15 Best Things To Do in Santa Cruz

Be it relaxation,  blood-pumping adventure, serene locations or just a casual outing with family and friends, the quintessential beach town in California- Santa Cruz has everything to offer to its visitors. The city is inclusive of over 14 state parks, museums, wineries and plenty of outdoor activities to choose from. If one is planning to visit the beach town and is in a dilemma of which and all attractions to visit and which can be missed then, this article is undoubtedly gonna give one a head start to 15 best things to do in Santa Cruz United States.

1. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Built in 1907, this west coast’s oldest seaside amusement park is one of the sought out places for classic fun. The admission-free park features some of the famous thrills like Giant Dipper roller coaster, national historic landmarks- a 1924 wooden roller coaster and 1911 Looff carousel, Ferris Wheel, and so on. Not to forget the special treats of corn dogs, chocolate coated ice-creams, cotton candy, and saltwater taffy. The level of fun manifolds in summer as one gets treated with free midweek movies and Friday Night Bands on the beach.

2. Santa Cruz Wharf

A stroll down the boardwalk will take one to the wharf where one can check out the resident population of ever active and barking sea lions. While there, one should not miss out admiring the scenic beauty of the ocean and might get a chance to get glimpses of the regular visitors of gray and humpback whales in spring and fall. Even if one doesn’t get a chance to see the most magnificent mammals, the sights of elephant seals and dolphins are no lesser delights. Additionally, one should definitely gorge on the exemplary fresh seafood meal offered by the excellent fish restaurants.

3. Santa Cruz Main Beach

Apart from the beach boardwalk and the historic Santa Cruz Wharf, the town is mainly about beautiful and tranquil beaches. The warm and sunny weather, clean sandy shores and safe waters make Santa Cruz as one of the most sought out beach destinations in Northern California. Visitors have a wide variety of beaches to visit, but the most popular ones are the twin beaches-Main Beach and the Cowell Beach. Main Beach lies adjacent to the Boardwalk, and the Cowell Beach which is on the other side of the Wharf and beside the Main Beach. While the Main Beach is a popular location for sunbathing, swimming and quality family time with kids, on the other hand, Cowell Beach is the playground for surfers and body boarders.

4. Mystery Spot

People who get intrigued by magic and mystery should essentially make a stop at Mystery Spot for some quirky fun. 1940 built mystifying location is situated three miles from the downtown Santa Cruz and is located in the Redwoods. Tourists are fascinated by some gravity-defying sights such as the balls rolling up the hills, objects seeming to be tilted even when standing straight and water which appears to flow upward. One can effortlessly spend 45 minutes of the goofy tour trying to debunk the mystery behind the gravitational anomalies. It is highly recommended to make reservations well in advance to save oneself from hours in the waiting queue.

5. Roaring Camp Railroad

Located 10-minutes’ drive away from Santa Cruz in Felton; Roaring Camp Railroad is a great place for kids and for adults to rekindle the child inside them. This tourist spot provides one with an excellent opportunity to relive the olden times riding one of the oldest narrow-gauge trains. Traveling in an old train through the Redwood forests to the Bear Mountain takes one in an hour and 15 minutes of the nostalgic ride. Alternatively, one can also choose to take the three-hour-out-and-back trip in the standard-gauge train which takes the passengers to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. After having a fun ride, one can also head to the adjacent Cowell State Park for a family picnic, fishing opportunities or hiking trails.

6. Sunset State Beach

Located to the south of Santa Cruz, Sunset State Beach is a hot location not only for camping but also for beachcombing. The beach which stretches down three miles and meets the mouth of Pajaro River provides visitors with a stunning shoreline. One will find a number of tourists occupied in the enjoyable activity of sand dollar hunting. If one is wondering what a sand dollar hunting is, then for them, sand dollars are the marine creatures that reside at the bottom of the ocean, but their exoskeletons are usually found on the beach and are used for different arts and crafts. The beach also offers excellent picnic area amidst the largest dunes found in the country.

7. West Cliff Drive

Recent travelers to Santa Cruz have highly recommended West Cliff Drive and have put it on the must-do checklist of the county. The 3-mile long scenic walking and biking paths along the Pacific Ocean provides one with some of the best panoramas of the beach town. Throughout the way, the tourists are treated with pristine vistas of the Ocean and occasionally spotting the talented surfers riding the waves at Steamer Lane. One can also catch the glimpses of whales and dolphins cresting the water. The pleasurable drive takes one to mesmerizing Natural Bridges State Park.

8. Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

altImage Source: pixabay.com

While walking or riding on the West Cliff, one is recommended to make a stop at Santa Cruz Surfing Museum which is housed inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. A bronze surfer statue welcomes the visitors to the world’s surfing museum. The place exhibits a collection of surfing memorabilia including the vintage photos of surfers in 1930s.

9. Pleasure Point

altImage Source: pixabay.com

Though there are many beaches around the globe, there are only a few places where one can enjoy the sports of surfing or boardsailing. As long as one can swim, one should definitely give these sports a try at one of the top sports destinations in the world. Cowell’s Beach and East Cliff at the Pleasure Point are one of the best spots for the beginners.  Even if one does not wish like conquering the rising high tides yet, one can still relax at the seaside restaurants and cafes and admire the surfers honing their talent.

10. Natural Bridges State Beach

If one wants to spend a calm and relaxing evening admiring the ocean and watching the sun go down beyond the sea horizons, then he should head to the Natural Bridges State Beach. The beach is home to sea stars, crabs, and sea anemones which are found along the shoreline and sometimes one can find otters and seals playing just offshore. 

The remarkable sea arch which is the major attraction of this location was formed from the fractures in mudstone cliffs. One can easily find tourists pulling out their chairs and bird watching or butterfly spotting at the Monarch Grove. 

11. Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Located a little more than a mile towards the west of Natural Bridges State Park, Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a kid’s educational facility. After reaching the center, one gets welcomed by the majestic skeletons of world’s largest blue-whale and gray whale. Part of UCSC’s Long Marine Laboratory it is a natural science indoor and outdoor museum consists of tidal touch pools with sharks and aquariums housing jellyfish and rockfish.

12. Rio Theatre

A visit to the Santa Cruz without catching a show or two at the landmark Rio Theatre sounds little incomplete. The theatre which opened several decades ago on 12 June 1949 first featured “Song of India” and “Law of the Barbary Coast” on its curved cyclorama screen. It is one of the most prominent performance venues of the nation hosting concerts, comedy shows, and film festivals.

13. Big Basin Redwood State Park

Driving 20-mile from downtown Santa Cruz, one lands in the oldest state park in California, Big Basin Redwood State Park situated in the Boulder Creek. The park has been attracting the visitors obviously with lush greenery but mainly with ancient coast redwoods, some of which are 2,500 years old! It is truly amazing to walk amidst some 300 and 500 feet long trees whose tops we can never see. The park is also a home to many magnificent waterfalls. One can hike the Waterfall Loop to see a series of three dramatic falls of which Berry Creek falls is tourist favorite.

14. Garden of Eden

Want to cool off on a hot summer afternoon? Then head off to the Garden of Eden a natural swimming hole and a true hidden gem in the redwoods between Felton and Santa Cruz.  The route to this place is not exactly easy and convenient as one has to hike about a mile but the trek is worth every second as one can enjoy the trail till the pool and can also indulge in some refreshing deep river swimming.

15. Ano Nuevo State Park

Less than 30-minutes’ drive from the Santa Cruz takes one to the Ano Nuevo State Park. Marine creature lovers should definitely visit this place especially during the winter season which is the mating time of enormous elephant seals. The guided walks led by volunteer naturalists will take one to see the massive creatures in residing in their natural habitat inside the Natural Preserve.

Are you looking for a Santa Cruz travel itinerary? Create an itinerary within minutes, on your own!

Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Santa Cruz, California

Must see places in Santa Cruz ranked on popularity. Here is the complete list of best attractions in Santa Cruz and point of interests to visit.

  1. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    #1 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    Tags: Amusement Park, Golf Course, Walking Area, Broadway

    Address: 400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk opened its gate back in 1907 and ever since has been one of the favorite entertainment zones in Santa Cruz. The amusement park is in fact the oldest in California, and o...Read more

  2. West Cliff Drive

    #2 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    West Cliff Drive

    Tags: View Point, Scenic Drive, Nature, Bird Watching

    Address: W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    The 3 mile long West Cliff Drive is probably one of the most beautiful attractions in the whole of Santa Cruz. It is a treat for cyclists and people who love taking a stroll amongst nature as the whol...Read more

  3. Santa Cruz Wharf

    #3 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Santa Cruz Wharf

    Tags: Restaurant, Winery, Market

    Address: 21 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    Located between Main beach and Cowell’s beach, the Santa Cruz Wharf is a behemoth of a structure that goes deep into the sea. Sprawling a length of 836 meters, the wharf is the longest on the wh...Read more

  4. Mystery Spot

    #4 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Mystery Spot

    Address: 465 Mystery Spot Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95065, USA

    Timings: 10:00 am - 04:00 pm Details

    The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz is one of those rare sites where one can themselves visit and check out the apparent anomalies in the laws of nature. Both gravity and basic physics seem not to function...Read more

  5. Natural Bridges State Beach

    #5 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Natural Bridges State Beach

    Tags: Outdoors, Beach, Hiking Trail, Walking Area

    Address: 2531 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 08:00 am - 07:00 pm Details

    The 65 acre Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz is so named because the state park used to form a natural bridge connecting the other side of the beach. Some parts of this natural beach can stil...Read more

  6. Roaring Camp Railroads

    #6 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Roaring Camp Railroads

    Tags: Forest, Train Ride

    Address: 5401 Graham Hill Rd, Felton, CA 95018, USA

    Timings: 09:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad is a shot of nostalgia for people who have travelled in steam trains, and even for those who haven’t, it an experience that they will cherish...Read more

  7. University Of California Santa Cruz

    #7 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    University Of California Santa Cruz

    Tags: Educational Site, University

    Address: 1156 High St, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA

    Timings: 09:00 am - 04:00 pm Details

    Spread over a massive 2000 acres, the University of California - Santa Cruz or UC SC as it is popularly called was first established in the year 1965. The campus is simply astonishing to tour through ...Read more

  8. Main Beach

    #8 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Main Beach

    Tags: Beach, Walking Area, Water Sport, Boating

    Address: 108 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    One of the major highlights of Santa Cruz, Main Beach is the most visited beach of the city, owing to the close proximity of several wonderful attractions like the Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz W...Read more

  9. Wilder Ranch State Park

    #9 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Wilder Ranch State Park

    Tags: Outdoors, Ranch, Trail, Nature

    Address: 1401 Coast Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 08:00 am - 06:00 pm Details

    The Wilder Ranch State Park is a gigantic 7000 acre State Park that is renowned for its magnificent trails and mesmerizing views of the ocean. Visitors are free to explore the various trails of the pa...Read more

  10. Seymour Marine Discovery Center

    #10 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Seymour Marine Discovery Center

    Tags: Science Museum

    Address: 100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 10:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is the public arm of Long Marine Lab that aims at educating the general public about how science plays a pivotal role in comprehending and helping in the conservati...Read more

  11. Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

    #11 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

    Tags: Museum

    Address: 701 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 10:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    One of the most famous landmarks of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum was opened in the year 1986 to become the world’s first surfing museum. It is housed in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lig...Read more

  12. UCSC Arboretum

    #12 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    UCSC Arboretum

    Address: 1156 High St, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA

    Timings: 09:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    Though the UCSC grounds are already beautiful beyond doubt, the Arboretum is one of the prime gems of the University and also the city. A number of rare and endangered plant species are present in the...Read more

  13. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center

    #13 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center

    Tags: Beach

    Address: 35 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    Timings: 10:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    Opened as a modern and futuristic visitor center, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center features a number of wonderfully engaging audio/video exhibits that provide an interacti...Read more

  14. Santa Cruz Harbor Beach

    #14 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    Santa Cruz Harbor Beach

    Tags: Beach, Walking Area, Restaurant, Court

    Address: 135 5th Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062, USA

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    Wedged between Twin Lakes State beach and Santa Cruz Harbor, lies the very busy Santa Cruz Harbor Beach. The beach is always full of visitors looking to have a great time in the sun outside, lazing on...Read more

  15. The Nickelodeon

    #15 of 508 Things To Do in Santa Cruz
    The Nickelodeon

    Tags: Entertainment, Stage Show, Theatre, Cinema

    Address: 210 Lincoln St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

    The Nickelodeon Theatre is a small but significant theater in Santa Cruz which has always showcased a number of foreign and indie films throughout its short but illustrious history. The feature that a...Read more

Tourist Attractions Near Santa Cruz

Find Your Santa Cruz Attractions on Map

Top Santa Cruz Activities And Tours

Explore the best things to do in Santa Cruz. These are the most preferred tourist activities.

Find more places to see in Santa Cruz

  • Octagon Building

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Hotel Metropole

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Branciforte Adobe

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Bank of Santa Cruz County

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Live Oak Ranch

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Valencia Hall

    2555 Valencia Rd

    Historic and Protected Sites
View On Map
  • Antonelli Pond

  • Schwan Lake Santa Cruz

  • Lagoon

  • Loch Lomond Recreation Area

  • Lexington Dam

  • Kelly Lake

View On Map
  • Museum of Art & History

    705 Front St

  • Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

    701 W Cliff Dr

  • Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

    1305 E Cliff Dr

  • Seymour Marine Discovery Center

    100 Shaffer Rd

  • McPherson Center

    705 Front St

  • Mobius-Art Conservation

    2510 Felt St

View On Map
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    400 Beach St

    Amusement Parks
  • Neptune's Kingdom

    400 Beach St

    Amusement Parks Arcades
  • The Giant Dipper

    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    Amusement Parks Restaurants
  • Santa Cruz Seaside Company

    400 Beach St

    Amusement Parks
  • NOAA Sanctuary Exploration Center

    35 Pacific Ave

    Amusement Parks
  • 1911 Looff Carousel

    400 Beach St

    Amusement Parks
View On Map
  • Castaways

    3623 Portola Dr

    Bars Barbecue
  • Gilbert's Firefish Grill

    25 Municipal Wharf

    Seafood Bars
  • 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

    110 Walnut Ave

    American Bars
  • Hindquarter Bar & Grille

    303 Soquel Ave

    Steakhouses Barbecue Bars
  • Surf City Billiards

    931 Pacific Ave

    Restaurants Billiard and Pool Bars
  • Santa Cruz Ale Works

    150 Dubois St

    Bars Breweries Delis
View On Map
  • Oceanview Card Room

    709 Pacific Ave

    Casinos and Gaming
  • Slvbingo

    216 Evergreen St

    Casinos and Gaming
  • Santa Cruz Bingo

    707 Fair Ave

    Casinos and Gaming
  • Red Hot Mama Productions

    545 14th Ave

    Casinos and Gaming
View On Map
  • Sanborn County Park

    16055 Sanborn Rd

    Natural Parks
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park

    21600 Big Basin Way

    Natural Parks Playgrounds
  • Castle Rock State Park

    15000 Skyline Blvd

    Natural Parks
  • New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Trail

    Natural Parks
View On Map
  • Mimi De Marta Dog Park

    130 Broadway

    Dog Parks
  • Chanticleer Dog Park

    1975 Chanticleer Ave

    Dog Parks
  • Westlake Park

    Playgrounds Dog Parks
  • Franich Dog Park

    795 Vista Montana Dr

    Dog Parks
  • Aptos Dog Park

    2255 Huntington Dr

    Dog Parks
  • Polo Grounds Bicycle Park

    2255 Huntington Avenue

    Dog Parks
View On Map
  • Natural Bridges State Beach

    2531 W Cliff Dr

  • West Cliff Drive

    West Cliff Drive

  • Seabright State Beach

    Seabright Ave

  • Mitchell's Cove Beach

    W Cliff Dr

  • Sunny Cove Beach

    East Cliff Dr

  • Four Mile Beach

    3810 Coast Rd

View On Map
  • Old Landing Cove Trail

  • Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve

    4289 Casa Loma Rd

  • Quick Silver Almaden Webb Canyon Access

    7062 Webb Canyon Dr

  • John Nicholas Trail

  • Fall Creek State Park

  • Goat Rock

View On Map
Show More

What To Do in Santa Cruz: Day-Wise Ideas

Find what not to miss in Santa Cruz! Recommended Santa Cruz itineraries and vacation ideas created by travelers across the world.