The Absolute Best Time to Visit Santa Cruz
Nestled between the rugged Monterey Bay and rich redwood forests, Santa Cruz is a spectacular beach town with a lot to offer. Thanks to the California current offshore winds, this region experiences a spectacular Mediterranean climate, making Santa Cruz amazing to visit all year long.
With that said, the absolute best time to visit Santa Cruz depends on what type of experience you’re looking for.
In the summer months, the city is alive with festivals, outdoor concerts, and sunny beach activities. The fall and winter months offer a slower pace of life and fewer crowds, making them great for relaxation and sightseeing. Springtime is ideal for nature lovers, as the wildflowers start to bloom and the redwood forests come alive.
Amongst all four seasons, one factor remains consistent: You will have an amazing time in Santa Cruz, especially if you book one of our beachfront vacation rental homes.
Here’s a look at what each season has to offer.
Santa Cruz in the Summer
Santa Cruz is at its absolute peak season come summer. The beaches are packed, the city throws weekly concerts and festivals, and the weather is warm and sunny.
Every summer, tourists from all over the world flock to Santa Cruz to bask in the summer sun, enjoy the beaches, and participate in all the fun summer concerts and events.
If crowds aren’t your thing, you may want to visit Santa Cruz during another season. However, if you love the electric energy of a bustling beach town in the summer, and want to hit the beaches of Santa Cruz with almost guaranteed sunshine, summer is one of the best times to visit Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Weather in the Summer
For the best beach days, come to Santa Cruz in the summer. The months of June, July, and August are marked by seemingly endless sunny days- the average highs in the summer rest in the mid 70s, although it often gets much warmer.
July, August, and September are typically the hottest months of the year. Although compared to many other coastal towns in the U.S., the maximum temperatures are still considered quite pleasant.
It also rarely rains during Santa Cruz summers. With the warmer weather and water, summer is the best time to visit Santa Cruz for water sports like swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking. The summer is also the best time for beginners to attempt surfing, or take a surf lesson; the waves are small, and conditions are optimal for beginners.
Summer Concerts and Events
Summer in Santa Cruz is also the peak time for beach parties, outdoor concerts, and festivals! On summer nights, local bands come together in Capitola Village to perform fun, free concerts where you can enjoy the music accompanied by gorgeous ocean views. At Esplanade Park, you’ll find free family movie nights on the beach.
It’s the perfect time to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. While plenty of others will have the same idea, you’ll love the breeze in your hair while riding on the many small roller coasters. The Boardwalk also hosts free summer concerts and movies, and the Crow’s Nest throws fun beach parties every Thursday night.
Santa Cruz Wineries in the Summer
Late summer is a great time to visit Santa Cruz if you want to pay a visit to the region’s many wineries. August marks the start of the harvest season, and the vines will be heavy with grapes.
Early summer is also a good time to go wine tasting in Santa Cruz but it does tend to be more crowded.
Santa Cruz in the Fall
Santa Cruz in the fall is truly magical. The summer crowds have vanished, the weather is still mild and pleasant, and the fall harvests have begun.
Santa Cruz Weather in the Fall
Ask any local- Santa Cruz has some of the best weather in the fall. The daily highs hover around the mid 60s, although you still get plenty of warm, sunny weather. Interestingly enough, September is the warmest month in Santa Cruz, and is a great month to visit if you still want a sunny beach day, without the crowds.
Fall does start to bring some rainfall to Santa Cruz, making it an excellent time to go shopping, dip into a museum, or explore some of the delicious Santa Cruz restaurants.
Monarch Butterfly Migration
Fall is the best time to visit Santa Cruz if you want to witness the annual monarch butterfly migration! Every year, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate to Natural Bridges State Beach, and they typically stay there from mid-October through mid-February, although sometimes they are gone by January.
If you want to see the monarch butterflies, take a stroll through the Monarch Butterfly Preserve at Natural Bridges State Beach.
Fall Harvests in Santa Cruz
During the fall in Santa Cruz, local harvests are in full swing. Santa Cruz is home to a wide variety of farms, vineyards, and orchards, so you can take advantage of the abundance of fruits, vegetables, and wine.
You can go apple picking at Luz Del Valle, find the best pumpkins to carve from Rodoni Farms, and indulge in amazing local ciders from Everett Farms and Santa Cruz Cider Company.
Visiting Santa Cruz Wineries in the Fall
The fall harvest season is also one of the best times to go wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Wine grapes have grown plump on the vine, and the vineyards are quite active while winemakers participate in the harvest.
The fall is also one of the best times to enjoy a full day trip of wine tasting in Santa Cruz because of the mild weather- it’s the perfect time to sip award-winning Pinot Noirs from Loma Prieta Winery, and enjoy the amazing fall weather and views in comfort.
Beaches in the Fall
While the Santa Cruz beaches may be busiest in the summer months, autumn still boasts its fair share of Santa Cruz beach days- and with the summer crowds gone, you might even have the beach to yourself!
Additionally, fall marks the start of the surf season in Santa Cruz. As the northwest swells begin to roll in, the surf starts to look promising for intermediate surfers.
Santa Cruz Fall Festivals
In the fall, Santa Cruz hosts several fun festivals and events. In October, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk puts on fun and spooky attractions like the Fright Walk under the Boardwalk, and the Haunted Castle. The Santa Cruz County Fair takes place in September, along with a variety of other fun events.
Santa Cruz in the Winter
Although winter is the rainiest season in Santa Cruz, winters are still very mild, with the average temperatures typically ranging between 40 and 50 degrees. The average low never really drops to freezing.
While many people consider Santa Cruz a summer beach destination, you might be surprised to find that winter offers several amazing things to do in Santa Cruz.
Peak Surf Season
If you’re coming to surf, winter is by far the best time for a trip to Santa Cruz. By December, the NW swells kick into action, bringing consistent, big surf to the popular Santa Cruz surfing spots.
Due to the bigger waves and swell consistency, the conditions are excellent for intermediate-advanced surfers, but likely too big for beginners.
Every winter, the city of Santa Cruz transforms into a winter wonderland filled with fun holiday festivals and events. You can enjoy the Capitola Village tree lighting ceremony, participate in the Jingle Bell Rock 5k race, shop for handmade goods at local pop-up holiday markets, watch the Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday Parade, and more.
Whale Watching in the Winter
If you want to see whales, the best time to come to Santa Cruz is in the winter. Between December and April, the California gray whale makes its annual migration from the Arctic down to the coast of Mexico.
During this time, an estimated 20,000 California gray whales pass by Santa Cruz, making this the perfect time to book a whale watching tour, or simply watch from the shores.
Santa Cruz in the Spring
Springtime in Santa Cruz is an absolute delight. The temperatures heat up, and the wildflowers are in full bloom. The winter rains start to subside, and the beaches become pleasant for sunbathing once again.
The best time to visit Santa Cruz and see wildflowers is during the spring. During this time, the hills come alive with colorful California poppies and deep purple lupines. Some of the best places to see wildflowers in Santa Cruz are Wilder Ranch and the Henry Cowell Sandhills.
Spring is one of the best times to visit Santa Cruz for outdoor activities. The weather is warm and pleasant, and perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, mountain biking, and hiking in the redwood forests.
Enjoy Santa Cruz All Year Long
If you want to enjoy this slice of California coastline without the crowds, the best time to visit Santa Cruz is between September and March. For the perfect, sunny beach day, come to Santa Cruz in the summer.
With that said, Santa Cruz is amazing to visit any time of year, and you’re sure to have a wonderful time no matter which season you visit.