Santa Cruz, CA is a world famous destination known for it’s for great beaches and a casual surf town atmosphere. It’s only a short drive from most of the Bay Area, making it a perfect weekend getaway or even a day trip. Most of us who live in the Bay Area have already been to Santa Cruz on a few occasions and most likely know about the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, UC Santa Cruz, and some of the more popular beaches. We wanted to make a list of a few places that may not be as well known, but are just as wonderful!
See & Do
Natural Bridges State Beach is one of our favorite beaches in the area since it has a little bit of everything: beautiful views, picnic area, a eucalyptus forest, and lots of sun and sand. When the tide is low, you can even walk out and under the bridge! The eucalyptus forest is also a winter haven for thousands of monarch butterflies that start arriving in mid-October and leave by mid-February.
There’s no place I rather be than at The Tea House Spa in Santa Cruz after a long day. They offer massages and private rooms with your own hot tub and sauna paid by the hour per person. Look out to the bamboo garden while sipping some tea of your choice and find your zen.
Covewater SUP is the place to go if you’re looking to have some fun in the Santa Cruz ocean. Pick up a paddle board from their shop in town, or stop by their stand at New Brighton State Beach. Covewater is the only fully dedicated stand up paddle board (SUP) shop in Northern California. They have been the No. #1 SUP shop since 2010 and have the largest selection of boards and paddles you ever seen. Paddle boarding is very relaxing and a great way to experience the ocean and Santa Cruz offers some of of the best SUP spots on the West Coast! The staff at Covewater are super helpful and will advise you on where to go and the best time to go out depending the weather and the tides. Don’t worry if you’ve never tried it- you will get a full body work out, it’s super fun and very easy.
Pogonip is a special place in Santa Cruz. The trail begins right next to the UC Santa Cruz campus and will lead you into a beautiful redwood forest. The trails are dog friendly and not too strenuous. On top of all that, Pogonip also has a koi pond, an area with unique stone art where people their wishes, labyrinths, and historical lime kilns. Take the Spring Trail to Spring Box Trail to find the Koi pond. The pond is a bit off of the main trail so you might have to do a little adventuring in order to find it. Also note there are no bathrooms there so make sure to “go” before you go!
The Mystery Spot is something you’ve probably noticed on bright yellow bumper stickers stuck on cars throughout the Bay Area. But what is the Mystery Spot really? The answer really is for you to decide. What we did see were some interesting anomalies on our guided tour. The tour doesn’t take long and is perfect for all ages. Make sure to book ahead of time because the tours do fill up (especially on weekends). There are also some trails you can meander on while waiting for your tour to begin. Make a visit and judge for yourself what the mystery is all about!
Neary Lagoon Park in Santa Cruz is a perfectly peaceful place to take a nice stroll on a sunny afternoon. It’s a wildlife refuge, so you can spot many wetland animals here including ducks, geese, and Hawks from the one of the many Floating walkways.
Ocean View Park is a great place to take the kiddos to burn off some energy. There is a large playground area with long dual slides. You’ll also be able to get a clear view of the ocean and the Boardwalk from here.
Verve Coffee Roasters is a Bay Area favorite, and for good reason. They started roasting coffee in Santa Cruz and have since opened coffee shops in SF, LA, and even Tokyo! We stopped by their Pleasure Point Santa Cruz location where they serve delicious lattes, cappuccinos, and the tastiest breakfast! We loved their avocado toast, buttery Manresa biscuits, and coconut chia pudding. Wish we could start out every morning here!
While visiting Santa Cruz, we found Companion Bakeshop which is a neighborhood bakeshop that focuses on sourdough breads and pastries using ingredients from the Santa Cruz farming region. They also serve some breakfast goodies such as avocado toast and hummus toast which was delicious! Make sure to try some of their sourdough croissants while you’re there as well!
Pacific Cookie Company makes delicious, freshly baked cookies daily. They have been a family owned and operated bakery and a favorite in Santa Cruz since 1980. Tons of flavors are available in the shop including everyone’s favorite, the classic chocolate chip. Sandwich a scoop of ice cream in the middle of your favorite cookies and it’s pure cookie bliss.
Donnelly’s Fine Chocolates makes what is quite possibly the best ice cream bar I’ve ever had! Everything here is handmade to perfection, using the best ingredients. You can certainly taste the quality of chocolate that they use. They have everything from chocolate bars, to truffles, liquor filled chocolates and ice cream bars!
Crow’s Nest is the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon or evening gazing at the waves crashing just outside. They are open all day with a special brunch menu on the weekends. We love all of their fresh seafood dishes, in particular the Dungeness Crab Cocktail. Crow’s Nest also features live music almost every night of the week. Be sure to check out the Crow’s Nest Beach Market if you’re looking for a quick bite. Wood-fire pizza, sandwiches, and soft serve ice cream are on the menu!
Pono Hawaiian Grill serves traditional Hawaiian food and is also the only “Traditional Hawaiian” Poke Bar and Santa Cruz serving over 20 different types of poke all made to order! They have a special Holiday Season Catering thats available (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org) and a daily BOGO (‘buy one get one’ – buy one lunch at regular price and get the second one of equal or lesser value at 1/2 off ANY DAY 11-3pm) Aloha served daily!
The Picnic Basket is a great stop if you’d like to grab some delicious sandwiches on your way to the beach. Located on Beach Street and across the street from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, The Picnic Basket offers simple and seasonal sandwiches and sides made with fresh ingredients. Our favorite was the Picnic Basket Reuben which sold out right after we ordered! They also have a patio out front if you’re up for people watching while digging in to your meal.
If you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy some good drinks and food, be sure to check out Seabright Brewery. They just celebrated their 30 year anniversary so you know they know what they’re doing! Grab a beer or a drink at their full bar and check out their menu for some eats. They have live music on Friday nights, happy hour, dog friendly patio, and hand crafted beer for a sit back and relaxing good time.
Hula’s Island Grill calls itself a “California twist on an Island Classic”. Located in downtown Santa Cruz, the restaurant itself is as colorful as the food they serve. Service is great and they have a small patio so you can make the most out of that Santa Cruz sunshine. Their menu is overflowing with mouthwatering dishes. Our favorites were (yes we had more than one!) the Crispy Coconut Shrimp Rolls and the Kingston Crab Curry. Don’t overlook their fun and creative cocktail menu–some drinks arrive in tiki glasses and fish bowls. Hula’s has Happy Hour every day of the week with a super happy hour on Tiki Tuesdays. Appetizers and and tiki drinks are $6 from 2pm-closing. Their Wine Wednesdays special (1/2 off all bottles of wine) is a pretty great deal as well! Make sure to stop by for a drink or a meal, you’ll leave full and happy.
Right now they are having a text promotion where you can get exclusive deals like BOGO lunches when you text TIKI to (831) 216-5010.
Assembly was the perfect place to end the day in Santa Cruz. It’s located on Pacific Ave., in the middle of downtown. During the day the restaurant is filled with natural light and at night the antler chandeliers give the whole place a trendy but laid back feel. Assembly serves lunch and dinner with a brunch menu on the weekends. The dishes are American style cuisine made with locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. We loved the fresh oysters as well as their Parisienne Gnocchi, served with roasted beet and figs. We finished off our meal with their Rustic Blackberry and Peach Pie which was perfected with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Delicious!
The Penny Ice Creamery is the only ice cream shop in Santa Cruz making small batches of unique flavors ice cream daily. There are 3 different locations around town but expect all of them to have a line at almost all hours of the day (on weekends especially). They have flavors like Brown Butter Spiced Pecan, Burnt Cinnamon, Blackberry Buttermilk, and our favorite, Honey Yogurt Nectarine. Don’t let the lines scare you away. They move quickly and the ice cream is worth it!
Mutari Chocolate is located in Santa Cruz and make their own small batch chocolate from the bean all in house. Everything is made from scratch and the beans are all directly sourced. They have a Chocolate House Cold Drink Menu that features their Frozen Dark Chocolate drink as well as a couple of other drinking chocolate choices. They also have lots of other chocolate goodies to try such as their brownies and of course a chocolate chip cookie! Have a taste of their award winning 74% Two-Ingredient Chocolate Bar made with Beans from Honduras La Masica or their Single Origin Bean to Bar Chocolate Line sustainably sourced from their favorite farms.
Sleight if Hand Pizza is run by Justin Wadstein who is a 13 times World Pizza Champion at hand tossing pizza dough. Combined with his partner @the_pizza_series, they have a combined experience of 35 years in the pizza world. They have perfected their pizza recipes and now cater mobile wood fire pizza to private events and farmer markets. Ask nicely and they’ll also show you some impressive pizza dough tossing skills!
We loved our stay at Beach Haven Seabright Beach House which is exactly what you think of when you think Beach House. They are located 2 minutes walking from Seabright Beach and is the perfect getaway retreat since they are both family-friendly and dog-friendly. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is also walking distance so you’ll have plenty of things to see and do without ever getting in a car.
Enjoy some fresh local coffee by the fireplace or a bubbly soak in their backyard hot tub while cooking up a meal on their gas bbq grill. Open the windows and hear the waves crashing in the distance or enjoy a lazy afternoon watching cable tv on the couch. Or stay a few days and experience it all- that’s what we did!
Chaminade Resort was just what we needed to relax and rejuvenate. Located close to town, but hidden away in an area of its own, Chaminade offers beautiful views, private walking trails, spa treatments, and tennis courts.
All of their rooms are newly renovated and some are even pet friendly. There were many small details throughout that really made the room special and welcoming. We loved our own private sliding door and porch outfitted with two lounge chairs- perfect for a glass of wine before dinner!
We checked out Linwood’s Bar and Grill, located on the property the first night we arrived. Although it was chilly we were able to snag one of their fire pit tables and enjoyed gazing at the stars and smelling the fresh mountain air. Linwood’s offers a great menu of delicious dishes that satisfy all pallets. Our favorite dish was the scallops which were very tender and fresh.
On Sundays, Chaminade Resort has an amazing Sunday Brunch Buffet served at their Sunset Restaurant. We opted to sit on the patio since it was a beautiful day out and had our pup with us. It wouldn’t be fair if we got a buffet and she didn’t get anything! Fortunately, they have a doggy menu with items like”muttballs”, grilled chicken, and cottage cheese. Dottie went straight for the bacon (just like her mom)!
Chaminade Resort also hosts fun events such as their Beer, Brats, Blues & Boos event taking place on Oct 30. Local breweries, delicious food, live music, and a costume contest-all things we love! See their website for more information.
Santa Cruz offers this and so much more…we can’t wait to go back to discover more places. With the Indian Summer season starting, we know Santa Cruz will be having some amazing sunsets!