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Top Things To Do In Santa Cruz

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:

  • Spend the day outside at the DeLaveaga Park
  • Explore the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk
  • Enjoy the pedestrian-only Pacific Garden Mall on Pacific Avenue
  • Visit the famous California giants at the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
  • Admire the modern art at Tannery Art Campus

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 Lighthouse Field State beach offers scenic views
  • Weekend concerts are free during the summer at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
  • Twin Lakes beach is a great spot to unleash your inner beach bum
  • The Seymour Marine Discovery Center lets you pet a shark
  • The Museum of Art and History is free on the first Friday of every month

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:

  • Ride a train through the forest with Roaring Camp Railroads
  • Lose yourself in art at the Museum of Art and History
  • Learn about sea life at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center
  • Celebrate the radical sport at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
  • Experience the past at the Santa Cruz Mission

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:

  • Have lunch at Crow’s Nest restaurant
  • Ride the mountain bike trails at Nisene Marks State Park
  • Drive over to the Capitola Mall
  • Take ‘gram worthy snapshots at the Natural Bridges State Beach
  • Buy trinkets from gift shops along the Santa Cruz Wharf

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:

  • Comedy nights at The Blue Lagoon
  • Evenings walk along the beach at West Cliff Drive
  • Live music every night at The Crepe Place
  • Dance parties at Moe’s Alley
  • Local shows and tours at The Catalyst

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.”

Check out these things to do in Santa Cruz this weekend:

  • Perfecting yoga on the beach with Urban Sanctuary
  • Sailing out to deep-sea fish with Stagnaro Charter Boats
  • Seeing fish up close with Tropical Adventures Scuba and Diving Center
  • Trying all the fair food at the Santa Cruz State Fair
  • Camping out at New Brighton State Beach

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:

  • Have a Tiki themed dinner at Hula’s Island Grill
  • Explore the tidepools at Santa Maria Beach
  • Sign up for all age surf lesson as Santa Cruz Surf
  • Learn about slugs at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
  • Pick fruit at Swanton Berry Farm

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:

  • Regal Cinemas Santa Cruz 2 is perfect for a riverside stroll after a movie
  • Fern Grotto Beach is an ideal setting for some alone time
  • Shadowbrook is ranked as one of the best date night dining experiences
  • The boardwalk has a colorful carousel to ride on together
  • Marini’s Candies sells first date ice breaking  chocolate

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:

  • Getting the gang together for dinner at Assembly
  • Challenging each other at the Casino Arcade
  • Meeting for margs at the atrium bar at El Palomar
  • Camping on the vistas of Castle Rock State Park
  • Hiring a ship from Chardonnay Sailing Charters for a day of sailing

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:

  • See the Grateful Dead archives at the McHenry Library
  • Lose yourself in the lights at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery
  • Create a custom candle at Glow
  • Mold your own inventions at Good Life Ceramics
  • Pamper yourself at Tea House Spa

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:

  • Riding the waves in the iconic Surf City
  • Swimming in the The Garden of Eden scenic swim spot
  • Sailing out to watch whales with Stagnaro Charters
  • Fishing inshore at Pinto Lake
  • Skating at the Mike Fox Skate Park

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:

  • Nisene Marks State Park has mountain bike trails for all levels
  • The Mystery Spot just north of town is a gravity defying roadside attraction
  • Splash! Is a seafood restaurant on the Wharf
  • The Land of Medicine Buddha buddhist retreat has many calming hiking trails around the compound
  • Loch Lomond is lesser known lake perfect for water activities