Top Five Things To Do In Santa Cruz, California

santa cruz sunset

Top Five Things To Do In Santa Cruz, California

75 miles south of San Francisco lies the beach town of Santa Cruz, a staple of the California coastline. The town acts a haven for surfers, hikers, mountain bikers, thrill seekers, liberal college students, and long-haired hippies alike. 

Aside from these permanent residents, Santa Cruz also draws travelers from around the world due to its stunning scenery, diverse nature, and quirky locals.

In this Guest Post Travel Blogger Michael from Passport Explored, shares how to explore Santa Cruz like a pro and help you get the most out of your coastal travel experience.

Visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is at the heart of Santa Cruz and is easily the most famous destination within the town. Picture a colorful amusement park that’s steps away from a sandy beach and the Pacific Ocean.

There are countless activities within the boardwalk such as roller coasters, bumper cars, haunted houses, mini golf, and various other exhilarating options.

Imagine doing all of those things and then hanging out on the beach afterwards as waves crash gently against the shore.

Did I mention that there’s also an arcade?

Before I move onto the next recommendation, I would like to briefly mention one reason why the boardwalk is so popular.

If you’ve seen the 1987 vampire film Lost Boys, you may be aware that it was filmed in Santa Cruz. In fact, numerous movies have been filmed within the boardwalk itself, the most recent being Jordan Peele’s 2019 horror film Us. Hooray for Santa Cruz history!

santa cruz pier

Explore the diverse beaches around Santa Cruz

While the boardwalk beach may be ok for first timers, it’s certainly not the nicest beach in the area. With this in mind, let’s help you prioritize your Santa Cruz beach options.

If you head west along Highway 1 for a few miles, you’ll drive through a very beautiful section of California’s coastline while passing by numerous beaches along the way.

Panther beach and Shark Fin Cove are two excellent destinations along this route. However, this area can be quite windy so I would highly recommend bringing a light jacket.

East of Santa Cruz are the relaxing Seabright and Twin Lakes state beaches, both of which tend to experience warmer temperatures compared to their western counterparts.

As an added bonus, both of these state beaches have fire pits built into the sand so that you can cook directly on the beach. Count me in.

Regardless of which direction you decide to drive, you’ll no doubt have ample opportunities to stick your toes in the sand and catch some sun. Who knows, you may even discover a hidden beach along the way.

santa cruz cliffs

Go Hiking In Redwood Forests

It seems unbelievable that a California town with sandy beaches would also boast lush redwood forests. However, if you drive ten minutes north from the boardwalk that is exactly what you’ll find.

In my opinion, the best hiking trails are within or near the University of California, Santa Cruz campus.

The college sits within a redwood forest and could be explored for a good portion of the day (it’s huge). In fact, just walking between buildings can become a hike in and of itself!

My favorite hiking spot in this area is in a park called Pogonip, which can be found directly to the east of the University campus. Pogonip offers numerous hiking trails that all zig-zag and connect back to one another in a spectacular fashion.

If you go far enough into the park, it’s possible to stumble upon two enormous meadows that are surrounded entirely by redwood trees. There’s also a large “rock garden” where you can find hundreds of piles of stacked rocks, each of which seem to defy physics.

santa cruz forest

Catch at least one Santa Cruz sunset

Santa Cruz sunsets are the stuff of legends. You can find a scenic spot basically anywhere and watch as the sun begins to slowly disappear into the horizon.

The Walton Lighthouse makes for a great beachfront location during the sunset, as does most of Highway 1. Another option would be to find an overlook within the University campus and watch the shifting evening colors from up in the Santa Cruz hills.

What if you want to watch the sunset over dinner?

While most Santa Cruz restaurants are downtown (which is more inland), the neighboring city of Capitola has a beautiful pier lined with numerous beachfront restaurants that can be enjoyed alongside a stunning sunset. Good food, good drink, good sunset.

santa cruz sunset

Hang Out Downtown

Experience the weird and quirky in Santa Cruz by walking around downtown. You can eat a meal, grab a coffee, have a drink, shop for clothes, browse a bookstore, stop in for a movie, buy used records, and much more, all on the one single street that comprises downtown Santa Cruz (which is called Pacific Avenue).

Aside from activities that cost money, downtown Santa Cruz is also a fantastic people watching spot. There always seems to be something strange going on; you could pass by an eccentric street performer or a righteous green peace canvasser.

The young and the old, the normal and the crazy, they all gather in downtown Santa Cruz to create a diverse blend of people and situations. What it lacks in size it makes up for in singularity.

And there you have it, my top five things to do in Santa Cruz, California. For all of the things that makes Santa Cruz unconventional, it has truly stood the test of time. Santa Cruz became a popular beachfront destination in the 1970s and it has only grown in notoriety since then.

There are countless beach towns that can be visited in California but Santa Cruz is is perhaps the most diverse of them all. With its unique combination of sandy beaches and redwood forests, Santa Cruz has carved itself a spot as one of California’s most exciting destinations. In a world full of beach towns, there’s only one Santa Cruz.

passport explored

Author Bio: Michael is a 25-year-old who loves to travel and discover new locations. He runs the website Passport Explored, a blog that focuses on culture, adventure, and solo travel. Follow Michael on Social Media : Website Instagram Twitter Facebook

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