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Things To Do In Santa Cruz With Kids

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park And Mission Santa Cruz

13 Things to do in Santa Cruz: Beaches, Parks, Chocolate & Roller Coasters

Housing the oldest building that still exists in Santa Cruz, the site of the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park dates all the way back to 1791.

The park features historic exhibits about the original Mission Santa Cruz residents and the life of the California Indians. Theres a small relaxing garden and gift shop to enjoy as well.

Once youre done at the historic park, head over to the replica of the original Mission Santa Cruz to see a recreation of what the mission once looked like.

A visit to both the park and mission replica should take less than 30 minutes, but its a free experience and provides an interesting look at some of Santa Cruzs oldest history.

Things To Do In Santa Cruz

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Santa Cruz is a haven for those seeking a laid-back and more alternative lifestyle than in sprawling cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Beach and surf culture ooze from every street, shop and restaurant, all directing newly arrived visitors to Main Beach, Cowell Beach and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, where you will find most of the things to do in Santa Cruz.

Situated a mere 70 miles from San Francisco and the Bay Area, Santa Cruz is near enough for a day trip and far enough to unwind away from the daily grind completely. Perfect for families, intrepid urban explorers or lonely travellers backpacking through California, Santa Cruzs treasure trove of fantastic sights and activities to enjoy are virtually unlimited. From the picturesque Santa Cruz Mountains to the entertaining performances of Shakespeare in Santa Cruz, the city offers plenty to keep yourself busy and entertained as you enjoy the best California has to offer.


Walton Lighthouse And Santa Cruz Harbor

Located at the end of Seabright Beach, the Walton Lighthouse was built in 2001 and offers stunning views of the ocean and beach beside it.

Youre not able to go inside the lighthouse, but this is one of my favorite Santa Cruz spots to take pictures from. After walking around the lighthouse, you can chill out at one of the best beaches in Santa Cruz Seabright Beach.

The lighthouse is also near the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Aldos Restaurant, my favorite breakfast place in Santa Cruz. Make sure to spend some time walking around the beautiful Santa Cruz Harbor as well.

If you walk to the other side of the harbor, stop in at one of the most popular fine dining restaurants in Santa Cruz, the Crows Nest.

Java Junctionnearby is also a good place to grab an iced coffee or smoothie and sit out on the beach.

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Play At The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Surround yourself in endless summer vibes at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Picture this cool ocean breeze, classic amusement park attractions and a crazy variety of fried foods served on a stick! It is easily the most memorable of the things to do in Santa Cruz with kids.

Ride the Giant Dipper, the classic wooden rollercoaster that has been thrilling riders 1924. Wander the walkways while noshing on caramel apple chips. Afterwards engage in competition for giant stuffed animals in the carnival games.

Toss brass rings grabbed while riding horse back on the antique Looff Carousel. Then head down to the sand for Bands on the Beach or an Outdoor Movie Night.

Should you hear the smack of a volleyball just outside the Casino Arcade, there could be a match gearing up at the nets. Other fun activities in the area include mini golf at Buccaneer Bay and Boardwalk Bowl.

Take a drive up the coast and discover the best things to do in San Francisco with kids.

Travel Through Time At Roaring Camp

8 Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California

Roaring Camp Railroad is where history dives into modernity. The authentically preserved 19th-century steam engines take you through two separate routes the first takes you to Bear Mountain and the second to the beach. These locomotives were once used to haul big redwood logs out of the mountains. But, what if youre in Santa Cruz with kids? Well, you can gift them the experience of a lifetime by buying them tickets to the Roaring Camp Kids Club. Your kids then can ride trains, pan for gold, and enjoy all the clubs activities. With every activity checked off their list, they take a step closer to prizes that include a sheriffs badge and a train whistle.

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Where To Stay In Santa Cruz

While we typically make Santa Cruz a day trip, there are many overnight options from rental homes to hotels. I think one of the best Santa Cruz hotels on the beach is The Dream Inn. This beachfront hotel on West Cliff Drive is just steps from the boardwalk, all rooms have an ocean view, and theres an outdoor pool just steps from the sand. We booked this hotel to start our Highway 1 road trip a few years ago and then had to cancel due to the pandemic. I am still looking to find a weekend to stay here!

Day : Breakfast On The Beach

Before heading home on your last day, swing by Gayles Bakery to sample their famous croissants and pastries. Bring your delicious breakfast with you to Capitola Beach to enjoy with a beautiful ocean view.

Wander through Capitola Village before you go. Its the perfect place to pick up a souvenir to remember your awesome Santa Cruz weekend.

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Wine Tasting In The Santa Cruz Mountains

One of those underrated things to do near Santa Cruz is to go wine tasting!

Most people dont realize that there are actually really good wine tasting opportunities in Santa Cruzs backyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Really, theres no need to go all the way to Napa.

In fact, I actually prefer the Santa Cruz Mountain wineries compared to Napa, mostly because theyre not quite as pretentious as Napa wineries.

Spend an afternoon checking out some of the best local wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, such as Regale, Loma Prieta, and Picchetti.

And its not just the wine thats worth the journey, all of these wineries provide stunning views or beautiful properties to sip on a chilled glass of chardonnay or tasty pinot noir.

Read my full guide to wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Take A Bike Ride Or Stroll Along West Cliff Drive

Have Fun in Santa Cruz’s South County!

On your way to the Surfing Museum, take some time to enjoy the natural beauty of West Santa Cruz. West Cliff Drive hugs the coast just south of a beautiful residential neighborhood and features a bike and walking path that’s separated from the street. Another great walking and biking path can be found to the east along the San Lorenzo Riverwalk.

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Santa Cruz Museum Of Art & History

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

A visit to The Museum of Art and History is another of the best things to do in Santa Cruz, California.

Attractions there include the many exhibitions and events they hold.

Some exhibits go on for a short time, while others may last for years.

The exhibits are a learning experience combined with fun activities.

No space is wasted at the Museum of Art and History.

They even use the roof for open-air exhibitions.

The museum hosts musical events and, sometimes, even interactive creative art events, too.

You can easily see that this museum is not just about viewing art and sculpture.

Their outdoor, public community space named Abbott Square, to which they refer as their front porch, allows visitors the choice of food from six different restaurants.

There are even two bars.

No matter where your interests may lie, there are always things to see and things to do to please everyone, including the locals who live near it and visit time and time again.

Fun things in Santa Cruz, California are never-ending.

You can easily see why its on the list of top things to do in Santa Cruz, CA.

Address: 705 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA

Find Butterflies At The Uc Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden

One of Santa Cruz’s best-known institutions is UC Santa Cruz, home of the Banana Slugs. On this hillside campus is the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden, which features a California Garden, an Australia Garden, a Butterfly Garden, and more!

Ride the Redwood Forest Train and learn the story of Roaring Camp. Photo courtesy of Roaring Camp Railroad

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Kayaking The Monterey Bay

If youre up for an adventure activity in Santa Cruz, Kayaking the Monterey Bay is one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz to get closer to the bustling sea life around the shore.

Whether you rent a kayak or go on a guided tour with a local company, this is one of the best ways to explore all that the Monterey Bay has to offer.

When kayaking around the Bay, its not uncommon to come across otters, seals, sea lions, pelicans, dolphins, whales, and a variety of other marine life that call the Monterey Bay home.

Natural Bridges State Park Beach

Fun things to do with Kids in Northern California

Address: 2531 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Natural Bridges State Beach is a beautiful park to watch for seals, otters, and birds playing offshore. In addition, visitors can often spot migrating whales from the beach. Most sightseers head down to the beach to see the public access tidepools.

These tidepools, at low tide, reveal the hidden underworld of life beneath the ocean. You can often see crabs, sea anemones, sea stars, and other life within the tidepools. These tide pools are filled with thousands of tiny marine creatures that must adapt to being fully submerged and then exposed to a dry and rocky shore as a continuous process.

They are protected by law, helping to maintain their natural state for generations. Head to Natural Bridges State Beach at low tide to view natures resiliency. Although the shoreline is beautiful, use common sense and safety as rogue waves can come out of nowhere and catch visitors by surprise.

In addition to the tidal pools, many visitors come to Natural Bridges State Beach during monarch migration. While the exact time of year differs depending on temperature and other factors, migration typically begins around mid-October. Therefore, its best to visit Natural Bridges in November or December to have the best chance to observe monarch butterflies on their long journey.

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Santa Cruz Roller Palladium

If you want to step back in time to the 1950s, head over to the Santa Cruz Roller Palladium.

The rink probably hasnt been updated since the 1950s when it first opened, but if youre okay with a retro no-frills atmosphere, lace up some skates and take them to the wooden floor.

They have a disco ball and theyre known to play cheesy classics from the 70s, 80s, and 90s like any good roller rink should. On weekends, they also usually include the limbo and hokey pokey at random times throughout the night.

At only $8 to skate, its one of the best cheap things to do in Santa Cruz and a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Where To Eat In Santa Cruz

Start your day with breakfast at casual Walnut Ave Cafe in downtown Santa Cruz voted the Citys Best Breakfast by Sunset Magazine. They offer indoor & outdoor dining and have delicious scrambles! Then pick up sandwiches & cookies at Emilys Good Things to Eat and enjoy a picnic on the beach or take it along on a hike. For an afternoon treat, head to The Penny Ice Creamery where all their ice cream is made from scratch in-house. They have traditional and creative flavors that change with the season and feature locally sourced organic ingredients. There are 2 locations in Santa Cruz and one recently opened in Scotts Valley .

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What To Do In Santa Cruz With Kids

Santa Cruz is a laid-back town with beach vibes at every turn. And when you need a break from the waves, its a short drive to redwood groves in the mountains.

Whether youre considering Santa Cruz as a destination for your next vacation or a quick road trip stop, read on for family-friendly activities and some great places to stay and eat.

Ive also added a sample four-day itinerary to help you imagine how all of these ideas can blend into an unforgettable family adventure.

All the places and activities mentioned can be found here on the post map.

See Santa Cruz By Sea

5 Reasons Why You Have to Visit Santa Cruz Boardwalk ( Secret to WIN TOYS)!

One way to really see Santa Cruz is by enjoying a cruise on the bay. While there are many companies that take families out daily, The Chardonnay Sailing Charters truly make the experience magical.

  • They offer chartered cruises to fit every interest: romantic sunset cruises, wildlife ecology cruises, afternoon pizza charters, Sunday champagne brunch, and much more!
  • Children of all ages are welcome on the boats, and the company follows strict safety policies.

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Go Hiking At Nisene Marks National Park

Nisene Marks Forest offers a cool, verdant retreat amid ancient redwoods, just off Highway 1 near Santa Cruz.

Known for its natural beauty and its ample assortment of family-friendly hiking trails, this is the perfect destination for a picnic and some time in the great outdoors.

Where to Go

While there are dozens of hiking trails in the park, families with kids love the easy Loma Prieta Grade Small Loop , the three-mile trail loop, and the popular, one-mile Vienna Woods Trail, which runs through a redwood grove and along a scenic little creek.

Recommended Age Groups

Nisene Marks National Park is the perfect out-of-doors destination for families with kids of all ages.

Even young kids will love running along the easy, accessible path that makes up Vienna Woods Trail. For older kids or more experienced hikers, paths like the 11-mile, moderate-intensity Bridge Creek Trail to Maple Falls are an excellent option.

Enjoy Live Jazz At Kuumbwa Jazz Center

If the grungy unkept venue that is The Catalyst doesnt sound like your style, another quality spot for live music is the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

This place is the polar opposite of The Catalyst, namely because its clean, organized, and classy.

If youre looking for a good date night or youre simply a fan of live jazz, head to Kuumbwa for some of the best jazz youll find in the city.

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Explore Life Under The Sea At Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Just tell your kids that theyre about to see one of the largest displayed Blue Whale skeletons in the world, and we assure you that theyll be jumping with excitement. Yes, you got that right, Ms. Blue, an 87-foot blue whale skeleton, is displayed at Santa Cruzs Seymour Marine Discovery Center for your family to see. Thats not all the center has to offer though. Inside the centers halls and aquariums, you and your children will discover life underwater a life so enchanting and fascinating, that youll be discussing it for days. This cant-miss Santa Cruz thing to do should be a top priority for families visiting the area.

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum And Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse

Things to Do in Santa Cruz, CA with Kids

Address: 701 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Whether you like surfing or even know what hang ten means, this surfing museum is one of many fun things to do in Santa Cruz, California. Located in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum houses over 100 years of surfing history.

The museums location overlooking international surfing hotspot Steamer Lane is the cherry on top. The lighthouse was built in 1967 to memorialize twenty-year-old surfer Mark Abbott. Abbott died at the Pleasure Point surf break while surfing.

The surfing museum was established almost twenty years later in 1986 to document the areas surfing history. As the first surfing museum in the world, it showcases artifacts from the beginning of the sport, including photographs, surfboards, and videos. Santa Cruz was first introduced to surfing by three Hawaiian princes in 1885, David Kawnanakoa, Edward Abnel Keliiahonui, and Jonah Khi Kalanianaole.

These princes surfed with plank boards at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. There is a plaque dedicated to the three princes at the surfing museum.

The museum showcases surfboards from different eras, from the enormous redwood planks in the 1930s-1940s to the short boards of the 1970s. The gift shop has plenty of surfing souvenirs and books for purchase.

Address: 100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

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Find Your Inner Child At Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Dont miss a chance to stop at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an oceanfront amusement park that operates 35 fun-filled rides.

Scream your lungs out on the Giant Dipper, an all-wooden roller coaster built nearly a century ago that delivers an exhilarating 55-mile-per-hour plunge. Afterward, hop on the Looff Carousel to calm your nerves and enjoy a birds-eye view of the city and neighboring Pacific.

Super Fun Things To Do In Santa Cruz With Kids

On the surface, Santa Cruz, CA looks like a Beach Boys tune come to life. Theres a thriving surf culture, ample space for beach volleyball and sandcastle building, and an amusement park just feet from the ocean waves.

But Santa Cruz is more than a year-round surfing safari. Creative, environmentally conscious, and filled with family-friendly fun, heres our top 10 list of things to do in Santa Cruz with kids.

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