In all of the states in the U.S., we are confident enough to say that California aka “The Golden State” is the one that all tourists must visit. From its pristine beaches to Hollywood, there’s just a lot to uncover in California and it should not be surprising why this state is very popular among tourists from other parts of the globe and from those residing in the U.S. It’s a pretty big state as well so it’s hard to pick which city or county to visit on your trip to it. We’ve tackled numerous cities in California before and now it’s time to talk about one of the most popular cities it has to offer and that is none other than the Surf City, Santa Cruz.

The city of Santa Cruz is the largest city and is the county seat of Santa Cruz County. It is located 51 km south of San Jose and 120 km south of San Francisco. It is known for its natural environment, great weather, liberal culture, beaches, tourism, and more. As a city by the bay, it is the top spot for sunbathing and of course, surfing.

Santa Cruz History

As a settlement, Santa Cruz was made as the home of the Awaswa natives. The indigenous group lived in the area up until the arrival of Spanish explorers in the early 1600s. It began to turn into the city that we see today when Elihu Anthony arrived in the area in 1847. As one of the key people in its development, he was responsible for opening many firsts in Santa Cruz including a Protestant Church, blacksmith foundry, wharf, and more. Most notably, he also laid the foundation for the first commercial blocks in the downtown area. Along with Frederick A. Hihn, Elihu kickstarted the first water supply network in the city.

By 1881, the first railroad lines in Santa Cruz were established. This provided a huge boost to the city’s economy as it provided access for the city’s abundant sources for various goods including timber and limestone. The city also played a huge part in the Civil War with the California Powder Works plant which provided gunpowder.

In the next century, Santa Cruz became the icon for social activism. The city’s liberal ways and progressiveness made it popular among young adults and teenagers alike. This attitude also laid the foundation for many laws in Santa Cruz. Some of the crucial results of the activism include the community becoming a nuclear-free zone in 1998 and the Santa Cruz becoming the first in the U.S. to denounce the Iraq War in 2003.

To this date, Santa Cruz remains a strong force in activism. If you are visiting the city, you’ll not only see some amazing sights and views, you’ll also come across lively and free-spirited people. Its history and fighting spirit aside, it is now time to check out some of the important things you should know before visiting Surf City.

How To Get To Santa Cruz

There are many ways to get to Santa Cruz. If you are in other California cities or in nearby states, you could drive to Santa Cruz by taking CA Highway 17 from San Jose or on CA Highway from the north or south. We highly recommend this method as it will take you on a trip to the best of the best sights in California.

If you are coming from somewhere far off, don’t fret as there are several airports nearby and these are San Jose Airport and Monterey Airport. These airports offer domestic and international flights. From these airports, you can simply rent-a-car or take a bus to get to Santa Cruz. We recommend the latter so you can travel at your own pace.

Budget For Santa Cruz, California

Staying in Santa Cruz is relatively cheap. Keep in mind that the city is made for tourists so there are many budget hotels to choose from. If you are here, you may want to bring a lot of money for food as there are many great restaurants in the city as well.

The daily budget for the city is $100. You’ll spend at least $50 on the room and the rest will be for food, drinks, transportation and more. If you look well enough, you can get rooms at a cheaper price. Some can go as low as $30 so be sure to plan your trips ahead to see these great deals. Most of the cheapest hotels are near the beach. You can find the luxury hotels nearby as well. We suggest going for budget hotels as you are most likely going to spend most of your time outside anyway.

Best Time To Visit Santa Cruz, California

It’s not just Santa Cruz, but the entire state of California is always flocked by tourists. When going to its many cities, you should consider the influx of tourists first as this will highly affect the prices on hotels and airfare.

The best time to visit Santa Cruz is from September through November. During these months, summer tourists have already packed their bags and you can expect more room on the beaches as well. The temperature is more bearable during this time as well as it plays at around the 67-76 mark.

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The most popular time to visit on the other hand is from July to August, or the summer season. The weather is hot and the sun is always up, meaning its the perfect time to go to the beach at this time. The downside is that hotel rates are higher the usual. Of course, there are more tourists than usual as well.

Now that you know the important parts of visiting Santa Cruz, you now need to see which of these spots are truly worth visiting.

Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California

In Santa Cruz, California, you will never run out of things to do. It’s not a surprise, though, as it is the largest city in Santa Cruz County. So it sure has a lot to offer. But with so many things to do in Santa Cruz, it can be a bit overwhelming, especially for travelers who only have a limited time to spend traveling this city.

Don’t worry much, though, we got your back. We listed some of the most recommended things to do in Santa Cruz so it would be easier for you to plan your itinerary. In case you still need more activities to add on your list, here’s a rundown of some of the most recommended things to do in Santa Cruz, California.

1Go on a dolphin and whale watching cruise

A humpback whale at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Source)

Usually, when we travel by sea, it is unusual to spot some ocean wildlife. There’s often a little to zero chance of spotting them. But it’s not a problem when you’re in Santa Cruz. As a matter of fact, dolphin, whale, and other ocean wildlife sightseeing are one of the popular and most recommended things to do in Santa Cruz, California.

Santa Cruz is located right next to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Hence, it’s easy to spot sea life. You’ll see humpback whales, gray whales, killer whales, and so much more sea creatures migrating. You can even get to see blue whales. Each of them has their own migrating season so be sure to time your visit.

2Probe the Mystery Spot

Visitors looking into the Mystery Spot (Source)

Examining the Mystery Spot is one of the most recommendable things to do in Santa Cruz too. Discovered in 1939. this place has since garnered a lot of attention because of how objects and people seem to appear to be tilted even if you attempt to stand up straight. Even scientists can’t exactly explain what causes this phenomenon.

There are theories, though. Some say that cones of metal were buried here in secret to serve as a “guidance” for spacecraft. On the other hand, speculations say that it is because of carbon dioxide passing through from the earth, others say it’s because of the hole in the ozone layer. There are also people who believe that it is caused by a magma vortex.

But with all of these theories, no one has proven it yet. One thing is for sure, though, it is a unique and a must-see place in Santa Cruz. Question the laws of physics and add this place to your travel itinerary.

3See Santa Cruz Shakespeare

Actors performing Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Source)

Love theater performances and Shakespeare’s works? Why not see both combined? If you want to see the plays written by Shakespeare come to life, seeing Santa Cruz Shakespeare is one of the most recommended things to do in Santa Cruz.

Founded in 2014, Santa Cruz Shakespeare is an annual theater festival in Santa Cruz, California. Here, you can get to see Shakespeare’s plays being performed by professional theater actors. You can bring your own food in The Glen, an outdoor theater venue where you can get to see they Shakespearean plays.

The festival runs from mid-July to August so if you want to see it, might as well time your visit ahead. Also, note that the ticket prices depends on the seating section. Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended as well.

4Visit a Surfing Museum

Inside the Surfing Museum (Source)

Museums are one of the common attractions in almost all cities in the world. However, these museums are often historical, arts, and science museums. Sure, they’re all fun, interactive, and they let you get a glimpse of a certain place’s past. But have you heard of a surfing museum?

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The world has only nearly 20 surfing museums that are open to the public. Luckily, Santa Cruz has one of such rare museums, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, and it’s one of the most recommended things to do in Santa Cruz, California.

Known as the first surfing museum in the world, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is filled with lots of remarkable surf memorabilia. Some of it even dates back to 1930s. The best part of it is that it is well-situated in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse where you can get to enjoy some of the breathtaking views in Santa Cruz. Feel the cool breeze, soak up the panoramic view of the sea, and explore a rare museum; you’ll sure love it here.

5Hit the beach

A signboard at Greyhound Rock County Park (Source)

A trip to Santa Cruz won’t be complete without going to the beach. Santa Cruz is in California and we all know that California is filled to the brim with stunning beaches. Hence, you shouldn’t miss the city’s beaches too. What’s even better is that Santa Cruz also has beaches for everyone. Here are some Santa Cruz beaches that we can recommend.

Natural Bridges State Beach

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The famous rock formation at Natural Bridges State Beach (Source)

Known for its iconic natural beauty, Natural Bridges State Beach is one of the best places to be if you’re looking for a place to relax. Here, you can also enjoy bird watching as its location gives the best views of migrating birds and even whales. At times, otters and seals can be spotted playing offshore too. In addition to that, it has tide pools that you can enjoy as well. There is also a park near the beach and during springtime, it is filled with vibrant flowers. And from mid-October to mid-February, you can get to see lots of monarch butterflies too.

Main Beach

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The view of Main Beach just beside Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Source)

Main Beach is one of the popular beaches in Santa Cruz. It’s the perfect place to go to if you want to swim or just get a good tan. The best part of it is that this place is safe for kids as the waves are much more relaxing. There are sand volleyball courts as well so you won’t get bored.

And if you’re already here, why not head on to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk after? Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is located adjacent to the Boardwalk. It has a good mix of rides that people of all ages will surely enjoy.

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Cowell Beach

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What the waves are like at Cowell Beach (Source)

Cowell Beach is also one of the most popular beaches in Santa Cruz. However, if you’re looking for a relaxing spot, this might not be the right for you. Apparently, Cowell Beach is much more recommended for adventurous people. While there are lifeguards on site, it’s not that suggested for travelers who have kids with them due to its current. Unlike the Main Beach, Cowell Beach has bigger waves that are much suitable for surfers and bodyboarders.

Greyhound Rock Coastal Fishing Access

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Greyhound Rock Coastal Access (Source)

Going to Greyhound Rock Coastal Fishing Access is also one of the most recommended things to do in Santa Cruz for those who love to surf. However, like Cowell Beach, its waters are not recommended for families, especially if you have kids with you as the Greyhound Rock Coastal Fishing Access is a shark area. Don’t worry, though. You can still enjoy this beach as it has picnic tables if you want to go on a picnic. Plus, there are also hiking trails if you’re in for some outdoor activity.

6Get closer to sea lions or even whales

Sea lions chilling at Santa Cruz wharf (Source)

We don’t often get to see sea lions and whales up close and personal. But, apparently, you can do it at Santa Cruz and it’s also one of the most recommended things to do in Santa Cruz, California.

If you’ll stroll the boardwalk and go down to the wharf, you can get to see lots of sea lions. But what makes Santa Cruz’s boardwalk worth-strolling all the more is that aside from these sea dogs, you can also get a chance to see humpback whales if you’ll scan the ocean, especially during spring and fall season. And have we mentioned that you can also get to see elephant seals and dolphins too? However, unlike sea lions and whales, you can get to see these creatures all year round.

And if it’s not enough, you can get even closer to them. Just sign up for kayak tours being offered by Venture Coast Santa Cruz. With this, you can get closer to sea lions and otters and you don’t have to worry about the equipment as they will be provided by the tour coordinators.

These activities are just the tip of the iceberg. The city still has a lot of attractions and activities waiting to be explored nd tried out. Even so, we’re sure that these activities will already make your Santa Cruz trip a fun and memorable one. So if you’re traveling to California, don’t forget to check out Santa Cruz. You won’t just get to fill your eyes with the best sights to see but you can also take home some good memories with you with the fun-filled and unique activities that this city from the Golden State.