Santa Cruz County, located on California’s central coast south of the San Francisco Bay Area, is renowned for its natural scenic beauty, including sun-soaked beaches and spectacular redwood forests. The county is not only famous for its surfing and artist community, with more than 2,000 artists calling it home, but its counter-cultural wackiness that began in the 1960s with the hippie commune. Santa Cruz County offers day-trippers a wide range of attractions perfect for a weekend outing.
Santa Cruz County’s number one attraction is The Boardwalk, one of the country’s top seaside amusement parks, home to the Giant Dipper, one of the oldest roller coasters in the U.S., which opened nearly a century ago. It also boasts an old-fashioned Carousel, and the Sky Glider, where passengers can soak up the panoramic vistas of the coastline, the ocean, and the park.
Just a 10-minute drive from Santa Cruz through the redwoods in Felton, Roaring Camp is a popular place for kids and adults alike, allowing guests to step back in time by riding one of the oldest narrow-gauge trains in existence that still carries passengers. It travels through the forest to Bear Mountain through old-growth redwood groves.
California’s oldest state park, located in the heart of the Santa Cruz County, draws visitors with its ancient coast redwoods, some of which are 2,500 years old, more than 500 feet around and over 300-feet-tall, as well as its dramatic waterfalls. There are many hiking trails, like the Waterfall Loop, which will allow you to take in some of the best the park has to offer.
California’s oldest state park, located in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains, draws visitors with its ancient coast redwoods, some of which are 2,500 years old, more than 500 feet around and over 300-feet-tall, as well as its dramatic waterfalls. There are several hiking trails, like the Waterfall Loop, which will allow you to take in some of the best the park has to offer.
If you’re looking for a classic California beach experience away from the hustle and bustle of larger, more tourist-heavy spots, this town is for you. The central Capitola beach is one of the most picturesque spots you can find with brightly colored storefronts lining the ocean boardwalk.
Natural Bridges State Beach
Nestled along the coast of Santa Cruz County, this 65-acre California state park was named for the naturally occurring mudstone bridges that line the Pacific Ocean. Wave erosion carved these mudstone bridges after a combination of silt, clay, and diatoms were solidified into a mixture of stone that created three arches on the beach.
Only 16 miles from Santa Cruz, California Sunset State Beach provides a diversity of experiences. Not only does the State Beach provide 3 miles of unspoiled Pacific coastline for visitors to enjoy, but also the approximately 167-acre park contains four separate habitats to observe: coastal scrub, coastal woodlands, coastal marshland, and dunes.
The beach and ocean are a big part of the Santa Cruz lifestyle and the area is well known for water sports such as sailing, swimming, and paddling. The downtown area is known for shopping and is the city’s cultural center with several bookstores and independent movie theaters. The nightclubs and bars often feature live music and a variety of street performers. There is even an art museum, and a civic auditorium.
New Brighton Beach State Park is very popular during the summertime, so it is a good idea to make reservations if you want to camp there. Best Campsites New Brighton State Beach. Sites 73 -79, 82, 87, 88, and 90 are situated on the bluff and have ocean views. These campsites are considered premium and cost more than regular sites. 47 to 56 are the only sites with hookups.
West Cliff Drive
West Cliff Drive is a scenic 2.75-mile paved walking and biking path that stretches from Natural Bridges State Beach to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. Visitors and locals alike head here to take in the magnificent ocean vistas and the multi-million dollar homes, as well as the occasional dolphin or whale that swims by. The most scenic and accessible coastline walk in the city, it passes a lighthouse, the famous Steamer Lane surf break, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, and many of the best beaches and coves in the area. Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.
Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf
West Cliff Drive culminates at the wharf, which is home to one of the area’s most popular attractions, the sea lions. No matter what time of year, the sea lions can be seen here lounging on the rafters beneath the warm, hanging out on the platforms alongside it, and splashing about in the ocean, with their playful antics offering some of the best free entertainment around. One of the best ways to enjoy the show is to pick up a crab cocktail and a beer, or other beverage, at one of the many seafood markets that line the wharf, and dine while taking in the scene.
Santa Cruz County Mystery Spot
Mystery Spot has been enchanting and mystifying visitors since 1940. Located in the redwoods three miles from downtown Santa Cruz, this is a place where the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply. You’ll see things like water that appears to be flowing upward and balls that roll uphill. If you don’t believe it’s happening, it can be fun just to try and debunk the “mystery.” Santa Cruz Mystery Spot465 Mystery Spot Road Santa Cruz, CA 95065
Ano Nuevo State Park
Ano Nuevo can be reached with a scenic 30-minute drive north along the coast from Santa Cruz. The park is world-famous for its elephant seals which used the dunes to rest and mate during the wintertime. Guided walks, led by volunteer docent naturalists, take visitors to see these creatures in their natural habitat.
Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Trail
The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to more than 70 wineries and tasting rooms. This is one of the oldest wine regions in the nation, famous for award-winning wines. One of the best ways to experience some of the best is to take the Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Trail which begins on Skyline Boulevard at the Thomas Fogarty Winery in Woodside and winds to the Byington Winery & Vineyard, David Bruce wineries, and Burrell School Vineyards, before ending in Santa Cruz.