Santa Cruz offers a whole lot more than just a boardwalk and a roller coaster. From magical redwood parks to hidden beaches, here’s how the locals enjoy a Santa Cruz weekend getaway:
Day 1—On the Beach
Start with a hearty breakfast at The Harbor Cafe. It’s where all the stalwart sailors and fishermen have gone for the past 50 years. You may even see a few at the counter if you get there early enough. If you don’t, no sweat—taking it slow is the California way.
The beach at the iconic Santa Cruz Boardwalk is lovely—but it gets crowded. Venture to smaller beaches like Natural Bridges, where you can catch glimpses of migrating whales and rafts of sea otters from the shoreline. In the winter, the park offers a temporary resting place for thousands of monarch butterflies as they migrate south.
Find an overlook on top of West Cliff Drive to watch surfers or admire the dreamy beach houses while the sun sinks low. Then hit the strip on Pacific Avenue for low-key eats.
Day 2—Into the Woods
No Santa Cruz weekend getaway is complete without standing next to a tall, ancient redwood tree.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is where locals and visitors alike experience some of the most beautiful trails, wildlife, and flora the state holds dear. Families can take an easy hike with a picnic by the trout-filled San Lorenzo River, while the more adventurous will find 30 miles of trails that could easily take up your whole day. Stock up on healthy snacks at Staff of Life Natural Foods Market to keep you going, and look out for deer, coyote, bobcats, and of course, the banana slug.
A few miles south in Aptos is the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, which offers similar surroundings and fewer patrons. Pick a good spot for a picnic along the Aptos Creek before (or after) exploring another 30 miles of trails.
Tonight’s a good night to stay in and cook—stop by H&H Fresh Fish for a sustainable catch of the day.
Day 3—On the Road
Today, it’s time to get out of town—turn up your road trip playlist and explore the Central Coast. Here are a few of our favorite day trips:
Follow the crowds south for a visit to the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium—it’s a must-see attraction for a reason. On your way back, stop by the Giant Artichoke Restaurant for fried artichoke hearts.
If you’d like more coastal views, head north on Highway 1, where you’ll find way fewer tourists and many more surprises. For a break, stop in Davenport, a tiny cluster of haunts right on the highway that includes a roadhouse inn, bakery, and Bonny Doon Winery Tasting Room. Save room for dessert at the Pie Ranch. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot holds weekday barn dances and offers farming education to the community, not to mention spectacular pies made with local organic ingredients.
For a nature break, take a stop by Año Nuevo State Park and see if you can spot a herd of northern elephant seals.
With lots of laid-back locals, quiet surprises, and delicious fare, “Surf City” is so much more than a college town with a roller coaster. Take time to discover the secret side of the Central Coast during your Santa Cruz weekend getaway.
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Contributed by Angela Bayout.