Explore Santa Cruz, California Beyond the Boardwalk

Along Nothern California’s coast, you’ll want to explore Santa Cruz, California. This spot is often best known if it’s boardwalk. With roller coasters, games, and more, it’s easy to see why many people are attracted to that part of town. In reality, there is so much more to do around Santa Cruz, whether you’re looking to get out on the ocean, up in the trees, or somewhere in between.

Spend some time on the California Coast and explore Santa Cruz. What to do, where to stay, and where to eat. Top things and activities in Santa Cruz.

Whether you’re looking for a day near the coast, a weekend getaway or a stop on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, the perfect spot is taking some time to explore Santa Cruz. 

Get Active Out On The Water

While the water may be chilly there are many ways to enjoy getting out on the water in Santa Cruz. You can get adventurous or just relax nearby. Either way, you can find a unique perspective on the ocean, whatever way you find your view.

If you want to stay dry I’d suggest giving kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding a try. There are a variety of places you can either hop on a tour or rent your own equipment. Venture Quest, near the boardwalk, offers tours on the bay and even whale watching in the spring. For standup paddleboarding check out Kayak Connections.

If you’re okay with getting wet and want to ride the waves, Santa Cruz is considered a great place to learn how to surf. You can go just north of the boardwalk to check out Cowell’s beach. Here rent a board from Cowell’s Beach Surf Shop or head to Richard Schmidt Surf School to take a lesson.

Spend some time on the California Coast and explore Santa Cruz. What to do, where to stay, and where to eat. Top things and activities in Santa Cruz.

On top of getting out on the water, Santa Cuz is home to a variety of beautiful beaches and coastal trails. So take in the view at places like Natural Bridges Beach. An easy to get to state park, that has breathtaking views and the perfect spot to explore tide pools.

Explore Santa Cruz’s Food Scene

From breakfast to dessert, Santa Cruz offers a delicious food scene.

In the morning you can enjoy flavor-packed scrambles or giant pancakes over at Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe. You’ll be so full you might not need to grab lunch. But you won’t want to miss some of the tasty bites.

If you get out on the water, you’ll be ready for a bite and consider a healthy salad or sandwich over at the Picnic Basket for a fresh sandwich or salad that you can enjoy with a view or take out onto the sand to enjoy. Looking for something more hearty? Swing by Betty’s Burgers. A feisty dinner in downtown. Make sure to try their burgers or fried chicken sandwich.  A tasty diner with some spunk. Enjoy their burgers or the fried chicken sandwich.

A bit of a whole in the wall place is Gary’s Old Fashioned Snappy Dogs near Natural Bridges Beach. They hold a five-star rating on yelp which is impressive for such an affordable spot.

For dinner, think about heading down to Capitola. A town just south of Santa Cruz. They offer great restaurants and cute shops to wander around.

For a bit of a splurge you’ll want to consider Shadowbrook. You’ll take a private sliding elevator down to the restaurant and enjoy each course you work your way through.

If you’re looking for something more casual stop by Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria. Specializing in pot pies, gourmet sandwiches, and quality meat you’ll enjoy every bite. On top of that, they are home to some of the best desserts around.

Head Into The Redwoods

You’ve probably heard of California’s giant redwoods. There are some that are large enough to drive a car through! While the ones in Santa Cruz are not the biggest in the world, their gravitas will still take your break away.

Just 20 minutes up the road from Santa Cruz you can find Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. As you head into the park you’ll drive by these majestic giants. There are many hikes in the area but the most common is the Loop Trail. It is just 2 miles long and paved. Easy for anyone to take. It gives you a chance to see these trees up close and personal and appreciate their size and age.

Spend some time on the California Coast and explore Santa Cruz. What to do, where to stay, and where to eat. Top things and activities in Santa Cruz.

Want to get a little more adventurous? If so you should check out the Redwoods Canopy Tours for a chance to zip-line through these giants. It’s a unique place to give it a try. 

Stay the Night in Santa Cruz to Enjoy It All

While you can make your visit to explore Santa Cruz as just a day trip as it’s a short drive from San Francisco and San Jose, there is so much to do that spending a night (or two) in town will allow you a chance to fit in more of the region.

On top of that, Santa Cruz has some quirky hotels worth adding to your trip. One of my favorites is the Dream Inn, right on the beach. Or for a bed & breakfast on the river take a look at the Rio Vista Suites.

Spend some time on the California Coast and explore Santa Cruz. What to do, where to stay, and where to eat. Top things and activities in Santa Cruz.
Spend some time on the California Coast and explore Santa Cruz. What to do, where to stay, and where to eat. Top things and activities in Santa Cruz.

Enjoy your days taking a dip in the ocean, hiking through gigantic trees, and filling up on delicious bites all throughout the Santa Cruz area.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.