watching of other marine mammals like otters, porpoise, dolphin, sea lions...
  • Pumpkin Farms - Fall is my favorite time of year and nothing says Fall like pumpkins and gourds; visit the Santa Cruz area in the Fall and you'll discover more varieties of pumpkin, squash, and gourds than you ever thought possible
  • Train to Roaring Camp Railroads - for something different to do, take the Santa Cruz Beach Train from the Boardwalk up to the Redwood groves of the Santa Cruz Mountains

I've shown you mine - favorite things to do Santa Cruz, that is - now it's your turn! Just click on Santa Cruz County Adventures to share your Santa Cruz favorites.

In the meantime, check out these reader contributions about their adventures in Santa Cruz:

We'll have more to share with you about Santa Cruz in the coming weeks; things like:

  • Santa Cruz County Attractions
    From West to East!
  • Santa Cruz County Beaches
    They're not all in Western SC County!
  • Santa Cruz County Communities
    From Beach Towns to Inland Empires!
  • Santa Cruz County Parks and Preserves
    State Parks, Nature Preserves, Marshes and Bogs!

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