Santa Cruz is a quintessential California beach town located just an hour south of San Francisco. It is a popular destination for Bay Area residents and visitors alike.
Santa Cruz has something for everyone with its laid-back atmosphere, breathtaking coastline, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant cultural scene.
Santa Cruz has plenty to offer, whether you’re a beach bum looking to catch some waves or a foodie looking for the best local cuisine.
From its world-famous boardwalk to its expansive redwood forests, there’s no shortage of exciting things to see and do in this beautiful coastal city.
In this post, I’ll share my recommendations for 51 top things to do in Santa Cruz, California. It includes must-see attractions, incredible outdoor activities, indoor experiences, hidden gems, and local favorites.
Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or just looking for a fun day trip, I’ve got you covered.
This list covers not just the city of Santa Cruz but also the county, including places like Capitola, Aptos, Felton, and Watsonville.
So, grab a cup of coffee and get ready to explore the best of Santa Cruz – I promise you won’t be disappointed!51 Top Things to do in Santa Cruz, California #California #SantaCruz Click To Tweet
Top Attractions in Santa CruzExperience the laid-back vibes of Santa Cruz with these must-do activities! #travel #santacruz #california Click To Tweet
1. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the most iconic attractions in California.
This historic amusement park has been entertaining visitors for over a century, offering a range of exciting rides, games, and attractions that appeal to all ages!
The park is situated right on the beach, making it the perfect destination for a fun day out in the sun.
Visitors can enjoy classic rides like the Giant Dipper, the wooden roller coaster, and the Looff Carousel. These two rides are National Historic Landmarks.
In addition to rides, the park also features a variety of games and arcades, as well as plenty of food options, from classic boardwalk snacks like hot dogs and cotton candy to more substantial meals.
The entire Boardwalk property is a California Historic Landmark.
The iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a must-visit attraction for anyone visiting Santa Cruz, offering a fun-filled day out that’s perfect for the whole family.
2. Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is a stunning and scenic destination in Santa Cruz, California known for its dramatic rock formations and fascinating tide pools.
The beach is a popular spot for swimming, surfing, and picnicking, and visitors can also explore the park’s natural beauty on foot via the many hiking trails.
The highlight of the park is the towering natural bridge, a massive rock arch that creates a breathtaking backdrop for the beach.
But perhaps the most unique feature of Natural Bridges State park is the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve, a protected area home to thousands of monarch butterflies during winter.
These majestic creatures migrate from the Rocky Mountains each year and gather in the eucalyptus trees that grow in the preserve, creating a stunning and unforgettable sight.
Visitors to the park can witness this natural wonder up close and personal, exploring the preserve and learning about the monarch butterflies’ fascinating behaviors and life cycle.
Natural Bridges State Beach is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the natural beauty and wonder of Santa Cruz.
3. Mystery Spot
The Mystery Spot is one of Santa Cruz’s most unique attractions. It’s an area where gravity seems to be defied!
Located in a redwood forest just outside downtown Santa Cruz, this strange anomaly was discovered by George Prather back in 1939 when he noticed that his compass went haywire when he got close to it.
Visitors can explore this perplexing spot through guided tours led by knowledgeable tour guides who provide insights into its mysterious happenings.
4. Santa Cruz Wharf
The Santa Cruz Wharf may not have the most elaborate setup, but it definitely makes up for it in charm and character. It is a 2,701-foot-long wooden pier in Santa Cruz.
Take a walk to the end of the wharf, and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Main Beach.
While walking, watch for some of the local seal residents and sea lions that often hang out nearby – they’re always happy to show off for visitors!
If you’re feeling peckish, visit Riva Fish House, which offers delicious seafood and stunning ocean views.
For a sweet treat, stop by Marini’s Candies and grab some of their famous salt water taffy to snack on as you walk back to your car.
A visit to the Santa Cruz Wharf is an experience not to be missed and is a must-do for at least one night during your stay in Santa Cruz.
5. Seymour Marine Discovery Center
The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a fascinating and educational attraction in Santa Cruz, California, dedicated to marine science and conservation.
The center features a variety of interactive exhibits and displays that showcase the diversity of marine life in Monterey Bay and the importance of protecting the ocean and its inhabitants.
Visitors can also participate in guided tours and educational programs that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the center’s research and conservation efforts.
One of the highlights of the center is the impressive Ms. Blue, one of the largest blue whale skeletons in the world, located just outside the center.
At 87 feet long, this awe-inspiring skeleton offers a unique and unforgettable glimpse into the majesty of these incredible creatures.
Whether you’re a marine life enthusiast or just looking for a fun and educational activity in Santa Cruz, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a must-visit destination.
6. Roaring Camp Railroads – A steam train through the redwoods
Roaring Camp Railroads is a historic and exciting attraction located in the heart of Santa Cruz County, California.
The park offers visitors a unique opportunity to travel back in time and experience the thrill of riding on an authentic steam train through the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains.
The trains at Roaring Camp Railroads run on a historic narrow-gauge track, offering scenic views of the surrounding redwood forests and mountain landscapes.
Roaring Camp Railroads offers visitors the chance to experience a range of seasonal events throughout the year, making it a fun and exciting destination no matter what time of year you visit.
In the fall, visitors can participate in the park’s pumpkin patch event, where they can choose the perfect pumpkin while enjoying a scenic train ride through the woods.
During the holiday season, the park offers a range of festive events, including the popular Christmas Tree Trains, where visitors can pick out their own Christmas tree while riding on an authentic steam train.
Roaring Camp Railroads is a fun and exciting destination for visitors of all ages.
7. West Cliff Drive
West Cliff Drive is a stunning and picturesque destination in Santa Cruz, California, that offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the coastline.
The scenic drive stretches for 3 miles along the cliffs, with plenty of spots to pull over and enjoy the scenery, including the famous Surfer’s Point and the lighthouse at Steamer Lane.
Visitors to West Cliff Drive can also explore the area on foot via the West Cliff Walking Path, a popular route for walking, jogging, and biking that offers panoramic views of the ocean and the cliffs.
Along the way, visitors can enjoy a variety of beautiful sights, from the surfers riding the waves below to the dolphins and whales that often swim by.
Check out the surfing monument at West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, California. This iconic statue pays tribute to the local surf culture that has thrived in Santa Cruz for decades.
West Cliff Drive is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the natural beauty and charm of Santa Cruz.
Cultural and Artistic Scene in Santa Cruz
8. Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH)
The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, also known as the MAH, is a vibrant and engaging destination that celebrates the rich history and culture of Santa Cruz County.
The museum is dedicated to showcasing the unique artistic, cultural, and historical heritage of the area and features a variety of interactive exhibits, events, and programs that offer a glimpse into the diverse and colorful stories of the region.
Visitors to the MAH can explore a range of exhibits that highlight the art, music, and cultural traditions of Santa Cruz and the history of the region’s diverse communities.
A highlight is the rooftop sculpture garden.
The museum hosts various events throughout the year, including live music performances, film screenings, and art shows.
With its engaging exhibits and dynamic programming, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to learn more about the rich cultural heritage of Santa Cruz.
9. Shakespeare Santa Cruz
Shakespeare Santa Cruz is an annual summer event that draws crowds of theater enthusiasts and fans of the Bard.
From July to August, visitors can experience a variety of productions, from classic Shakespearean plays to modern adaptations and original works.
One of the standout features of Shakespeare Santa Cruz is its location, which has recently been moved to the Grove in DeLaveaga Park.
The open-air setting surrounded by trees and beautiful views adds a touch of magic to every performance, and visitors are encouraged to bring their own picnic and refreshments to enjoy during the show.
Whether you’re a lifelong fan of Shakespeare or simply looking for a unique and memorable evening out in Santa Cruz, Shakespeare Santa Cruz is an event that should not be missed.
10. First Friday Art Tour
The First Friday Art Tour is a popular monthly event in Santa Cruz that celebrates the vibrant and diverse local art scene.
On the first Friday of every month, galleries, studios, and other art spaces throughout the city open their doors to the public, offering a chance to view and purchase works of art from a variety of talented local artists.
The event also features a range of other activities and attractions, including live music performances, food and drink vendors, and art-related workshops and seminars.
Visitors can explore the city’s bustling downtown area on foot, taking in the sights and sounds of the vibrant art community and discovering new and exciting works of art.
Most participating venues in the First Friday Art Tour usually open their doors to the public around 5 pm or 6 pm in the evening and remain open for several hours of festivities.
A comprehensive list of all the venues participating in the event can be found on the First Friday website, allowing visitors to plan their routes and explore the city’s many different galleries and studios.
Whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply looking for a fun and unique way to spend a Friday evening, the First Friday Art Tour is a must-visit event in Santa Cruz.
11. Santa Cruz’s Vibrant Music Scene
Santa Cruz is a vibrant and diverse city with a thriving music scene, offering a range of venues and events for music lovers of all genres.
Santa Cruz has a venue for everyone, from small, intimate clubs to large concert halls, and attracts a variety of talented musicians and performers throughout the year.
One of the most popular music venues in Santa Cruz is The Catalyst, a historic club that has been entertaining visitors for over 50 years.
The venue is known for its diverse lineup of live music performances, featuring everything from rock and reggae to hip-hop and electronic music.
Another popular venue is Moe’s Alley, a cozy and intimate club that has been a fixture of the Santa Cruz music scene for over 25 years.
Moe’s Alley features a variety of live music performances, focusing on blues, soul, and world music.
For those looking for a more laid-back and intimate setting, The Crepe Place is a cozy cafe and bar that offers live music performances in a casual and relaxed atmosphere.
The venue features an eclectic mix of performers and genres, including local artists and touring musicians from around the world.
Other notable music venues in Santa Cruz include the Rio Theatre, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, and the Blue Lagoon, each offering their own unique vibe and atmosphere.
Whether you’re a fan of rock, jazz, blues, or electronic music, there’s always something happening in Santa Cruz’s vibrant and exciting music scene.
Outdoor Activities in Santa Cruz
Surfing and Beautiful Beaches in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is a coastal city in California that boasts of a thriving surf culture, drawing surfers from around the world to its beaches.
Santa Cruz is a surfer’s paradise with its mild climate, stunning scenery, and world-renowned waves.
Whether you are a seasoned surfer or a beginner looking to learn, Santa Cruz has some of the best surfing spots in the world.
Visitors can take surfing lessons from one of the many surf schools in the area, with instructors who are experts in their craft and are passionate about sharing their knowledge with others.
In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most popular surfing spots and beaches in Santa Cruz.
From world-famous surf spots to family-friendly beaches, Santa Cruz has something for everyone.
So, let’s dive in and explore what makes these destinations unique!
12. Steamer Lane
Located on the stunning coast of Santa Cruz, Steamer Lane is a renowned surf spot, attracting experienced surfers from around the world.
With its big waves and challenging conditions, this spot is definitely not for beginners, but it’s a must-visit for any surfer looking for a true challenge.
Steamer Lane is also home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, which celebrates the rich history and culture of surfing in Santa Cruz.
The museum is a fascinating attraction for anyone interested in the iconic surf scene of this region.
13. Pleasure Point
Located on the east side of Santa Cruz, Pleasure Point is a favorite spot among locals and visitors alike.
The point breaks offer a variety of waves, from long and mellow to fast and hollow, making it a great spot for surfers of all levels.
The beach also features a long, scenic walking path and several popular cafes and restaurants.
14. Cowell’s Beach
Located near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Cowell’s Beach is one of the most popular surf spots for beginners and families.
The beach features a wide expanse of sand and gentle waves, perfect for learning to surf or swimming. It also offers convenient amenities such as restrooms, showers, and plenty of nearby restaurants and cafes.
15. Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach is a truly stunning destination that offers a mix of incredible natural beauty and fascinating wildlife.
The beach is known for its picturesque rock formations and tide pools, which provide a glimpse into the diverse and colorful marine life that thrives just beneath the surface.
Visitors can expect to see everything from sea stars and shore crabs to sea anemones and other colorful ocean creatures.
The beach is also a fantastic vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore.
Adjacent to the Natural Bridges State Beach is Natural Bridge State Park. The most unique feature of Natural Bridges State park is the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve, a protected area home to thousands of monarch butterflies during winter.
16. Capitola Beach
A popular destination for families, Capitola Beach, is a picturesque beach with a quaint seaside village atmosphere.
Visitors can enjoy swimming, paddleboarding, and surfing and explore the shops and restaurants that line the nearby streets.
17. Twin Lakes State Beach
Located just east of Santa Cruz Harbor, Twin Lakes State Beach is a great spot for swimming and sunbathing.
The beach features a large, grassy area and picnic tables, making it a perfect spot for a family outing. This is also one of the best places to watch the sunset in Santa Cruz.
18. Seabright State Beach
With its wide, sandy expanse and gentle waves, Seabright State Beach is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. The beach is a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing.
19. Sunny Cove
A secluded beach located near the northern tip of Monterey Bay, Sunny Cove is a hidden gem that offers a peaceful and tranquil escape from the busier beaches in Santa Cruz.
The beach is accessible via a short hike and features beautiful scenery and calm waters.
20. Panther Beach
A remote and secluded beach located just north of Santa Cruz, Panther Beach is a hidden gem that offers a peaceful and quiet escape from the crowds.
Access to the beach requires a short hike down a steep cliff, but the stunning scenery and secluded location make it well worth the effort.
The beach features dramatic rock formations, crystal clear water, and a relaxed atmosphere that is perfect for a quiet day at the beach.
Note that there are no amenities available at Panther Beach, so visitors should bring everything they need for a comfortable beach day.
21. Seacliff State Beach
Seacliff State Beach in Santa Cruz offers a picturesque mile-long promenade, making it a favorite spot for joggers, bikers, and dog walkers.
Visitors can enjoy covered picnic facilities, BBQs, a campground, and a visitor center.
Unfortunately, the pier at Seacliff suffered extensive damage due to the recent storms, and it will be removed soon as part of the cleanup process.
The damage is a stark reminder of the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise and extreme weather.
22. Manresa State Beach
Manresa State Beach is a beautiful stretch of coastline that is sure to leave visitors in awe. It is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Santa Cruz.
Located on Highway 1 between Sunset State Beach and La Selva Beach, Manresa State Beach offers panoramic views of the rugged coastline, the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains and forested hills of the Monterey Peninsula.
Visitors can take long walks on the sandy beach, relax in the sun, or watch the surfers catching waves.
Hiking in the Redwoods
Santa Cruz is a nature lover’s dream, with a plethora of stunning redwood forests that offer incredible hiking opportunities.
The Santa Cruz Mountains are covered with towering redwoods that create an enchanting forest environment, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a hiking adventure.
With various trails ranging from easy to challenging, hikers can take their time exploring the towering redwoods, rushing rivers, and diverse wildlife that calls the Santa Cruz Mountains home.
Here are some of the top state parks in Santa Cruz that offer excellent hiking experiences.
23. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park – A popular attraction
Located just outside of Santa Cruz, Henry Cowell is another fantastic destination for hiking in the redwoods. The park features a variety of trails that wind through ancient redwood groves, as well as a visitor center that provides information on the park’s ecology and history.
24. Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
Another stunning redwood forest in Santa Cruz is the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. The park boasts over 10,000 acres of lush, forested land perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities.
The park’s trails wind through towering redwoods and a diverse mix of flora and fauna, providing hikers with a true sense of the natural beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the park’s most popular trails is the Aptos Creek Trail, which features scenic waterfalls and a wide range of plant and animal life.
The park also has a rich cultural history, with remnants of the logging industry and a railway that once ran through the forest.
Today, the park is a peaceful and serene place to hike, relax, and connect with the natural world.
So if you’re looking for a unique and unforgettable outdoor experience in Santa Cruz, add the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park to your list of must-visit destinations.
25. Big Basin Redwoods State Park
As the oldest state park in California, Big Basin is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in hiking through ancient redwood forests. The park features numerous trails of varying difficulty, ranging from easy strolls to strenuous treks. Hikers can admire towering redwoods, scenic waterfalls, and diverse flora and fauna along the way.
Note: Big Basin Redwoods State Park is temporarily closed after the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires in 2020.
Coastal Hikes in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is home to some of the most breathtaking coastal hikes in California.
The region’s combination of rugged coastline, rolling hills, and lush redwood forests creates a natural playground for hikers of all skill levels.
Here are some of the best places to experience the coastal beauty of Santa Cruz on foot.
26. Wilder Ranch State Park
Wilder Ranch State park is located just north of Santa Cruz and offers a wide range of hiking trails that wind through towering redwoods and along the stunning coastal bluffs.
The park’s trails range from easy walks to challenging hikes, making it an ideal destination for hikers of all levels.
You’ll spot dolphins, seals, humpback whales, otters, and sea lions from the bluffs if you’re lucky.
Recommended trail: Old Cove Landing Trail to Ohlone Bluff Trail
27. Sunset State Beach
I highly recommend Pajaro Dunes to Sunset State Beach trail.
Located near Watsonville, California, this 4.9-mile out-and-back trail offers a leisurely and easy hike that can be completed in an average of 1 hour and 27 minutes.
Ideal for walking, this trail offers a peaceful and quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Mountain Biking in Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Mountains are a mountain range located in the central coast of California, and offer some of the best biking experiences in the state.
The combination of lush redwood forests, challenging climbs, and thrilling descents make the region ideal for mountain and road biking destinations.
Here are some of the best places to go biking in the Santa Cruz Mountains:
25. Soquel Demonstration State Forest
Soquel Demonstration State Forest, also known as “Demo,” is home to a series of mountain biking trails.
This forest offers miles of challenging mountain biking trails through redwood forests and over rocky terrain.
The trails range in difficulty, from beginner-friendly fire roads to technical singletrack, making it an ideal destination for riders of all skill levels.
28. Pogonip Open Space Preserve
Mountain biking enthusiasts visiting Santa Cruz should not miss out on exploring Pogonip Open Space Preserve.
Spanning over 640 acres of open meadows, woodlands, and creeks, this beautiful area is known as “The” Pogonip by locals.
With 17 trails to choose from, visitors can hike through the woodland and prairie areas while enjoying breathtaking views of Monterey Bay.
Three of the trails are open to mountain bikers and equestrians, including the Harvey West Trail, Emma McCrary Trail, and Rincon Connector Trail.
Binoculars are recommended for bird watchers as this preserve is home to a diverse range of bird species, such as owls, western bluebirds, American robins, and more.
Get ready for an exciting and unforgettable mountain biking adventure in Pogonip Open Space Preserve.
29. Kayaking in Monterey Bay
Kayaking in Monterey Bay is an excellent way to explore the beautiful coastline of Santa Cruz.
The bay is home to an abundance of marine life, including sea otters, harbor seals, and a variety of seabirds. As you paddle along, you may even spot whales and dolphins playing in the waters.
Several local companies offer guided kayak tours of the bay, catering to both experienced and novice paddlers.
These tours typically include all the necessary equipment, such as a kayak, paddle, and life jacket, as well as a knowledgeable guide who will point out interesting wildlife and geological features along the way.
One of the highlights of kayaking in Monterey Bay is paddling through the kelp forests, which are home to a wide variety of fish and other marine creatures.
The kelp also helps to keep the waters calm and sheltered, making it a great spot for beginners to try kayaking for the first time.
Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or a first-timer, kayaking in Monterey Bay is a must-do activity when visiting Santa Cruz.
It’s a unique and memorable way to experience the natural beauty of this stunning coastline and get up close to the incredible marine life that calls it home.
30. Arboretum & Botanic Garden
The Arboretum and Botanic Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is a beautiful 135-acre natural reserve that features a stunning collection of rare and endangered plants.
The Arboretum and Botanic Garden is home to a diverse range of plant species from around the world, including plants from Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand.
It is also home to a number of plants native to California and the Monterey Bay area.
One of the highlights of the Arboretum is the Eucalyptus Grove, which features a wide range of eucalyptus species. It is perfect for a leisurely walk.
Another must-visit spot at the Arboretum is the Butterfly Garden, home to various colorful and vibrant butterflies.
Visitors can witness the butterflies up close as they flit and flutter around the garden, making it a popular spot for families with children.
Birding enthusiasts will love the Arboretum, as it’s home to a wide range of bird species, including hummingbirds, warblers, and woodpeckers.
Visitors can explore the garden on foot, taking in the sights and sounds of the different birds that call the Arboretum home.
Whether you’re a plant lover, a nature enthusiast, or just looking for a peaceful spot to relax and unwind, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a must-visit destination.
31. Walton Lighthouse – A gorgeous photo spot!
Located at the end of Seabright Beach, the Walton Lighthouse is a stunning sight to behold, with a picturesque view that makes it a popular spot for taking photos.
Although visitors cannot go inside the lighthouse, it still offers an incredible photo opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
Additionally, while you’re there, make sure to take a stroll around the nearby Santa Cruz Harbor to enjoy the area’s beautiful surroundings.
Indoor experiences in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz offers a variety of indoor experiences for those looking to beat the heat or enjoy a day indoors. From interesting museums to science centers, there’s something for everyone.
Discover the area’s rich history at local museums, explore interactive exhibits that spark creativity and imagination, or dive into the world of science and technology at educational centers.
With so many options to choose from, visitors to Santa Cruz can have an enriching and educational indoor experience, rain or shine.
32. Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is a fascinating indoor attraction that showcases the natural beauty and ecological diversity of the Central Coast region.
Visitors can explore interactive exhibits and displays that highlight the geology, flora, and fauna of the local area, as well as learn about the Native American tribes that once inhabited the region.
The museum also hosts educational programs, workshops, and special events throughout the year. It’s a great place to visit for anyone who is interested in science, nature, and history.
33. Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is a must-visit attraction for any surfing enthusiast or anyone interested in the history of surfing.
Located inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, the museum showcases the rich surfing history of Santa Cruz and California’s Central Coast.
Visitors can explore a collection of vintage surfboards, wetsuits, photographs, and other memorabilia that highlight the evolution of surfing over the years.
The museum also offers breathtaking views of the Santa Cruz coastline and the world-famous surf breaks at Steamer Lane.
Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a casual observer, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is an exciting and educational experience you won’t want to miss.
34. The Sanctuary Exploration Center
The Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz is an interactive museum that provides a fascinating glimpse into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of the USA’s largest national marine sanctuaries.
The Sanctuary Exploration Center is a beautiful indoor experience in Santa Cruz. It offers visitors the chance to learn about the incredible marine life and ecosystems that are unique to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The center features interactive exhibits that educate visitors about the diverse marine habitats in the sanctuary, the creatures that inhabit them, and the importance of protecting these fragile ecosystems.
The center also offers a variety of educational programs and events throughout the year, including guided tours, presentations, and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages.
And best of all, admission is free.
Whether you’re a marine enthusiast or just looking for a fun and educational activity, the Sanctuary Exploration Center is a wonderful indoor experience in Santa Cruz.
35. Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery
Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery is a fantastic indoor experience in Santa Cruz, perfect for families with young children.
The museum is located in Capitola Mall and offers a range of interactive exhibits.
Children can learn about science, technology, engineering, art, and math through hands-on activities and play-based learning.
The museum also hosts regular events and workshops for children and families, making it a fun and educational destination.
36. Bigfoot Discovery Museum
The Bigfoot Discovery Museum is a quirky and unique attraction in Santa Cruz that’s perfect for those who love offbeat and unusual experiences.
Located in the small town of Felton, the museum is dedicated to the legend of Bigfoot and features a collection of artifacts, exhibits, and stories related to this mythical creature.
Established in 2004, the museum is housed in a small cabin and is run by Michael Rugg, a local Bigfoot enthusiast who has been collecting evidence and stories about Bigfoot for over 50 years.
Visitors can explore the exhibits and learn about the history of Bigfoot sightings, local folklore, and the ongoing search for evidence of Bigfoot’s existence.
Highlights of the museum include a collection of plaster casts of Bigfoot footprints, photographs and videos of Bigfoot sightings, and various artwork and sculptures depicting the creature.
The museum also hosts a gift shop where visitors can purchase Bigfoot-related souvenirs.
Admission to this museum is free!
Overall, the Bigfoot Discovery Museum is a fun and entertaining attraction perfect for families and anyone interested in the unusual and mysterious.
37. Capitola Historical Museum
If you want to explore beyond the beach and Capitola Village, check out the Capitola Historical Museum. Here you can learn about Capitola’s fascinating history through the years.
Admission to this museum is free!
38. Mission Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park
Mission Santa Cruz was a Spanish mission located in present-day Santa Cruz, California. Founded on August 28, 1791, it was the 12th of 21 missions established by the Spanish in California.
The mission was named after the Holy Cross, which is also the meaning of “Santa Cruz” in Spanish.
The mission was also an important stop along the El Camino Real, a network of roads and trails that connected the Spanish missions and settlements in California.
The mission’s economy was based on agriculture, and the mission had large fields where crops such as wheat, corn, and beans were grown. The mission also had a large herd of cattle and sheep, which provided meat, milk, and wool.
The native people of the area, the Ohlone, were forced to live at the mission and work for the Spanish. The Ohlone were converted to Christianity and were taught European farming methods.
However, the conditions at the mission were harsh, and many Ohlones died from disease and mistreatment.
In 1818, a large earthquake destroyed many of the mission’s buildings. The mission was rebuilt, but it never fully recovered from the earthquake.
In the 1830s, the Mexican government secularized the missions, and the land and property were sold or given away.
Today, the site of the mission is a California State Historic Park, and visitors can see the restored mission chapel, museum, and gardens.
The park also includes a replica of a Native American village, where visitors can learn about the life and culture of the Ohlone people.
Mission Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park is an important part of California’s history, and it provides insight into the interactions between the Spanish and Native American cultures during the mission era.
E. Local Food and Drink in Santa Cruz
39. Wine tasting in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is known for its beautiful beaches, redwood forests, and outdoor adventures. However, it is also home to a thriving wine industry that offers a unique tasting experience.
The Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area (AVA) is one of the oldest wine regions in California, producing high-quality wines for over a century.
The region is known for its cool climate, ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
Visitors to Santa Cruz can explore a variety of wineries and tasting rooms, many of which are family-owned and operated.
From breathtaking vineyard views to intimate tasting rooms, the wine-tasting experience in Santa Cruz is not to be missed.
Some of the most popular wineries are Beauregard Vineyards and Regale Winery.
40. Brew Cruz
Brew Cruz is a unique experience for beer lovers visiting Santa Cruz. It’s a bus tour that takes visitors to some of the best breweries in the area.
The tour is a fun way to sample different types of craft beer while enjoying the scenic beauty of Santa Cruz.
Visitors can sit back, relax and let the knowledgeable guides take them to the best breweries in the area.
41. Shadowbrook – A world-famous restaurant in Santa Cruz
Shadowbrook is an iconic restaurant in Santa Cruz. The restaurant is known for its beautiful setting and delicious food.
The restaurant is situated on the banks of Soquel Creek, and visitors can access it through a cable car.
The restaurant has been serving customers for over 70 years, and it’s a must-visit place for anyone visiting Santa Cruz.
Hidden Gems and Unique Activities in Santa Cruz
42. whale watching cruise in Santa Cruz
A whale-watching cruise in Santa Cruz is an excellent opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up close.
Visitors can take a boat tour to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and watch humpback whales, blue whales, and dolphins in their natural habitat.
It’s an unforgettable experience that visitors will cherish for a lifetime.
43. Sail into the sunset
Sailing into the sunset is one of the most romantic and peaceful activities visitors can do in Santa Cruz.
Visitors can charter a sailboat and enjoy the breathtaking sunset views over the Pacific Ocean.
The sailboat tours are led by experienced captains who can also share their knowledge of the area’s history and marine life.
You can participate in either public or private cruises using boat charters like Chardonnay Sailing Charters and O’Neill Yacht Charters.
44. Bonny Doon Beach – Clothing optional beach
Bonny Doon Beach is a picturesque beach with stunning dunes and high cliff walls that surround it.
At the back of the beach, a creek called Liddell Creek flows through a tunnel in the rock wall and around the south end of the beach to the ocean.
Visitors might have to wade across the creek to reach the beach from the parking area or cross on a log.
The beach is located at the intersection of Highway 1 and Bonny Doon Road, north of Santa Cruz, near Davenport.
The beach boasts a long paved parking lot along Highway 1, and visitors can access it by walking across the railroad tracks and down a sandy slope.
It is worth noting that Bonny Doon Beach has been known as a clothing-optional beach for many years.
The clothing-free area is now located at the more secluded north end, beyond the big flat-topped rock, since the state of California acquired the property.
45. Mount Hermon Adventures
Mount Hermon Adventures is an exciting adventure park located in Santa Cruz. The park offers activities such as zip-lining and ropes courses.
Mount Hermon Adventures is 7 miles from downtown Santa Cruz, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, between San Francisco and Monterey.
Visitors can challenge themselves and have a thrilling adventure while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
46. Neary Lagoon Park
Neary Lagoon Park, situated in the heart of Santa Cruz, is a haven for nature lovers. The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including ducks, geese, swans, egrets, and herons.
The park’s trees and shrubs provide a natural habitat and a source of food for the animals. The park’s boardwalk is a major highlight, offering visitors an excellent view of the wildlife as it winds through the lagoon.
Additionally, the park’s floating bridges provide visitors with an intimate experience with the lagoon’s inhabitants.
Whether you’re looking for a place to unwind or to learn about nature, Neary Lagoon Park is an ideal choice.
47. Dwarf redwood forest
If you’re looking for a unique nature experience in Santa Cruz, I highly recommend visiting Quail Hollow Ranch in Felton, nestled deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
This 300-acre nature wonderland is home to a dwarf redwood forest and seasonal wetland, making it an ideal place to hike and enjoy nature without the crowds.
While the hiking trails only cover five miles, there are plenty of classes and tours available year-round, including bird watching, history tours, and stargazing.
This hidden gem is also a popular wedding venue and a habitat for native plants and animals, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers.
Spiritual Places to Visit in Santa Cruz
48. Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery
The Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery is a serene and peaceful place that offers visitors a tranquil atmosphere for meditation and reflection.
As one approaches the monastery, a bright white Buddhist temple amidst redwood trees immediately catches the eye.
The temple houses a beautiful golden Buddha statue that is truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring to behold.
The monastery’s serene ambiance provides a perfect escape from the chaos of daily life, allowing visitors to find inner peace and tranquility in this spiritual haven.
49. Land of Medicine Buddha
Nestled within 108 acres of breathtaking ancient redwood groves and sun-kissed oak meadows lies the Land of Medicine Buddha, a haven of tranquility and enchantment.
The hills are adorned with stunning groves of majestic redwoods, vibrant ferns, and seasonal flowers that create a kaleidoscope of colors.
As you stroll through the grounds, the gentle trickle of water in the nearby creek and the occasional sighting of indigenous animals, such as deer, add to the serene ambiance of the place.
The Land of Medicine Buddha is truly a magical retreat where you can let go of your worries and immerse yourself in the healing energy of nature.
50. Ocean and environmental-themed Murals in Santa Cruz
Discover the many beautiful ocean and environmental-themed murals in Santa Cruz.
Appreciate the local community’s artistic talent and creativity, which is showcased in these vibrant murals as you move along the streets.
The murals depict the beauty of the ocean and the importance of environmental protection, offering a unique and thought-provoking experience for visitors to enjoy.
51. Downtown Santa Cruz
Downtown Santa Cruz is the heart of the city, offering an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and cultural venues.
From independent boutiques and vintage stores to farmers markets and art galleries, there’s something for everyone in this bustling downtown area.
You can also catch a show at one of the historic theaters, enjoy live music at a local venue, or simply people-watch while sipping coffee or dining al fresco.
With its vibrant atmosphere and diverse offerings, Downtown Santa Cruz is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the city.
Where to stay in Santa Cruz
The Inn at Pasatiempo offers a charming French-country atmosphere. It is located near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the University of Santa Cruz. It features a heated pool, and a beautiful garden. Rooms start at $139 per night. Book your stay now.
Experience comfort and eco-friendliness at Pacific Blue Inn, Santa Cruz. This 100% non-smoking hotel is just a short walk from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and offers brightly-colored rooms. Enjoy complimentary baked goods and coffee throughout the day, and relax in the courtyard featuring local artwork. The Inn at Pasatiempo offers a charming French-country atmosphere. It is located near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the University of Santa Cruz. It features a heated pool, and a beautiful garden. Rooms start at $139 per night. Book your stay now.
Ocean Echo Inn & Beach Cottages
Ocean Echo Inn & Beach Cottages is a charming beachfront hotel. The inn offers a relaxing and safe stay, with nearby attractions such as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Roaring Camp Railroad, and Henry Cowell Redwood Forest. Rooms start at $206 per night. Book your stay now.
The Dream Inn is a trendy hotel located right on the beach, with all 165 rooms offering breathtaking ocean views. Rooms start at $259 per night. Book your stay now.
Similar Articles From Travel Realizations
Santa Cruz county offers a diverse range of experiences for visitors to enjoy, from the natural beauty of its beaches and forests to the rich history and culture of its towns and cities.
Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or education, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant region.
From whale watching and wine tasting to hiking and surfing, the possibilities for exploration are endless. With so many top attractions, visitors will surely have a memorable time in Santa Cruz county.
So come and discover all that this beautiful area has to offer!
Leave a comment below if you have any questions, or DM me on Instagram @travelrealizations
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to 50 Top Things to do in Santa Cruz, California. You may enjoy these other San Francisco Bay Area and California travel guides:
- 40 Top things to do in Carmel, California – The Ultimate Bucket List
- 50 Top things to do in Monterey, California – The Ultimate Bucket List
- Monterey Bay Aquarium – A window to another world!
- 18 Romantic Coastal Towns in California within a Short Drive from the San Francisco Bay Area
- A Coffee cup and a story in Santa Cruz California
- Bay Area weekend getaways on California Highway 1
- 50 Top California Landmarks You Should Visit
- 30 Romantic Places to Explore in the San Francisco Bay Area
- 35 Best Lakes in Northern California to add to Your Bucket List
- Super scenic Cypress Trees and Tunnels near San Francisco
- Easy Day Trips from San Francisco
- Exploratorium in San Francisco – When the Destination is Science!
- San Francisco to Death Valley – A Super Scenic California Road Trip!
- 30 Top things to do in Pleasanton, California, for fun
- 21 Top things to do in San Ramon, California
- 31 Top things to do in Berkeley, California
- 40 Top Things to Do in San Jose – The Ultimate Bucket List
- 26 Top things to do in Palo Alto, California
- Discover 80 Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco
- 16 Top Wine Country Getaways Near the San Francisco Bay Area – Sip, Savor, and Explore
If you need my guide to 50 Top Things to do in Santa Cruz, California, Pin It for later.