17 Things to Do in Aptos, California
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The small town of Aptos, California is located on Monterey Bay, just a few miles south of Santa Cruz in the county of the same name. With the tall redwoods that make California famous around the world to its name in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, as well as sandy seaside beaches with great sunset views of the Pacific Ocean, Aptos has outdoor attractions aplenty. It’s also home to a lot of history, as the home of the SS Palo Alto, a concrete tanker which has found its permanent home at the end of the fishing pier at Seacliff State Beach, or the exhibits at the Aptos History Museum, which will teach visitors all about the local region, the people who have called it home over the years, and much more. Whatever your interest, Aptos is a charming town, and one that will make for an entertaining and fun stay.

1.Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
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The steep and imposing coastal mountains and tall majestic redwood forests of the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park make for a relaxing and peaceful escape from the noise and bustle of modern day life. Visitors to this tranquil place will find over 30 miles of trails for hiking, jogging, and biking, which vary from gently winding sea-level trails to the steep inclines of the mountain slopes. The park is named for Nisene Marks, whose family donated almost 10,000 acres of land in her name to the state of California on the condition that it never be developed. This promise, upheld by the government, is evident in the untouched beauty of the area, where the redwoods and other trees heal from deforestation of decades past, and the red dirt and green ferns on the ground make for beautiful scenery.

Aptos Creek Rd, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-763-7063

2.Seacliff State Beach

Seacliff State Beach
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First established in 1931, Seacliff State Beach has been a staple fixture on Monterey Bay for quite some time. Easily accessible by foot from Aptos or by car from Santa Cruz, Seacliff State Beach is a great destination for swimming, picnicking, and fishing. There is a long fishing pier which extends from the beach out into the ocean which gets quite popular at certain times of the day. The long, sandy stretch of beach along the coast provides unparalleled views of the water and is backed by bluffs which protect from some of the wind. There is also a massive concrete freighter ship called the SS Palo Alto, which was built at the end of World War I and is closed to the public, though it still makes for an iconic and impressive sight.

State Park Dr, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-685-6442

3.Rio Del Mar State Beach

Rio Del Mar State Beach
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Just next to Seacliff State Beach is Rio Del Mar State Beach, another long stretch of sand that is great for visitors to enjoy. With free parking and easy access, Rio Del Mar State Beach is very popular with families. The beach is dog friendly, contains many fire pits and picnic areas, and has restrooms available near the parking lot. Rio Del Mar State Beach is very close to the Seacliffe Promenade Trail, which provides a scenic walk through the beaches in the area, and the beach is also a great place to spot wildlife, as everything from otters to sea lions can often be seen there, as well as the gray whales which are often spotted in the bay during their migratory seasons.

201 State Park Dr, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-685-6500

4.Manresa State Beach

Manresa State Beach
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Continuing further south along the coast of Monterey Bay, visitors will find Manresa State Beach, a beautiful sandy area that is known for being very well kept. There is a fee for parking at Manresa Beach, which is open daily from 8am to sunset, and visitors to the beach will find gorgeous views of the ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Monterey Peninsula as they soak up the sunshine, build sandcastles, and splash in the water. Manresa State Beach is popular for a variety of reasons, but foremost among them are its status as a destination for surfing, surf fishing, and for watching breathtaking sunsets each evening.

1445 San Andreas Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076, Phone: 831-724-3750

5.S.S. Palo Alto Concrete Ship

S.S. Palo Alto Concrete Ship
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The SS Palo Alto Concrete Ship is located at Seacliff State Beach, where the long fishing pier leads to the impressive and historic tanker. After its short career as a naval ship in the 1920s, the SS Palo Alto was docked in Aptos, where it became an amusement ship, complete with a swimming pool, cafe, and a dance floor. But during the Great Depression, it was reduced to a hulking shape in the Aptos waters, and was used as an extension of the fishing pier. Over the decades that have followed, the SS Palo Alto has been deemed unsafe time and again, closing for repairs, then opening for public use, then closing for repairs again. Presently, the SS Palo Alto is closed to the public but serves as an artificial reef, home to animals and a perch for sea birds, and it is a fascinating part of Aptos’ history.

201 State Park Dr, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-685-6500

6.Aptos History Museum

Aptos History Museum
© Aptos History Museum

Aptos is not a large town, but it’s one that is simply rife with history and culture. At the Aptos History Museum, guests can check out local artifacts, photographs, and other exhibits to learn about life in Aptos before our time. Exhibits in the museum cover history as far back at 7000 BC, when Native Americans lived in Santa Cruz county, and cover events through the current time. The exhibits are all family friendly, and make for a fun and exciting visit, and in the museum’s gift shop, visitors can purchase books, postcards, and other materials depicting some of the most iconic parts of Aptos’ past. The Aptos History Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9am until 4pm.

7605 Old Dominion Ct # B, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-688-1467 Photo: Aptos History Museum

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7.Cabrillo College Theatre

Cabrillo College Theatre
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Since the 1970s, when it was a summer program through Cabrillo College, the Cabrillo Stage has been home to a number of quality productions. The theater has been known for producing provocative and ambitious shows for such a small theater, a tradition started by the theater’s production of then-new musical Chicago in 1981. Since those days, Cabrillo Stage has added extensively to its repertoire of shows, with productions from The Sound of Music to Sweeney Todd to entertain patrons each season. Performance schedules and ticket sales can be found on Cabrillo Stage’s website.

6500 Soquel Dr, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-479-6154

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8.Twin Lakes Church

Twin Lakes Church
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Twin Lakes Church is much more than a house of worship, it’s a community, and that’s a message the church preaches every week. Whether stopping by for a quick visit, a moment of quiet contemplation, or a weekend service, Twin Lakes Church welcomes everyone through its doors. The church has a large community, and hosts lots of events so that everyone can enjoy their time there. There are kids nights out, with games and entertainment, so parents can enjoy an evening on their own, and groups that meet for young adults, men, women, and seniors, where everyone can make friends, discuss their faith, and enjoy a variety of activities.

2701 Cabrillo College Dr, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-465-3300

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9.Santa Cruz Massage Harbor

Santa Cruz Massage Harbor
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Located right next to Rio Del Mar State Beach, Santa Cruz Massage Harbor is a wellness center set against the gorgeous backdrop of the sand and the sea. Santa Cruz massage Harbor offers a top of the line spa experience from experienced professionals, with a luxurious yet laid back feel and amazing service. Couples, solo travelers, groups of friends, and locals alike enjoy their visits to Santa Cruz Massage Harbor, where they can receive a relaxing treatment that is sure to leave them feeling revitalized. The wellness center offers a variety of massages, from a simple relaxing massage to a therapeutic sports massage and even a hot stone massage, as well as services for couples, specialized massages and treatments for pregnant women, and facial massages and treatments as well.

124 Marina Ave, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-278-2868

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10.Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Pleasant Valley Vineyards
© Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Since 1990, Cathy and Craig Handley have been taking advantage of the micro-climate created by Monterey Bay at their winery. Together, they have produced a delicious product from their grapes, which grow on a steep, bowl-like incline that they like to describe as an amphitheatre. Pleasant Valley Vineyards creates a number of varietals each year, but one of their signature and favorite types of wine is the Estate Dylan David Pinot Noir, a type of grape which is perfectly suited to the area and truly shines in the Pleasant Valley vintage. Customers can purchase their wines at several places in the area, or sign up online to become members and receive bottles of wine in the mail.

600 Pleasant Valley Rd, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-288-0074 Photo: Pleasant Valley Vineyards

11.Cafe Sparrow

Cafe Sparrow
© Cafe Sparrow

At the turn of the century, the building which now houses Cafe Sparrow was the Aptos Post Office and general store, where citizens went to mail packages and buy candy and basic goods. Today, Cafe Sparrow has made great use of the space’s rustic hardwood floors and unique rooms. The French restaurant is a space full of sunny yellow walls, lace tablecloths, and fresh flowers, setting the scene for a fabulous meal. Cafe Sparrow is open seven days a week, and serves lunch and dinner as well as brunch on Sundays. Guests will enjoy dishes such as the Bardot, a grilled chicken served with brie, pears, and a nutmeg crouton, or the traditional French desserts like profiteroles and creme caramel.

8042 Soquel Dr, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-688-6238 Photo: Cafe Sparrow

12.Aptos Street BBQ

Aptos Street BBQ
© Aptos Street BBQ

This family owned and operated barbecue joint is home to some of the greatest food in Aptos. All meats at Aptos Street BBQ are smoked fresh and in house daily with seasoned oak wood, and everything from the chicken to a rack of ribs is cooked to perfection. Indecisive customers can even order a platter with five different types of meat, loaded with delicious side dishes like classic baked beans, garlic bread, and potato salad. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because Aptos Street BBQ also serves a wide variety of local and domestic beers, and customers will have a great time enjoying the live blues music that is played every night.

8059 Aptos St, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-662-1721 Photo: Aptos Street BBQ

13.Marianne's Ice Cream

Marianne's Ice Cream
© Marianne's Ice Cream

Aptos is a beach town, and nothing makes a better combination with a day of sun and sand than ice cream. At Marianne’s Ice Cream, customers will have a wide variety of flavors to choose from, whether they want them in a waffle cone or in a cup drizzled with hot fudge. Marianne’s makes all their own ice cream, and has been doing so since they first opened in 1947. The space, with its red and white checkered floor tiles and retro decor, feels like stepping into the past, and the homemade ice cream has an old fashioned feel to it as well. Enjoying a cone at Marianne’s before or after heading out to see what else Aptos has to offer is simply not to be missed.

1020 Ocean St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, Phone: 831-458-1447 Photo: Marianne's Ice Cream

14.Manuel's Mexican Restaurant

Manuel's Mexican Restaurant
© Manuel's Mexican Restaurant

Since 1965, Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant has been serving amazing Mexican food to the people of Aptos, and it is still a classic in the town today. At Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant, customers can enjoy carne asada tacos, delicious enchiladas, or refreshing tostada salads, as well as their signature flan or Mexican ice cream dessert options. At Manuel’s, guests feel like they are family, and the food, atmosphere, and history behind the restaurant all add to that. A trip to Aptos would not be complete without a stop at Manuel’s for Taco Tuesday, when they bring out their special fresh fish tacos, or a delicious margarita before heading out to the beach.

261 Center Ave, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-688-4848 Photo: Manuel's Mexican Restaurant

15.Severino's Bar & Grill

Severino's Bar & Grill
© Severino's Bar & Grill

Severino’s Bar and Grill has a lot of impressive features: a relaxing koi pond stuffed with colorful fish, a beautiful cascading waterfall feature, and of course, the impressive menu. Severino’s serves award winning clam chowder that is not to be missed, as well as some delicious cocktails from their full bar. With a full menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Severino’s Bar and Grill is a California classic, with dishes like tempura prawn tacos, a Paleo-friendly Harvest Salad, and a Calamari Steak to whet the appetite, as well as an extensive wine list featuring plenty of delicious local wineries. Everything from aperitif to dessert is delicious, and Severino’s Bar and Grill also offers live music for a fun and full evening out.

7500 Old Dominion Ct, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-688-8987 Photo: Severino's Bar & Grill

16.Santa Cruz Bike Tour

Santa Cruz Bike Tour
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Sightseeing is one of the indisputable great joys of traveling to a new place, but sometimes there is only so much you can see when you’re getting around on your feet. That’s where Santa Cruz Bike Tours comes in, with guided tours all over the Aptos area that are catered to suit a variety of interests. Guests can check out the Forest of Nisene Marks on bicycle for some beautiful nature, or take a guided bike tour to local breweries and wineries for a fun day spent drinking and touring local businesses. There are tours suitable for families, corporate groups, and more, and while many of them vary in difficulty, they are absolutely fine for most skill levels.

Aptos, CA 95001, Phone: 831-722-2453

17.Nicholson Vineyards

Nicholson Vineyards
© Nicholson Vineyards

Located in the sunny, peaceful setting of Pleasant Valley, in the Corralitos foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Nicholson Vineyards grows grapes and olives and uses them to create fantastic products. The distinctive peacock that has become their mascot is inspired by the wild peacocks that roam the estate, and both their wines and olive oil vintages make use of the peacock image freely. Nicholson Vineyards is most well known for their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, both of which are estate-grown and fantastically drinkable, but they also sell many other great wines like their Viognier and Old Vine Zinfandel, which are grown from local grapes.

2800 Pleasant Valley Rd, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-724-7071 Photo: Nicholson Vineyards

17 Best Things to Do in Aptos, California