Find the quintessential West Coast getaway in this iconic California seaside town, a coastal crossroads of vintage and modern, redwoods and surf, kid-friendly and romantic, sleepy and packed with fun-in-the-sun.
It’s about as iconically Californian as you can get, a coastal crossroads of vintage and modern, redwoods and surf, kid-friendly and romantic, sleepy and packed with fun-in-the-sun — and the best thing about Santa Cruz? The livin’ is just so easy. Which is probably why so many visitors are lured by the siren song of this small city at the northern tip of Monterey Bay, where kicking off shoes, and cares, is encouraged.
Santa Cruz is worth the trip year-round, but spring and summer are when the area really sparkles. The city’s balmy coastal climate sweetens, and sunshine paints the endless Pacific Ocean views. If an upscale getaway is the goal, head to the Dream Inn, a large, plush hotel right on the beach, where the shifting, swirling ocean provides the backdrop to a stay filled with amenities. Otherwise, many hotels in town suit a range of budgets — or, for those who long to stay a while, rentals can offer considerable value and comfort.
Ocean lovers have not one but seven diverse beaches to explore within Santa Cruz city limits — together only a portion of the breathtaking 29 miles of accessible beaches that stretch down Santa Cruz County’s western hip. Choose from dog-friendly, tide-pooled, surfer-favored, or simply soft and sandy, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
On central Main Beach, Santa Cruz’s most famous seaside destination comes complete with kettle corn and vintage thrills: the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California’s oldest theme park and one of the few remaining seaside attractions of its kind nationwide. Since 1907, this colorful, 24-acre park has hosted revelers for carnival games and rides, live performances, and myriad other beachside diversions. Even tiny thrillseekers have their own designated boardwalk areas for age-appropriate fun. Those tall enough to ride won’t want to miss the historic wooden Giant Dipper with its 65-foot drop, which enthusiasts call a perfect classic roller coaster. The even more historic Looff Carousel, a temple to old-fashioned organ-grinding, mechanical-horse-riding, ring-grabbing fun since 1911, is a sweetly memorable ride for all ages.
If the beach crowds start feeling a little tight, take a dip of a different kind — into a bookshop. Independently run since 1966, the spacious and flush Bookshop Santa Cruz on Pacific Avenue is a very special destination. It’s also one of many excellent shops and restaurants in the curiously classy yet funky downtown area that attracts, among other types, musicians, surfers, skateboarders, shoe lovers, and art enthusiasts.
All that sea air, (roller) coasting, and shopping can make a person hungry. Grab a treat from The Buttery, a standout for French-inspired baked goods in the city’s more residential Seabright neighborhood. Or take in miles of Pacific blue vistas al fresco with a fresh, upscale-casual breakfast or lunch from cafe Steamer Lane Supply, perched near Lighthouse Point and surf mecca (and museum) Steamer Lane on the West Cliff. Family-friendly Betty Burgers provides all-American burgers, fries, and milkshakes for lunch or dinner, with a roomy location downtown and smaller eatery in Seabright. For much fancier fare, newcomer Alderwood Santa Cruz is a seafood-focused destination restaurant, featuring wood-fired cuisine, French influences, and seasonal local ingredients. Need to chill out even more? Breweries abound — Santa Cruz is home to UC Santa Cruz, after all — including Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and its newer neighbor, Humble Sea Brewery.
Lastly, ocean-gazing can inspire as much curiosity as relaxation. Those who long to know what lies beneath that sparkling surface might head to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, where the mysterious creatures of the deep are revealed in a welcoming, approachable, and wonderfully interactive maritime museum.
When You Go
Dream Inn Santa Cruz
175 W Cliff Dr., 844-510-1746, DreamInnSantaCruz.com
Bookshop Santa Cruz
1520 Pacific Ave., 831-423-0900, BookshopSantaCruz.com
Steamer Lane Supply
644-670 W Cliff Dr., 831-621-7361, SteamerLaneSC.com
702 Soquel Ave., 831-458-3020, ButteryBakery.com
Alderwood Santa Cruz
155 Walnut Ave., 831-588-3238, AlderwoodSantaCruz.com
Seymour Marine Discovery Center
100 McAllister Way, 831-459-3800, SeymourCenter.ucsc.edu