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The Ultimate Santa Cruz Beach Day Itinerary
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The Ultimate Santa Cruz Beach Day Itinerary

Santa Cruz is known for its surf culture, beaches, and laid-back way of life. Stick to our beach day itinerary for a full day of adventures.

California.com

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4 min read

March 07, 2022

Santa Cruz is known for its surf culture and laid-back way of life. Whether you are going for the first time or trying to reinvigorate your weekend routine, hitting up at least one of the best Santa Cruz beaches is a must. We have rounded up a full itinerary of adventures that are anything but ordinary for a day by the coast. Swimming, surfing, tanning, shopping, and visiting museums—whatever your interests may be, this is how to make the most of your day when you plan a Santa Cruz beach day in California.

Verve Coffee Roasters shows off the third-wave coffee movement in true California fashion. One sip of their famous coffee is enough to get you hooked.

9:00 a.m.

Make the first stop of your Santa Cruz day trip at Verve Coffee Roasters’ flagship store on 41st Avenue. While waiting in line for a latte or espresso tonic, take a moment to appreciate the vintage machines that roast the beans, the farmers who grew them, and the magic of Santa Cruz—which inspired the owners to establish Verve in 2007. The incredible coffee roasted here is now sold throughout the state and beyond, powered by a passion for coffee, agriculture, and the ocean waves. 

Mix up your typical cup with soy milk, or try the daily toast to complement the undertones of perfectly crafted coffee. Grab a breakfast sandwich with a brioche bun, organic egg, cheddar cheese, mixed greens, aioli, and house-made ketchup to go—it’ll be the perfect snack to munch on as you claim your sandy spot by a Santa Cruz beach.

9:30 a.m.

Coffee in hand, walk towards Main Beach, which is one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz. Watch the waves gently crash along the shore and choose your favorite spot to soak up the sun’s rays from atop your towel. The ocean views and the soothing sounds of the waves paired with the excitement of the boardwalk will put you in the right mood for an exciting beach day straight away.

The beaches of the Santa Cruz area represent a variety of coastal environments, all of which have their own special beauty.

10:00 a.m.

The next two hours are perhaps the best times to spend by the beach on your visit to Santa Cruz. The sands won’t be devoid of crowds, but you’ll be able to dodge peak business, which starts midday onward. The sun will be up but not blazing, the sands will be just warm enough, and you’ll be able to relax by the Santa Cruz beach. Lather on your mineral sunscreen, dip your toes in the water, or go for a swim before warming up with a good book on the white sand. You have an entire itinerary of fun things to do in Santa Cruz to catch up with later on.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers something for the whole family. Though it is often full of tourists, this landmark is definitely worth visiting.

12:00 p.m. 

After relaxing for a few hours, walk along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Between the arcade, rides, surf shops, and food vendors, there’s so much to see and do along this iconic boardwalk, so make sure you allocate enough time to do it all.

Ride the iconic Giant Dipper to feel the rush that 60 million visitors have experienced before you, test your skills at laser tag, and grab a souvenir to commemorate your Santa Cruz day trip. It doesn’t get much more nostalgic than this classic local attraction adjacent to Downtown Santa Cruz.

14:00 p.m. 

After a thrilling two hours, venture off the boardwalk and head back toward downtown for lunch at the Surfrider Cafe. Order one of the eatery’s signature gourmet burgers and, if you dare, the famous homemade jalapeño poppers for a taste of Santa Cruz you can’t get anywhere else. Eat inside, or take your meal out to the Santa Cruz Riverwalk and overlook the San Lorenzo River for an extra touch of awesome. 

The Penny Ice Creamery combines fresh local ingredients in small batches to create artisanal ice cream.

15:00 p.m. 

We hope you saved room for dessert because that’s what’s coming up! Wander up Cedar Street to The Penny Ice Creamery, Santa Cruz’s only ice-cream parlor scooping ice cream made from scratch. The shop sources every ingredient independently and maintains relationships with the local farmers to get seasonal ingredients at their peak of freshness. The shop’s unexpected flavors include everything from Meyer lemon, to burnt cinnamon, to crème fraîche persimmon. If you want your life changed forever, get the Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream topped with torched marshmallow fluff—it’s every bit as mouthwatering as it sounds. 

16:00 p.m.

After sampling flavors and eating a scoop or two, jump in the car and drive to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, located inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. The museum aptly overlooks Steamer Lane, which is world-renowned as one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz for surfing. Inside, you’ll find every artifact and information you need to learn about surfing, from photographs of surfers from the region as well as boards and other pieces spanning Santa Cruz's 100-plus year surfing history. If strolling around inspires you, pick up a book or a postcard to send home from the gift shop.

One of Santa Cruz's most interesting natural wonders can be found at Natural Bridges State Park at sunset.

17:30 p.m. 

From the museum, walk along West Cliff Drive to Natural Bridges State Park or look for a parking spot just outside. Not only is this one of the most breathtaking Santa Cruz beaches, but it is also a coveted surf spot. Named after the arch in the enormous rock by the shore break, Natural Bridges State Beach is one of the most photographed places in the Golden State. If you like taking pictures, packing your camera along is highly recommended. The rock formations here host a variety of birds and wildlife and are beautiful to capture on film. 

If you’re not on a strict schedule, stick around for sunset. Meanwhile, you can watch the surfers do their thing, look for vibrant anemones, hermit crabs, and starfish in the tide pools, and have yourself a picnic by the coast. When the sun starts setting at this Santa Cruz beach, you’ll be treated to an incredible palette of oranges and magentas—it’ll top any beach sunset you’ve seen so far.  

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