Mention a trip to Santa Cruz and, of course, you think of the Beach Boardwalk amusement park with its arcade of old-school games, mini-golf and world-class rides. At the time of this printing, a selection of outdoor games, food vendors and beach access are open daily, weather permitting, and drive-in movies are scheduled. But after COVID-19 restrictions lift, there will be plenty more fun to be had, including a spin on the landmark wooden roller coaster and the gorgeous 1911 hand-carved carousel.
Santa Cruz also means beach time. There are so many to choose from. Our family favorite sand spots include Main Beach with its wide swath of sand and relatively sheltered surf and Seabright State Beach, another excellent spot for splashing. Another favorite, Natural Bridges State Beachcan get blustery but it offers excellent tide pooling, where kids get a window into the world of sea stars, hermit crabs and urchins.
Just steps away from the Boardwalk, the Sanctuary Exploration Center features state-of-the-art exhibits and interactive displays highlighting the area’s remarkable underwater environment. Right now, the center is closed because of COVID-19, but when open, admission is free, a real bargain.
A pleasant stroll from Main Beach along West Cliff Drive takes you to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum where you can travel through 100 years of surfing history. Housed in an old lighthouse overlooking the famous Steamer Lane surfing spot, the museum is small and casual with free admission, although donations are appreciated.
If you are interested in more sea life, the kids will enjoy Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab . This is a university-affiliated working marine lab, but with plenty to attract little hands and active minds. Kids can pet small sharks and more in touch tanks, see a whale skeleton and meet Monterey Bay sea creatures, including dolphins and anemones. Plus, there are inspiring views from the trails just outside the facility.
You have to get in the car for this next venue, but it’s worth the short drive onto the campus to visit the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Tourist-wise, it’s off the beaten path, so it can make for a very relaxing few hours of strolling through the phenomenal collection of flora from many parts of the world. There are places to picnic on the grounds, and kids will enjoy discovering all the “secret” pathways.
And even further out of town, you can hop on a family-friendly narrow-gauge railroad to ride through the redwoods with Roaring Camp Railroads, headquartered in Felton. Typically, there are two excursions available – a roundtrip from the station up Bear Mountain and back, or a longer roundtrip to and from the station to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.