If a beach town were designed with families in mind, Santa Cruz would be it. The historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk appeals to all ages, downtown Santa Cruz is hip enough for any teen, and outdoor lovers have numerous beaches and state parks within a short distance from each other.
Santa Cruz is located 74 miles south of San Francisco where the crashing blue Pacific Ocean meets towering redwood forests. Santa Cruz has a moderate climate year round. Summers are warm with occasional fog and winters are cool, but never frigid. Whatever time of year you visit, plan on wearing layers.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Situated on a mile long beach, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a family pleasing combination of classic amusement park rides, games, shops and food. For a blast from the past, ride the Giant Dipper Wooden Roller Coaster (1924) and Looff Carousel (1911). Both are national historic landmarks. Later, buy a corn dog and some cotton candy then trek down to the beach and watch the waves crash or join a sand volleyball game. Return to the Boardwalk to visit the Casino Arcade, putt a round of putt-putt golf at Neptune’s Kingdom, or challenge each other to a game at Boardwalk Bowl.
Natural Bridges State Beach
Named for three sandstone bridges rising out of the Pacific Ocean, Natural Bridges State Beach is an ideal location for picnicking, beachcombing, flying kites, visiting tide pools, and viewing wildlife such as various sea birds, seals, otters, whales and butterflies. Each winter the Monarch Butterfly National Preserve is home to over 100,000 butterflies. (Note: of the three original bridges, but due to natural erosion only one remains)
Downtown Santa Cruz
Over 200 unique shops, selling everything from vintage clothing to books to contemporary furnishing, line the streets of downtown Santa Cruz. Dining options run the gamut from casual to upscale. For entertainment, watch a street side performer, spend an evening at the movies, or listen to the Santa Cruz Symphony at the Civic Auditorium. A list of businesses is available at www.downtownsantacruz.com.
Roaring Camp/ Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Just a short drive from Santa Cruz is Roaring Camp Railroads. Two trains depart from Roaring Camp. The first is the Beach Train which travels through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to the beach at Santa Cruz. The second is the Steam Train which travels a shorter route through redwood groves to the peak of Bear Mountain. After your train ride, walk across the tracks to visit the self-guided nature path through the awe-inspiring redwood grove in Henry Cowell Redwoods State park.
The rules of gravity don’t seem to apply at the Mystery Spot. Take the thirty five minute tour of the Mystery Shack and see otherwise impossible occurrences such as a ball rolling uphill and people’s height mysteriously changing. Visitors are allowed to take pictures to confirm the bizarre phenomena.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin was established in 1902 as California’s first state park. At Big Basin, you can view redwoods up to 18 feet in diameter and 330 feet tall, hike some of the 80 miles worth of trails, visit one of the many waterfalls, or tour the natural history museum.
Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse and Museum of Surfing
Located inside of the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, the Museum of Surfing chronicles the 100 year history of surfing in Santa Cruz through displays of photos, surfboards, and other memorabilia. A gift shop sells a variety of surfing related items. To view present day surfers, go outside. The small brick lighthouse overlooks surfing hotspot Steamer Lane.
Marianne’s Ice Cream
A local favorite, Marianne’s has been serving homemade ice cream and yogurt since 1947. Among the ninety flavors to choose from are garlic ice cream, rocky road made with cashews instead of peanuts, and their top-selling “10-20,” a combination of caramel, chocolate, and cookies.
University of Santa Cruz
Set among redwoods and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, UC Santa Cruz has one of the most beautiful locations of any California college or university. Pick up a self-guiding tour map at the main entrance visitor’s booth. Visit the Arboretum, which houses rare plant collections, or the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Foods, an organic farm that grows vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. You can also pull out a Frisbee or kite and play on one of the wide grassy fields that offer an unobstructed view of the ocean.
Mission Santa Cruz State Historic Park
A half scale replica of the original Mission Santa Cruz, destroyed in the 1857 earthquake, stands in memory of the original building. Only one original adobe stands. This adove has been restored and now houses a museum that shows the changes the mission caused in the lives of the American Indians.