Planning a trip to Santa Cruz County & looking for things to do? Let’s Cruz to the right places- shall we!
Combining 29 miles of beaches, boutique wineries, sweeping coastal views, an environmentally friendly stunning resort and spa, towering redwood trees, a world-famous local restaurant, and quaint downtown. Santa Cruz is the classic beach town in Northern California for a weekday getaway, weekend, and even better, a destination wedding within the United States or internationally! It has a cool surf vibe, great people, fantastic food, uber, and private transportation services. So, check out 6 things I did in Santa Cruz, then contact the folks at Visit Santa Cruz County to personalize your visit!
Central California, and Santa Cruz especially, is blessed with some of the best agricultural regions in the whole state. The farm-to-table experience of fresh local and organic produce is celebrated here. One of the best weekly Santa Cruz events that showcase just how good the produce is in this area of California is the Downtown Farmers Market that takes place year-round on Wednesdays from 1 pm – 5 pm in the fall/winter and 1 pm – 6 pm in the spring/summer. And you’ll find more than just fresh fruits and veggies here. There are a variety of local vendors selling everything from baked goods to artisanal spreads, lunch, and dinner options. There’s always live music as well. If you’re looking for things to do in Santa Cruz to immerse yourself in the local community, the farmers’ market shouldn’t be missed, whether you’re a local or just visiting.
HOW TO GET TO SANTA CRUZ:
Since I’m from out of town, my flight from Toronto to Santa Cruz was late, yet under 4 hours into SFO (San Francisco) airport taking into consideration the time change from Eastern Standard Time to Pacific time. From San Francisco, Santa Cruz is about 1.5 hours south (without traffic), since I arrived on a Monday- traffic was great during my car ride to Chaminade Resort & Spa.
WHERE TO GO IN SANTA CRUZ:
You’ll most definitely want to tour and stop in Downtown Santa Cruz -Abbott Square Market, Bookshop Santa Cruz. Then there is Penny Ice Creamery, a tour of the Tannery Arts Center. Have a bit more time, why not grab your favourite dessert at Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticerria, in Capitola Village while immersed in the Mediterranean ambiance. Next tour, then sip and chat at Bargetto Winery, and make a reservation to dine at the World Famous Shadowbrook Restaurant; so, plan accordingly.
Since Santa Cruz is located right on the Pacific Coast Highway, here are a few more points of interest to explore: Santa Cruz Surfing Museum at Lighthouse Point, Santa Cruz Wharf , Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center and Natural Bridges State Park and Beach.
WHAT TO PACK
This section of California’s coastline is often foggy in the morning, warm at midday, and cool at night. Pack clothing that can be layered- sunny weather with cooler temps in the late afternoon and evening. Multiple wardrobe changes may be in your forecast!
WHEN TO GO
April/May and September/October are always the best times to visit the coast. The weather is usually warmer, and you can avoid the summer vacation crowds. And if you can, any weekday will always be less crowded than the weekend! Traffic is real here you guys, unfortunately! So, grab a friend, ditch work, and head off for a fun weekday in Santa Cruz!
WHERE TO STAY IN SANTA CRUZ
Santa Cruz accommodations range from basic beach motels, and bed & breakfast, to high-end Resorts and Spas. You will need to determine your budget, then visit Home – Visit Santa Cruz County for fantastic recommendations in finding the best accommodations that is right for you.
I had the privilege of staying at Chaminade Resort & Spa. A summer home built at the turn of the 20th century, a farming retreat for monks, a Catholic boys’ high school, and a school for developmentally disabled children. The history of Chaminade Resort & Spa before it became a hotel in 1985 is almost as sprawling as the 300-acre wooded grounds in Santa Cruz’s “banana belt” above the fog. Long a favourite of corporate gatherings, the complex of Mission-style buildings holds new appeal for leisure travellers, thanks to a recent $8 million redesign, playfully inspired by Santa Cruz’s industrial heritage, Silicon Valley, and its own legacy as a place of learning and recreation. (SF)
Chaminade Resort & Spa is a four-star upscale property specializing in weddings and business retreats. The secluded mountainside resort has plenty of outdoor amenities, lighted tennis courts, a volleyball court, and a hot tub with weekend bar service. I had a great stay at Chaminade with my view of the Eucalyptus Forest from the deck in my room. The peaceful and beautiful setting is second to none. The service staff at the restaurant and throughout the resort was top-notch, along with one of the best paella in North America.
The 156 guest rooms, numbered with oversize dominoes, sports full-size abacus headboards above feather beds with down duvets, my room had a standard bath with open-style vanity; in an homage to the city’s 173-year-old tanning industry, locally made bedside drum tables, deep red accent walls and oversize leather chairs. The region’s railroad history also gets a nod from lamps, mirrors and coffee tables that suggest locomotive wheels, cogs, and railroad ties.
Rooms have 55-inch Samsung TVs and a plethora of outlets for device recharging. Other on-site diversions: a full-service day spa, heated pool and whirlpool, four tennis courts, sand volleyball court, spacious fitness center with yoga, Zumba and Pilates classes, 3 miles of nature trails with beautiful redwood trees and two restaurants with world-class service and delicious food.
Look no further for the ideal setting to begin a wonderful life together. Located on a 300-acre hilltop with breathtaking views of Monterey Bay, Chaminade’s newly renovated resort offers an atmosphere of luxury, history, charm, and tranquillity for your special day. Where would you find a better place to say “I do” surrounded by a dramatic redwood and eucalyptus forest, lush green lawns, and stunning views of the sparkling Monterey Bay? Contact the Wedding Coordinators at Santa Cruz Wedding Venues | Chaminade Resort | Santa Cruz, CA Telephone 831.465.3421.
Abbott Square Market
Abbott Square is designed to be the food and cultural center, supported by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Now, with the selection of food and beverage options, there’s something for everyone from a quick coffee and pastry to dinner and a cocktail. The food court is where you buy the food from take-out restaurants that surround the square, then select a table to enjoy the meal, it also has a fantastic bar concept called Front & Cooper. Abbott Square Market’s open concept provides a pleasant and relaxing environment for eating and people-watching in Santa Cruz.
BOOKSHOP SANTA CRUZ
Bookshop Santa Cruz is a local independent staple in the city since 1966, family-owned; it has maintained strong ties to the community which makes it an absolute favourite. At over 20,000 square feet, they have a good variety of all kinds of books, a decent travel section (yeah!), new, used, and books for sale. Bookshop Santa Cruz is also one of the best places to be on a rainy day with your mocha.
Arriving at Bargetto Winery for a tour and wine tasting was one of the most exciting experiences since I have visited wineries in Europe-this unobtrusive and quaint Soquel Creek winery setting is just spectacular being my first in North America. I arrived and met with Debbie, Keagan (winery staff) and later Nancy. The winery tour was truly informative, with their history in winemaking, who knows it best? What’s better after the tour than tasting a great red (I did) while looking out the window to see a babbling brook and redwoods? Their wines are reasonably priced, good, and this third generation of Bargetto is a true cornerstone in Santa Cruz for 90 years.
Bargetto Winery – Established 1933 Santa Cruz Mountains selections are all local Pinots, Merlots, and Chardonnays. Their meads are for sale made of local honey, and fresh fruit which will compliment many meals from spicy to sweet.
Did you know there is a cute gift shop on the property adjacent to the front office, I dare you NOT to buy something. If you are looking for a historic space, great food, and wines for a private event or wedding – Bargetto Winery should top your list. You will leave with a bold RED smiling ear to ear :-).
Although it’s one of the more popular Santa Cruz tourist spots, especially in the summer, Explore Capitola Village is a lovely spot for a stroll on a nice day. One of my favourite free things to do in Santa Cruz County is to go window shopping around Capitola Village, grab an ice cream, and eat it out on a bench near the beach. In Capitola Village, you’ll find a seaside community that has colourful Italian-inspired houses and an overall laid-back vibe. The Village features local restaurants, boutique stores, and a location right on the beach. This is the place to shop for unique beachy Santa Cruz souvenirs. The ocean views from the restaurants in Capitola Village are maybe only beaten by those on the Santa Cruz Wharf. It’s a gorgeous place to grab a bite to eat at sunset.
GAYLE’s BAKERY & ROSTICERRIA
Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticerria is a Capitola staple. During my visit as an out-of-town visitor from Toronto to Santa Cruz County the air outside the bakery is filled with the smell of buttery croissants and delicious creamy cheesecake. Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticerria – Capitola, California (gaylesbakery.com) is the meeting place to spot tourists and locals, many of who stop several times a day based on my poll taken of the locals entering the bakery. So, what can you expect at this local landmark- cakes, cookies, pastries, salads, sandwiches, and drinks. Grab your lunch to go on your way to the village or eat in the brightly lit seating area.
The venue is special. Take the Cable Car from street level for the unique experience of viewing the landscaping which is over-the-top memorable- the tiered terrace seating is unique at each level. Indoor and outdoor options for dining are available all with great views and atmosphere. There is a variety of seating – At first, they couldn’t find my reservation, yet after a while, I was offered seating on the lowest level at the river but soon moved since it was too chilly. There is a full glass enclosure around the seating, yet it still allowed colder air to enter. Nevertheless, the menu items do run out and while free parking is available to have demand that outpaces supply. Great drink options and excellent local wine selection cannot be beat. My menu choice was delicious, do visit Santa Cruz County and dine at the World Famous Shadowbrook Restaurant (@shadowbrook_restaurant) for an awesome atmosphere.
Tannery Arts Center
A first-in-the-nation arts campus that provides an accessible, sustainable, and vibrant home for the arts in Santa Cruz County. The Tannery Arts Center is a project of Artspace & the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Department. Home to 100 live/work lofts and 28 artists. Studio Rental — Tannery Arts Center
Music School, Catamaran Literary Reader, Camp Tannery Arts and Printmakers at the Tannery. An additional two historic buildings provide homes for Jewel Theatre at the Colligan Theater and the North County offices of Arts Council Santa Cruz County. Tannery Arts Center
The public can participate in classes, exhibitions, and events produced by individual studios and visit the working studios during the monthly First Friday Art Tour.
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT SANTA CRUZ
What can you do for free in Santa Cruz? There are lots to do in Santa Cruz for free. Take a stroll on the boardwalk, look for whales, wander West Cliff Drive, and relax at the beach!
What is Santa Cruz known for? It’s hippy culture, wine country and a laid-back vibe, a beautiful natural environment with redwoods and the beautiful Pacific Ocean, moderate climate, and all things surf. It’s classic California in a nutshell.
What is there to do in Santa Cruz besides the boardwalk? This post should answer that question in much more detail, but to summarize, there’s West Cliff Drive, Natural Bridges State Beach, the Mystery Spot, whale watching, butterfly admiring (in season), and go wine tasting.
Is Santa Cruz safe? The area has unfortunately gotten a bad rep due to higher-than-average property crimes (stolen bikes, backpacks, etc.). Always lock your car and never leave your stuff unattended like anywhere else during your travels stay alert. Other than that, it’s safe! Violent crime is rare here, thankfully!