Santa Cruz County: Let’s Cruz!

Santa Cruz is the quintessential California beach town. Surfers on bikes pedal through the neighborhoods carrying their surfboards. Families hang out on the beach while the kids build sandcastles and splash around in the surf. Screams of delight drift above the waves from riders on the seaside rollercoaster and instrumental surf music lulls a new generation of surf-lovers. But while Santa Cruz is the classic spot to dig your toes in the sand and soak up the sun, the fun only begins at the beach.

Hailed by a recent Gallup Poll as one of the happiest, healthiest places to live in America, the heart of the city is Santa Cruz’s vibrant downtown area. “Humbly hip” is how Santa Cruz has been described and that vibe is more true downtown than anywhere else. Anchored by a clock tower, this lively city center features pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets populated with boutiques, art galleries and sidewalk performers. A weekly downtown farmer’s market features locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. And you can browse at your leisure at a monthly antiques street faire where treasures from the past are displayed. 

Working your way back to the ocean, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab offers an up-close view of fascinating sea creatures. This noted research facility overlooking the bay features seawater tables, aquariums and marine exhibits illustrating the work of resident scientists. Ms. Blue, one of the world’s largest blue whale skeletons, rests adjacent to the facility.

Nearby, Natural Bridges State Park is an ideal place for tidepool exploration where you can find sea stars, tiny crabs and sea anemones.

Between Natural Bridges State Park and the Santa Cruz Wharf, a two-and-a-half mile scenic path overlooking the bay skirts along West Cliff Drive. The path is popular for jogs, bike rides and romantic strolls. Along the route, you’ll find the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Housed inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, this diminutive museum chronicles more than 100 years of surfing history in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is the birthplace of mainland surfing in the United States, and just outside the museum sits a plaque donated by the descendants of Hawaiian royalty who brought surfing to the mainland. Just off the point from the lighthouse, you can watch fearless surfers ride the waves at Santa Cruz’s legendary surf spot, Steamer Lane. 

Down from the point, the Santa Cruz Wharf – the longest coastal timber pile wharf in the US – is more than 100 years old and is a celebrated landmark.  Stretching out a half-mile into the waters of the Monterey Bay, the wharf is lined with shops and restaurants, as well as fish markets, a wine tasting room and gift shops. You can hop aboard a boat for a sightseeing excursion around the bay or stroll to the end of the wharf to watch sea lions lazing in the sun.   

Adjacent to the wharf, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the West Coast’s last remaining seaside amusement park and Santa Cruz’s most popular attraction. The Giant Dipper, the park’s centerpiece, is a vintage wooden roller coaster that has thrilled visitors for more than 90 years. Free concerts on the beach in the summertime on Friday nights begin June 16 and continue through September 1 at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and movies on the beach on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. round out the fun. “The Lost Boys” kicks off the season’s movie series on June 21 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this cult classic featuring popular filming locations throughout town.  Download a free movie map at and visit the more popular filming locations around town.

Visit an intertidal touch-pool, man-made kelp forest and other exhibits showcased in the sanctuary at the admission-free Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center near the wharf and Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

At Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, enjoy a nostalgic ride through the redwoods aboard authentic, 110-year-old steam locomotives. Roaring Camp also hosts a creative choice of celebrations, like the Civil War reenactments which pit Union against Confederate “soldiers” in re-created “battles.” 

Adjacent to Roaring Camp, the Redwood Loop Trail at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a stroller and wheelchair-friendly trail just shy of a mile long, and is lush with old growth redwood trees.   

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest – established in 1902 – and is home to the largest continuous stand of ancient Coast Redwoods south of San Francisco. 

Moving into town, the streets of downtown Watsonville are lined with historic Victorians, 1880s storefronts and the Watsonville Plaza. You can savor a taste of the land at area “U-Pick” farms. Every summer berry fans from far and wide congregate in historic downtown Watsonville (the unofficial “strawberry capital of the world”) for the Watsonville Strawberry Festival; this year on August 5 & 6.

For nature lovers, the beaches of southern Santa Cruz County are often uninhabited, with solitary stretches of sand yawning down the coast. The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve is one of California’s last undisturbed coastal wetlands. The slough’s many trails are popular places to catch sight of some of the slough’s 250 species of birds. 

Another kind of bird watching takes place each year when the county’s only airport hosts the Watsonville Fly-In. The largest air show in Northern California, the Fly-In features vintage planes and restored World War II war birds in an airborne extravaganza in the fall.

For more information, contact Visit Santa Cruz County at (800) 833-3494 or

Photos by VSCC, Beach Boardwalk, Carrie Gong, Kenny Karst

Christina Glynn
About Christina Glynn

Christina Glynn is Communications Director at Visit Santa Cruz County. She is a native Californian, born and raised in San Diego, and now lives in the beach community of Seacliff. She plans to collect stray cats – if marrying her celebrity crush somehow proves impossible.

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