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Top Things to Do in Santa Cruz

Situated right on the northern edge of Monterey Bay in California, Santa Cruz is known for the natural beauty of its coastline, the redwood forests and its moderate climate. If you’re planning a visit to the coastal city, be prepared for some outdoor excursions most likely including the beach. From popular surf spots to tasty restaurants, you won’t run out of things to do in Santa Cruz.

Cruise Along the Coast

West Cliff Drive

You haven’t really been to Santa Cruz until you’ve explored the cliffs and seen the beautiful waters. The West Cliff Drive is a three-mile long road that runs right around the coastline. Some might choose to drive along the West Cliff, but the best way to experience it is to walk. If you’re looking for a great photo opportunity, this is the place to do it. If you’re around during sunset, the views are incredible. This is one of our favorite things to do in Santa Cruz because it’s fun and free!

Surf the Wind or the Water 

Even if you’re not an intermediate surfer, Santa Cruz has plenty of surfing lessons to offer you. From beginner surfing to adventure surfing, you’re sure to get a chance to ride the waves. Covewater Paddle Surf is considered to be one of the quality rental board shops in Santa Cruz. If you’re not really interested in surfing waves, paddle boarding might be something more relaxed for you to enjoy.

Whale-come to Santa Cruz

What kind of coastal city would it be if they didn’t have whale watching? Santa Cruz has a handful of dolphin and whale tours available, but Stagnaro Sport Fishing Charters & Whale Watching Cruises is one of the most popular. The boats are pristine and the waters are crystal blue off the coast. The moderate climate is perfect for a day out in the sun while waiting for the backs of whales and the tails of dolphins to emerge from the waters. As one of the more popular things to do in Santa Cruz, you definitely won’t forget an afternoon of searching the water for whales and dolphins.

Soak up the Sun

For those that would prefer to catch some rays, spending the day on the beach doesn’t sound too bad either! Right off of West Cliff Drive there are a few beaches that the locals even prefer to visit. Natural Bridges State Beach is right off the drive and it’s the ideal viewing spot for shorebirds and seals. During the spring, the fields around Natural Bridges fill with monarch butterflies migrating both in October and February. The beach is open from 8:00 a.m. until sunset, so you could even spend the full day in the sand.

Do Something Exhilarating

The Mystery Spot

Are you up for experiencing something different? Visit the Mystery Spot located in the redwood forest right outside of the city. This gravitational anomaly is something like you’ve never seen before. View the collection of images and videos that have been collected from over 70 years of strange phenomena at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz.

The Giant Dipper

The iconic amusement park right on the beach is where you can find the Giant Dipper at the Beach Boardwalk. The Giant Dipper is a 69’ historic wooden roller coaster that takes you (and shakes you) down massive dips and around sharp turns. Since the coaster was built in 1924, over 60 million visitors have experienced its excitement.

If heights aren’t your thing, there’s plenty to do at the Beach Boardwalk. Find a variety of attractions from miniature golf to the Lazer Maze. If you’re brave, you could also visit the Fright Walk, the Boardwalk’s only “walk-through” attraction with plenty of eye-popping effects that are sure to scare the scream out of you.

Check Out the Local Bar & Wine Scene

515 Kitchen & Cocktails

If you’re looking for somewhere to lounge with friends and enjoy a few drinks, the 515 Kitchen & Cocktails is the perfect spot. The quirky, lounge like atmosphere serves creative cocktails and light eats for those that aren’t looking for a sit-down meal.

Parish Publick House

For a different kind of environment, visit The Parish Publick House on Almar Ave in Santa Cruz. This high-energy hub offers a lengthy beer menu, house wings, and other bar eats. They often have live music and pool for your entertainment, as well. This bar gets a bit lively on the weekends and late evenings, so be sure to get there early to snag a seat.

Vino Prima Wine Bar

When in Santa Cruz, it’s a must that you have a glass of wine on the water. Vino Prima Wine Bar is a more relaxed atmosphere – a prime waterfront spot for wine tasting with delectable snacks and cascading ocean views. The views and the ocean-feel are well worth the price tag.

Grab a Bite to Eat

The Picnic Basket

Why would you sit indoors to eat when you’re in Santa Cruz? The Picnic Basket, located on Beach Street, is a friendly counter-serve cafe near the Boardwalk serving local American eats. The patio section of the Basket is extremely popular, especially during the warmer months.

The prices are reasonable and they serve just about everything to fix your cravings. If it’s a hot day, be sure to try the root beer float!

Lillian’s Italian Kitchen

This cozy venue offers your traditional Sicilian recipes along with delicious wines in an indoor dining room setting. Keep an eye on the Lillian’s Italian Kitchen website because the chef often makes special menu additions!

Johnny’s Harborside

You have to try some seafood while in Santa Cruz! At Johnny’s Harborside restaurant, they have a comprehensive menu of seafood dishes with Mediterranean and Asian influences. Enjoy your fresh seafood dish amid some gorgeous harbor views! If you’re not into seafood, Johnny’s Harborside has other options to offer as well as, including gluten-free lunch and dinner options!

Explore the Nightlife

The Catalyst

The Catalyst is a happening night club with a mix of well-known musical acts, bands, DJs and a full bar. Watch out for upcoming shows because when some of the more popular artists are coming, the venue can get packed and often a bit crazy.

Moe’s Alley

If a night of dancing sounds appealing to you, visit Moe’s Alley and you’re sure to have a memorable experience during your time in Santa Cruz. From blues to salsa, this music hall and bar offers a variety of entertainment. The live acts, dance floor, full bar and patio are just a few of the many amenities that Moe’s Alley has to offer.

On Wanderu, you’ll find cheap tickets from San Francisco to Santa Cruz so you can plan a weekend getaway that is fun and relaxing.

About Lindsay Tavarozzi: Lindsay is an aspiring travel journalist who loves caramel iced lattes, passport stamps and her Nikon D5200. She spends her free time writing posts for her blog and binge-watching Gossip Girl. Lindsay will be graduating from Lasell College in May with a Bachelors in Communication.

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About the author
Austin Bay

Austin Bay

As a Northern California native, Austin's favorite trips begin and end in the mountains. He's always on an adventure to find new running trails and stay somewhere long enough to get to know people.

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