Known for its laid-back attitude and counterculture ideology, Santa Cruz is more than just a beach-side surf town. This charming city is full of flowing palm trees, colorful fishing buildings, and some of the freshest seafood in all of California.
Whether you’re visiting for the weekend or merely stopping by on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, Santa Cruz is a must-visit destination. And while there’s no shortage of gnarly waves or sandy beaches, you’ll find plenty of other activities along the coast to keep you entertained!
1. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Open since 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a timeless, amusement park nestled on shores of Main Beach. Catch thrills on the historic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster or try your hand at winning a giant, stuffed animal at an old-timey bottle toss or dart game. And when your tummy starts rumbling, you can indulge on classic, carnival fares like cotton candy, corn dogs, and salt water taffy.
But you can really make most of your trip by staying at Hyatt Place Santa Cruz. It’s just a leisurely 10-minute walk from the boardwalk, which means you can spend more time in the sun and less time fighting for parking.
2. West Cliff Drive
Stretching 3-miles along the coast of the Pacific Ocean is West Cliff Drive, a paved trail with some of the most stunning views in California. With the crashing waves and rocky cliffs as your backdrop, it’s the perfect destination for a morning jog or bicycle ride.
But for an authentic Californian experience, you can always rent a classic VW campervan and explore West Cliff Drive by car. This scenic ride may not be a long ride, but with the sun shining on your face and the wind blowing through your hair, it’s nothing short of spectacular.
3. Santa Cruz Wharf
Teeming with everything from fresh seafood restaurants to tiny surf shops, the Santa Cruz Wharf is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. The pier jets half a mile into the Monterey Bay, and is the longest pier on the entire West Coast!
And if you hear a few loud barks and growls in between the live music and the giggles of happy children, don’t worry! Those are just the sounds of the resident harbor seals, who live (and sunbathe) underneath the wooden, wharf planks.
4. Mystery Spot
Defy the laws of gravity at this mind-boggling tilted house! At Mystery Spot, you’ll enter a world of altered reality, where balls roll uphill, chairs hang from walls, and people lean without falling over. As soon as you step foot inside, you’ll lose yourself to optical and physic illusions that are sure to leave you scratching your head.
Sure, this road-side attraction may be a bit kitschy, but it’s worth visiting just to snap a few cool Instagram photos!
In Santa Cruz, it might be tempting to spend the entire day working on your tan or surfing the waves of the Pacific Ocean. But if you can, peel yourself away from the beach and explore some of the city’s top attractions. You just might find that there is much more to see than the sea!