Santa Cruz is a touchy-feely, new-agey city famous for its leftie-liberal politics and easygoing ideology. Although dogs are rarely allowed off-leash and parking meters run seven days a week.
Santa Cruz is a city of fun, with a vibrant but chaotic downtown. On the waterfront is the famous beach boardwalk, and in the hills redwood groves embrace the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) campus. Plan at least half a day here, but to appreciate the aesthetic of jangly skirts, crystal pendants and Rastafarian dreadlocks, stay longer and plunge headlong into the rich local brew of surfers, students, punks and eccentric characters. A visit to Santa Cruz is a vacation worth doing. Keep reading and find all the information here you need to start planning your Santa Cruz vacation.
For a list of all the area beaches << Click Here >>.
Santa Cruz Weather (When to Visit)
The best time to visit Santa Cruz is from September through November when the summer tourists have returned home, leaving a bit more room on the beaches, walking paths and other attractions. Decembr, January and February see a slight dip in temperatures, which nonetheless are warm enough for the monarch butterflies who overwinter at Natural Bridges State Beach. The months between April and May are characterized by mounting temperatures and special events that meet their nexus in June, July and August.
Best Santa Cruz Area Beaches
Natural Bridges State Beach
Named for the dramatic, natural, rock bridge protruding from the sea just offshore, this beach is a favorite of nature lovers. The beach is a great place to whale watch and get a glimpse of the Monarch butterflies which migrate here in the fall and winter. As the tide recedes, isolated pools appear, which make fascinating places to investigate for any marine life left behind, especially for children.
Panther Beach is picture-perfect and secluded, and a place you may have all to yourself. The stunning rock formations that wall off the beach give the area a private feel. With its difficult access and hard to find location, Panther Beach doesn’t get the crowds associated with many other Santa Cruz beaches.
Mitchell’s Cove Beach
Known for the dramatic views from the high bluffs behind the beach, Mitchell’s Cove is a favorite of sunrise and sunset aficionados and local artists looking to capture its splendor. The trail and stairs leading down to the beach area are a bit long and steep in places, so take your time if you decide to head down.
From the beach, the view inland facing the town will take your breath away. Set on terraces, the small, angular houses painted in colorful pastels will make you swear you’re in the Mediterranean – or perhaps on a remote Pacific island.
Santa Cruz Main Beach
Santa Cruz Main Beach is also known as Boardwalk Beach since it stretches the length of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. In the summer, it’s one of the busiest beaches in Santa Cruz thanks to its lengthy list of amenities, including lifeguards, restrooms, nearby food options and amusement park rides and games. During other seasons, it’s a popular place to take scenic strolls.
Best Santa Cruz Tours & Activities by Viator
Viator.com – Tours, sightseeing tours, activities & things to do
Roaring Camp Steam Train Through Santa Cruz Redwoods
Board a historic steam train for a 1-hour ride through the Santa Cruz mountains from Felton’s Roaring Camp, and go deep into redwood groves and California’s past. Chug up the narrow gage tracks under trees that soar over 270 feet (82 meters) above the forest floor. Learn the history of the forest, the railroad and the logging camp it served. Stroll through the towering trees at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, visit an old fashioned general store and sheriff’s office and take in serenity of California’s ancient forests. Learn more about the Roaring Camp Steam Train Through Santa Cruz Redwoods.
Beginner Surf Lesson in Santa Cruz
Get wet while learning to surf in Santa Cruz, a picturesque coastal California town popular with surfers. Your 3-hour lesson starts with the basics of how to paddle out, pop up, balance, and catch a wave, along with surfing etiquette and understanding the ocean. Your instructor has you practice on the beach before accompanying you into a spot with small waves that are ideal for beginners. Includes all necessary equipment and instruction. Learn more about the Beginner Surf Lesson in Santa Cruz.
Wine Trolley’s Trolley Special
Let our Historic Trolleys “Glory” and the “Mona Lisa” take you on an unforgettable journey wine tasting through Carmel Valley, California. Pinot Noirs, Chardonneys, Cabernets, Viogniers, Reds and Whites, Sweet or Dry, our guides offer an insider’s perspective to the family of well-known producers and gems that call Carmel Valley home. Learn about the Wine Trolley’s Trolley special.
Santa Cruz Harbor Standup Paddle Board Rental
This rental is the perfect way to dip your paddle in the water without the half-day commitment. You can paddle free of the large swell from the open ocean in our protected Santa Cruz Harbor. After your paddle, you’ll have earned that beer & fish tacos at El Palomar, Crows Nest or Johnny’s Harborside. Wildlife spotting, adventure, and some iconic scenery make this paddle a must do. Ideal for beginners, or bucket-listers who want to get the most out of their Santa Cruz visit! Learn more about the Santa Cruz Harbor Standup Paddle Board Rental.
Beach Train from Roaring Camp through Redwoods to Santa Cruz
Pack in views of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the California redwoods, and the Monterey Bay during this beach train from Santa Cruz’s Roaring Camp Railroads. Along with a scenic train ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains, you’ll get a 1-hour stop in the middle of your route to relax or explore the area at your own pace. This fun experience is perfect for families, and children under two ride free as an added bonus. Learn more about the Beach Train from Roaring Camp.
Best Santa Cruz Restaurants
Crow’s Nest Restaurant $11 – 30
Spectacular ocean and harbor views. Friendly and casual atmosphere. Fresh seafood, aged beef, shellfish, pasta and an abundant salad bar. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Live music and dancing. Adjacent to beach market. A favorite since 1969. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Brunch, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, full bar, sports TV, ocean view, banquet facilities, free wifi. Open daily 7:30am – 11pm, including most holidays. Reservations welcome. Telephone: 831-476-4560 Web: Crow’s Nest Restaurant.
Laili Restaurant $11 – 30
Rich Mediterranean flavors with a unique Afghan twist in the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz. Lunch, Dinner, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine. Lunch: 11:30am – 2:30pm, Dinner 5pm – close, closed Mondays, including most holidays. reservations welcome. Telephone: 831-423-4545 Web: Laili Restaurant.
Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Room $11 – 30
1960’s Vegas meets 1950’s Waikiki. Fun & friendly service, and a tiki bar that will knock your flip flops off! Lunch, Dinner, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, full bar, sports TV, banquet facilities, free wifi. Sun 11:30-10:00, Mon., 4:30-10:00, Tue-Thurs 11:30-10:00, Fri- 11:30-11:00, Sat. 11:30-11:00, including some holidays. Reservations welcome. Telephone: 831-426-4852 Web: Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Room.
Zachary’s Restaurant $11 – 30
Home of the famous “Mike’s Mess” and our special homemade oatmeal- molasses bread, “from scratch” sourdough pancakes and much more!
Breakfast, Lunch, Brunch, children’s menu, beer/wine. Open Tues.-Sun. 7 am – 2:30 pm, Closed Mondays , including most holidays. Telephone: 831-427-0646 Web: Zachary’s Restaurant.
Linwood’s Bar & Grill at Chaminade $31 – 60
Featuring contemporary California cuisine capturing the rich flavors of the Central Coast. Menu features local products. We also offer a “Pooch Patio Menu” available 7 days a week! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, full bar, sports TV, ocean view, banquet facilities, free wifi. Open daily, 11am – 11pm, including some holidays. reservations recommended. Telephone: 831-475-5600 Web: Linwood’s Bar & Grill at Chaminade.
Best Santa Cruz Nightlife
99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall Restaurant & Pub
Family friendly pub voted Best Beer Selection & Best Sports Bar 2014. 1/2 lb. burgers, fresh pasta and salads, fish & chips, vegetarian, kids menu, pet friendly patio, full menu till midnight Friday & Saturday. Lunch, Dinner, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, sports TV, free wifi. Mon-Thurs: 11:30 am – 1:30 am, Fri-Sat: 11:30 am – 2 am*, Sunday: 11:30 am – 12 am**, including holidays. Telephone: 831-459-9999 Web: 999 Bottles of Beer on the Wall Restaurant & Pub.
Santa Cruz’s longest running brew pub- 27 years. Award-winning hand crafted beer, plus a full bar. Large, pet friendly, heated patio dining between yacht harbor and boardwalk. Lunch, dinner, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, full bar, sports TV, free wifi. Open daily 11:30 am – 11:30 pm, including most holidays. reservations not accepted. Telephone: 831-426-2739 Web: Seabright Brewery.
Venus Spirits makes small batch whiskey, gin, aquavit and agave spirits using the highest quality organic ingredients. Visit them for a tasting or cocktail this weekend! Telephone: 831-427-9673 Web: Venus Spirits.
Lupulo Craft Beer House
Lupulo is a downtown gathering spot that provides a constant rotation of hard-to-get beers and a menu that focuses on Latin American and Mediterranean Tapas, pressed sandwiches, salads, and weekend brunch. Telephone: 831-454-8306 Web: Lupulo Craft Beer House.
Old-world beer hall meets new-world wonders. With their unique self-pour tap wall sip a rich array of drinks and savor delicious food, amidst a laid-back, conversational atmosphere. With seventy taps on hand, and new selections tapped daily, they raise their glasses to the marriage of craft tradition and innovation. Their open layout and community-style redwood tables make their beer hall is the perfect place to meet an old friend or make a new one. Lunch, Dinner, beer/wine. Telephone: 831-535-7007 Web: Pour Taproom.
I’ve heard a lot about Santa Cruz but have yet to visit there. I love everything about California and if I was ever to move from Florida (which I absolutely love) California would be the place.
You present so many beautiful places to see that it would almost impossible to see them all.
But Santa Cruz looks gorgeous and would be a memorable trip! On the list it goes!
Please stop posting these! LOL Just kidding
Maybe this September we will make this trip!
September is the perfect time Rob. And being a Floridian, I would agree, that if I had to move it would be to California for sure. Thanks for reading my visit Santa Cruz California post.
Fantastic article, I really enjoyed the reading!
I’ve never been to Santa Cruz, and one of my family members lives there, which is my ant. I would like to visit her very soon, but I don’t want to stay at her house. Just say hello and spend some time together. She might bring us to great places too:) Anyway, as you said above, September would be a great time to travel to Santa Cruz. I’ll already check for a hotel and a flight. I am still hesitating, what would you suggest to pack? I have a hard time to decide:)
Thank you for this excellent post!
September is a great time to go an you will want to take along your summer clothes, as well as a light jacket. Also make sure you take some comfortable walking shoes. I am sure your aunt will show you a great time!
Well, first of all I really want to give u a big round of applause for all the lovely posts you share. I dont think we need any tourist agency or guide when we have you and your amazing work. I am a regular views of your website and I have recommend it to a lot of my friends. Santa Cruz Also seems so so attractive. Thank you my amazing and best tourist Guide for sharing your work 🙂
You are very welcome Sarah, and I do appreciate your continued support and visits to beach travel destinations. Santa Cruz and the whole area is just chock full of beautiful beaches and things to do for those who want something besides just a beach day.
Oooh, that beach looks busy.
For a minute I kinda felt I was already there LOL.
I really love beaches.
The Marine Discovery Center. What I’m looking at right now; is that the picture of a blue whale or a gray whale?
I do believe that is a blue whale 🙂 I have not been to the Marine Discovery Center yet, not sure why I didn’t stop in there. But I think if you are in the Santa Cruz area, it is a must….besides all the beautiful beaches of course 🙂 Thanks for stopping by my Visit Santa Cruz California post.
We have been wanting to go to Santa Cruz, and looking for information on the internet. Glad we found your site! It’s really amazing how much detail you go into, sweet!
Thank you Raoul!
I really love everything about the set up of your page here. Its very well organized and easy to read. The pictures are beautiful and your descriptions are great. The drone video is like the cherry on top, well done.
Thanks Amanda and yes the drone video does add a nice tough as you can really see the beauty in Santa Cruz. Thanks for the visit!
My girlfriend and I have actually been planning a Californian holiday later in there so this article was a very valuable read, absolutely everything I could think of that I would need to know prior to a trip to Santa Cruz was present in your article, very well categorized and easy on the eye.
i will be checking up on your site again to see some of your new content, love your site, have a good one!
Thanks so much Jack and I am glad I could help 🙂 Stop by again when you are ready to plan!
I visited Santa Cruz once about 10 years ago in the so I’m sure its changed a lot. But I loved it at the time, it was so alive and fun. I visited during August and it was packed! I am desperate to go again, I live in the UK and it’s expensive to fly to the west coast! However, it definitely in the plans. Thanks for the list of things to do there- now I see that we didn’t plan it quite as we should have last time. Kayaks or paddles would have been awesome! Next time:)
Yes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards are a must! Hope you can make it to California soon. Thanks for reading Visit Santa Cruz California.
Wow, thank you for such a detail post about Santa Cruz, CA. I have hear that the beach in CA are beautiful but this area on your list is breathtaking. The information provide on places to visit, things to do, area to enjoy and activities available is really is outstanding. Makes me want to make arrangements right now, but unfortunately funds at the moment are short but I will certainly be ready for the coming after Aug 2019. I usually travel alone. So my question is do you know if their any available packages for “solo” travelers? I do not drive so know that public transportation is available is good to know!
Lately I have been thinking of seeing more of the USA since most of my travels have been outside of the USA. Staring with California sound like a good idea and it will give me time to set everything up. I will certainly book mark your website and give it a more in depth look and read some of your other posts.
Thank you for sharing such great vacation information,
You are very welcome Esther. I hope you can visit beautiful California soon! Please let me know if you need any additional information, and thanks for the visit!
I really enjoyed this article. You really pained a great picture of Santa Cruz. If I had the money and my wife was not so nervous flying I would really love to visit. I heard from people about Santa Cruz but from what I had heard I always thought that it was a place for young people but after reading this article I can see that this place has so much to offer.
Yes David, Santa Cruz does have so much to offer and for any age group. It is a wonderful coastal community. I hope maybe one day you can take a vacation here and experience this great part of California. Thanks for visiting!
Really very informative article on Santa Cruz California. You have given every detail about the Santa Cruz and all the main places which visitor can enjoy.
It seems to be a great place to visit, as it has a number of places which can be enjoyed by everyone, from adventure to site seeing.
Santa Cruz’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center should be a very interesting place, giant skeletons of a blue whale and gray whale is really amazing.
Love the way you finish off the article by adding the beautiful video of Santa Cruz.
Thank you so much Shubhangi. I am glad you enjoyed your digital visit to Santa Cruz.
Thank you for sharing with us this great post on Santa Cruz California visit.I like the way this beach looks because it makes me want to go to a vacation.
I have a friend who lives in California and she always tells me how beautiful it is and I don’t doubt on this after reading this post.
Your friend is right, California really is beautiful and if you love beach travel, then this is one of the places in the USA you have to visit. Of Course Florida is high on my list as well. Thanks for reading my visit Santa Cruz California post.
Looks like Sta Cruz is an amazing place! I haven’t been to this part of California.
I appreciate you’ve been detailed from where to stay and what to do. And all the pictures and the video looks amazing.
I think we’ll book our next holiday there. Thanks for posting this article.
All the best!
Great Hanna, you will love Santa Cruz. Wonderful area for sure. Please let me know if you need any additional information, and thanks for the visit.
Santa Cruz California is no doubt a beautiful city with so many things to do I have always wanted to go California for scuba diving and I have been planning my vacation based on just that but this post has given me more than one reason to visit Santa Cruz California. Thanks for this I wish to start packing awaiting my vacation to California.
You are very welcome Seun! Please let me know if you need any additional information. I would be glad to help you plan.
You’ve Just created a wonderful scene of Santa Cruz in my mind, now I’ve have to think of a vacation. Well detailed article, thank you for this piece but the highway and parking fees shouldn’t affect tourist? What do you feel? Santa Cruz California should be a place I’ll love to go one of these days.
I don’t worry about parking fees or the highway 🙂 I have that all here where I live, but having access to the beach is worth it! Thanks for reading my Visit Santa Cruz California review.
Hi – thanks for sharing this inspiring article. I love the way you describe the eccentric characters there, definitely my kind of place. There seem to be loads of things to do, not just in the immediate area, but not too far away. The wharf district looks interesting, shopping and dining are always a great way of spending a day. The sunset yacht trip sounds lovely and romantic, but I think my boyfriend would prefer a visit to the Craft Beer House! All the best, Diane
Too funny Diane! Take him to the Craft Beer House and then on the sunset cruise! That way you are both happy. thanks for the visit.
Great and highly descriptive post, I found your description of Santa Cruz city very exciting and nice. How about the expenses? Is it safe for family vacation? And how often can one meet strangers from other part of The world ?I am really considering this wonderful city for my next vacation. Thank you.
This is a great place to take a family Clement. And yes, you will find a wide variety of people and travelers to this area, so there will be no shortage of that. Thanks for reading Visit Santa Cruz California.
Thanks for this great post! I’ve been to Santa Cruz only once in my life (I’m 42). The sad part is, it’s not that far from where I live near Sacramento. We hit the beach and the wharf (man the food is awesome there) but I haven’t really seen Santa Cruz.
I’d love to try out the Roaring Camp Railroads. I bet that’d be a fun excursion. Have you been to Fort Bragg and taken the Skunk Train? I wonder if it’s anything like that. I enjoyed it a lot.
Thanks again, I’m overdue for a trip. Maybe Santa Cruz is a spot for me to hit again.
Oh wow! You do live close! Yes, the food is awesome, I will agree 🙂 Besides a good beach, I love good food 🙂 I have not been on the Skunk Train. I guess I didn’t have enough time the last time we drove thru there.
Hi Leahrae – great post about visiting Santa Cruz, makes me want to catch a flight, get out of the snow, and head there right now. You have provided so much information about what to see and do. What restaurants to go to and what hotels to stay in. This article is a great resource for anyone who is planning a trip to Santa Cruz.
Great information and well done,
Thank you Michele and I am glad you enjoyed!
The Santa Cruz main beach looks absolutely stunning, seems it’s a great beach to visit all year round. Santa Cruz looks like it’s a must place to holiday, so much to do, your list of activities seems endless. I must admit it was not a place to visit on my bucket list but it is now!!
The whole Santa Cruz area is just beautiful with so many beach options, if you love beach travel that is. But, besides the wonderful beaches there is a great atmosphere, great food, and so much to see and do. Thanks for the visit Dianne.