Santa Cruz – Explore This Cali Surf Town


Santa Cruz is one of my favorite places in the Bay Area, and the closest beach to South Bay. Santa Cruz has the cool California surfer bro vibe with bikes and surfboards parked all over town. There is a ton to do and enjoy in Santa Cruz.

Need to Know:

Currency: US Dollar

Language: English


SJC – San Jose International

SFO – San Francisco

Electrical Outlets: 120V supply voltage and 60Hz

Planning Your Trip

Accommodation – The main hotel in Santa Cruz is the Dream Inn, located right on Cowell Beach. I have stayed here and it is absolutely lovely, especially with an ocean view room. There are also a decent amount of Airbnb options in the area.

Getting Around – I have always driven to Santa Cruz, but there is really only one road (CA-17 S) in and out of the city, so be sure to check the traffic and try to avoid peak hours. Parking can be difficult, especially close to the beach, so once you find a good spot, try to walk or even rent bikes to get around! A couple of my go-to spots to park are Cowell’s Surf Shop ($20 for the day) or the depot parking near the Bicycle Trip Bike Park.

Santa Cruz Beach
Dream Inn Santa Cruz
Wilder Ranch State Park Santa Cruz

Things to See and Do in Santa Cruz

Beach and Boardwalk: The boardwalk is an iconic Santa Cruz sight. This is a popular spot for kids and families to check out the rides and play some of the carnival games. You can also hang out on the Santa Cruz Beach, although it is pretty chilly so be prepared with a wetsuit if you want to swim or surf. I also recommend checking out the pier where you will often find sea lions hanging out under the end of the pier.

Lighthouse Point Park and Surfing Museum: A great way to watch surfers and take in the view of the ocean is to walk along W Cliff Drive. There is a nice path next to the road that lines the cliffs. You will see a beautiful lighthouse at Lighthouse Point with a historic surfers museum that you can check out for free.

Wilder Ranch State Park: A great place to go for a hike and see some stunning natural features. This park offers great views of the coast line and even access to a private little cove beach (all though not so private on a busy sunny day). I would definitely recommend hiking the Old Cove Landing Trail to Ohlone Bluff Trail for 2.5 miles of spectacular views of the ocean. The park has plenty of parking for $10, or you can park on the street and walk into the park. 

Shark Fin Cove: Just north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, check out Shark Fin Cove in Davenport. This iconic rock is visible just a few steps off the road. There are hiking trails that connect on top of the cliffs where you can wander and explore. You can also climb down to the beach cove where you can see the shark fin rock. Make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear because it is truly a climb with precarious footing. 

Take a Surf Lesson: Ever wanted to learn to surf? Cowell’s beach is a great place to learn and there are many companies that offer surf lessons. Beware that the water is VERY cold, but you just rent a wetsuit and dive in. You’ll get used to it. 

Wilder Ranch State Park
Lighthouse Point Park
Santa Cruz Surfing

My Favorite Bars and Restaurants in Santa Cruz

Taqueria Los Pericos This is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. Just a little corner spot, hardly any seating, but the tacos de pollo are to die for.
Shanty Shack Brewing A great brewery with outdoor seating and occasional live music.
Marianne's Ice Cream A famous ice cream shop with tons of flavors.
Linda's Seabreeze Cafe A great spot for brunch!
Shadowbrook This popular restaurant is known for having a cable car to get to and from the dining area. The restaurant has multiple dining areas with unique vibes
Los pericos Taqueria
Shanty Shack Brewing
Marianne's Ice Cream

More beach destinations to explore!


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