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11 Activities to Enjoy Near UC Santa Cruz

11 Activities to Enjoy Near UC Santa Cruz

There are many unique things to do near the UC Santa Cruz campus; here are 11 of them!

Roubina Al Abashian


6 min read

July 19, 2022

Disclaimer: does not receive any kind of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Seated on the rolling hills above Monterey Bay is the beautiful campus of UC Santa Cruz. Mighty redwood trees touch the sky of the 6,088-acre, beautiful college campus, while 25-plus miles of hiking trails snake through it. Thanks to its location between the Santa Cruz forests and the Pacific, the campus offers breathtaking views at every corner and numerous opportunities for outdoor recreational activities.

UC Santa Cruz is also just a short distance away from everything fun in Santa Cruz — the best surfing spots, campsites, and trails are within a five-mile radius of the campus. In short, you’ll never have a dull moment in and around UC Santa Cruz. Whether you’re a student, faculty member, or a tourist keen on discovering the area, you’ll find a bunch of fun things to do in Santa Cruz, regardless of your interests.

Fun Things to Do on the UC Santa Cruz Campus

Get introduced to over 300 types of plants from all around the world at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

1. Take a Stroll at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden

Visiting the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden is one of the most satisfying things to do in Santa Cruz. The beautiful botanic garden houses over 300 families of plants that mainly grow in a Mediterranean climate. Primitive angiosperms, world conifers, and bulb-forming plant families are all specialties of the garden, and they are mostly natives of California, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Take a stroll in the gorgeous botanic garden and let nature inspire you.

Empire Cave is home to two endemic species of troglobionts, a.k.a. spiders. But don't worry, their only prey are moths!

2. Explore Porter Cave

Porter Cave, known as Empire Cave to the outside world, is a natural cave system popular among UC Santa Cruz students. Located northwest of Porter College, the cave is accessible through a series of trails. A metal ladder will ease your entry into the dark cave, which has three chambers in total. The first two are connected through a large corridor, while the third is a muddy crawl away. You shouldn’t disregard this popular California cave on your next visit to the area.

3. Admire the Art at Sesnon Gallery

An art gallery operating a museum-oriented program for educational purposes is what your trips to Santa Cruz are missing. One such art gallery is the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at UC Santa Cruz. The gallery has four exhibitions every year, each of which features artwork from talented senior artists from the university. Tour the Sesnon Gallery to enjoy the beautiful exhibits and encourage young talents.

A sunrise bike ride at UCSC Upper Campus Trail is the type of morning exercise you will want to do every day.

4. Bike the Gorgeous UCSC Upper Campus Trail 

UC Santa Cruz has an abundance of awesome trails worth exploring. A popular option among mountain bikers is the UCSC Upper Campus Trail, where beautiful vistas galore. The 6.3-mile mountain biking trail offers gorgeous views of the Santa Cruz mountains and is quite a nice challenge. Even though you’ll encounter a few hikers along the way, most of them avoid this trail so as not to be bothered by the bikers. Grab your bike and head to the UCSC Upper Campus Trail for your morning exercise, and enjoy the serenity of nature.

5. Cheer For the Banana Slugs

One thing you have to do in Santa Cruz is joining the UC Santa Cruz students in cheering for the Banana Slugs — no not the animals, the athletes. The university joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the fall of 1980 and now competes in Division Three in an array of sports. Popular sports among students are basketball, tennis, soccer, and track and field. Join Sammy the Slug, the team mascot, and cheer for the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. #GoSlugs!

All The Fun You Can Have Minutes Away From UC Santa Cruz Campus

There’s no better way of enjoying the beauty of Westlake Park than by spending an afternoon with your boo, drinking coffee.

6. Enjoy an Afternoon Picnic at Westlake Park

Nothing beats a calm picnic with your boo at Westlake Park in Santa Cruz County. The neighborhood park is just a few minutes away from UC Santa Cruz and is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in the region. Despite what the name suggests, there’s no lake in this park, but a calm pond, which invites all sorts of birds into the area. If you particularly love ducks, you’ll be happy to know that all sorts of ducks gather around the pond and wait for you to feed them. For a chill afternoon with your partner, pack a picnic and head to Westlake Park for a chill afternoon of good snacks and nature walks.

7. Spend the Night at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Campground

It’s no secret that Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is one of the most visited state parks in the Golden State. Located in the Santa Cruz mountains, the park offers 4,650 acres of open land, perfect for hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, and, of course, camping. The park has 107 reservable-site campgrounds, where visitors can perch their tents and spend the night. Make sure to include this top camping destination on your list of places to visit in Santa Cruz. 

Remember that the shady pine and oak forest where the campground is located has an entrance different from that of the day-use area — you have to use the entrance at Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz.

Happiness is enjoying the waves at Natural Bridges State Beach.

8. Ride the Waves at Natural Bridges State Beach

You don’t need to know the history of surfing in Santa Cruz to know that Natural Bridges State Beach is THE BEACH for riding the waves. What makes Natural Bridges stand out as a top surf spot in Santa Cruz, is the fact that its waves are suitable for pros and rookies alike. Out of all the things to do in Santa Cruz, surfing is non-negotiable, especially at this unique spot. Head straight to the south of the beautiful rock arches of Natural Bridges State Bridge and join the crowds.

9. Hike the Lookout Loop Trail

The Lookout Loop Trail is a can’t-miss Santa Cruz hike, located just a few minutes away from the UC Santa Cruz campus. Hikers, mountain-bikers, and birdwatchers visit this scenic, 3.1-mile trail time and time again to enjoy its vibrant wildlife and beautiful nature. Open views of the city will take your breath away, and so will the moderate hike itself. Prepare yourself for one-and-a-half hours of hiking between narrow, shadowy, and muddy forests, and open and sunny fields — the diversity of the trail's terrains is what makes it extraordinary.

The adrenaline rush you get on the rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk can’t compare to anything else.

10. Bring Out the Child in You at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Probably the most exciting thing to do in Santa Cruz is walking the length of the world-famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The iconic boardwalk is the definition of fun, where waves, music, roller coaster rides, and treats meet to make your visit an unforgettable one. Scream your lungs out on the roller coaster, challenge your friends to arcade games, and buy souvenirs as you walk the boardwalk from one end to the other. And don’t forget to enjoy one of the top things to do at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, eating theme park snacks.

11. Go On a Whale Watching Safari

Santa Cruz is one of the most incredible places to go whale watching; humpback whales, gray whales, as well as great white sharks, among a plethora of other marine life can be witnessed in and around the county’s waters. Sea Spirit Ocean Safari takes you on a cruise of a lifetime on one of its pilothouse vessels, where you can enjoy the show from the front seat. The best part is that all these majestic animals can be found just a short distance away from UC Santa Cruz.

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