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Top Santa Cruz Attractions You Can't Miss
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Top Santa Cruz Attractions You Can't Miss

From the iconic boardwalk to the best organic ice cream shop, these are the top Santa Cruz Attractions you can’t miss.

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5 min read

October 13, 2021

It’s not hard to see why Santa Cruz is becoming a bustling hotspot in California. There's a lot to love about the county, so much so that words won’t do it justice. But if there’s one thing to admire most in this gorgeous Central Coast county is that it boasts many attractions that are totally worthwhile to check out. From the iconic boardwalk to the best organic ice cream shop, these are the top Santa Cruz attractions you can’t miss. 

These Are The Coolest Places To Go In Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is an amusement park that offers a variety of games and rides right on a mile-long stretch of sandy beach.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk is perhaps the most legendary spot in the city and one of the coolest in all of California. Built in 1907, the boardwalk is known as the Coney Island of the West; it’s also the oldest standing amusement park in the country. Two of its rides—the Giant Dipper and The Carousel—are recognized as national landmarks. With all the adrenaline-inducing rides, super-fun arcade games, lively music, and good food, you’ll want to check out all the exciting things to do at this famous boardwalk.

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Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum opened its doors to the public in 1986. Located at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, the museum features exhibits on display portraying the origins of the sport in Hawaii as well as more than 100 years of surfing in Santa Cruz. The more you know about the surf scene, the more you’ll appreciate riding the waves.

Natural Bridges State Beach is named for the natural arch in the huge rock and is one of the most photographed places in the world.

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach combines scenic views with perfect surfing conditions. The rock arches at this gorgeous stretch of sand provide the ideal spot for a photoshoot, especially during sunset. The waters invite surfers, windsurfers, and swimmers to enjoy a full day of fun activities. Not that you need more convincing, but we’ll add that Natural Bridges just so happens to be the home of a monarch butterfly migration preserve—yup, you’re definitely adding this place on your Santa Cruz beach day itinerary.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park features an abundant birdlife, including Steller's jays, egrets, herons, and acorn woodpeckers.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

When it comes to state parks, California is always at the top of the game. And you may not agree, but we’ll go ahead and argue that out of all the places, Santa Cruz has the best of them, starting with Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This state park was established in 1902 and is the oldest in the state. Some of the redwoods here are said to be more than 2,000 years old—some are even taller than the Statue of Liberty. With 81 miles of trails surrounded by beautiful sceneries and magnificent waterfalls, the state park offers the perfect conditions for hiking, biking, and camping. Did we mention that Big Basin is one of the best places to stargaze in Northern California? Now that’s a game-changer.

The original purpose of building the Santa Cruz Wharf was for shipping potatoes to S.F. for mining camps in the Sierra Nevada during the Gold Rush.

Santa Cruz Wharf

One of the can’t-miss things to do in Santa Cruz is visiting the wharf. Seagulls, sea lions, dolphins, and whales visit the wharf as frequently as tourists. One thing you can’t miss out on is trying the chowder—don’t forget to check out the souvenir shops either. And when you’re done buying gifts for your friends and family, go kayaking on the water and enjoy Santa Cruz at its finest. 

Steamer Lane

Steamer Lane is yet another Central Coast surf spot that you can’t miss. Epic 10-foot peaks unload on the shores, challenging even the best surfers in the world. Seeing world-renowned athletes riding the waves at Steamer Lane is pretty common—you’ll encounter plenty of surfers practicing their skills here. But if you’re just getting started at the sport, be careful; the waves could get dangerous pretty quickly.

Underrated Places To Visit in Santa Cruz

The Bigfoot Discovery Museum features tchotchkes from the 1970s Bigfoot boom, and the 1980s resurrection with Harry and the Hendersons memorabilia.

Bigfoot Discovery Museum

Will we ever confirm that Bigfoot is an urban legend or a fact? Decide for yourself and visit the Bigfoot Discovery Museum to find answers. The museum has local sighing maps, hominid skulls, footprint casts, and tons of evidence on display that could possibly change your mind if you’ve doubted the mysterious creature’s existence. Let your friends tag along to help clear things out for them at this strange museum in the Golden State.

West Cliff Drive Trail

Hiking may not exactly be your thing, but when we’re talking about the West Cliff Drive Trail, you just might change your mind. This four-mile oceanside trail is a dreamlike Pacific Coast journey—it takes you through striking cliffs that make the ocean views look extra magical combined with the mist. Take your time enjoying the vistas and basking in the coastal air as you make your way through this top Santa Cruz tourist attraction.

The Penny Ice Creamery features locally farmed and organic ingredients. Photo courtesy of The Penny Ice Creamery.

The Penny Ice Creamery 

We all know someone who would drive all the way to Santa Cruz for the sole purpose of enjoying mouth-watering frozen bites at the Penny Ice Creamery. With two locations in Santa Cruz, the shop sells homemade and organic ice cream that’s extremely delicious—no wonder they’re considered one of the best ice cream brands in the Golden State. Give their plain vanilla and bergamot sorbet ice creams a go, and you too will be heading here more times than you'll ever admit.

DeLaveaga Park

DeLaveaga Park is the definition of a day well spent in the great outdoors. With bicycle paths, hiking trails, a golf course, sand volleyball court, and softball fields, you’ll be spending a super active day without even getting tired. And if you’d rather relax with your family, this park offers plenty of shaded areas. Kids can run around in the playgrounds, while dogs run freely in the designated areas. 

The arboretum site has great climatic and topographic diversity and a variety of soils. Photo courtesy of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden 

UC Santa Cruz has the most beautiful and diverse Arboretum and Botanic Garden you’ll ever visit. Rare plants from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and California grow on 135 acres of land, many of which can only be found in their country of origin. The 300-plus plant families represent thousands of species. Hurry up and visit this place—it’s one of California’s botanical gardens that are too beautiful to miss.

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