Santa Cruz is a coastal town on the Monterey Bay south of San Francisco. This city is a classic beach town where locals prefer to spend their days outdoors along the shore or in the nearby California Redwood forests. Also the home of the University of California, Santa Cruz, residents tend to live a more progressive, West Coast lifestyle. Check out all of the iconic attractions and things to do in Santa Cruz.
Beaches define life in Santa Cruz. Check out the top beaches in town – Cowell Beach is a local favorite, Seabright State Beach is popular with visitors, and Natural Bridge State Beach is one of the most photogenic beaches in town.
Check out the best things to do in Santa Cruz:
If you want to save a buck, get thrifty with food – Santa Cruz is all about shopping local. Pop into one of the several farmers markets in the Santa Cruz area, including the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers’ Markets on Wednesdays, The Westside Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, and the Felton Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays.
Here are some of the top cheap or free things to do in Santa Cruz:
The Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk is one of the most famous boardwalks in the country. The boardwalk is home to a thrilling amusement park, complete with a roller coaster, midway games, a carousel, and mini golf.
Don’t miss these other popular attractions near Santa Cruz:
Pogonip is a greenbelt that connects the UCSC campus and the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The trails across the 11.5 miles of green space are open year round for biking, horseback riding, hiking, and dog walking.
Here are some more fun things to do in Santa Cruz today:
Kuumbwa Jazz is a nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve, educate, and share the magic of music and jazz with the community through weekly concerts. Their concert hall is the 200 seat Kuumbwa Jazz Center, a space that is often rented out for private parties, workshops, and theater. Between beach walks to jazz performances, you’ll always have things to do in Santa Cruz at night.
Nighttime activities near Santa Cruz include:
Santa Cruz owes a lot of its fame to its reputation as a major surf spot. If you want a weekend to remember, plan a trip to the beach and earn that tan. Be sure to check out the legendary Steamer Lane, a section of ocean that has earned Santa Cruz the title of “Surf City.”
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With plenty of things to do with kids in Santa Cruz, the city is perfect for family-friendly vacations. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a protected ocean area between San Francisco and the Big Sur coast. The Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz is full of exhibits that teach visitors about understanding the impact the ocean has on people and the impact people have on the ocean.
The top family-friendly things to do near Santa Cruz include:
If there’s one thing Santa Cruz doesn’t have to worry about, it’s running out of wine. Santa Cruz is surrounded by wineries – in the city, on the coast, and throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. Spend some time with your special someone touring the Corralitos Wine Trail or enjoying a night downtown at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.
Here are some other romantic things to do in Santa Cruz:
Outside of exploring the forests and enjoying the beaches, Santa Cruz visitors looking for group things to do can enjoy a game of disc golf. Grab some friends and head out to one of the six different courses, including Delaveaga Disc Golf Course, Pinto Lake Disc Golf Course, and Black Mouse Disc Golf Course.
Some fun things to do with your friends near Santa Cruz include:
The Lick Observatory is an active research facility on the UCSC campus that is open to the public. If you’re looking to stay inside a while, visitors can come during the day to hear about the observatory's history while looking at the telescope dome, visitor’s gallery, and exhibits. Visitors may also come at night during an evening program.
Here are some more things to indoors in Santa Cruz:
The UCSC Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are a 135-acre plot near the campus that contain more than 300 different species of unique plants native to Mediterranean climates. Check out some of the rare plants native to countries on the other side of the world, like the Spring Torch from Australia and the Cape heaths of South Africa.
Other active things to do in Santa Cruz include:
When the main attractions are done, there are still more things to see in Santa Cruz. One of the most inspiring reserves in Santa Cruz is the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve at Natural Bridge State Beach. Be sure to keep your eyes out during the fall and winter for the swarm of butterflies occupying the grove of eucalyptus before migrating to the Rocky Mountains for the spring and summer.
Check out these must-see places near Santa Cruz: