Santa Cruz, located 75 miles south of San Francisco and about 30 miles east of San Jose, may not be huge, but it’s a fun city to visit for a weekend or a few days. The Central California destination is home to a plethora of fascinating attractions, including a famous historic boardwalk with an amusement park and scenic drives leading to beautiful beaches where surfers play and monarch butterflies congregate at the state’s only natural preserve.
The Santa Cruz area offers whale-watching opportunities, open studio tours with local artists, and access to one of the tallest lighthouses in the country. With 29 miles of breathtaking coastline, this beautiful city has something for everyone.
10 Top Things to Do, Santa Cruz, California
- UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden
Located just a five-minute drive from downtown Santa Cruz, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Gardens offers a welcome respite after a long day of sightseeing and a great place to take a stroll or picnic if you’re trying. Funny place. Avoid the crowds along the coast.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the gardens feature an impressive collection of native flora from all over California, as well as plants from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The Eucalyptus Grove, Butterfly Garden, Fragrance and Lush Garden, and Conifer Collection are also worth visiting.
- Santa Cruz Mountains by Train
Just 20 minutes north of town, Roaring Camp offers two memorable train rides on Railroads steam engines that date back to 1890.
Choose from a 75-minute tour highlighting the beautiful California redwoods leading up to Bear Mountain summit, or opt for a three-hour return trip aboard the Beach Train, which takes passengers from the scenic Santa Cruz Mountains across a historic steel truss bridge. takes away. Through a tunnel from 1909 and from 1875 before reaching the famous boardwalk.
- Historic Roller Coaster at the Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, located near the pier, is probably the state’s best-maintained seaside amusement park—the charming California Historic Landmark opened in 1907. Some rides are new, yet others – such as the Loof Carousel, from 1911, and the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, from 1924 – date to the early 20th century. To add to the fun, the boardwalk features an arcade, miniature golf, laser tag, restaurants, fast food stands, and shopping.
No entry fee is charged, but there are several options for purchasing ride tickets. The Boardwalk also hosts concerts on the nearby beach in the summer, and it’s beautiful at night when everything is lit up.
- Swim and Surf on Santa Cruz Beaches
For a while Santa Cruz was nicknamed “Surf City”; This is where some say the state’s surf culture began, although the claim that Huntington Beach in Southern California would certainly be disputed.
The Santa Cruz area is home to some of the state’s loveliest beaches, including a half-submerged ship location just offshore, places like Seacliff Beach that’s custom for a day of playing in the sand, and Waddell Creek Beach, a popular windsurfing resort. destination for. To make it easier to find a place to go, check out our list of the best Santa Cruz beaches based on your interests.
- Walk and Ride on West Cliff Drive
West Cliff Drive makes for a wonderful scenic coastal drive and an idyllic place to walk. The city road runs for three miles starting at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and ending at Natural Bridge State Beach.
Drive north of town until you are near the Surfing Museum. Park your car anywhere you can find a roadside spot and do what the locals do: stroll along the clifftops to watch surfers on Steamer Lane, kayakers paddling along the shore, and kale diving for fish. , shiny cormorant bird. In early summer, you can walk in fog, but don’t let that deter you, as it is a pleasant walk, no matter what.
- Whale Watching or Sailing in the Santa Cruz Area
The Santa Cruz area is one of the best places for whale watching in California, especially if you travel about 45 minutes south toward Monterey Bay and its 7-mile-long Elkhorn Slough. Here, a nearby underwater canyon and The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary combine to make the perfect whale watching spot. You can go whale watching in Monterey Bay almost any time of year. As a bonus, it is common to get sightings of Pacific white-sided dolphins, Riso’s dolphins, and Doll’s porpoises in the bay—often in groups of 1,000 or more.
Santa Cruz is also a favorite destination for local boaters, but if you don’t have your own boat here, Chardonnay Sailing Charters offers landlords the chance to sail without the fuss. Try their food-oriented tours featuring local wineries and microbreweries, or, for a truly local experience, join a sailing during Santa Cruz’s unofficial Wednesday night regatta charter sailboat races – watching you pound pizza, Beer and wine will be available to enjoy. – Competition of up to 80 boats.
- Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Located about 26 miles north of Santa Cruz, Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park houses the most photographed and most Instagrammed lighthouses in all of California — standing at 115 feet, it is one of the most popular lighthouses in the U.S. It is also one of the tallest. While the lighthouse is not open for public tours while renovations are being carried out, you can take a photo of the stellar structure or stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel on the grounds, which has a hot tub near the rocks and an outdoor fire pit. Is.
- Santa Cruz Mystery Spot
The Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, which opened in 1940, is a slightly cheesy, old-fashioned tourist destination, “a gravitational anomaly” that will give visitors a whole new way of looking at physics and the laws of gravity. Situated in the redwood forest just outside the city, this is the kind of place that kids love. It also appeals to adults who enjoy kitschy sightseeing.
Despite some skepticism, hundreds of thousands of international tourists have checked out the site, and there are so many mystery spot bumper stickers on Silicon Valley vehicles that you have to conclude that there is something worth seeing here. For a hassle-free experience, follow these tips for buying tickets, parking, and enjoying your time here.
- Monarch Butterflies
Santa Cruz is one of the best places in California to see the gorgeous black and orange monarch butterflies during their winter stay. At Natural Bridges State Beach, the best time to see the colorful creatures is from mid-October to late January, especially in late October or sometime in November. Guided tours are offered on weekends from early October until butterflies fly through the area. The Monarch Grove on Natural Bridges has also been declared the state’s only natural preserve.
- Old Mission Santa Cruz
Founded in 1791, Mission Santa Cruz, meaning Holy Cross Mission, was the 12th of 21 historic Spanish missions stretching from San Diego to Sonoma in California. Visitors can see a reconstructed version of the mission church, which was twice as large as the original and was built from 1793–1794 with a thatched roof.
At nearby Mission Santa Cruz Historic Park, you’ll find the state’s only surviving neonatal quarter, where American Indians and other Californians who once converted to Christianity lived.