Santa Cruz Travel Guide

USA  #3 in Best Day Trips from San Francisco
Credit

Courtesy of StephanHoerold/Getty Images

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

Updated April 7, 2017

  • #1
    West Cliff Drive
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    #1 in Santa Cruz
    Hiking, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

    ...Read More »
  • #2
    Santa Cruz Main Beach
    View all Photos
    #2 in Santa Cruz
    Beaches, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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
    Santa Cruz Wharf
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    #3 in Santa Cruz
    Shopping, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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
    Seymour Marine Discovery Center
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    #4 in Santa Cruz
    Museums, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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
    Roaring Camp Railroads
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    #5 in Santa Cruz
    Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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
    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
    View all Photos
    #6 in Santa Cruz
    Amusement Parks, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Amusement Parks, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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
    Natural Bridges State Beach
    View all Photos
    #7 in Santa Cruz
    Beaches, Natural Wonders, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Natural Wonders, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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
    Wilder Ranch State Park
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    #8 in Santa Cruz
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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
    Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
    View all Photos
    #9 in Santa Cruz
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    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. 

    ...Read More »

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