In my opinion, there aren’t many things better than walking along a sandy beach as the tide rolls over your toes. Cue in that fresh breeze and the smell the sun on your skin, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. You can get all that and more in Santa Cruz, California, a coastal town that’s definitely a must-see on the west coast.
Here are 8 Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California:
#1: Take a Roller Coaster Ride at the Historic Beach Boardwalk
A family-owned company since 1907, the Santa Cruz boardwalk and amusement park is the oldest in California, yes even older than Disneyland! The amusement park is nestled right on the sandy beach, where sun-bathers can grab a quick carnival-inspired snack or take a thrilling ride on a roller coaster. While the amusement park only runs on Saturdays and Sundays, the gates are always open for visitors to roam around.
As I was strolling through it, I could only imagine what this place was like in the hustle and bustle days a century ago. The owners of the Beach Boardwalk make it a priority to bring entertainment to its visitors at a reasonable price, which is a breath of fresh air when you live in the most expensive state! The arcade that’s located next door to the amusement park was reasonable, at about 50 cents a game and parking for the entire day in the main Boardwalk parking lot was only $5.
#2: Play a Round of Mini-Golf at Neptune’s Kingdom
What I love about this whole historic boardwalk area of Santa Cruz is the nautical theme. From the two-story mini golf course at Neptune’s Kingdom to the souvenirs you can win from your arcade tickets, you’ll feel like you’re spending the day on a pirate ship when visiting here.
Even though I’m in my mid-20s, I still enjoy the ‘kiddish’ things like mini golf and arcades and Neptune’s Kingdom doesn’t disappoint in this area. If I’m feeling like acting my age though, there’s the Captain’s Game Deck area upstairs where billiards, ping pong, air hockey, snacks and beer await. Neptune’s Kingdom is open every day until 10 PM, 11 PM on Friday & Saturday.
#3: Take a Stroll on the Santa Cruz Wharf
North of the beach boardwalk is the Santa Cruz Wharf, originally built in 1914. After 6 additions to the pier, it now reigns as the longest in California, extending over a half mile out into the Pacific Ocean.
The Wharf brings another piece of entertainment to the Santa Cruz area. Visitors can ren kayaks and surfing equipment at the stand near the entrance to the Wharf.
Along with shopping for souvenirs, 10 different restaurants exist on the Wharf as well. Indulge in fresh clam chowder and crab legs as you gaze out at the Pacific. Listen to the squeals of the seagulls flying by and watch the unique marine life splash out in the water.
#4: Watch Sea Lions
All good wharfs on the west coast have areas where sea lions can be observed. The most popular one in California is definitely Pier 39 in San Francisco. The best part about Santa Cruz is that it’s not nearly as busy as San Francisco so you’ll get a better view of the marine life. This Wharf also has openings in the dock for visitors to look underneath, adding a unique experience.
I could’ve spent hours here watching these adorable things. Some choose to sunbathe, others splash around in the water. Some fight with every sea lion they come in contact with, mostly over who gets the better spot. If you love marine life, this is the perfect area to soak it in.
#5: Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Marini’s Munchies
In the early 1900s, an Italian immigrant arrived in Santa Cruz with his family to start a new life. A year after the wharf was built, that same man decided to buy a popcorn stand from one of his customers. The location was based at the newly-constructed Boardwalk. Now, over 100 years later, that popcorn stand has transformed into a candy shop called Marini’s Munchies.
I’m a huge sweet lover, like the type who will eat an entire dinner full of Kit-Kat’s and Reese’s Cups. I could’ve went absolutely insane in this shop but I restricted myself to just ice cream. If you’re not feeling ice cream, Marini’s also has a full espresso and candy stand with every sweet imaginable. I highly recommend the salt water taffy, it’s to die for!
#6: Play Volleyball at Main Beach
Dispersed around Santa Cruz’s soft sand are multiple volleyball nets open to the public. With the views of the Pacific, Boardwalk and Wharf all in one, it’s the perfect spot for an outdoor activity while at the beach.
#7: Dip Your Toes in the Pacific at Cowell Beach
While Santa Cruz’s Beach Boardwalk lines up to a stretch of sandy beach, a more stunning spot is on the opposite side of the Wharf.
Walk under the dock to cool off and hear the sounds of sea lions. Feel the fresh sand under your toes as you walk along the shoreline. Take a seat along the colorful edge of the cliffs that hug the beach to relax with the views for a while.
#8: Watch the Sunset at Shark’s Fin Cove
Since Santa Cruz sits within a cove on the northern part of Monterey Bay, the view from the Boardwalk faces south. Because of this, to catch a good sunset drive along Highway 1 to the north. About 11 miles from Santa Cruz is the most gorgeous settings you could watch a sunset from.
Thousands of years ago, the Shark’s Fin, was part of the cliff that encloses the beach here. With crashing waves, heavy winds and storms, that cliff slowly eroded into what is standing today.
Another amazing feature of this area is the Sea Cave. Sometimes the tides roll back far enough to reach the other side, catching a glimpse of the Shark’s Fin.
After living in California for 2 years, this is still my favorite place to watch the sunset!
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