The people in Santa Cruz are, how should I say it, “unique”… to say the least. When I went there recently I felt I had stepped into a hip but also hippie-ish, cutting edge yet stuck-in-the-’60s kind of town. I say “town” because Santa Cruz has a population of only about 60,000. Yet there are tons of things to do in Santa Cruz.
Yet for such a small town, Santa Cruz has a big reputation. Many Californians think of it as a sort of mecca for surfers, free spirits, and nature lovers – in other words, an ideal place for a weekend getaway. In a nutshell, Santa Cruz is kind of a Pink Floyd meets Pink sort of place.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
An historic seaside amusement park, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk was named “Best Seaside Amusement Park” by Amusement Today magazine. So of course there is everything there you expect at a seaside boardwalk – games, arcades, Dime Toss, Milk Bottles, and Shoot Out the Star. Among the various things to do in Santa Cruz, this probably draws the most tourists.
The big draw is The Dipper, a famous wooden rollercoaster that is sure to make you scream. Speaking of screaming, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s newest attraction is the Haunted Castle, tucked into the dark recesses under the wharf. There is also a beautifully restored 100-year old carousel and a tower ride. Entrance to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is free; rides and games are extra.
The beaches along the Santa Cruz coast come in all sizes and personal tastes. There is a clothing optional beach, a family beach, a dog beach, and a beach where you can build a bonfire. Natural Bridges State Beach is named after a natural rock formation right off shore – but hurry to go see it, because there used to be three of these natural rock bridges. There is only one left.
Santa Cruz is famous for its surfing, and nowhere is that more evident than at Mavericks. Some of the biggest, wildest waves in California draw many surfers and even more spectators to Mavericks. Watching those surfers dip in and out of the roiling surf will entertain even the most jaded tourist.
If you’re into shopping and browsing in quaint stores, Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz is the perfect thing to do for you. On this tree-lined street are boutiques, a great bookstore called Bookshop Santa Cruz, places to eat or get coffee, a cookie company, movie theater, and lots more. Pacific Avenue is great when you want a break from the sea and sand.
Day Trip from Santa Cruz
Take a leisurely day drive up historic Highway 9 to see redwoods, a state park, cute little towns, antique stores, and a haunted hotel.
Drive up Hwy 9 through Felton to Ben Lomond and stop at the Ben Lomond Market to pick up supplies for a picnic. I was really impressed with the variety in this store. Definitely take a look at the cheeses. I haven’t seen this kind of a selection of cheeses practically since I was in France. Pick up some fresh produce, some BBQ from the man outside, cookies, a Mountain Man sandwich, drinks, and you’re set to go. If you come up Hwy. 17 and cut over to Hwy. 9, stop at the Scotts Valley Market. I haven’t been there, but hear it’s even better than the Ben Lomond Market.
Continue on and stop in Brookdale to tour the haunted Brookdale Lodge. The person at the front desk was very nice about letting us walk through the nearly-deserted lodge. In the old days, stars like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and others came up here for R&R. In those days this area was considered the Catskills of California.
Before you walk around, pick up a flyer and read through the Lodge’s history, including the Mafia stories and haunted room 46 stories. Walk through the Brook Room restaurant – a restaurant where a real brook flows through it. When we were there, the restaurant wasn’t open for business (they’re looking for a chef), and the deserted restaurant had a chilly dampness to it… a perfect scenario for a ghost to walk across the bridge over the brook. I won’t say what we experienced there — don’t want to pre-condition your mind, but suffice it to say that some weird things happened to us when we were there.
Drive on up the road to Boulder Creek, an old logging town, where the road splits into three. The drive up Hwy 9 is beautiful, by the way, winding itself through redwood forests, by brooks, and over bridges. Take Hwy 236 to go to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where you can stop and have lunch, walk around and see the trees, and enjoy each other’s company. Alternatively, you can continue up Hwy 9 to Castle Rock State Park and return to Santa Cruz via Hwy 35 and Hwy 17.
No matter what things you choose to do in Santa Cruz, you are sure to have an interesting, fun, relaxing vacation with your family, friend, or significant other. Before you go, check Travelocity or Trip Advisor for hotels and restaurants. Trip Advisor also has more information on things to do in Santa Cruz.