SANTA CRUZ EXPERIENCES
From playing tourist and visiting attractions to enjoying a range of outdoor activities, you'll find a bonanza of fun ways to spend the day.
1. Catch a Wave
Perfectly positioned to catch all directions of Pacific swell, Santa Cruz’s beaches offer great surfing and bodyboarding. Eager to try out the famed break at Steamer Lane? Rent a board and wetsuit at Cowell’s Beach Surf Shop in Santa Cruz or O’Neill Surf Shop in Capitola. For lessons, try Club Ed Surf School at the Santa Cruz Wharf or Capitola Surf and Paddle.
2. Shop to your Soul’s Content
If malls and brand names are not what you’re looking for, then downtown Santa Cruz and Capitola Village most certainly are—and such spots are harder to find these days. Original fashions, surfing gear, funky comfort shoes, racy beachware, handmade crafts, designer jewelry, artisanal skateboards, and still plenty more offer fun and pleasant browsing, with most shops and boutiques individually owned.
3. “Skywalk” in the Redwoods
Head inland to the towering redwoods at Mount Hermon Redwood Adventures and get your adrenaline fix by zip-lining or “skywalking” as high as 150 feet, learning about forest ecology along the way.
4. Ride a Roller Coaster
Amuse yourself with thrills, games, and family fun at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—one of the oldest seaside amusement parks in the country, and a summertime tradition for Californian families. Built in the 1920s, the all-wood Giant Dipper can be as exciting as the gravity-defying Double Shot tower or the wild Typhoon, but there are tamer thrills too.
5. Go Paddle
Rent yourself a wetsuit and a kayak or stand-up paddle board (SUP) and get ready to work your arm muscles. Whether you’re a beginner or a hardcore enthusiast, you’ll find great paddling options at spots like Santa Cruz Harbor and Moss Landing’s Elkhorn Slough Reserve, just south of Watsonville. All offer calm, protected waters, with sightings of seals, sea otters and many varieties of coastal birds most common at Elkhorn Slough, while experienced and adventurous paddlers can venture out to brave the ocean waves. Rentals and lessons are offered at Kayak Connection (kayaks and SUP) and Venture Quest Kayaking (kayaks only).
6. Sail on the Bay
Protected from rough water but exposed to steady and consistent winds, Santa Cruz Harbor is an ideal sailing port. Catch a sunset, observe migrating whales or just enjoy a fresh margarita on one of many sailing cruises offered from the Yacht Harbor. For instruction, bareboat charters, or skippered charters, Pacific Yachting and Sailing has a fleet of 14 sailing yachts year-round, while Chardonnay Sailing Charters offers excursions for everyone—from seasoned sailors to landlubbers aboard its 70-foot luxury sailing yacht. Sailing tours with O’Neill Yacht Charters run regularly from May through October, and private charters are available year-round.
7. Tap into the Craft Beer Craze
Handcrafted beers have come a long way from mere pub fare, and Santa Cruz has been at the forefront of this movement. Sample local specialty brews at hopping microbreweries such as Sante Adairius and Humble Sea Brewing Company.
8. Stroll the Santa Cruz Wharf
Visit the historic wharf to browse the tourist shops or step into a colorful dining spot for a dish of seafood linguine with an ocean view—complete with surfers, kayakers, barking seals and more in the daytime.
9. Indulge in Wine Tasting
Spend an afternoon at the hip and happening Westside of Santa Cruz where a dozen intimate, artisanal wineries pour samplings of their crafts, all within strolling distance. Chat with the owners, meet fellow tasters, and wish you never had to hit the road. Highlights include sparkling wines at Equinox, Portuguese varietals at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, and mouth-filling reds at the inviting tasting room of Stockwell Cellars.
10. Go for A Hike
Whether at Wilder Ranch Park looking out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean, or through the redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, there are scenic trails for all fitness levels. On the easier side, a memorable stroll can be had on West Cliff Drive, providing views of waves, surfers and matchless sunsets.