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11 Family-Friendly Things to Do in Santa Cruz County
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11 Family-Friendly Things to Do in Santa Cruz County

These are the top family-friendly things to do in Santa Cruz County to fully experience the coastline and the redwoods.

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6 min read

August 17, 2022

Barbara Pearson is a trustworthy real estate agent covering Santa Cruz and beyond. She’s also a member of our California.com Recommended Businesses Program.

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Mind-blowing redwood forests, endless stretches of sand, and a whole lot of unique attractions make Santa Cruz County one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the Golden State. Those who’ve never been to the region can’t wait enough to visit it, and those who have, can’t wait to return. The county is particularly popular among families looking for a fun retreat, as there are a bunch of things to do in Santa Cruz with kids. In this county, not a day goes by without being exhausted from all the fun. Need more elaboration? We’ll let this list of family-friendly things to do in Santa Cruz County do the talking.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has a total of 35 attractions, including three awesome rollercoasters.

1. Enjoy Every Bit of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

When in Santa Cruz, visiting one of the oldest standing amusement parks in the Golden State – the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – is a must. Built in 1907, the Boardwalk has been entertaining guests for over a century now. There are dozens of exciting things to do at the amusement park by the ocean, including going on breathtaking rides, playing old-school games at the arcade, and enjoying all the amusement park snacks and treats. If you’re in Santa Cruz with the kids, your first stop at the boardwalk should be the Nautical Neptune’s Kingdom, where the little ones can enjoy miniature golf, foosball, and classic arcade games. 

2. Explore Life Under the Sea at Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Just tell your kids that they’re about to see one of the largest displayed Blue Whale skeletons in the world, and we assure you that they’ll be jumping with excitement. Yes, you got that right, “Ms. Blue”, an 87-foot blue whale skeleton, is displayed at Santa Cruz’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center for your family to see. That’s not all the center has to offer though. Inside the center’s halls and aquariums, you and your children will discover life underwater; a life so enchanting and fascinating, that you’ll be discussing it for days. This can’t-miss Santa Cruz thing to do should be a top priority for families visiting the area.

Travel back in time as you explore the beauty of Santa Cruz County on board one of the Roaring Camp locomotives.

3. Travel Through Time at Roaring Camp 

Roaring Camp Railroad is where history dives into modernity. The authentically preserved 19th-century steam engines take you through two separate routes; the first takes you to Bear Mountain and the second to the beach. These locomotives were once used to haul big redwood logs out of the mountains. But, what if you’re in Santa Cruz with kids? Well, you can gift them the experience of a lifetime by buying them tickets to the Roaring Camp Kids Club. Your kids then can ride trains, pan for gold, and enjoy all the club’s activities. With every activity checked off their list, they take a step closer to prizes that include a sheriff’s badge and a train whistle.

4. Surf at Cowell Beach

Santa Cruz has a long history of surfing, and it’s best experienced at one of the county's top beaches, Cowell Beach. While the county has a bunch of beaches suitable for more experienced surfers, Cowell Beach, with its gentle waves, is perfect for beginners. If you’re a surf fanatic and want your young ones to have the same love for the sport, teach them young in Santa Cruz. Come and ride the waves at this famous spot, and you’ll understand why surfing has been the center of Santa Cruz tourism for over a century.

Some of the giant redwood trees at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park date more than 1,500 years.

5. Stay Overnight at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park 

Away from the busy towns and beaches of Santa Cruz, Henry Cowell Redwood State Park is the perfect family getaway. Tucked in the Santa Cruz mountains, the park has more than 4,600 acres of mountainous terrain, and around 40 acres of old-growth redwood trees, the tallest of which stands at 277 feet tall. With over 30 miles of hiking trails, interesting wildlife, and breathtaking nature, you are bound to spend your day wandering around in awe. Come nighttime, you can set camp at one of the park’s 107 tent and RV sites, situated in a gorgeous pine and oak forest. There’s not a better thing to do with kids in Santa Cruz than to wake up in the midst of nature. 

6. Defy Gravity at The Mystery Spot

Right outside of Santa Cruz, and in a stunning redwood forest, is a small spot that will have you questioning all that you know about gravity and physics. The circular area of about 150 feet in diameter, was founded in 1939 by a group of surveyors and opened to the public in 1940. Since then, hundreds of thousands of visitors have been to this place, putting their perception of nature to the test. During your 45-minute guided tour, you and your kids will witness balls rolling uphill, and yourselves standing on tilted walls. This Santa Cruz attraction for families is one of the most mind-boggling roadside attractions in Northern California.

On occasion, and if you’re lucky enough, you might spot a migrating whale as you hike the trails of Wilder Ranch State Park.

7. Hike the Trails of Wilder Ranch State Park

There’s one right way to explore the Santa Cruz coastline, and it is through hiking the trails of the 7,000-acre Wilder Ranch State Park. 19th-century Victorian homes, a 19th-century water-powered machine shop, beautiful scenery, and more than 35 miles of hiking trails await your explorations at this awe-inspiring park. The park also has a few kid-friendly hikes you are sure to enjoy as a family. Try the 2.3-mile-long Old Landing Cove Trail, which won’t take you over an hour to complete. You will see gulls, pelicans, and sea lions scattered along the shore during this top Santa Cruz hike, and you might even spot a migrating whale or two. 

8. Experience the Joy of Camping at Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA Holiday

It’s no secret that Santa Cruz County has some of the best hotels in the Golden State. It’s also no secret that it has the best campgrounds in the state if you’re willing to give your little ones the experience of a lifetime. At Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA Holiday, you can choose to stay in a deluxe cabin, an RV, or a tent surrounded by picnic tables and fire rings. After a cozy night in, enjoy the camp’s pool, ride the KOA Express Fun Train, and jump as high as you can on the KOA jumping below. Watch your kids have the time of their life playing mini golf and climbing coconut palm trees. If you’re looking for exciting things to do with kids in Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA Holiday is your answer.  

9. Acquire Knowledge at the Santa Cruz Children's Museum of Discovery 

Looking to educate your little ones in a fun and creative environment? A trip to Capitola’s Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery is the way to go. With tons of hands-on activities, your children will be filled with wonder about the world around them, and the excitement to learn as much as they can. The Santa Cruz Children’s Museum constantly upgrades its exhibits, which include the Interactive LED Wall, MOD’s Big Train Table, the Infinity Mirror, and the Climbing Web. Let your kids explore the depths of their imagination at this unique museum built just for them.

Not only is Capitola Beach one of the most beautiful beaches in Santa Cruz, but it also is one of the most family-friendly.

10. Build Sandcastles at Capitola Beach

With a backdrop of vibrant and charming houses built on sand, as well as boutiques and shops lined up in the background, Capitola Beach evokes a feeling of the Mediterranean in the middle of the Golden State. This unique beach is where families head for day-long fun. Between swimming, fishing, tanning, playing volleyball, and riding the gentle waves, there’s something to do at Capitola Beach for everyone in the family. Relax and let the sun kiss you, as your children build sandcastles nearby at this unique Santa Cruz beach

11. Pick the Freshest Seasonal Fruits at Swanton Berry Farm 

No matter what time of the year you visit Davenport, you’ll always find an interesting fruit to pick at one of California’s best U-pick farms, Swanton Berry Farm. From pumpkins in October to kiwis in December, and all forms of berries throughout the summer, there’s something juicy and delicious to be picked at this famous farm. From staples like blackberries to the less-common tayberries and loganberries, Swanton Berry Farm has it all. Pick the fruits you like, eat them, and buy the rest as you enjoy the breathtaking Santa Cruz nature. Its ability to teach children how to appreciate fruits and nature is what makes a visit to Swanton Berry Farm a top thing to do in Santa Cruz with kids.



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