Scene from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Just a short drive from San Francisco, lies the quirky little city of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz boasts a variety of features from a bustling and nostalgic beach boardwalk, to nature hikes set in dense forests, to natural bridges and exceptional tide pools.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been named the Best Seaside Amusement Park for five years running. You can enjoy old-fashioned fun while riding their world famous 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, numerous other thrill rides, and video games, all while watching the sun set over the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Complete the feel by snacking on some kettle corn or sugary-sweet cotton candy. The summer season fills up with live entertainment, circus performers and family-friendly activities.
The coastline in Santa Cruz is ripe for exploration. Main Beach, located adjacent to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, offers plentiful flat sand just perfect for active families interested in volleyball, soccer or a pick-up game of football. If you or your kiddos are active and looking for a challenge, head to Cowell Beach to learn how to surf amongst some of the best waves in the world. Stand up paddle-boarding, kayaking and sailing lessons are also available.
Natural Bridges State Beach offers stunning views of natural bridges carved out of the surf struck bluffs, a picnic area and restroom facilities. Tidepool exploring is abundant in the rocky bluffs near the shore; guided tours are available at the visitor center.
Natural Bridges is also home to the Monarch Grove Natural Preserve, where over 100,000 Monarch butterflies return each October-March for their winter home. You can view the Monarchs in season from a nearby boardwalk, visit the center to learn more about their migration, and even view a few close up butterflies and eggs.
A great place to explore Santa Cruz’s laid back, eco-conscious vibe is at a local farmer’s market. The Santa Cruz area boasts five markets that offer fresh produce, local vendors and entertainment. Local markets run every Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday in and around Santa Cruz.
Just six miles away from downtown Santa Cruz, nestled in the mountains, Roaring Camp Railroad is ready to take your family on an 1880’s logging town and train adventure. Enjoy a chuckwagon BBQ, pan for gold, get an old-time picture taken of your family, and of course, ride the old-fashioned steam train! Two train rides are offered, a 1 ½ hour Redwood Forest Steam Train riding along on a narrow gauge 1890 steam train to a picnic and hiking spot in the woods, or the 3 ½ hour Santa Cruz Beach Train traveling through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. You can ride this roundtrip train starting from the beach or Roaring Camp.
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