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With a name as cool-sounding as Santa Cruz, you’d be right to expect to find fun activities in town. Santa Cruz, California, is a city located on the coast, close to Monterey Bay. It’s best known for its waterfront boardwalk, nearby beaches, and great selection of places to eat and drink. It was also used as a filming location for the 80s-classic vampire film The Lost Boys and you can really imagine taking a step back in time at the city’s retro boardwalk. From riding historic steam trains through to whale watching, here are the best things to do in Santa Cruz, California:


1. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

No trip to Santa Cruz would be complete without hanging out on its boardwalk. The historic boardwalk was installed in the early 1900s and has been offering fun-for-all for over one hundred years. It’s actually one of the country’s oldest coastal boardwalk and amusement parks, and today it’s home to retro rides and attractions, an arcade, mini golf, ice cream shops, and a bunch of summer activities and music events. If that’s not enough for you, you can soak in the ocean views and catch a beautiful sunset. It’s definitely the top activity in Santa Cruz and draws a lot of tourists.


2. Explore Downtown Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz’s buzzing downtown area is known for its abundance of thrift stores. Its stores are packed with cheap deals, whether you’re looking for a perfect pair of Levi 501s or vintage dresses, you’re bound to find some great additions to your wardrobe. There are some thrift stores where you can pay-by-the-bag, and fill a plastic bag to the brim for only a couple of dollars. 

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3. Go Surfing

Whether you’re a confident surfer or a novice, one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz is go surfing. You can sign up to lessons at several schools and improve your technique. There are tons of beaches and coves surrounding Santa Cruz so you’ll be spoilt for choice. It’s also great fun to watch other people surfing too, as the area draws the world’s top surfers and you can see impressive waves being caught. Some of the best places to watch surfers are on West Cliff Drive and Pleasure Point. 

There’s also a small surfing museum in Santa Cruz that is home to seasonal exhibits about surfing and the world’s pro-surfers. It’s housed in a historic, well-preserved light-house. The opening hours vary depending on the season, so be sure to check before you go.

Tommy Kirkpatrick
Tommy Kirkpatrick

4. Redwood Forests

Many visitors use Santa Cruz as a base to explore California’s surrounding natural beauty. Take the opportunity to head to a nearby Redwood Forest, such as the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, which is home to some of the oldest trees on earth. The tallest tree in the park is 277 feet, and there’s also a tree that’s been hollowed out and you can step inside it. Around 30 percent of all the Redwood Trees in the world can be found in California alone. The enormous Redwood trees will leave you feeling the size of an ant, and remind you just how mighty mother nature is. 

Lucky photographer
Lucky photographer

5. Roaring Camp Steam Train

If you like the idea of traveling through towering redwood groves and a winding gauge to the summit of Bear Mountain while on a train, head to Roaring Camp. Here you can board a steam train locomotive, which was historically used in the 19th century to haul giant redwood logs out of the mountains down to the towns and cities. The steam engine that you can ride today dates back to the 1890s and it’s something that all ages will love.

6. Natural Bridges State Beach 

Natural Bridges State Beach spreads across almost 70 acres of land. It’s best known for its unusual bridge-shaped rock formation that’s juts across a section of the beach. On the weekends, you’ll see locals and tourists alike relaxing on its sandy beaches.

7. Go Whale Watching

The California coast draws whales almost all year round, so while you’re in town, why not sign up to a whale watching tour? There are tons of tour agencies in the area offering sunset cruises where you can see migrating whales and even dolphins too. Some of the main species that you can see are Humpback Whales and Blue Whales, and Minke whales.

Trevor Scouten
Trevor Scouten

8. Big Basin State Park

The Big Basin State Park is another great place to see the area’s epic redwood trees. It’s a park home to tons of hiking trails for all levels, waterfalls, canyons, rivers, and gorges. For many, it’s thought of as Silicon Valley’s mountain retreat, and it draws locals from San Jose and Silicon Valley looking to get completely off-the-grid and away from technology. There are plenty of lodges and campgrounds where you can stay.

9. Seymour Marine Discovery Center

The Seymour Maine Discovery Center is a great place to take the family. It’s an interactive marine science museum that’s home to cool displays, hands-on exhibits, and an aquarium. While it’s not as big as some of the other California aquariums, it’s still worth a visit. 

10. Go on a Scenic Drive

West Cliff Drive is arguably one of the most scenic routes in California. The drive is home to misty roads, rugged cliffs, and stunning ocean scenery. There are several viewpoints along the way where you can stop to soak in the view. Make sure you have an awesome playlist ready for the drive.

Robert Bohrer
Robert Bohrer

11. Re-Live Lost Boys

If you’re a fan of The Lost Boys vampire film, why not pay a visit to some of the movie’s top filming locations? There is the Atlantis Fantasyworld Comic Book Shop, the Pogonip Clubhouse, and the carousel on the boardwalk, to name a few. Don’t forget to bring a bunch of garlic, just in case.

12. Stock Up on Local Goods at a Farmers’ Market

Santa Cruz is home to five different farmers markets. Some are mainly selling local produce, including fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meat, and others have street food stalls and live music. 

Matej Kastelic
Matej Kastelic
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