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 >>.
Weather (When to Go)
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. December, 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.
Getting Around Santa Cruz
The best way to get around Santa Cruz is by a combination of driving and walking. Santa Cruz is far too large to get around on foot alone, but a mix of walking and driving gives you the flexibility to see the county on your own terms. The county’s public bus system is an option too, especially if you don’t want to deal with highway traffic or parking fees.
Getting To and From Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is 75 miles south of San Francisco via coastal Hwy 1 or Hwy 17, a nail-bitingly narrow, winding mountain road. Monterey is about an hour’s drive further south via Hwy 1.
Santa Cruz Airport Shuttles runs shared shuttles to/from the airports at San Jose ($50), San Francisco ($80) and Oakland ($80), with a $5 cash discount; the second passenger pays $10.
Santa Cruz Metro operates local and countywide bus routes that converge on downtown’s Metro Center. Hwy 17 express buses link Santa Cruz with San Jose’s Amtrak/CalTrain station ($5, 50 minutes, once or twice hourly).
From late May through early September, the Santa Cruz Trolley shuttles between downtown and the beach from 11am until 9pm daily.
Santa Cruz Attractions
West Cliff Drive
This 3-mile walking and biking path offers some of the best views of the county – and it’s a great workout too. Along the way, you’ll be treated to pristine vistas of the Pacific Ocean and you might even spot some surfers riding the waves at Steamer Lane or whales and dolphins cresting the water at Lighthouse Point. You can also stop in to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum along your stroll, which is stationed inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse.
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.
Santa Cruz Wharf
The Santa Cruz Wharf dining and shopping district sits on the water of a nearly 100-year-old wharf and features all those gifts that coworkers and family members expect you to bring back, from locally made Marini’s Candies to Made in Santa Cruz apparel.
Seymour Marine Discovery Center
The University of California, Santa Cruz’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center is an indoor and outdoor natural science museum. The center features an aquarium, complete with tanks housing rockfish, jellyfish and even a touch pool with sharks. Outside, travelers can see the skeletons of a blue whale and a gray whale, as well as 45 acres of California coastal ecosystems.
Roaring Camp Railroads
The same redwoods that awed passengers back in 1875 when the Roaring Camp Railroads opened are still doing so today. Roaring Camp, headquartered in Felton, California, takes visitors on train rides through the towering trees up to the summit of Bear Mountain or to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Visitors can also tour the train depot’s grounds, which include an old-fashioned general store, playing fields, a stage for special events and more.
Things to do in Santa Cruz
California Classic Sail
Bring someone special or the whole gang for a private sail on the only classic charter boat in Santa Cruz. “Sarah” is a true classic, designed over 110 years ago built in wood and launched 2005. There are two ways to sail. You can buy tickets on one of our daily sails or charter the boat, and bring up to six. For more information call 831-325-0466 or 888-450-0667, or visit them on the web at California Classic Sail.
They offer kayak rentals & kayak tours every day. Also stand up paddling classes and rentals along with wetsuits & boogie boards. Beginners and families especially welcome. See you soon! For more information call 831-479-1121 or 831-454-6999, or visit them on the web at Kayak Connection.
Covewater Stand Up Paddle
You would like to learn how to paddle and have fun on a stand up paddle board in Santa Cruz? Covewater is the spot. Covewater Paddle Surf is the only fully dedicated stand up paddleboard (SUP) shop in Northern California. N#1 SUP shop since 2010, paddleboarding is their passion. They have the largest selection of board and they provide the best in stand-up paddling equipment & accessories, SUP classes and SUP rentals. Stand up and see the water from a whole new perspective! For more information call 831-600-7230, or visit them on the web at Covewater Stand Up Paddle.
A premiere outdoor school offering surf camps, rock climbing classes, backpacking trips, mountain biking and wilderness survival skills instruction for public, private or group trips or classes. We share decades of wilderness experience while achieving our wildest adventures in the outdoors. For more information call 800-509-3954, or visit them on the web at Adventure Out.
Stagnaro Whale Watching & Fishing Trips
Monterey Bay’s oldest company with the newest yachts taking large and small, public and private groups on whale watching tours, family friendly deep sea fishing trips, sunset tours and much more- year round! For more information call 831-427-0230 or 800-979-3370, or visit them on the web at Stagnaro Whale Watching & Fishing Trips.
Best Santa Cruz Restaurants
$-Inexpensive $$-Moderate $$$-Pricey $$$$-Ultra High End
$$ – $$$ Crow’s Nest Restaurant
Spectacular ocean and harbor views. Friendly and casual atmosphere. Fresh seafood, aged beef, shellfish, pasta and an abundant salad bar. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Live music and dancing. Adjacent to beach market. A favorite since 1969. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Brunch, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, full bar, sports TV, ocean view, banquet facilities, free wifi. Open daily 7:30am – 11pm, including most holidays. Reservations welcome. For more information call 831-476-4560, or visit them on the web at Crow’s Nest Restaurant.
$$ – $$$ Laili Restaurant
Rich Mediterranean flavors with a unique Afghan twist in the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz. Lunch, Dinner, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine. Lunch: 11:30am – 2:30pm, Dinner 5pm – close, closed Mondays, including most holidays. reservations welcome. For more information call
831-423-4545, or visit them on the web at Laili Restaurant.
$$ – $$$ Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Room
1960’s Vegas meets 1950’s Waikiki. Fun & friendly service, and a tiki bar that will knock your flip flops off! Lunch, Dinner, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, full bar, sports TV, banquet facilities, free wifi. Sun 11:30-10:00, Mon., 4:30-10:00, Tue-Thurs 11:30-10:00, Fri- 11:30-11:00, Sat. 11:30-11:00, including some holidays. Reservations welcome. For more information call 831-426-4852, or visit them on the web at Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Room.
$$ – $$$ Zachary’s Restaurant
Home of the famous “Mike’s Mess” and our special homemade oatmeal- molasses bread, “from scratch” sourdough pancakes and much more!
Breakfast, Lunch, Brunch, children’s menu, beer/wine. Open Tues.-Sun. 7 am – 2:30 pm, Closed Mondays , including most holidays. reservations not accepted. For more information call 831-427-0646, or visit them on the web at Zachary’s Restaurant.
$$ – $$$ Linwood’s Bar & Grill at Chaminade
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. For more information call 831-475-5600, or visit them on the web at 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. For more information call 831-459-9999, or visit them on the web at 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. For more information call 831-426-2739, or visit them on the web at 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! For more information call 831-427-9673, or visit them on the web at 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.
Lunch, Dinner, Brunch, outdoor dining, children’s menu, beer/wine, sports TV, banquet facilities, free wifi. Mon.-Thurs.: 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m., Fri.: 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Sat.: 11:00 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Sun.: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., Brunch: 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., including some holidays. reservations welcome for parties of 8 or more. For more information call 831-454-8306, or visit them on the web at 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. Mon-Sat: 12:00 noon – 11 p.m., Sun: 12 noon – 7 p.m., including some holidays. reservations not accepted. For more information call 831-535-7007, or visit them on the web at Pour Taproom.
Best Santa Cruz Hotels
West Cliff Inn, A Four Sisters Inn
Top ranked on TripAdvisor, West Cliff Inn features 10 well-appointed guest rooms, many with ocean views. All guests enjoy a full breakfast, afternoon wine & hors d’oeuvres, and bicycles to borrow. Part of Four Sisters Inns. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit West Cliff Inn.
Pacific Blue Inn
Newest green inn located in Downtown Santa Cruz. Walk minutes to Downtown shops & restaurants, wharf and Boardwalk. Free parking, air conditioning and bike use. Full course breakfast. Highest ratings from guests. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit Pacific Blue Inn.
Sea & Sand Inn
They want every guest to have a special experience at the Sea & Sand and enjoy their time in Santa Cruz. Their great reviews are a pretty good indication of what you can expect at their ocean-front inn. Guests appreciate the scenic location, friendly staff and complimentary amenities. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit Sea & Sand Inn.
Bella Notte Inn
Bella Notte is located two blocks from Twin Lakes State Beach, close to the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, the Boardwalk and Seaside Village of Capitola. Guests enjoy free parking, cable TV, Wi-fi and continental breakfast. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit Bella Notte Inn.
Dream Inn Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz’s only beachfront hotel adjacent to the beach/Boardwalk and Wharf. Every room has a private ocean-front balcony. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit Dream Inn Santa Cruz.