There’s no place like visit Santa Cruz. Even in the left-leaning Bay Area, you won’t find another town that has embraced cultural experimentation, radical philosophies, and progressive politics quite like this little beach city.
Best places Santa
visit Santa Cruz has made out-there ideas into a kind of municipal cultural statement. Everyone does their own thing: Surfers ride the waves, nudists laze on the beaches, tree-huggers wander the redwood forests, tattooed and pierced punks wander the main drag, and families walk their dogs along West Cliff Drive.Most visitors come to Santa Cruz to hit the Boardwalk and the beaches. Locals and UC Santa Cruz students tend to hang downtown on Pacific Avenue and stroll on West Cliff. Local food qualifies as a hidden treasure, with a myriad of international cuisines represented and enjoyed.The West Side is the section of town northwest of the San Lorenzo River that includes the Boardwalk, Steamer Lane, West Cliff Drive, and the university, and it tends toward families with children. The East Side has fewer attractions, but offers a vibrant surf scene situated around Pleasure Point.Outside Santa Cruz proper, several tiny towns blend into appealing beachside suburbia. Aptos and Capitola lie to the south along the coast. They’ve each got their own shopping districts, restaurants, and lodgings, as well as charming beaches, which can be as foggy, as crowded, or as nice to visit as those of their northern neighbors.
Up north, on the coast, the West Side’s buildings quickly give way to scenic coastal bluffs dotted with attractions like Wilder Ranch State Park, the tiny town of Davenport, and Año Nuevo State Park, with its gigantic elephant seals.
The redwood-forested Santa Cruz Mountains are home to the quirky communities of Felton, Ben Lomond, and Boulder Creek. It’s also a great place to take a walk in the forest, at Big Basin Redwoods State Park or Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
Santa Cruz is ideal for a two- to three-day trip. In that amount of time, you can enjoy the rides of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, go surfing, explore downtown’s Pacific Avenue, and head into the Santa Cruz Mountains to experience redwood forests or travel north on the coast for secluded beaches and elephant seals.
Summers can be particularly crowded in Santa Cruz due to masses of people from San Jose and the Bay Area traveling to the city for the Boardwalk and beaches. During this time, parking can be a real nightmare, especially since many residential areas near the beach have resident-only parking. On summer days when Monterey is socked in with fog, the sun is often shining in Santa Cruz.
Consider visiting Santa Cruz in the off-season, when hotel room prices are a lot more affordable. Note that the Boardwalk rides are closed on weekdays in the off-season, and many restaurants and other businesses in the area have reduced hours.
Highway 1 connects Santa Cruz to Monterey and Carmel. During the morning and evening rush hours, this part of Highway 1 can be jammed, especially the southbound section from the Highway 17/Highway 1 junction down to the 41st Avenue exit.
Highway 9 connects Santa Cruz to the mountain towns of Felton, Ben Lomond, and Boulder Creek, and it can be closed in the winter for long periods due to mudslides. Highway 17, traversing the mountains en route to San Jose and Silicon Valley, is a steep, windy road that sees lots of accidents.