11 Spots to Visit in Santa Cruz


When it comes to beachy summer getaways, Santa Cruz is the stuff childhood memories are made of. Twenty-nine miles of beaches packed with surfers waiting to catch the perfect swell, a walkable downtown area rife with eateries and quirky shops, and, of course, the iconic boardwalk with a 100-year-old seaside amusement park. Outdoorsy types will love Santa Cruz’s 14 state parks and all that Monterey Bay has to offer. While you are in town, make time for a stroll down the wharf’s pier (at 2,745 feet, it’s the longest in the U.S.) and enjoy the classic beachside gift shops, fresh seafood restaurants and cafes — the kids will love the barking sea lions. Here are a few ideas to kick your family getaway off right.

Capitola Village

A short drive from the heart of Santa Cruz, Capitola is known for its colorful waterfront buildings and quintessential seaside vibe, and it is a must visit. Stroll along the waterfront, stopping for snacks, a little shopping and a dip in the sea. There are tons of beachfront restaurants and bars to choose from, so be sure and grab a seat (and drink) for golden hour. 

Dream Inn
175 W. Cliff Drive

Located right on the beach in the heart of Santa Cruz, this is the place to be if you want to be in the middle of it all: midcentury-inspired decor, family-focused pool area and an air of playfulness that kids will love. The on-site eatery, Jack O’Neill, has live music in the evenings and huge windows with fantastic views of the beach and pier.

Roaring Camp
5401 Graham Hill Road, Felton

Choose from the Redwood Forest Steam Train (75 minutes) or the Santa Cruz Beach Train (3 hours) and then sit back, relax and take in the sites. Both trips offer a look into Santa Cruz’s storied past as well as a peek at what life was like around the turn of the 20th century. If you are looking for something extra special, book a seat for the Moonlight Dinner Party on August 13.

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
1305 E. Cliff Drive

Located above Seabright Beach (once known as Castle Beach), the museum explores the evolution of plant, animal and human life stretching from the bay to the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Don’t miss the Remembering Castle Beach exhibit, on display until August 21.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center
100 McAllister Way

Both kids and adults will love the unique opportunity to visit a working marine laboratory. See the largest blue whale skeleton in the world, pet the sharks and other sea creatures in the touch tanks, observe the aquarium teeming with life from the bay, and so much more.

The Penny Ice Creamery
913 Cedar Street

No beach vacation is complete without enjoying a scoop (or two) of ice cream in the afternoon sun. We love this shop because everything is made in-house from organic dairy and sustainably grown products. The open kitchen offers a front-row look at how the small-batch, seasonal flavors are made. Yum!


When you need a break from the kids’ pool, saltwater taffy and boogie boarding, these sophisticated spots offer a quiet reprieve.

Abbott Square Market
705 Front Street

Anchored by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, the bustling area offers plenty to do. Pop into the museum for your culture fix, enjoy the interactive public art outside and then grab a bite and a cocktail at one of the cafes in the square. Want to hear live music? This is the place —check the website’s calendar to see who’s playing.

1917 Mission Street

When you need a parents’ night out on the town book a dinner reservation here (takeout is also available). The farm-to-table eatery offers California cuisine at its finest — organic, sustainable and pasture-raised. Order anything on the menu, it’s all delicious.

Big Basin Tasting Room
525 Pacific Avenue

The recently opened spot features a taste of the organic, mountain-grown wines this winery is known for — at the beach. Grab a seat outside and try a flight, a glass or a bottle paired with locally sourced bites. It’s located right in the heart of downtown and walkable from the many nearby accommodations.

Flower Bar
912 Cedar Street

This coffee shop meets wine bar meets flower shop is a little slice of heaven. Whether you are looking for a latte and croissant or a glass of wine and a gourmet sandwich, this is your go-to. And while the bouquet of flowers is optional, the truffles are not — grab some to go.

O’Neill Yacht Charters
275 Lake Avenue

What is a beach holiday without getting out on the water? O’Neill’s offers public and private charters and a variety of packages depending on whether you prefer a day or evening sail. There are even wine tasting and local beer sampling sails. Kids are welcome, too.