A Traveler’s Guide to Downtown Santa Cruz

Are you planning a trip to Santa Cruz County, California? If so, you might be thinking about cruising by San Jose or taking a stroll down Pacific Avenue on your way to downtown Santa Cruz. Although a relatively small town to most standards, there are so many things to do and places to visit in Santa Cruz and the surrounding area.

Regardless of whether you are looking for live music, farmers’ markets, or even delicious creamery, there is something for everyone in this charming city!

1. Swing By Cowell Beach

Photo Credit Via Instagram @itsjobruh

Cowell Beach is undoubtedly one of the top attractions in the local area. It has white, sandy shores, safe waters, and plenty of room to spread out. While it can get busy during peak tourist season, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a spot! 

This is popular among swimmers and sunbathers, and you should see plenty of families with children as well. Be sure to keep your eyes open, as you may spot a few professional surfers during your stay as well. If you are lucky, you might even get to sign up for a few surfing lessons from one of the professionals.

While there are plenty of great beaches in Santa Cruz to check out, Cowell Beach is definitely the most popular spot.

2. Check Out the West Cliff

Photo Credit Via Instagram @west_cliff_sc

If you are looking for scenic views, this is definitely the place to go. It is six miles long, and it hugs the coastline, providing an amazing view of the Pacific ocean. You can enjoy some walking and cycling, and it is even wheelchair-accessible. This means that, regardless of your fitness level, you should be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Keep your eyes open for a bronze surfer statue. This is a sign that you are close to The Surfing Museum, which is located in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. There is plenty of memorabilia to check out, and this is a great way to learn more about the history of surfing.

3. Take a Stroll or Bike Ride Down the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photo Credit Via Instagram @beachboardwalk

One of the top things you need to do during the summer is to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is an amazing location that has lots of tourist attractions, including park rides, games, and more. Of course, this is an amazing seaside opportunity with unparalleled views. 

Along the way, you will visit Main Beach, which has been welcoming visitors and locals alike for more than 100 years. Furthermore, there is no charge to enter the amusement park, only charges to ride the rides. This is one of the best locations for families with children, as well.

 Don’t forget to visit the Giant Dipper, which has been open since 1924 and has been classified as a National Historic Landmark!

4. Visit the Mystery Spot

This is an amazing location that you will not believe until you see it. It is a circular area in the middle of a bunch of Redwood trees. It is 46 meters in diameter, but you might feel a bit confused when you step into the area. Even though people and objects are standing straight up, they will not look that way when you set foot inside. 

While this is an area that has been studied by scientists for years, nobody has been able to figure it out. Even though a lot of people have come up with some interesting theories, nobody has been able to prove what is happening. 

If you want to try your hand at it, check it out!

5. Visit Santa Cruz Wharf

Photo Credit Via Instagram @anibalcamus

This wharf was built in 1914, and it was designed to serve boats that needed deep water access and could not get too close to shore. Now, it is one of the most popular locations among people who are looking for a spot to fish and sightsee. 

In addition, there are plenty of shops and stands to check out. For example, you might want to get some fresh seafood from Stagnaro Bros., one of the most popular restaurants in the local area. You might even want to check out the historic dining room as you gaze out over the open water. 

If you keep your eyes open, you might spot a few dolphins and whales as well.

6. Take a Stroll Down Pacific Ave

Photo Credit Via Instagram @greg_lukina_realtor

Of course, you need to swing by Santa Cruz City’s Pacific Ave. during your time in the downtown area. This is one of the busiest streets in the area, but it is also the heart of the action. There are countless restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops, and more. Stop by an art gallery, check out the offerings at a kiosk or two, and enjoy everything surf city has to offer!

 Everything is open at different times, so you will have a totally different experience if you go during the day versus at night. While there are lots of name-brand places you can certainly visit, don’t forget to check out a few of the local spots as well. You should also take some time to check out the art exhibits that open up on the First Friday of the summer months. This is a great opportunity to pick up a local souvenir! 

Don’t forget to check out the town clock and the Pacific Garden Mall!

7. Take in a Live Music Performance

Santa Cruz is known for its live music performances, and there are plenty of them during the summer months. 

You can find plenty of street performers on Pacific Ave, but do not forget to take a look at a few of the flyers that people post all over town! This might sound a bit old-school, but this is one of the best ways to hear about upcoming performances in the local area. 

You can grab an ice cream, come, sit back, relax, and enjoy some live music without having to spend any extra money!

8. Check Out the Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Photo Credit Via @aparkadaybayarea

Another fun activity that you will definitely want to check out is the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. This is a fun museum that is operated by UC Santa Cruz, and there are lots of educational exhibits inside. This is something that is perfect for people of all ages, and it is a great way to learn more about the aquatic life that lives nearby.

You will definitely want to stroll into the exhibit hall, which is the best place to learn about active oceanic research projects. Professionals would be more than happy to share some knowledge about what they are working on with you.

Then, don’t forget to stroll into the aquarium as well. This is a chance for people to look at both large and small animals. Kids will also have a fun time at the nearby touch tank!

9. Grab a Bite at Laili Restaurant

Photo Credit Via Instagram @laili_sc

If you are looking for the best place to grab a bite in downtown Santa Cruz, you will definitely want to check out Laili Restaurant. This restaurant is known for its unique flavors and expans ive menu. The staff is always willing to talk with you about the specials you might want to check out. 

The specialty is Mediterranean food, but they serve a bit of everything! If you ask for recommendations, you will not be disappointed!

After giving this restaurant a try, there are plenty of other great places to eat in Santa Cruz that you’ll love.

10. Visit the University of California Santa Cruz

During your time in the city, don’t forget to check out UC Santa Cruz as well! This is an amazing botanic garden that is filled with gorgeous views. You can even get some amazing views of Monterey Bay.

There is a vast outdoor classroom that has been designed for scientific study, but even if you are not a student there, you can still check it out. Don’t forget to pay attention to where the plants are from. You can find plants from South Africa, Australia, and numerous other locations across the globe.

Where To Stay in Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Of course, during your time in Santa Cruz, you need to find a fun place to stay. 

One of the best locations is the Wave House, which was recently remodeled! One of the best parts of this location is that it is pet friendly. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and can comfortably sleep six people. It has some of the best views in the local area, so this is definitely an option that you want to consider. You will also be in a good spot to enjoy the Santa Cruz Museum of Art while also accessing Front Street and Mission Hill.

If you are looking for a location that will give you some of the best beach views in the local area, then be sure to consider By The Sea! This is a house that is right there on the sand, and it is a great spot if you are traveling with a bunch of friends. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and can comfortably sleep eight people. You will have unparalleled views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, plenty of space to spread out, and comfortable chairs outside to sunbathe and watch the sunrise or sunset.

If you want to get the most out of your trip to Santa Cruz, you need to find an amazing place to stay. Make sure you think about these vacation rentals, and do not hesitate to reach out to a professional who can help you plan your trip!