Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz on the Pacific Coast Highway in California has its famous boardwalk, beaches, wine tastings, Surfing Museum, Mission, and Marine Discovery Center.

A surfer in Santa Cruz, California, from https://www.pacific-coast-highway-travel.com/Santa-Cruz.htmlSanta Cruz Surfer

Santa Cruz is Counterculture Central along this stretch of the Pacific Coast, about 80 miles south of San Francisco and 50 miles north of Monterey at the north end of Monterey Bay.

It's definitely the big city when compared to the more refined feel of Monterey and Carmel further south, but it's big city California-style, with its beach boardwalk, Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, California girls, and liberal politics.

It's been a beach resort since way back in the middle of the 19th century, but alongside the carousel and roller coaster are video arcades and a laser tag arena. There's been a campus of the University of California here since the 1960s, it's close to Silicon Valley, a good base for exploring California's wine country and there's a great nightlife too.

Yes, there's plenty to do in and around Santa Cruz. You'll also find a lot of good eating places and a wide range of accommodation, from motels to the finest luxury inns. 

What to See In and Around Santa Cruz

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach near Santa Cruz, from https://www.pacific-coast-highway-travel.com/Santa-Cruz.htmlNatural Bridges State Beach near Santa Cruz

One of the best beaches in the area, easily reachable along the clifftop West Cliff Drive. You can drive but there's also a path alongside the road and it's better to walk or bike so you can stop and enjoy the views, and watch the surfers ride the waves below. The beach when you get there has beautiful soft sand, tide pools and hiking trails, and the 'natural bridges' are those carved out of the rocks by the wind and the pounding sea. 

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

This was the 12th mission to be built by the Spanish in California, and was originally constructed in the 1790s. It was unfortunately destroyed in an earthquake in 1857, and what you can see today is a half-scale replica of the church and a museum about the mission in one of the restored 1790s buildings. 

The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

A surfer in Santa CruzA surfer in Santa Cruz

If you think surfing began in the sixties with the Beach Boys, the Surfing Museum takes you right back to the start of the local surfing craze as the sport arrived in Santa Cruz in 1886 when three Hawaiian princes surfed the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. (Surfing goes back hundreds if not thousands of years before that, as part of early Polynesian cultures.) The museum has videos, some great photos of early surfers, a surfboard that was crunched by a great white shark, surf movie posters and lots of other fun surfing stuff.

Santa Cruz Wharf

Santa Cruz WharfSanta Cruz Wharf

Here you'll find plenty of restaurants – seafood, of course, which is also what the sea lions under the wharf are barking for. The wharf's fishermen don't bark much, though they too are hoping for some fine seafood for their supper. At the wharf you can also go shopping for clothes, local souvenirs, your own fishing equipment, and rent boats.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

An offshoot of the University of California at Santa Cruz and part of its Long Marine Laboratory, here you can see marine scientists at work. It's very much a working place as well as a visitor attraction, and you can see up-close what those marine biologists are discovering. There's an aquarium, interactive exhibits, and tide-pool touch tanks.

UCSC Arboretum

UCSC ArboretumUCSC Arboretum

Outstanding gardens belonging to the University of California at Santa Cruz, with a walking path that leads you through their major collections grouped according to area and covering California, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. There are also smaller collections of conifers, rare fruit trees, a eucalyptus grove, South America, native species, and a cactus and succulent garden.

Whale Watching

See the Whale Watching in California page.

Wilder Ranch State Park

Look for this about a mile north of Santa Cruz along Highway 1 and see what a 19th century California dairy farm was like. There are also 7000 acres of land with hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, forests, beaches and great Pacific Ocean views.

Woodies on the Wharf

Woodies on the Wharf in Santa CruzWoodies on the Wharf in Santa Cruz

If you're a surfing dude or just wanna have fun then Santa Cruz in late June is the place to be. That's when the annual Woodies on the Wharf takes place, usually on either the 3rd or 4th Saturday of the month. Check the website for the exact date each year. It's when the Woodies of the World congregate on the Santa Cruz Wharf, about 200 of them, from as far away as British Columbia or even the east coast, where the girls are hip and the woodies can still drive all the way across the USA to be here. 

A Woodie on the Road near Santa Cruz, from https://www.pacific-coast-highway-travel.com/Santa-Cruz.htmlA Woodie near Santa Cruz

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz

Other California coast pages

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  • Moss Beach Hotel

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  • Whale Watching in California

    Whale watching in California is one of the most popular things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, in places like San Diego, San Francisco and many more.

  • Newport Beach

    Newport Beach is a small city on the Pacific coast of southern California, right on the Pacific Coast Highway and noted for its beaches and surfing.

  • Visiting Hearst Castle

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  • Vagabond's House Inn

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  • Unique Inns on the Pacific Coast Highway

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  • Top Wildlife Spots on the California Coast

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  • Dana Point

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  • Santa Catalina Island

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  • Stanford Inn by the Sea Mendocino

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  • Santa Monica Pier

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  • Santa Monica, California

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  • Santa Cruz Downtown Wine Tastings

    There are plenty of Santa Cruz downtown wine tastings including Beauregard Vineyards,Storrs Winery and Pelican Ranch Winery,all with tasting rooms.

  • Santa Barbara

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  • San Simeon

    San Simeon is a tiny town of a few hundred people close to Hearst Castle on the California coast midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

  • San Clemente California

    San Clemente in California is a small city on the Pacific Coast Highway midway between San Diego and Los Angeles, noted for its beaches and surfing.

  • Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel and Monterey, with photos

    A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

  • Pismo Beach

    Pismo Beach is a small beach town on California's Central Coast, a resort famous for surfing and clams.

  • Pelican Inn and Suites in Cambria on the Central Coast of California

    The Pelican Inn and Suites in Cambria on California's Central Coast has oceanfront views, swimming pool, gardens, and is right on the beach near Hearst Castle.

  • Pacific Grove

    Pacific Grove is a small city on the California coast, next to Monterey and close to Carmel, with attractions including its historic Victorian houses.

  • Oceanside

    Oceanside is a typical southern California beach town with a surf culture and with the Pacific Coast Highway running right through it.

  • Malibu

    Malibu is a beach city north of Los Angeles famous for the celebrities who live there in expensive homes and the Pacific Coast Highway runs through it and there are beaches and hikes for all to enjoy.

  • Morro Bay

    Morro Bay is a delightful small town on the California coast roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles and noted for the huge Morro Rock.

  • Monterey, on the Pacific Coast Highway in California

    Monterey in California is off the Pacific Coast Highway and home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Monterey State Historic Park.



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