Who doesn’t have that ultimate California dream? The palm tree-lined beaches, the endless sunshine, the infamous coast, the permeating joie de vivre, the bustling entrepreneurial spirit that takes over the entire state…California is on everyone’s bucket list and is one of the US’s top travel destinations. And for good reason there’s lots of things to do in Santa Cruz California!
California has quite a few beach towns that are all competing for the “best beach town” title, but one city specifically steals the show. Nope, not San Francisco (even though it’s still one of the top travel destination, specially if you’re a young entrepreneur).
Santa Cruz, ladies and gentleman, is the ultimate Californian destination. It is the epitome of “California living”, the personification of “live, laugh, love” and an absolutely wonderful place to be in. It’s liberal, it’s the perfect juxtaposition between hippie and silicon valley-ish, with backdrops of red groves and gorgeous beaches. Santa Cruz can easily be called the laid back capital of the world. Going there, however, needs a little planning, and you need to figure out a great itinerary that will fully optimize your time there. Read our guide below on how to plan for Santa Cruz and things to do in Santa Cruz.
What you need to know before you travel
Where to stay
The thing about Santa Cruz is that it completely caters to almost all needs and budgets. If you want a five star luxury resort, you’ll find plenty but if you also want little quirky motels, you’ll also find that.
You can choose from four star hotels like Chaminade or Hotel Paradox, or three star hotels like the Rio Vista Inn. This is a great place to stay in Santa Cruz.
If you want something that isn’t necessarily very fancy, head over to a two star inn or motel,. Usually they have breakfast and basic amenities, and if you just need a place to stay, they’re a great way to save money.
Do you need a car or will you be walking around?
Whether or not you’re going to be renting a car completely depends on you. you need to make sure where you’re staying before making that decision, since some places are walkable and close to each other, while others are more spread out. Do your research about the place you’re going to be staying in and see if taking an Uber is enough or whether you will need to actually rent out a car to move around.
Before you pack for Santa Cruz, check out the weather forecast is. It’s usually mild throughout the entire year, but sometimes it might rain, get foggy, or be too humid. Make sure you know what the weather is like so you can pack accordingly.
Things to do in Santa Cruz
For animal enthusiasts
Santa Cruz is a great way to get up close and personal with marine life, so make sure you head over to the wharf and check out sea lions, whales, elephant seals and dolphins. Of course, it depends on exactly when you’re going to be traveling – so choose wisely and plan accordingly.
Marine life part 2:
If you want to get an even closer look into marine life, or are more of an enthusiast, then you can head over to the Ano Nuevo. Ano Nuevo is basically a park that boasts an entire population of elephant seals and you’ll be able to easily get to know so much more about the creatures, take pictures, and cater to your marine life love!
For education-lovers or teachers
You can try checking out the UC Campus. The main attraction there would be the Arboretum which is an incredible research and teaching facility for anyone interested in plants or rare animals and species from around the world. You’ll learn about botanical plants, and you can even get a nice tour with a souvenir if you want. We recommend as a favorite things to in Santa Cruz for many people.
For people who love all-things-weird
Definitely head over to the Mystery Spot if you want to get your mind blown. This gravitational anomaly will show you that some places in the world are just downright weird! You can get a 45 minute tour around the place and show you how everything there simply defies the laws of physics and…floats!
For people who enjoy all things fine in life
If you want the ultimate relaxation mixed with class and elegance, try wine tasting as a Santa Cruz thing to do! There are gorgeous wineries perched in the middle of gorgeous mountains where you can taste the nicest wines in tasting rooms, along with incredible scenery to give you the ultimate experience you need.
You can definitely try sight-seeing around Downtown. A quick stroll will take you into some of the best spots in Santa Cruz and it will be the perfect laid-back type of afternoon to have. Grab a quick bite to eat, revel at the gorgeous streets, or of course, do some shopping!
After you’re done taking a stroll down the street, try eating at one of the top restaurants there. From Lali, to Surfride Café to Palomar Restaurant – you’ll find all types of food!
Enjoy the beach and all the things that come with it!
The energy at the beach boardwalk is quite simply intoxicating. It’s bustling, filled with life and is an absolute celebration of all things grand. The echo of thousands of people truly enjoying their time, the backdrop of the beach, the amusement park, the fairs…Everything in the beach boardwalk is enough to keep you coming back for more as it’s one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz California.
If you have kids with you, the beach boardwalk has to be on your list. It’s the perfect family attraction, and you’ll find that the alluring vibe of the entire place has a way to hypnotize your kids!
A coastal drive
If you love the beach but don’t want the hassle that comes with it, you can definitely try driving along Highway 1. You’ll be surrounded with soaring cliffs that are juxtaposed with the rushing water, and you can at any point park, enjoy the scenery and even spot some marine animals!
The beach sunsets
What are beaches without their breath-taking sunsets? Luckily for you, you get to enjoy all shades of red, orange and pink. It’s a great picture-taking opportunity, and quite a romantic setting to be in.
Santa Cruz enjoys a mild weather that makes water activities just another day at the beach. Anytime you go by any beach, you’ll find people surfing, rafting, kayaking, canoeing and much more. People there are active, love the outdoors and have practically lived by the beach their entire lives.
If you want to live the true Santa Cruz life, then definitely try sea kayaking. You can paddle around and live your inner-sailor dreams by taking in the staggering views around you. It’s an unforgettable experience altogether and that’s why recommend it as a thing to do in Santa Cruz.
You can also either try surfing, or watch the surfers do their thing! Head over to the West Cliff Drive and watch surfers ride the waves. You may learn a thing or two!