Travel Tips

5 min read

Santa Cruz Unveiled: 30 Epic Local Secrets for Travelers

Dive into Santa Cruz like never before, with secrets only a local could spill—30 must-dos that promise to transform your travel tale into an epic adventure!

Tobi Miles
August 31, 2022

Credit:  Ro Tover Flickr

Santa Cruz is filled to the very brim with adventure and relaxation. All you have to do is call and reserve your spot for the finest attractions around. You won’t be disappointed after spending a few days trying out the local spots and learning the history of the city!

As you venture into Santa Cruz you will see that there are numerous attractions that you have at your finger tips. Some of the best places to visit while in Santa Cruz are the Mystery Spot, American Abalone Farms, Santa Cruz Wine Tour, Roaring Camp Railroads, Neptune’s Kingdom, Wilder Ranch State Park, and so much more!

You won’t get bored while visiting Santa Cruz if you consider visiting these locations. There is something for everyone and every occasion! If you are looking for food, entertainment, shopping, or to get into nature then you will have your needs met.

There isn’t a day that goes by in Santa Cruz that isn’t incredibly full and special.

Use this guide to plan your trip to Santa Cruz and get the most of each day you visit!

1. Mystery Spot

Credit: peahix / YouTube

📍Map It465 Mystery Spot Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95065 | Phone:(831) 423-8897  | Website | Hours:Open 7 Days A Week - 10 AM - 5 PM | Entrance: $10

During your visit to Santa Cruz, you won’t want to miss out on walking the trails at Mystery Spot. You will experience wild life at it’s rawest and see beautiful nature the whole way through. The guided tour is about a 45 minute walk through where you will be greeted by the kindest staff.

If you are looking for a chance to sumerge your family into nature for the day then the Mystery Spot is the place to go. There are hiking trails that you can roam around on after your tour and a gift shop to peruse! They even allow dogs on the hiking trails as long as they are on a leash! You will have a wonderful time visiting the Mystery Spot.

2. Wilder Ranch State Park

Credit: TripSavvy

📍Map It:1401 Coast Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone:(831) 423-9703  | Website | Hours:Open 7 Days A Week: 8:30 AM - 8 PM | Entrance: $10 Parking Fee

The Wilder Ranch will transport you back in time to the later 1800’s when you step foot on the land. This ranch has 7000 acres of land to be explored and a plethora of history to be learned. If you are looking for some exercise, there are over 35 miles worth of walking and hiking trails to be searched!

If you are searching for a history lesson then you must mosey over and explore the buildings such as the machine shop or even the 1897 Victorian Home. Dogs are no allowed at Wilder Ranch so be aware of that as you are planning your trip. Wilder Ranch is a wonderful field trip for your whole family.

Related Read: Top 20 Santa Cruz Hiking Trails

3. Santa Cruz Wine Tour

Credit: KimKim

📍Map It:1 Davenport Ave, Davenport, CA 95017 | Phone: 831-854-3243 | Website | Hours:Open 7 Days a Week: 10 AM - 8 PM | Entrance: $199 each person

Call your babysitter and reserve a spot on the Santa Cruz Wine Tour! The Santa Cruz Wine Tour is an experience you will remember for thenrest of your life! The tour will take you on a 2 and a half hour experience on a motorcycle ride! Don’t worry, you will be in the side car safely enjoying the experience without the worry of driving.

The tour will stop at 3 local wineries where you will get a wine tasting at each location! The Santa Cruz Wine Tour gives you a great opportunity to get out with your friends and enjoy a relaxing day outside. You will see ocean views and even the redwood forests! This won’t be something you want to miss out on.

4. Court Of Mysteries

Credit: Santa Cruz Waves

📍Map It:515 Fair Ave #380, Santa Cruz, CA 95060  | Website

Dive into some local curiosity and unknown facts about the Court Of Mysteries which is a home that was built in an unconventional manner. The owner of the house Kenneth Kitchen built the house solely at night by light of a lantern. The reason for this is unknown and has become a local conversation ever since. The house was built from brick and has a incredibly unique style to it.

This home has been rebuilt since and is a local attraction that is worth a drive by! There is no access to the land or the house but you are welcome to drive up and have a peek. It’s worth seeing as it is a unique piece of art.

Related Read: Best Time To Visit California

5. Santa Cruz Food Tour

Credit: santacruzfoodtour / YouTube

📍Map It:529 Chestnut St Suite 12, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone: (866) 736-6343 | Website Hours: Per Reservation | Entrance: $69

Experience Santa Cruz downtown in a whole new way with Santa Cruz Food Tours today! The tours last about four hours and you will have the pleasure of stopping at three different restaurants. This tour doesn’t just include food though! The tour also will leave you with a bit of a history lesson on downtown Santa Cruz.

It’s an experience to learn the history of Santa Cruz from some of the locals that work for Santa Cruz Food Tour. You won’t be disappointed when you spend your afternoon walking the downtown of Santa Cruz on a food tour.

6. Roaring Camp Railroads

Credit: Roaring Camp

📍Map It:5401 Graham Hill Rd, Felton, CA 95018 | Phone: (831) 335-4484 | Website | Hours: Open 7 Days A Week: 9 AM - 6 PM| Entrance: Adults: $39.95 Children: $24.95

Let’s step into the past and onto a steam train that transports you through the redwood forest! It’s a perfect way to spend your afternoon with your family! You will learn incredible history about the train itself and the land you are exploring. There are two different trains that you can ride; the Redwood Forest Steam Train and the Santa Cruz Beach Train.

Roaring Camp Railroads also offers events such as riding the train and then seeing an outdoor movie! A visit to the Roaring Camp Railroads will be a win for your family this year as there is something for everyone.

7. Santa Cruz Whale Watching

Credit: Santa Cruz Whale Watching

📍Map It:1718 Brommer St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062 | Phone: 831) 427-0230 | Website | Hours: 7 Days A Week: 9 Am - 4 PM| Entrance: Adults $63, Child: $42

There are wonders to be seen all year around when you book a cruise with Santa Cruz Whale Watching! During the summer time you will be able to spot Dolphins, Sea Lion, Humpback Whales and much more! The winter months are famous for seeing the Gray Whale so be on the lookout for that if you are visiting during winter.

Wanting to spice up your vacation? Book a shark sighting cruise as well! Santa Cruz Whale Watching truly has it all.

Related Read: 20 Best Camping Spots In Northern California

8. Landmark's Del Mar Theatre

Credit: Steve Rhodes / Flickr

📍Map It:1124 Pacific Ave #4415, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone: 831) 359-4447 | Website

Grab your popcorn and soda and pick a seat to watch the latest movie at Landmarks Del Mar Theatre! This theater isn’t your average theater though as you will see independent and foreign films available for preview. You will have a much wider selection of genres and a great experience!

This theatre is a great way to get inside to cool off during a warm day or even a date night!

9. Santa Cruz Harbor Walton Lighthouse

Credit: Rose / Flickr

📍Map It:Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062 | Website

Are you in search of the perfect place to propose to someone? Maybe you’re looking for a simple and romantic date night? Then the Walton lighthouse is the place for you to be! This lighthouse is famous for watching the sunset at as it’s incredibly beautiful.

Don’t miss your opportunity to see the extraordinary sights while you are in Santa Cruz! It truly is a magical space to walk around and experience the ocean as well.

10. Neptunes Kingdom

Credit: Business Owner / Yelp

📍Map It: 400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060: | Phone: (831) 423-5590 | Website | Hours: Open Daily Sun-Thur 10am-9pm  Fri-Sat 10am-10pm | Entrance: Varies per Activity

Neptunes Kingdom is your childrens new favorite destination! There is mini golf and a wonderful arcade for ages. You will see there is also air hockey and many more activities to keep your children entertained all day.

When the kids have played all their energy out, there is a restaurant ready to replenish their day! Your whole family will walk away happy and excited for their next visit to Neptunes Kingdom.

11. American Abalone Farms

Credit: Business Owner / Yelp

📍Map It: |245 Davenport Landing Rd, Davenport, CA 95017 Phone: 415) 713-1502 | Website | Hours:Open Sat & Sun- 10 Am-4PM

Whether you are a seafood junkie or just want to try something new, American Abalone Farms is the place for you. You will be able to try fresh abalone and oysters! You can take some home to share with the family as well.

Seafood is a wonderful experience and the American Abalone Farms works to make it the best experience you will have. It’s the place to try new things and indulge your taste buds in quality seafood.

Related Read: 18 Best Hiking Trails in San Jose, CA

12. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Credit: glennt / Flickr

📍Map It400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone: (831) 423-5590 | Website | Hours: Mon 11:00am-6:00pm, Fri 11:00am-6:00pm, Sat 11:00am-9:00pm, Sun 11:00am-8:00pm | Entrance: Free

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a fantastic place to visit with tons of rides, events, food, and shopping. This classic seaside amusement park is filled to the brim with activities and attractions for the whole family.

Admission to the boardwalk itself is free, but you can purchase tickets either online or at the park itself to try out the rides. You can purchase individual tickets, or buy an all-day pass to go on as many rides as you please.

The Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf is within walking distance from the boardwalk. Here, you can refuel by grabbing a bite to eat at the restaurant. Or, if you have a little spare cash, you can check out one of the many shops!

13. Rio Del Mar State Beach

Credit: Christopher MATTHEWS / Flickr

📍Map ItRio Del Mar, CA 95003

Located in Aptos, California, Rio Del Mar State Beach is a great place to soak up the sun and splash in the waves. The beach offers plenty of public parking, or if you’re not in the mood to get sandy, you can drive along the beach and admire from a distance.

For beachgoers, you have the opportunity to swim the day away in the water, then relax on the beach for a bonfire in one of the provided fire rings. You also have the chance to see wild sea lions, dolphins, and other marine life in the water or from shore.

The beach also houses a junior lifeguard program for teens who want a fun and productive extracurricular. There’s tons to do at Rio Del Mar State Beach, visit today!

14. Mount Hermon Adventures

Credit: Samta Cruz Mountains

📍Map It17 Conference Dr, Felton, CA 95018 | Phone: (831) 430-4357 | Website | Hours: Mon 10:30am-4:30pm, Fri 10:30am-4:15pm, Sat 10:00am-4:15pm, Sun 12:00pm-6:15pm | Entrance: Varies by activity

This attraction is for visitors who aren’t afraid to brave the heights of the Redwood forest. Mount Hermon Adventures offers insane ziplining and aerial walks that will be sure to get you in touch with your adventurous side!

Visitors can book a ticket for a self-guided aerial tour around the forest at a height of 80 feet above the ground. That’s as high as an 8-story building! Navigate the course while strapped to a harness while admiring the view!

You also have the option to book a ziplining adventure. This fully guided zipline tour is a great eco-friendly way to fly around the Redwood forest. Book your tickets today!

15. Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Credit: Business Owner / Yelp

📍Map It1305 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062 | Phone: (831) 420-6115 | Website | Hours: Tues-Fri 11:00am-4:00pm, Sat-Sun 10:00am-5:00pm | Entrance: $4 per adult, $2 per senior, children enter free

Learn about the history of the well-known Santa Cruz region at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. This museum has been up and running for over 100 years, and contains tons of fascinating exhibits to help you learn more about the area’s nature.

The museum displays exhibits that teach visitors about the area’s plants and wildlife, as well as some of the first communities to settle in Santa Cruz. Visit the museum today to experience the interesting and interactive exhibits!

16. West Cliff Drive

Credit: felicecarribino / YouTube

📍Map ItSanta Cruz, CA 95060

Whether you get around on foot, on a bike, or by car, West Cliff Drive is a beautiful 3 mile scenic path with a stunning view of Monterey Bay. This is the perfect place for an afternoon walk or a sunset drive.

There’s tons of things to see along the road. One great recommendation would be to watch the surfers take on the waves as you pass by. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for any wildlife you may catch a glimpse of!

Even just passing by in a car with a cup of coffee and the windows down can be therapeutic. It gives you the chance to feel the fresh ocean air even if you’re just passing through for groceries.

17. Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

Credit: Friends of Santa Cruz / Pinterest

📍Map It144 School St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone: (831) 425-5849 | Website | Hours: Thurs-Mon 10:00am-4:00pm | Entrance: Free

Visit the oldest building in Santa Cruz housed at Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. This park is kind of like an outdoor museum, with tons of exhibits showcasing the city’s history. The most interesting exhibit is the only remaining building from Mission Santa Cruz.

As you walk around the park, you can find picnic tables to enjoy lunch or rest your feet while you take in the historic surroundings. You can take a self-guided tour to visit all of the exhibits at your own pace, or you can book a guided tour to get all of the info from a staff member!

Entrance is free, but if you’re feeling generous, you can support the museum with a donation. Visit the website linked above to check out all of the fascinating exhibits!

18. Seabright Beach

Credit: Steve Wilhelm / Flickr

📍Map It21 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

Located between the Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz Harbor, this is the perfect spot for beach fanatics to catch some sun. If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to grab a spot to watch the sailboat races!

From Seabright Beach, you can also access the Walton Lighthouse. The lighthouse is located at the end of Santa Cruz Breakwater, near a paved walking path that overlooks a gorgeous view of the beach.

This beach is also a wonderful spot to watch the sunset, and roast some marshmallows over a fire at night. The beach is also dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your pet. If you love the ocean, you should absolutely check out Seabright Beach.

19. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing

Credit: Business Owner / Yelp

📍Map It402 Ingalls St #27, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone: (831) 425-4900 | Website | Hours: Daily 12:00pm-10:00pm

For adult visitors in Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing is a great brewery to sip some delicious beers. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing is well known in the area for their organic, fresh brewed beer

Inside the brewery is a beer garden and taproom, providing fresh drinks and great food for guests. One of the best times to visit is in the evening, as that’s when the food trucks show up!

This brewery is a small, family-owned and operated location that promises to provide great drinks and friendly service. If you’re thirsty, stop by! The staff would love to serve you an organic drink!

20. Horse and Heart

Credit: North State Parent

📍Map It5017 Ironwood Dr, Soquel, CA 95073 | Phone: (650) 248-4451 | Website

Horseback riding is not only a fun sport, it’s a great way to connect with these thoughtful, gentle animals. Horse and Heart offers horseback riding lessons, as well as equine camps and retreats.

If you’re local, you can sign up for regular horseback riding lessons. All you need to do is pay the fee and commit to at least two lessons per week. You can also check out their website above to learn about events and retreats being held in the near future!

21. Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Credit: Wayne Hseih / Flickr

📍Map It100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060Phone: (831) 459-3800 | Website | Hours: Wed-Sun 10:00am-4:00pm | Entrance: $12.00 per adult, $11 per senior, $9 per child

If you love to learn about and look at marine wildlife, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center is the perfect place for you! Opened by the University of California Santa Cruz, the marine center aims to educate the public about the ocean and why we should be taking care of it.

The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is also opening a brand-new exhibit in September of 2022. Titled “Water’s Extreme Journey”, this interactive maze guides guests through the water cycle and highlights the importance of clean water.

With multiple exhibits and hands on experiences, adults and kids alike will not only learn about the ocean and the creatures that call it home, time will fly by as you have fun exploring the 20,000 square foot building. There’s plenty to see and learn here, stop by today!

22. Venture Quest Kayaking

Credit: Nicole Carpendale / Pinterest

📍Map It2 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA 95060Phone: (831) 425-8445 | Website | Hours: Daily 9:00am-5:00pm

Whether you want to rent a kayak and explore on your own, or go on a professionally guided tour throughout the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, Venture Quest Kayaking should be your go-to. Explore the ocean and its wildlife as you paddle through the water.

Guided tours are offered throughout the Santa Cruz Wharf and Elkhorn Slough with the chance to float alongside whales and sea otters! Visit the website today to book your tour or rent a kayak on your own!

23. Natural Bridges State Beach

Credit: takasphoto

📍Map It2531 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060Phone: (831) 423-4609 | Website Hours: Daily 8:00am-8:00pm

View shorebirds, seals, and migrating whales at Natural Bridges State Beach. This is a wonderful place to explore the outdoors and bask in the beautiful views. You can walk along the beach or hang out in the grasslands contained within the park.

Natural Bridges State Park is also home to thousands of monarch butterflies for a portion of the year. Butterflies arrive to the park in the fall and leave by late winter, so if you time your visit right you may be able to witness the butterfly migration.

There’s so much to see here! Park entrance is free as well, so take your chance to see the unforgettable views and amazing wild animals!

24. Ocean View Park

Credit: Lee Rentz / Flickr

📍Map It102 Ocean View Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062Phone: (831) 420-5270  | Website | Hours: Daily 6:30am-7:30pm

Another great outdoor park to get some time in the sunshine is the Ocean View Park. Featuring a basketball court, a playground, picnic tables, and an off-leash area for dogs, this park has something for the entire family!

Not only does this park have some fun activities, its namesake is the wonderful view of Monterey Bay that can be seen as well. This is the perfect place to visit for anyone that has a love of the outdoors!

25. Swanton Berry Farm

Credit: Siri Vision Works / Flickr

📍Map It25 Swanton Rd, Davenport, CA 95017 | Phone: (831) 889-0850 | Website | Hours: Daily 8:00am-7:00pm | Entrance: $8 per lb of berries

Pick some fresh berries yourself, or buy some delicious jam from Swanton Berry Farm. You can pick strawberries, blackberries, and even kiwi fruit depending on the time of year. There is also fresh homemade jam crafted from the berries grown on the farm available for sale!

In the mood for something sweet? Check out the farmstand open daily, where you can buy not only batches of berries, but some baked goods as well. You’ll never leave Swanton Berry Farm hungry!

26. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Credit: Ikaloti / Flickr

📍Map ItRedwood Grove Loop Trail, Felton, CA 95018Phone: (831) 335-4598 | Website

The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park contains 40 acres from which giant California Redwood trees grow. The park itself contains a ¾ mile looped trail where you can learn about these massive trees and the history behind the park.

The park is perfect for any hiker, biker, or camper with multiple routes and campsites. If trains pique your interest, you can also visit the Roaring Camp Railroad located right next door! This is absolutely a bucket-list destination for campers and plant-lovers alike.

Please note that while there is no entrance fee, there is a day-use fee for vehicles for both the park and the campground. Also, do be aware that poison oak is present in the forested areas of the park, be on the lookout for green or reddish leaves that grow in groups of three.

27. Giggles-N-Wiggles

Credit: Santa Cruz Life

📍Map It:1855 41st Ave Suite F12, Capitola, CA 95010 | Phone: (831) 291-4004 | Website | Hours: Daily 11:00am-7:00pm | Entrance: Varies by package

Giggles-N-Wiggles offers obstacle courses, basketball, games, and even more to keep your kids entertained for the day! Experience hands-on arts and crafts projects, storytimes, and free play!

At Giggles-N-Wiggles, kids are encouraged to run wild in the play area, which is continuously kept sanitized. Kids are also welcome to drop in 7 days a week, and parents can either enjoy some leisure time, or join in the fun!

Your child is sure to have the time of their life while you go out and run errands, or just take a day for yourself to relax. The indoor playground, bounce houses, ball pits and slides will have your kids begging you to take them back!

28. MBNMS Sanctuary Exploration Center

Credit: Travelling Camera

📍Map It35 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone: (831) 421-9993 | Website | Hours: Thurs-Sat 10:00am-4:00pm | Entrance: Free

Located right next to the Santa Cruz Wharf and just feet away from the ocean is the MBNMS Sanctuary Exploration Center. Interactive displays and hands-on exhibits will have guests of all ages hooked on learning about the local marine environment.

The numerous exhibits housed in the MBNMS Sanctuary range from kelp forests to interactive touch tanks. The sanctuary even houses an indoor, two-story underwater canyon. Guests can operate an ROV robot within the canyon to search for different sea animals.

Admission is free, meaning that you can explore the sanctuary as often as you’d like without breaking the bank. You can ride the trolley for $0.25 to get to the center from the beach instead of having to find parking. You can also pick up an application to volunteer as well!

29. Ramblin’ Adventure Club

Credit: Cheyenne L / Yelp

Phone: (831) 291-3711 | Website

If you’re looking for an after school activity for your child, look no further than Ramblin’ Adventure Club! This after school program takes K-6 grade children out on hiking adventures to learn about nature.

This experience will keep your child entertained, and hopefully give them some snippets of knowledge to share with you and the rest of the family when they come home! Visit the website above to learn more about enrollment.

30. Harvey West Park

Credit: inskydiamonds / Flickr

📍Map It326 Evergreen St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 | Phone: (831) 420-5270  | Website | Hours: Daily 8:00am-7:30pm

Harvey West Park contains tons of amenities that will keep you coming back to explore all of the outdoor activities! Harvey West Park, complete with a pool, clubhouse, ball field, playgrounds, and picnic areas, is perfect for families that love the outdoors.

The 50-acre park contains trails for hikers, barbecue pits for those who love to cook, and six ball fields for families to play, or for kids to run around. This park has something for everybody to enjoy.

Please note that dogs are required to stay on a leash, and are not permitted in certain areas of the park. Fires, camping, littering, and excessive noise are prohibited for the comfort of other guests.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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