Top Things to Do in Santa Cruz – Explore & Enjoy!

things to do santa cruz

Looking for the perfect destination to unwind, have fun, and soak up the sun? Look no further than Santa Cruz! This charming beach town in California is renowned for its laid-back vibe, picturesque coastline, and an array of exciting attractions and activities. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, nature lover, or history buff, Santa Cruz has something to offer everyone. Let’s dive into the top things to do in this coastal gem!

Key Takeaways:

  • Experience the captivating beauty of Santa Cruz’s coastline and indulge in a variety of outdoor activities.
  • Explore the renowned Santa Cruz Wharf and savor delicious seafood at its waterfront restaurants.
  • Visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California’s oldest amusement park, and enjoy thrilling rides and classic fairground attractions.
  • Discover the rich surfing heritage of Santa Cruz at the Surfing Museum on West Cliff Drive.
  • Take to the waves and experience the thrill of surfing at one of Santa Cruz’s world-famous surf spots.

The Wharf

One of the most popular activities in Santa Cruz is taking a walk on the Santa Cruz Wharf. This west coast’s longest pier offers beautiful coastal views and opportunities to spot sea lions. It’s also home to a variety of restaurants, many of which specialize in seafood. Don’t miss the chance to try the famous fish and chips while you’re here.

If you’re a seafood lover, the Santa Cruz Wharf is a culinary paradise. You’ll find a wide range of restaurants serving fresh seafood dishes, from mouthwatering crab cakes to succulent grilled prawns. Indulge in a seafood feast while enjoying the picturesque views of the ocean.

  • Seafood Village: Known for its extensive seafood menu, Seafood Village is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. Treat yourself to a platter of steamed mussels or the catch of the day.
  • Gilda’s Family Restaurant: Gilda’s is a local favorite, serving delicious clam chowder and classic fish and chips. Don’t forget to try their famous homemade tartar sauce!
  • Stagnaro Bros. Seafood: Located right on the pier, Stagnaro Bros. Seafood offers breathtaking views of the ocean. Enjoy their signature cioppino or indulge in a Dungeness crab feast.

After a satisfying meal, take a leisurely stroll along the wharf and soak in the coastal ambiance. Keep an eye out for the playful sea lions basking in the sun or gracefully swimming in the water. Capture the perfect photo to commemorate your visit to the Santa Cruz Wharf.

santa cruz wharf

Amusement Park and Beach Boardwalk

Located next to the wharf, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is California’s oldest amusement park and a must-visit attraction.

The boardwalk is free to enter, and you can pay per ride for the various attractions.

From classic fairground rides to a wooden roller coaster, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

santa cruz beach boardwalk

  • Experience the thrill of a roller coaster ride on the historic Giant Dipper, a wooden coaster that has been entertaining visitors since 1924.
  • Take a spin on the Looff Carousel, a National Historic Landmark featuring hand-carved horses and ornate decorations.
  • Test your skills at the arcade games, where you can win prizes and show off your competitive side.
  • Indulge in classic carnival food like corn dogs, funnel cakes, and cotton candy.
  • Enjoy live entertainment, including music, magic shows, and fireworks displays.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or just looking for a fun day out with the family, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the place to be. Come and create lasting memories at this iconic amusement park and beach boardwalk.

Surfing Museum on West Cliff Drive

When visiting Santa Cruz, a stroll along West Cliff Drive is a must. And while you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Located in the iconic Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, this museum offers a deep dive into the rich history of surfing in Santa Cruz.

As you step inside, you’ll be transported to a world where waves are king and surfers are legends. The museum takes you on a journey through time, showcasing the origins of surfing in Hawaii and its evolution in Santa Cruz. From vintage surfboards to historical photographs, you’ll get a glimpse into the sport’s fascinating past.

But the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is not just about history—it’s about celebrating the present and future of surfing as well. Learn about the local surf culture, the renowned surf spots in the area, and the influential surfers who have called Santa Cruz home.

Located just a short walk from the pier, the museum offers a fantastic vantage point to soak in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Stand at the edge of the cliffs and watch as surfers catch waves below, truly capturing the essence of Santa Cruz’s surfing scene.

So, whether you’re a seasoned surfer intrigued by the sport’s heritage or simply a curious traveler wanting to learn more about Santa Cruz’s surf culture, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum on West Cliff Drive is an experience not to be missed.

santa cruz surfing museum

Surfing in Santa Cruz

When it comes to surfing, Santa Cruz is a true mecca for wave enthusiasts. As someone who loves catching a wave, I can confidently say that no visit to Santa Cruz would be complete without experiencing the thrill of riding the waves here.

One of the best spots to witness the amazing surf culture in Santa Cruz is Steamer Lane, located just below the picturesque lighthouse. Grab a beach towel, find a cozy spot on the sand, and watch the skilled surfers carve through the waves. It’s an incredible sight that never fails to impress.

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to get in on the action, Santa Cruz offers numerous surf spots catering to surfers of all levels. Renting a surfboard is easy, and there are plenty of shops along the shoreline that offer equipment for all skill levels. So whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, there’s a spot for you to paddle out and catch your own wave.

Some of Santa Cruz’s popular surf spots include:

  • Cowell’s Beach
  • Pleasure Point
  • 26th Avenue
  • The Hook
  • Manresa State Beach

These are just a few of the many surf spots Santa Cruz has to offer. Each spot has its own unique charm, but they all share one thing in common: fantastic waves that will leave you stoked!

So grab your board, slather on some sunscreen, and get ready for an unforgettable surf session in the lively waters of Santa Cruz! Don’t forget to capture the moment by snapping a photo of yourself catching that epic wave. Surf’s up!

Natural Bridges State Beach

Just a couple of miles from West Cliff Drive, you’ll find Natural Bridges State Beach. This 65-acre national park is known for its natural bridge out in the water, which is home to a variety of birdlife, including pelicans and cormorants. It’s a perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful sunset and capture some stunning photographs. Don’t forget to bring your neutral density filter for long exposure shots.

When visiting Natural Bridges State Beach, make sure to take a leisurely stroll along the sandy shores and explore the tide pools. You might discover fascinating marine life and colorful sea creatures. Don’t forget your sunscreen and a beach towel for a relaxing day by the ocean.

Photography Tips

  • Arrive early or stay late to experience the vibrant colors of the sunset over the ocean.
  • Use a tripod for steady shots and long exposure photography.
  • Experiment with different angles and perspectives to capture unique compositions.
  • Take advantage of the natural bridge as a focal point in your photographs.
  • Consider shooting during golden hour for soft, warm lighting.

Whether you’re a nature lover, a photography enthusiast, or simply looking for a serene beach to relax and unwind, Natural Bridges State Beach is a must-visit destination in Santa Cruz. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the beauty of the natural bridge and enjoy the breathtaking sunset views.

More Museums

If you’re interested in exploring the vibrant cultural scene of Santa Cruz, a visit to its museums is a must. Take a delve into the rich history, art, and natural wonders of the area.

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Discover the wonders of the natural world at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. From exhibits on local wildlife and habitats to interactive displays on geology and climate change, this museum provides a fascinating glimpse into the region’s diverse ecosystem. Learn about the flora and fauna of Santa Cruz and understand the importance of conservation.

Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

Immerse yourself in the vibrant art and cultural heritage of Santa Cruz at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Explore a collection of contemporary and traditional artworks, ranging from paintings and sculptures to photography and mixed media installations. Dive into the history of the city through fascinating exhibits that highlight its diverse communities, milestones, and significant events.

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Discover the wonders of the marine world at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Located in the coastal environs of Santa Cruz, this museum offers a unique opportunity to learn about marine conservation and research through immersive exhibits, interactive displays, and live demonstrations. Get up close and personal with marine creatures in touch tanks and observe ongoing studies in action.

Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery

If you’re visiting Santa Cruz with kids, the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery is a must-visit. Designed to inspire curiosity and foster learning through play, this interactive museum offers a wide range of exhibits and activities for children of all ages. From hands-on science experiments to imaginative play areas, little ones will have a blast exploring and discovering new things.

Whether you’re interested in nature, art, history, or marine life, Santa Cruz’s museums have something for everyone. Embark on a journey of knowledge and exploration as you delve into the cultural heritage and natural wonders of this beautiful coastal city.


In conclusion, Santa Cruz is a must-visit destination for tourists looking for a beach town with a vibrant atmosphere. With its diverse range of attractions and activities, there is something for everyone in this charming California city.

Start your adventure by exploring the historic Santa Cruz Wharf and enjoying breathtaking coastal views. Indulge in delicious seafood at the various waterfront restaurants, and don’t forget to try the famous fish and chips.

Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the oldest amusement park in California. Experience the thrill of the rides and enjoy the nostalgic fairground atmosphere.

For those interested in surfing, Santa Cruz offers fantastic opportunities to catch a wave. Visit Steamer Lane, a popular surf spot, and witness the talent of local surfers or rent a surfboard and take to the waves yourself.

When you need a break from the beach, explore the cultural side of Santa Cruz by visiting the Surfing Museum on West Cliff Drive or one of the many other fascinating museums in the area.

To make the most of your visit, consider taking a day trip to nearby attractions like the Mystery Spot or Roaring Camp Railroads. These additional adventures will add even more excitement to your Santa Cruz experience.

With its beautiful beaches, captivating attractions, and welcoming atmosphere, Santa Cruz is the perfect destination for a memorable vacation. Plan your trip to Santa Cruz today and discover the best this beach town has to offer.


What are the top things to do in Santa Cruz?

The top things to do in Santa Cruz include exploring the wharf, visiting the beach boardwalk, checking out the surfing museum, trying your hand at surfing, enjoying Natural Bridges State Beach, and exploring the various museums in the area.

What can I do at the Santa Cruz Wharf?

At the Santa Cruz Wharf, you can take in beautiful coastal views, spot sea lions, and dine at a variety of seafood restaurants. Don’t forget to try the famous fish and chips!

What is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk?

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is California’s oldest amusement park. It offers a range of rides and attractions, and you can pay per ride. The boardwalk is free to enter.

Where can I find the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum?

The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is located on West Cliff Drive, near the Santa Cruz Wharf. It is housed in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse and offers a fascinating look at the history of surfing in Santa Cruz.

Can I go surfing in Santa Cruz?

Yes, Santa Cruz is famous for its surfing culture. Head to popular surf spots like Steamer Lane, located below the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, to watch surfers in action or rent a surfboard and hit the waves yourself.

What is Natural Bridges State Beach known for?

Natural Bridges State Beach is known for its natural bridge out in the water, which is home to a variety of birdlife. It’s a perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful sunset and capture stunning photographs.

Are there other museums to visit in Santa Cruz?

Yes, there are several other museums in Santa Cruz worth exploring. Check out the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Seymour Marine Discovery Center, and Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery for a variety of exhibits and interactive displays.

What else can I do in Santa Cruz?

In addition to the top attractions mentioned, you can also consider nearby day trips to places like the Mystery Spot and Roaring Camp Railroads to add more adventure to your visit to Santa Cruz.

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