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Best Things To Do in Santa Cruz

Calling all nature lovers: Santa Cruz was practically made for you. Natural Bridges State Beach and West Cliff Drive delight travelers with their Pacific Ocean views, while shopping at places like the Santa Cruz Wharf and carousel rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are even more fun underneath the warm California sun. What's more, shorelines like Santa Cruz Main Beach are lovely places to while away the day. For some shade, travelers can always hop aboard the Roaring Camp Railroads for a train ride through the area's towering redwoods. 

How we rank Things to Do.

#1

#1 in Santa Cruz

Free
This 3-mile walking and biking path offers some of the best views of the county – and it's a great workout too. Along the way, you'll be treated to pristine vistas of the Pacific Ocean and you might even spot some surfers riding the waves at Steamer Lane or whales and dolphins cresting the water at Lighthouse Point. You can also stop in to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum along your stroll, which is stationed inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse.
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Hiking Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
West Cliff Drive
This 3-mile walking and biking path offers some of the best views of the county – and it's a great workout too. Along the way, you'll be treated to pristine vistas of the Pacific Ocean and you might even spot some surfers riding the waves at Steamer Lane or whales and dolphins cresting the water at Lighthouse Point. You can also stop in to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum along your stroll, which is stationed inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse.
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#2

#2 in Santa Cruz

Free
Santa Cruz Main Beach is also known as Boardwalk Beach since it stretches the length of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. In the summer, it's one of the busiest beaches in Santa Cruz thanks to its lengthy list of amenities, including lifeguards, restrooms, nearby food options and amusement park rides and games. During other seasons, it's a popular place to take scenic strolls. 
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Beaches Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Santa Cruz Main Beach
Santa Cruz Main Beach is also known as Boardwalk Beach since it stretches the length of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. In the summer, it's one of the busiest beaches in Santa Cruz thanks to its lengthy list of amenities, including lifeguards, restrooms, nearby food options and amusement park rides and games. During other seasons, it's a popular place to take scenic strolls. 
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#3

#3 in Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz Wharf dining and shopping district sits on the water of a nearly 100-year-old wharf and features all those gifts that coworkers and family members expect you to bring back, from locally made Marini's Candies to Made in Santa Cruz apparel.
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Shopping Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Santa Cruz Wharf
The Santa Cruz Wharf dining and shopping district sits on the water of a nearly 100-year-old wharf and features all those gifts that coworkers and family members expect you to bring back, from locally made Marini's Candies to Made in Santa Cruz apparel.
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#4

#4 in Santa Cruz

The University of California, Santa Cruz's Seymour Marine Discovery Center is an indoor and outdoor natural science museum. The center features an aquarium, complete with tanks housing rockfish, jellyfish and even a touch pool with sharks. Outside, travelers can see the skeletons of a blue whale and a gray whale, as well as 45 acres of California coastal ecosystems.
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Museums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Seymour Marine Discovery Center
The University of California, Santa Cruz's Seymour Marine Discovery Center is an indoor and outdoor natural science museum. The center features an aquarium, complete with tanks housing rockfish, jellyfish and even a touch pool with sharks. Outside, travelers can see the skeletons of a blue whale and a gray whale, as well as 45 acres of California coastal ecosystems.
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#5

#5 in Santa Cruz

The same redwoods that awed passengers back in 1875 when the Roaring Camp Railroads opened are still doing so today. Roaring Camp, headquartered in Felton, California, takes visitors on train rides through the towering trees up to the summit of Bear Mountain or to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Visitors can also tour the train depot's grounds, which include an old-fashioned general store, playing fields, a stage for special events and more. 
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Natural Wonders Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Roaring Camp Railroads
The same redwoods that awed passengers back in 1875 when the Roaring Camp Railroads opened are still doing so today. Roaring Camp, headquartered in Felton, California, takes visitors on train rides through the towering trees up to the summit of Bear Mountain or to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Visitors can also tour the train depot's grounds, which include an old-fashioned general store, playing fields, a stage for special events and more. 
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#6

#6 in Santa Cruz

Free
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a mile-long boardwalk and amusement park just south of central Santa Cruz. Operating for more than a century, the boardwalk boasts a plethora of rides, two of which – the Giant Dipper and the Looff Carousel – are National Historic Landmarks. The boardwalk also touts a bevy of carnival fare, including corn dogs, deep-fried artichokes and deep-fried Twinkies. You'll also find an arcade, a two-story miniature golf course and a laser tag arena, among other attractions.
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Amusement Parks Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a mile-long boardwalk and amusement park just south of central Santa Cruz. Operating for more than a century, the boardwalk boasts a plethora of rides, two of which – the Giant Dipper and the Looff Carousel – are National Historic Landmarks. The boardwalk also touts a bevy of carnival fare, including corn dogs, deep-fried artichokes and deep-fried Twinkies. You'll also find an arcade, a two-story miniature golf course and a laser tag arena, among other attractions.
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#7

#7 in Santa Cruz

In the summertime, Natural Bridges State Beach is a picturesque beach, punctuated by rock formations and teeming with wildlife – shorebirds, seals, sea stars and more. In the fall and winter, thousands of monarch butterflies flutter into the area's milkweed plants and eucalyptus trees (in 2016, an estimated 8,000 butterflies overwintered here). The state beach also contains a visitor center, picnic areas and hiking trails.    
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Beaches Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Natural Bridges State Beach
In the summertime, Natural Bridges State Beach is a picturesque beach, punctuated by rock formations and teeming with wildlife – shorebirds, seals, sea stars and more. In the fall and winter, thousands of monarch butterflies flutter into the area's milkweed plants and eucalyptus trees (in 2016, an estimated 8,000 butterflies overwintered here). The state beach also contains a visitor center, picnic areas and hiking trails.    
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#8

#8 in Santa Cruz

Located just west of central Santa Cruz, Wilder Ranch State Park is a 1800s-era dairy ranch, home to a Victorian homestead and a water-powered machine shop (both of which travelers can tour). Visitors can also stretch their legs on the property's more than 35 miles of trails, which crisscross the Santa Cruz Mountains and line the coastal bluffs. 
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Hiking Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Wilder Ranch State Park
Located just west of central Santa Cruz, Wilder Ranch State Park is a 1800s-era dairy ranch, home to a Victorian homestead and a water-powered machine shop (both of which travelers can tour). Visitors can also stretch their legs on the property's more than 35 miles of trails, which crisscross the Santa Cruz Mountains and line the coastal bluffs. 
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#9

#9 in Santa Cruz

Free
The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum overlooks one of the most renowned surfing spots in Santa Cruz – Steamer Lane. Along with historic surfing photographs and boards, the museum features a bevy of surfing memorabilia. Visitors can also purchase souvenirs, such as books, the proceeds of which support the nonprofit museum. 
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Museums Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum overlooks one of the most renowned surfing spots in Santa Cruz – Steamer Lane. Along with historic surfing photographs and boards, the museum features a bevy of surfing memorabilia. Visitors can also purchase souvenirs, such as books, the proceeds of which support the nonprofit museum. 
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