Santa Cruz is a laid-back beach town with year-round sunshine, family-friendly beaches, great restaurants and diverse attractions. Whether you are just spending a night on your way to Big Sur, Monterey and other destinations along the coast, or planning to spend a weekend, Santa Cruz offers plenty to see and do. Learn about marine conservation at the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center, take a romantic walk through the University of Santa Cruz Arboretum, go kayaking, zip lining and enjoy Pacific Ocean views from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
1.Wilder Ranch State Park
© Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
Located on the northern coast of Santa Cruz overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Wilder Ranch State Park offers beautiful natural scenery and an array of outdoor activities to enjoy. Formerly the main ranch that supplied the Santa Cruz Mission and later a dairy farm, many of the ranch buildings, homes and gardens have been turned into museums and displays for the public to explore. The park boasts a network of trails that wind through coastal terraces and valleys, which are ideal for walking, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The coastline of the Wilder Ranch State Park is a marine protected area known as the Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve, and is home to a fascinating array of ocean tidal zone wildlife and marine ecosystems.
2.Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
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Boasting fun amusement rides and fun-filled activities, great places to eat, a rich history, and a spectacular beach setting, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been the beating heart of the seaside city for more than 100 years. Founded in 1907, the Boardwalk stretches along a beautiful sandy beach alongside the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is home to schools of dolphins, packs of sea lions, playful sea otters and pods of whales.
The seaside amusement park features exhilarating rides and heart-stopping adventures, including two rides which are National Historic Landmarks - the Looff Carousel's exhilarating ring toss and the renowned Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, built in 1924 – both of which still thrill crowds today. Indoor arcades offer the latest video and redemption games, a two-story miniature golf course, laser tag, pinball machines and a vintage game collection. There is also a large family-friendly bowling center across the street from the park.
3.Things to Do in Santa Cruz: Seymour Marine Discovery Center
© Seymour Marine Discovery Center
Explore the underwater world of the ocean at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Overlooking Monterey Bay, the Discovery Center is part of the University of California’s Long Marine Laboratory and provides a fun-filled way of learning about the ocean for children of all ages.
The center features an impressive aquarium teeming with species from across the globe, an invertebrate pool where you can touch sea anemones, sea urchins, starfish and hermit crabs, and a large shark pool providing a close-up view of these incredible creatures. A massive blue whale skeleton leaves visitors in awe, and a range of educational programs and workshops are available for children who are interested in learning more. Guided tours of the center occur three times a day, with a special 30-minute tour for families with younger children. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is one of the top attractions in Santa Cruz.
100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-459-3800
4.La Posta Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California
© La Posta Restaurant
La Posta is a charming neighborhood restaurant that brings the soul of traditional Italian cuisine into the heart of Seabright. The restaurant has a simple interior with dark wood and 1930s-style office lights. With the focus on delicious Italian fare, the menu features mouthwatering, super-thin pizzas, homemade bread straight from the wood-fired oven, cured meats, and fresh pasta. Inspired by organic products provided by local farmers, foragers, and fishermen, Chef Katherine Stern delivers a contemporary, market-driven menu of authentic Italian food, complemented by an diverse wine list of Italian vintages.
538 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, California 95062, Phone: 831-457-2782
5.UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California
© UC Santa Cruz Arboretum
The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum is a research and teaching facility that is committed to plant conservation and educating the public on its importance. The Arboretum is home to a rich and diverse collection of flora with more than 300 plant families from the floral kingdom, including rare and threatened species.
Located on the west side of the University campus, the Arboretum features a variety of displays and gardens showcasing shrubs, trees and flowers from across the world, including world conifers, primitive angiosperms, and bulb-forming plant families. Docent-led tours are a fantastic way to explore the arboretum and are available on request. The facility also hosts various educational events throughout the year to engage and educate the public on plant diversity and the importance of conservation. Romantic Weekend Getaways in California
156 High Street, Santa Cruz, California 95064, Phone: 831-502-2998
6.Solaire Restaurant and Bar, Santa Cruz, California
© Solaire Restaurant and Bar
Escape the hustle and bustle of daily life with a cocktail at the poolside bar or a sublime meal created by Executive Chef Ross McKee at the elegant Solaire Restaurant + Bar. In a setting that is cool and classy, with white dining booths and creamy sage chairs encircling a central fire pit, Solaire serves a seasonal farm-to-table menu made from organic and locally-sourced ingredients. Entrées include juicy tenderloin strips and crab firecrackers with mains such as arctic char and prime-cut filet paired with a selection of Santa Cruz Mountain wines and several local micro-brews. End the evening with a cocktail or nightcap at the poolside bar, with its candlelit cabanas, hot tub and crackling fire pit.
611 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-600-4545
7.Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
© Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
Founded in 1905, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is home to a vast collection of Native American and archeological artifacts and natural history specimens of the past, the museum aims to inspire and encourage exploration and education of the natural world.
Housed in the Carnegie Library, the museum features a wealth of exhibits, both transient and permanent, which highlight particular aspects of the natural world, such as ‘The Ohlone People’, ‘Geology of Santa Cruz’ and ‘Wildlife and Habitats.’ Collections include a selection of scientific illustrations on the nature of art, as well as thousands of biological, ethnographic, and historical artifacts. An outdoor exhibit kiosk on the Santa Cruz Wharf was added in 1984, displaying the wharf's history and surrounding marine life. Don’t miss a visit to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, which features fantastic old surfboards and historical photographs. Things to Do in California
1305 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, California 95062, Phone: 831-420-6115
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8.Oswald Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California
© Oswald Restaurant
Oswald is a stylish and sophisticated eatery in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz that has been serving California comfort food and craft cocktails since 1995. Minimalist décor allows for the restaurant’s exhibition kitchen to take center stage, along with the patrons, creating a lively, vibrant atmosphere in this upscale, urban eatery. A superb wait staff makes you feel right at home, and a lively bar adds to the convivial ambiance as you tuck into a menu that offers tried and tested signature dishes such as the seared ahi appetizer. Perfectly prepared mains range from crispy duck to sea-smacking scallops with garden-fresh vegetables, and the wine list provides an excellent choice of vintages, beers, and spirits.
121 Soquel Ave. Front St., Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-423-7427
9.Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center
© Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and just steps away from the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center celebrates the spectacular Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, its diverse ecosystems and plethora of marine inhabitants. Featuring an array of engaging interactive and multi-media exhibits, the center aims to not only enable visitors to explore the sanctuary's remarkable marine environment, but also to educate them on the importance of marine conservation and their role in its preservation.
Interpretive exhibits are the heart of the center, using state-of-the-art audiovisual media in conjunction with several touchable displays, films, and interactive video kiosks. Main exhibits include an introduction to the sanctuary and its inhabitants, ‘Where Does Your Water Go’, an informative presentation that explains the path that ground water takes and where it ends up, and an attractive Intertidal Touch Pool, where visitors can touch and feel different animals of the sea.
35 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-421-9993
10.Lago di Como, Santa Cruz, CA
© Lago di Como
For a taste of Italy in the heart of Santa Cruz, head to Lago di Como on East Cliff Drive. Owned by Giovanni and Mary Ellen Salciccia-Spanu, Lago di Como has a warm and inviting atmosphere, with slate tile floors, dark gray and creamy ivory walls, and well-placed mirrors that create an illusion of space. The eatery serves a mouthwatering menu of traditional Northern Italian fare, from homemade pastas and sauces to wood-fired pizzas and a range of authentic meat and fish dishes, such as the fresh salmon with lemon glaze or the veal scaloppini with mushroom sauce. An impressive variety of wines and Proseccos is the perfect accompaniment to every dish.
21490 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, California 95062, Phone: 831-454-8257
10 Best Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California
- Wilder Ranch State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Photo: Courtesy of DavidArts - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Santa Cruz: Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Photo: Seymour Marine Discovery Center
- La Posta Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California, Photo: La Posta Restaurant
- UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California, Photo: UC Santa Cruz Arboretum
- Solaire Restaurant and Bar, Santa Cruz, California, Photo: Solaire Restaurant and Bar
- Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, Photo: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
- Oswald Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California, Photo: Oswald Restaurant
- Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center, Photo: Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center
- Lago di Como, Santa Cruz, CA, Photo: Lago di Como
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Jiawangkun/Fotolia