Bikes neatly arranged and chained to the fence on Santa Cruz boardwalk

Things to do in  Santa Cruz

Down by the boardwalk

The counterculture slogan of “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” still holds sway in this central California beach town, where hippy artists mingle with university types and true West Coast surfers. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk draws visitors with seaside games and rides, while West Cliff Drive walking and bike path curves along a classic California coastline with coves and cypress trees. Don't let the chill demeanor fool you—in Santa Cruz, you can spend the day on the beach and later slip into something stylish for nightlife, art galleries, and fine dining.

Top 2 attractions in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, built in 1907, is a classic seaside amusement park complete with roller coasters, games, and rides. A colorful overhead gondola offers aerial beach views, and there are plenty of indoor activities and food options. One of the oldest amusement parks in California, it is designated as a historic landmark.More
Roaring Camp Railroads

Roaring Camp Railroads

See the California redwoods the way loggers did in the 1800s at Roaring Camp Railroads, which operates two train routes from its starting point in the forest just north of Santa Cruz. The authentic steam engines date back to 1890 and are some of the oldest and best preserved in the United States.More

All about Santa Cruz

When to visit

The best time to visit Santa Cruz is from late Sep. through Oct. Most tourists disperse in late summer and early fall, leaving more breathing room on beaches, hiking trails, and the pedestrian-friendly downtown, which can get packed on sunny days. If you can brave the crowds, summer offers first-rate beach weather and festivals dedicated to surfing, music, harvests, and Shakespeare.

Getting around

The boardwalk, main beach, and downtown along Pacific Avenue are within walking distance of one another. It takes 15–20 minutes to walk from downtown to the boardwalk and the start of West Cliff Drive. Santa Cruz Metro runs bus routes from the metro center around town and out to San Jose. Getting to Natural Bridges State Park, the university campus, or Capitola is much easier by car, though ride or bike shares are also options.

Traveler tips

While most day-trippers stay within the boardwalk-beach-downtown nexus, consider exploring farther afield. Hardcore surfers favor Four Mile and Three Mile beaches off Highway 1 north of Natural Bridges, while Pleasure Point, Capitola, and New Brighton are great for lazy beach days south of town. The University of California, Santa Cruz campus is set in a beautiful redwood forest and has an arboretum and botanical garden worth visiting.

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People Also Ask

Is Santa Cruz worth visiting?

Yes, Santa Cruz is worth visiting. The quintessential central California beach town has a boardwalk with seaside games and rides, many beautiful beaches, an animated downtown, and a mix of nature and urban culture—due in part to the University of California campus—that exceeds its small-town feel.

What is Santa Cruz known for?

Santa Cruz is known for its beach boardwalk and West Coast surfer and hippie cultures. Located north of Monterey along California’s Highway 1, it has beaches surrounded by state parks with old-growth coastal redwood forests. The University of California, Santa Cruz, founded in 1965, sits among redwoods overlooking the town.

How can I spend two days in Santa Cruz?

Visit top attractions, redwood forests, and wineries. Spend day one downtown and on the boardwalk. See the Museum of Art and History and a beach: Cowell, Natural Bridges, and Seabright are nearby. On day two, hike Big Basin or Henry Cowell state parks and try wine tasting at Bonny Doon.

Is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk worth it?

Yes, but it depends on your interests. The boardwalk is a beachside amusement park with roller coasters, an arcade, bowling alley, and more. It’s a bustling carnival of games and rides—and often hosts concerts and sporting events. For quieter beach time, try Seabright Beach or Natural Bridges State Park instead.

Is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk free to enter?

Yes, the boardwalk is admission-free, but rides and games require tickets. You can stroll the boardwalk even when rides are closed. To experience the rides, you can buy season passes, wristbands granting unlimited access for a day, or individual tickets—online or at the boardwalk entrances.

How many days should I spend in Santa Cruz?

Ideally, you'd spend three days in Santa Cruz. This allows you to explore downtown and the boardwalk, visit several beaches, and see state parks with coastal redwood forests. On day three, watch the sea elephants at Año Nuevo State Park or explore the hills between Santa Cruz and Silicon Valley.

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