Located on the central coast of California, Santa Cruz is an idyllic coastal town that boasts magnificent sandy beaches, an iconic boardwalk, and plenty of fun activities to keep visitors occupied. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, nature lover, or history buff, this charming city has something for everyone. From exploring the stunning redwood forests to indulging in fresh seafood, Santa Cruz offers an array of exciting experiences.
To help you plan your trip, we’ve compiled a list of the top 19 things to do in Santa Cruz, California. Get ready to soak up the sun, witness breathtaking views, and create unforgettable memories in this picturesque town.
1. Roaring Camp Railroads
Escape to the past with a visit to Roaring Camp Railroads, an iconic attraction in Santa Cruz. This living history museum offers steam train excursions through the towering redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. You can also explore the fascinating Gold Discovery experience, where history comes alive with interactive exhibits and demonstrations.
The Redwood Forest Steam Train is a must-try, providing breathtaking views of ancient redwoods and the serene beauty of Bear Mountain. Be sure to check out the events calendar as Roaring Camp hosts various themed rides, including seasonal offerings like the popular holiday lights train.
Whether you’re a history buff, nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a unique experience, Roaring Camp Railroads is a delightful blend of adventure and education, perfect for a memorable day trip with family or friends.
2. Mystery Spot
Discover the enigmatic and gravity-defying Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. This peculiar gravitational anomaly has baffled and amused visitors for decades. Visitors can partake in guided tours to experience the mind-bending optical illusions and perceptions that make this spot so mysterious.
The Mystery Spot is nestled amidst the redwood trees and offers an immersive experience that challenges the laws of physics. Engage in interactive demonstrations that defy logic, leaving you questioning your perception of reality.
This unique attraction is a must-visit for those intrigued by the extraordinary and unexplained. Embrace the surreal and leave with a newfound appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.
3. East Cliff Drive
The East Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz is a picturesque coastal road offering stunning views of Monterey Bay. It’s a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and photographers. The drive is lined with beautiful Eucalyptus trees, and the ocean breeze adds to the tranquil experience. The area is also popular for its tide pools and stunning ocean views, attracting visitors throughout the year.
East Cliff Drive is a great place for a stroll or a relaxing drive, allowing visitors to soak in the natural beauty of the Santa Cruz coastline. Along the way, visitors can also explore Santa Cruz Harbor, Pleasure Point, and the famous Natural Bridges State Beach, making it a perfect itinerary for a day trip in Santa Cruz. Whether enjoying the marine life or simply taking in the breathtaking views, East Cliff Drive offers a refreshing experience for all.
4. Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
Nestled in Santa Cruz, the Surfing Museum is a treasure trove for surfing enthusiasts. Showcasing historical surfboards, memorabilia, and photographs, it offers a fascinating insight into the sport’s evolution. The museum is not only a testament to the region’s surfing culture but also its impactful role in shaping the global surfing phenomenon.
It’s a must-visit for those intrigued by the history of surfing and its deep-seated roots in Santa Cruz. With its captivating exhibits and engaging narratives, the Surfing Museum promises an enriching experience, making it an essential stop for anyone exploring the coastal wonders of Santa Cruz. Whether you’re a surfing aficionado or simply curious about the sport’s heritage, this museum is sure to leave you with a deep appreciation for the rich surfing legacy of Santa Cruz.
5. Santa Cruz Trolley
The Santa Cruz Trolley is a charming and convenient way to explore the city’s various attractions. It offers a delightful journey through the vibrant streets, providing a unique perspective of Santa Cruz.
The trolley passes by iconic landmarks such as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, West Cliff Drive, and the bustling downtown area. As it meanders through the city, passengers can revel in the captivating ocean views and the refreshing ocean breeze.
The trolley also offers easy access to popular destinations such as the Santa Cruz Wharf and the picturesque Natural Bridges State Park. With its vintage appeal and convenient stops, the Santa Cruz Trolley is a fantastic option for visitors looking to experience the best of what this coastal city has to offer. Traveling aboard this trolley adds an extra layer of enjoyment to an exploration of Santa Cruz.
6. West Cliff Drive
West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz is a breathtaking stretch along the coastline, boasting stunning views of the Monterey Bay. It’s a paradise for nature lovers, with its picturesque vistas, ocean breeze, and the sound of crashing waves. The NLP term “ocean views” perfectly encapsulates what this place has to offer.
It’s a great place to take a stroll or bike ride, soaking in the natural beauty all around. The drive is lined with eucalyptus trees, adding to the charm of the surroundings.
You can also spot surfers riding the waves at the renowned Steamer Lane and observe the playful sea lions at the Santa Cruz Wharf. West Cliff Drive truly showcases the best of Santa Cruz’s coastal allure, making it a must-visit for anyone in the area.
7. Butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park
Experience the enchanting beauty of Natural Bridges State Park as you explore the butterfly sanctuary, home to thousands of monarch butterflies. Witness the awe-inspiring sight of these delicate creatures fluttering around the park, especially during their migration season from October to February.
The park’s mild coastal climate makes it an ideal habitat for the butterflies, creating a serene and magical atmosphere for visitors. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of this natural wonder as you learn about the fascinating life cycle of monarch butterflies and their significance to the ecosystem.
Take a stroll along the park’s trails and marvel at the breathtaking coastal scenery while savoring this breathtaking encounter with nature’s delicate yet resilient beauties.
8. Pacific Avenue Mall
Pacific Avenue Mall, located in downtown Santa Cruz, offers a vibrant and diverse shopping experience. It’s a perfect blend of local boutiques, trendy shops, and inviting cafes. As per NLP terms, the mall is surrounded by natural beauty, including eucalyptus trees and ocean views. Visitors can explore an array of unique stores, from vintage clothing shops to contemporary art galleries.
The mall also hosts free concerts and live music, adding to the lively atmosphere. Additionally, it’s conveniently close to other popular places such as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz Wharf, making it an ideal stop during a day of exploration. Whether it’s indulging in some retail therapy, savoring delicious local treats, or simply taking in the charming surroundings, Pacific Avenue Mall is a must-visit spot in Santa Cruz.
9. Hike the DeLaveaga Trails
Nestled in the picturesque beauty of Santa Cruz, DeLaveaga Park offers enchanting trails for hiking enthusiasts. With its diverse terrain and lush greenery, this location provides an excellent opportunity for nature lovers and adventurous hikers to explore the area.
The trails offer a wonderful combination of natural beauty and exercise, making it a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts. The Delaveaga Trails are known for their serene ambiance and captivating views, providing hikers with an immersive experience in the heart of nature. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or just beginning, the Delaveaga Trails cater to all skill levels, ensuring that everyone can relish the breathtaking surroundings.
This popular spot is a perfect way to embark on an unforgettable hiking journey while soaking in the stunning landscapes that Santa Cruz has to offer.
10. Moran Lake County Park
Moran Lake County Park offers a tranquil retreat amidst nature’s beauty. Take a stroll around the pristine lake, or pack a picnic to enjoy the tranquil waters. The park provides an ideal setting for birdwatching and nature photography, with an abundance of wildlife to admire.
Visitors can also explore the serene surrounding trails, perfect for hiking or biking. Those seeking relaxation can find a peaceful spot under the shade of towering trees, making it an ideal location for reading or simply unwinding. With its serene ambiance and natural charm, Moran Lake County Park is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, offering a delightful respite for visitors of all ages. Don’t miss this hidden gem during your visit to Santa Cruz.
11. A Day AT the Beach Boardwalk
A day at the Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz is a perfect escape for fun-seekers. The iconic boardwalk offers a delightful blend of thrilling rides, vibrant entertainment, and breathtaking ocean views. Whether it’s indulging in the nostalgia of the Giant Dipper or experiencing the rush of adrenaline on the thrilling roller coasters, the Boardwalk ensures an unforgettable experience.
Additionally, visitors can revel in the old-fashioned charm of the midway games, delectable treats like ice cream and cotton candy, and the lively atmosphere of free concerts. With its idyllic location along the sandy shores, the Boardwalk presents an ideal opportunity to bask in the warm California sun or take refreshing strolls along the beach.
This alluring destination promises an unmatched combination of classic amusements, seaside relaxation, and captivating attractions, making it a must-visit during any Santa Cruz excursion.
12. Ride The Train At Roaring Camp
Experience the nostalgia of a bygone era with a scenic train ride at Roaring Camp. Situated in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this historic attraction offers a delightful journey aboard lovingly restored vintage steam engines.
As you traverse through towering redwoods and lush landscapes, immerse yourself in the enchanting sights and sounds of the countryside.
The meandering route takes you through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, providing a remarkable opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of the area. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, or simply seeking a unique adventure, the train ride at Roaring Camp is a must-do activity in Santa Cruz, offering an unrivaled blend of heritage and natural splendor.
13. Shop – Santa Cruz Style
Experience the unique shopping scene in Santa Cruz, where you can explore a diverse range of stores that embody the city’s distinctive style. From locally owned boutiques to surf shops and vintage stores, Santa Cruz offers an eclectic shopping experience.
Head to Pacific Avenue, the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, to discover an array of shops showcasing everything from bohemian fashion to handmade jewelry and crafts.
You can also find specialty stores offering surf gear, organic skincare products, and art pieces crafted by local artisans. Don’t miss out on the vibrant atmosphere of the downtown area, where you can indulge in retail therapy while immersing yourself in Santa Cruz’s laid-back and artistic vibe.
14. Mac Dorsa Park
Nestled in the serene neighborhood of Live Oak, Mac Dorsa Park is a hidden gem offering a tranquil retreat. The park boasts expansive green spaces, perfect for picnics, strolls, or peaceful reading.
This neighborhood park also features a playground, making it an ideal spot for families with young children. The shaded trees and well-maintained lawns provide a refreshing ambiance, inviting visitors to unwind and relax.
Mac Dorsa Park is a popular spot for locals seeking a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a quiet afternoon or engage in recreational activities, this park offers a charming setting to connect with nature and rejuvenate the mind. With its inviting atmosphere and amenities, Mac Dorsa Park is a delightful destination for a leisurely day outdoors.
15. Peer at The Pier
The Santa Cruz Wharf is a must-visit attraction, offering stunning views, delicious dining, and unique shopping experiences. As you peer at the pier, you’ll witness sea lions basking in the sun and captivating marine life thriving in its surroundings.
The wharf is also a popular place for fishing, where visitors can try their luck or simply enjoy the bustling activity. Additionally, the wharf hosts free concerts during the summer, providing delightful entertainment against the backdrop of the ocean.
It’s a great way to soak in the natural beauty of Santa Cruz while exploring the local culture and marine life. Whether you’re interested in marine exploration, strolls, or delectable seafood, the Santa Cruz Wharf and its neighboring attractions are sure to be a highlight of your visit.
16. Santa Cruz Shakespeare
The Santa Cruz Shakespeare is a must-visit for literature and theater enthusiasts. Located at the Umbrella Tree in Delaveaga Park, it offers riveting performances amidst the natural beauty of the region. The festival showcases the iconic works of Shakespeare as well as modern plays, ensuring a diverse experience for all.
The setting itself is captivating, nestled among towering redwoods with the stage blending seamlessly into the surroundings.
The performances are known for their exceptional quality and are a testament to the thriving arts and culture scene in Santa Cruz. Whether you’re a fan of the arts or simply looking for a unique and enriching experience, Santa Cruz Shakespeare promises a delightful time in a stunning natural setting. It’s the perfect amalgamation of literature, nature, and performing arts.
17. The Painted Cork
Explore your artistic side at The Painted Cork, where you can unleash your creativity while sipping on your favorite wine. This art studio offers a diverse range of painting classes for all skill levels, making it the perfect activity for individuals and groups. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, you can enjoy a fun and relaxing painting session guided by talented instructors.
The studio provides all the necessary materials, including brushes, canvases, and paint, ensuring a hassle-free experience for everyone. Immerse yourself in a vibrant atmosphere as you create your masterpiece and socialize with fellow art enthusiasts. The Painted Cork is an excellent way to unwind and tap into your artistic talents while enjoying a memorable experience in Santa Cruz.
18. SURF’S UP
For surfing enthusiasts, Santa Cruz offers an exhilarating experience with its iconic surf spots. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a beginner, catching a wave at renowned spots like Steamer Lane or Pleasure Point is a must.
Steamer Lane, in particular, is famous for its consistent, high-quality waves, attracting surfers from all over the world. If you’re new to surfing, there are excellent schools offering lessons for all skill levels.
The ocean views and the refreshing ocean breeze make it an unforgettable experience. Additionally, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum provides an insightful look into the history and evolution of surfing in the area, adding a cultural dimension to your surfing adventure. With its combination of natural beauty and perfect breaks, Santa Cruz is truly a surfer’s paradise.
19. Redwood Restore
Consider visiting Big Basin Redwoods State Park for a rejuvenating experience and explore the breathtaking redwood forest. Nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this park offers a serene environment for nature enthusiasts and hikers.
The towering redwoods create a tranquil atmosphere, providing an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You can embark on a hike through miles of trails, taking in the natural beauty and majestic trees.
The park also hosts guided tours, allowing visitors to learn about the ecosystem and history of the redwood forest. Whether you’re a solo traveler or enjoying a day trip with family, Big Basin Redwoods State Park presents the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring presence of these ancient giants.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some must-see attractions in Santa Cruz?
Things to do in Santa Cruz, Experience the charm of Santa Cruz with must-see attractions like Roaring Camp Railroads, Mystery Spot, East Cliff Drive, and more. Explore the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum and Natural Bridges State Park to make the most of your visit. Don’t miss out on the vibrant Pacific Avenue Mall and iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Where are the best places to eat in Santa Cruz?
Things to do in Santa Cruz, Indulge in delectable dishes at the best places to eat in Santa Cruz. From fresh seafood at the wharf to organic delights downtown, savor a diverse culinary experience. Don’t miss the vibrant food scene along Pacific Avenue.
Are there any outdoor activities or adventures to experience in Santa Cruz?
Things to do in Santa Cruz, Discover a plethora of outdoor activities in Santa Cruz, from hiking the DeLaveaga Trails to surfing at the famous beaches. Explore the stunning Natural Bridges State Park and experience the thrill of Roaring Camp Railroads. Santa Cruz offers endless adventures for nature enthusiasts.
What are some of the best beaches to visit in Santa Cruz?
Things to do in Santa Cruz, Some of the best beaches to visit in Santa Cruz include Natural Bridges State Beach, Seabright State Beach, and Twin Lakes State Beach. Each offers stunning views, coastal walks, and opportunities for water activities.
Ferona Jose is a passionate travel writer and blogger at Travelistia. She has traveled throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. Her writing focuses on cheap travel destinations, travel experiences, cultural insights, and travel hacks.