Santa Cruz, California is your not-so-typical West Coast beach town. This seaside city is situated perfectly, a little over an hour south of San Francisco, forty minutes north of Monterey and Carmel, and in the middle of the gorgeous Central Coast.
The beautiful beaches, redwood forests, opportunity for adventure, delicious cuisine, and up-and-coming beer and wine scene make it one of the most highly sought vacation spots in the greater Bay Area, California, and even the United States. It’s no wonder this place was named one of the 25 happiest cities in the country by a recent poll developed by National Geographic and the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
We’ve put together a list of Santa Cruz bucket list items for the weekend that you can’t miss during your next visit to Santa Cruz. Get ready to slow down, relax, and embrace the beach lifestyle.
Bike Ride Along West Cliff
A bike ride along West Cliff Drive is nothing short of breathtaking. The sounds of the sea and sparkling water are just the start of this delightful experience. On this oceanfront path you will see walkers, joggers, roller skaters, and lots of furry pups out soaking up the sea air. There are many points of interest and photo opportunities along the way, including the Santa Cruz Lighthouse and Surfing Museum, Natural Bridges State Park, and the iconic surfing monument overlooking one of the top surfing spots in town at Cowell Beach.
Visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk & Whaf
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a famous seaside amusement park located next to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Home to historic rides, carnival games, and classic fair food, it has maintained its reputation through the years as the most popular destination for Santa Cruz visitors. Be sure to ride the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster and Looff Carousel, both of which are among the oldest beachfront attractions still in operation. Enjoy some tasty treats in between rides, too. Indulge in a deep- fried Oreo cookie, a chocolate-dipped cone, or salt water taffy made fresh daily from Marini’s Candies. Catch the best ocean views at this seaside park from the top of the famous wooden coaster. Snap a pic before you drop! Whether it’s your first trip or your hundredth, spending the day at the boardwalk is the ultimate Santa Cruz experience that is sure to create lasting memories.
Hike Through the Henry Cowell Forest
Travelers come from around the world to explore Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, so if you’re planning a trip to the Santa Cruz area, you’ll definitely want to add this to your itinerary. With what seem to be endless acres of forest and open land for hiking, horseback riding, picnics, swimming, or camping, the only thing lacking is enough time to explore it all. Grab your map, choose your path, and head out on the many redwood forest trails. The area is most famous for over forty acres of towering old-growth redwood trees. The fresh air and breathtaking scenery create the perfect environment to slow down, relax, and reconnect with nature.
Visit the Colorful Cottages in Capitola Village and Stop For Coffee at Mr. Toots Coffee House
Make your way into Santa Cruz’s quaint neighboring town, Capitola Village. Browse boutiques, dine al fresco, and explore local wine tasting rooms. A favorite local spot to stop into during a day in Capitola Village is Mr. Toot’s Coffee House. Head into the unassuming door to the left of Margaritaville and up the stairs to this adorable coffee shop that serves up amazing lattes and mochas with the best homemade whip cream in the County. The balcony has the best view of the Instagrammable, colorful Capitola Venetians across the river too!
Take Surf Lessons at Capitola Beach
Family friendly Capitola Beach is one of the best places to learn to surf in the area, with gentle waves and encouraging fellow surfers. Sign up for a morning surf lesson from the professional and friendly instructors at Capitola Beach Company. They offer everything from private one-on-one lessons to group lessons, plus something for every level of surfer, whether it’s your first time on a board or you’re a seasoned shredder. They will take great care of you and make sure you have an awesome time. Go ahead and give it a try, there is really nothing like the feeling of spending the day in the ocean and catching the perfect wave.
Enjoy An Afternoon Sail Boat Ride on the Chardonnay
Sail away in style on the beautiful and iconic Chardonnay Sailing Charters. With many different charter options, each featuring different food and beverages from local breweries, restaurants, and wineries, you will have to try them all. A personal favorite is the Champagne Brunch featuring treats from the famous Buttery Bakery. Cruising out from the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor onto the Monterey Bay Sanctuary is an experience not to be missed. The fact that this awesome crew delivers first-class service unlike any other and knows the boat like the back of their hand makes the excursion that much better. This is a great outdoor adventure to take solo or with friends and family.
Have Dinner at the Most Romantic Restaurant, Shadowbrook
If you can choose only one luxurious dining experience to indulge in while in Santa Cruz County, this is the one. Shadowbrook is one of the most beautiful and unique restaurants on the West Coast. Ride the world-famous cable car past luscious greenery and down to the dining area from the upper-level entry. Check in for your reservation in the Rock Room Lounge, a unique room with stone walls, greenery, and a fish tank! You can catch live local music in the lounge on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. For a true Shadowbrook experience, dine intimately in one of the many rooms with views of Soquel Creek. One favorite is the Redwood Room, which offers views of the chef’s herb garden, and whose walls were built with first-growth redwood recycled and milled from large antique wine tanks. Voted one of the hundred most romantic restaurants by the San Francisco Focus, Shadowbrook is a must.
Get a Scoop (or Two) of Ice Cream at the Penny Ice Creamery for Dessert
The Penny Ice Creamery is the only ice cream shop in Santa Cruz making delicious ice cream in house, completely from scratch. Flavors change often and feature locally farmed and organic in- gredients. One of our favorites is the bitter caramel in a freshly homemade waffle cone topped with chocolate. There are two locations, one downtown in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Santa Cruz, and one on 41st Avenue in the Pleasure Point neigh- borhood, just steps from the beach! You’ll find a line out the door at both locations on most days, but you won’t be disappointed when it’s finally your turn to choose a scoop! Sample some of the unique flavors like Earl Grey before settling on your order.
Brunch at Harbor Cafe
Harbor Cafe has—hands down—the best Bloody Mary in Santa Cruz. If you’re looking for a great place for a fun brunch with friends, this is the place! Plus, it’s located just down the street from Twin Lakes Beach and the Yacht Harbor. The Harbor Cafe started out as a local hangout for sailors and fishermen, but has since expanded into a unique restaurant with a dog-friendly patio, serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch. The Harbor Cafe staff is made up of a family of friendly and laid-back locals who make you feel right at home when you arrive. Grab a table in the sun on a lazy Sunday and indulge in incredible food and amazing drinks that will quench your thirst on a warm beach day.
Grab a Beer at One of the Amazing Local Breweries or Tasting Rooms
There are so many to choose from, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, Humble Sea, Shanty Shack and Beer Thirty to name a few! But one of our absolute favorites is Sante Adairius Rustic Ales. This is a Santa Cruz secret beer spot hidden in an unassuming neighborhood in Capitola. The tasting room is small and bare bones and located in a warehouse at the end of a quiet street, but it’s their Belgian-style beer that gets so much hype. Their beer is praised internationally and in 2015, their Saison Bernice was listed as one of the top twenty beers in the world by TIME Magazine.
It might be tough to fit so many fun things into one day but if you try hard enough we believe you can do it! Check off all these must-do activities off of your Santa Cruz bucket list during your next trip to this unique beach town. Start planning your weekend stay at one of our nearby professionally managed vacation homes from Beach House Rentals or Beachnest Vacation Rentals. Always book directly through our member network, StaysGroup.com, for the best rate and concierge service.