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Getaway Guide: Aptos
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Getaway Guide: Aptos

Scenic beaches, pretty campsites, lush forests, and a mysterious shipwreck—Aptos is a close-to-home retreat you don’t want to miss out on.

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5 min read

November 04, 2021

Just when you thought you had discovered every cool small town there is in the Golden State, we present you Aptos: a seaside destination in Santa Cruz County that’s been flying under the radar for too long. Plan a quiet escape to this can’t-miss Central Coast beach town and allow yourself a weekend of relaxation and tranquility. Scenic beaches, pretty campsites, lush forests, and a mysterious shipwreck—Aptos is a close-to-home retreat you don’t want to miss out on.  

The name Aptos is Ohlone, meaning "the people". Aptos was traditionally inhabited by the Ohlone Awaswas people.

Day 1

Arriving

Aptos is 45 minutes away from San Jose and practically adjacent to the city of Santa Cruz, yet it feels like a world away from the buzzing city life. Arriving here will feel like stepping into a whole different reality, so embrace it and enjoy taking the slow lane for two days. 

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We highly recommend spending your nights camping beachside in Aptos. Both Seacliff State Beach and New Brighton State Beach have prime campgrounds. Seacliff is one of the most popular RV camping spots in NorCal, offering 26 full hookup sites and 37 non-hookup sites, nearly two miles of shoreline, and all the amenities you might need. However, this Aptos beach campsite doesn’t offer tent hookups. But if you’re traveling sans RV, the campgrounds at New Brighton State Beach might be your cup of tea. Named for the famed coastal resort in England, this beautiful Aptos beach has a campground with over 100 sites, 11 of which are designated for RVs.

Not much of a camping person? Stay at Seascape Beach Resort, a prime coastal resort in Aptos. Located just off Highway one, Seascape Aptos offers the comforts of a beach home, combined with the upscale services of a luxury resort. Enjoy 17 miles of beach, relax in the spacious accommodations, savor exquisite fine dining, take a tip in one of the three outdoor pools, and get a taste of the good life at this four-star Aptos beach hotel.

Completed too late to see war service, SS Palo Alto was mothballed until 1929, when she was intentionally grounded off a Northern California beach.

Afternoon

Once you’re checked in and settled, your trip to Aptos officially kicks off. Check out the most famous Aptos attraction right off the bat and head over to the abandoned Cement Ship before dark.

Officially called the SS Palo Alto, this ship was built to be used in WWI but launched in 1919 instead. While it was supposed to serve as a tanker, the ship quickly fell out of favor and was instead moved to Aptos. The Seacliff Amusement Corporation built a pier leading out to the ship, and later even added a dance floor, swimming pool, and cafe. However, the company soon went bankrupt, and the ship was left floating next to the fishing pier, slowly deteriorating over the years. Now, it acts as an artificial reef for local marine life. 

Visit, admire, and take pictures of this unusual Aptos attraction from afar, but don’t attempt to go near it—it’s not safe enough to do. 

Downtown Aptos brings smiles by way of doughnuts and pastries made fresh daily for your enjoyment.

Evening 

After your creepy excursion is over and done with, lighten the mood by heading to Downtown Aptos to take a stroll and grab a bite. If you aren’t quite hungry just yet, Downtown Aptos is also a great spot to rent a bike and pedal around. The district isn’t quite as busy as you would imagine a downtown to be, but it’s still a fun place to explore.

For a casual yet elegant dining experience, head to Cafe Sparrow. The restaurant is located in a historic Aptos post office and general store—it specializes in combining traditional French recipes with a California flair.

Feeling more Mediterranean? Enjoy dining at the delectable Zameen Mediterranean Cuisine. A casual stop with Moroccan-inspired decor and outdoor seats, this Aptos restaurant is going to be your favorite falafel spot in town.

Day 2

There’s nothing quite like seeing the sky blending from pink to orange, as the sun rises above the horizon.

Morning

Waking up by the beach—whether in an upscale hotel room or a tent—offers a feeling that can rarely be beaten. Watch the sunrise over the horizon, enjoy a hot cup of coffee as you soak your feet in the sand, and walk along the edge of the tranquil coast; the sounds of the waves will slowly get you ready for a new day in Aptos

Make sure you’ve had enough to eat because your day is off to an active start at the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. The park is named after a passionate nature lover and the mother of a Salinas family, whose children donated the 9,700-acre land in her memory to the state of California. Today, the park protects a secondary forest in the mountains and contains over 40 miles of trails to hike and explore.

The Bridge Creek Trail to Maple Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Aptos, winding through dense redwood forests, steep trails, canyons, bridges, and a couple of river crossings that require you to hop over rocks. The hike is 11.6 miles long, so be prepared to spend a couple of hours here. A quicker alternative would be the one-mile Vienna Woods Trail, which requires barely any effort to finish and packs in the forested scenery like it’s no one’s business.

There’s no better way to take advantage of warm weather than by planning a backyard picnic with your BFFs or S.O.

Afternoon

After a strenuous hike in the forest, a pleasant picnic at the Polo Grounds County Park feels just right. Lay out your blanket, bring out the snacks, and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin while residents walk their dogs, have their lunch breaks al fresco, and greet fellow locals.

Polo Grounds in Aptos has multiple soccer fields, ample parking, and a large dog park with a dedicated space for smaller canines. Walk the path around the park and you’ll come across a fairly unexpected surprise: A BMX pump track. However, you might want to stay off of it if you’re a novice rider. While the track is considered to be good for all levels, it’s geared towards advanced riders and could get a little tight for the intermediates.

A relaxing and rejuvenating getaway at quaint beach town is best concluded with watching the sunset at the pier. Until next time, Aptos!

Evening 

And just like that, your getaway to Aptos comes to an end. As you return to your abode for one last overnight snooze, don’t forget to appreciate the glistening moon reflecting on the waves of the Aptos beaches one last time. It might be time to wrap up your serene seaside escape, but the good news is that Aptos isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the town is growing and prospering day after day. Return soon and you’ll love discovering this small town anew—Aptos awaits.

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