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11 Fun Things to do In Santa Cruz

11 Fun Things to do In Santa Cruz

A short drive from both the Bay Area and San Jose, Santa Cruz makes for the best weekend getaway ever—you definitely won’t want to leave.


5 min read

October 14, 2021

Home to sparkling beaches and the world’s best off-shore breaks, Santa Cruz is famous for its high-stoke surf culture. However, to say that wetsuits and shortboards are the area’s only legacy is to highly underestimate all the other wonderful things to do in Santa Cruz. There’s so much you could potentially uncover in Surf City. A short drive from both the Bay Area and San Jose, Santa Cruz makes for the best weekend getaway ever—you definitely won’t want to leave.

These are the Best Things to Do in Santa Cruz 

Enjoy warm sand, cool surf, hot rides, and free entertainment at the only major seaside amusement park in Santa Cruz.

1. Stroll along Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Kickstarting the list of Santa Cruz activities is the boardwalk. Open since 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the nation’s oldest seaside amusement parks. Every inch of this place is drenched in fun and history; you might even recognize a few of the retro rides from the 80s cult classic The Lost Boys. With affordable rides (two of which are officially recognized as Historic Landmarks), an indoor arcade, miniature golf course, laser tag area, and a bowling center, you’ll have the time of your life letting go and indulging your inner child.

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2. Go Thrifting in Downtown

A stroll down Pacific Avenue will reveal that there’s a lot more to Santa Cruz than initially meets the eye. Quirky shops selling ugly Christmas sweaters, cool Halloween costumes, and one-of-a-kind additions to your wardrobe are scattered all-round, making for an unforgettably exciting thrifting experience. Plus, if you happen to be in Santa Cruz for the second Sunday of the month, make sure to check out Lincoln Streets’ Santa Cruz Antique Faire—it’s a treat no shopaholic should miss.

A cup of tea is a solution for everything. Keeping the troubles away with a relaxing cup of tea. Let the fragrance fill your mouth.

3. Recharge at Hidden Peak Teahouse 

Aiming to build a community through the appreciation of tea, Hidden Peak Teahouse is truly an unexpected treat. The teahouse is rooted in the belief that a simple cup of a brew is capable of changing anyone’s day, and that to build a better connection, one must put all devices aside and simply live in the moment with no outside distractions—they’re serious about this rule too. This hidden gem fully adheres to a digital-free policy, which means no cell phones, laptops, tablets, or other electronic devices are allowed within the premises. You simply go into one of their ambient rooms or tea garden patios and temporarily tune the outside world out.

4. Get a Scoop of Sweetness at Penny’s Ice Creamery

If chocolate-covered bacon or deep-fried Oreos don’t exactly get you going, we suggest popping by Penny’s Ice Creamery. With three locations in Santa Cruz (only), the ice cream shop is a sweet tooth’s dream come true—you just might be lucky enough to watch ice cream get made from scratch through the open kitchen. Using locally farmed, organic ingredients that change with the seasons, Penny’s offers hits such as mascarpone hazelnut, warm apple turnovers, and the infamous torch-blown marshmallow fluff topping.

Big Basin is California's oldest State Park, established in 1902, earning its designation as a California Historical Landmark.

5. Visit Big Basin State Park

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz, and Big Basin State Park is the place to do it. Home to the largest continuous strand of ancient coastal redwood giants, this park contains more than 80 miles of hiking trails; did we mention it’s the Golden State’s oldest state park? While you’re trekking, get ready to encounter the most magnificent fall foliage—redwood trees enveloping year-round waterfalls, canyons hiding away in plain sight, and birds chirping as if they’re writing your getaway soundtrack. If you’re in the mood for something extra adventurous, you can even take a three-day hike through the Skyline to the Sea Trail; your inner daredevil will thank us later.

6. Ride the waves at the beach

Known as the surfing epicenter of the Golden State, Santa Cruz boasts waves that go beyond your wildest imagination. Visiting the beach here is obviously a must, but there’s also ample opportunity to try your hand—or should we say feet—at surfing lessons? Cowell Beach, for instance, is great for both experts and novices with the greatest put-on-your-fridge-worthy photo ops. And if that's not your favorite place in the area, don’t worry; Santa Cruz has 34 beaches and we’re sure you'll find one you like.

The Santa Cruz Wharf was built in 1914, the last of six built on the site, and is operated by the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Office.

7. Check out the Santa Cruz Wharf 

Nestled between Main Beach and Cowell Beach, the Santa Cruz Wharf is the longest pier you’ll find on the West Coast—that alone is a reason to visit. But the sea lions, boat tours, kayaking experiences, and out-of-this-world seafood are definitely added pleasures. Simply stroll down the wharf for beautiful views of the boardwalk and reward yourself with treats with Marini’s Candies, Santa Cruz’s favorite candy shop with handmade local sweets.

8. Hop on a Whale Watching Cruise 

Dolphins, whales, and ocean life are long-time residents of the California coast, and Santa Cruz offers one of the best seats to marine magic you’re ever going to get. Well situated alongside the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the city has an abundance of tours that take you directly onto the protected waters. Book an adventure with Venture Quest Kayaking and look out for 50-foot-long gray whales.

The Mystery Spot was discovered in 1939. The site is what is known as a gravity hill and was the first of its kind to be built in California.

9. Explore the Mystery Spot 

Located in a circular area of the redwood forest, the Mystery Spot is one of those Santa Cruz activities that’ll leave you questioning whether or not gravity is real. Objects and people appear to be tilted even when attempting to just stand up straight, making for both a gravitational anomaly and a pretty spooky experience.

Several steam engines at Roaring Camp date from the 1890s and are some of the oldest and most authentically preserved narrow-gauge steam engines.

10. Ride a Locomotive at the Roaring Camp Railroads 

Hitch a ride through the Roaring Camp Railroads from Felton and cruise your way into Santa Cruz in style—on an authentically preserved steam engine. This railroad company uses 19th-century locomotives, which were once used to haul giant redwood logs out of the mountains. Nowadays, they transport passengers with a sense of spirit and adventure; just like you.

11. Participate in First Fridays 

One of the most fun things to do in Santa Cruz is to roam city streets on the first Friday every month. Rain or shine, business owners offer up their space to display local art, turning it into a free museum for all. City streets transform into a kaleidoscopic community with local talent out and about—we’re talking brimming venues and serenading street performers all over downtown.

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