It’s officially the start of my birthday week which naturally calls for at least a 7 day-celebration. I kicked it off yesterday by taking a trip to the coast, somewhere I haven’t really had the chance to explore since we moved to Cali. In my opinion, there’s not many things better than walking along a sandy beach as the tide rolls over your toes, with a fresh breeze blowing and the smell of salt in the air, especially when you’re doing it in a new place.
Santa Cruz is definitely a must-see on the west coast of California. Not only is it incredibly entertaining with stunning scenery, it holds so much history, hinting at what entertainment was like in America in the early 1900s. We had one of the best days exploring this seaside town and can’t wait to go back again!
Here are 8 Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California:
#1: Take a Roller Coaster Ride at the Historic Beach Boardwalk
A family-owned company since 1907, the Santa Cruz boardwalk and amusement park is the oldest in California, yes even older than Disneyland! The amusement park is nestled right on the sandy beach, where sun-bathers can grab a quick carnival-inspired snack or take a thrilling ride on a roller coaster. While the amusement park only runs on Saturdays and Sundays, the gates are always open for visitors to roam around.
As I was strolling through it, I could only imagine what this place was like in the hustle and bustle days a century ago. The owners of the Beach Boardwalk make it a priority to bring entertainment to its visitors at a reasonable price, which is a breath of fresh air when you live in the most expensive state! The arcade that’s located next door to the amusement park was reasonable, at about 50 cents a game and parking for the entire day in the main Boardwalk parking lot was only $5.
#2: Play a Round of Mini-Golf at Neptune’s Kingdom
What I love about this whole historic boardwalk area of Santa Cruz is the nautical theme. From the two-story mini golf course at Neptune’s Kingdom to the souvenirs you can win from your arcade tickets, you’ll feel like you’re spending the day on a pirate ship when visiting here.
Even though I’m in my mid-20s, I still enjoy the ‘kiddish’ things like mini golf and arcades and Neptune’s Kingdom doesn’t disappoint in this area. If I’m feeling like acting my age though, there’s the Captain’s Game Deck area upstairs where billiards, ping pong, air hockey, snacks and beer await. Neptune’s Kingdom is open every day until 10 p.m., 11 on Friday & Saturday.
#3: Take a Stroll on the Santa Cruz Wharf
North of the beach boardwalk is the Santa Cruz Wharf, originally built in 1914. After 6 additions to the pier, it now reigns as the longest in California, extending over a half mile out into the Pacific Ocean.
The Wharf brings another piece of entertainment to the Santa Cruz area by allowing visitors to rent kayaks and surfing equipment or embark on boat tours out into the ocean. Along with shopping for souvenirs you can indulge in fresh clam chowder and crab legs at one of the 10 restaurants, sit on a bench and gaze out at the Pacific, listening to the squeals of the seagulls flying by and see marine animals come to life, which brings me to the next top thing to do in Santa Cruz…
#4: Watch Sea Lions Splash Around & Sunbathe
I’m a huge animal lover, like an insane animal lover and one time when we lived in Germany, my husband took me to this French wildlife sanctuary called Monkey Mountain. I’m not sure he really knew what he was getting himself into because I sat on the same bench all day long watching those monkeys, intrigued by how they communicate with each other and waiting to see what they would do next. I did the same thing when we went to Santa Cruz.
All good wharfs on the west coast have areas where sea lions can be observed, like San Francisco’s Pier 39, for example. The best part about Santa Cruz though, is that it’s not normally bombarded with tourists and the Wharf actually has designated openings in the floor of the Wharf for visitors to look under the docks to watch the sea lions. I could’ve spent hours here, watching them sunbathe, splash around in the water and fight with one another over who gets the better spot. If you love marine life, this is the perfect area to bask it all in.
#5: Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Marini’s Munchies
In the early 1900s, an Italian immigrant arrived in Santa Cruz with his family to start a new life. In 1915, a year after the wharf was built, that same immigrant, who then owned his own barbershop, decided to buy a popcorn stand from one of his customers that was based at the newly-constructed Boardwalk. Now, over 100 years later, that popcorn stand has transformed into a full-fledged Candy Shop called Marini’s Munchies.
I’m a huge sweet lover, like the type who will eat an entire dinner full of Kit-Kat’s and Reese’s Cups, and I could’ve went absolutely insane in here but I restricted myself to just ice cream. And let me tell you about this ice cream: the ice cream I love has those little teeny ice chips in them, with the flavor so intense that it’s literally making you drool as you eat it. Marini’s Munchies didn’t disappoint; I got a freshly-baked waffle cone with strawberry, and there were actually half-chunks of strawberry pieces in the ice cream and not just the flavor! The best.
If you’re not feeling ice cream, Marini’s also has a full espresso bar and almost every type of candy you could imagine. I highly recommend the salt water taffy; it’s to die for!
#6: Play Volleyball at Main Beach
Whether you’re an amateur or a straight-up professional, the multiple volleyball nets located around the Santa Cruz beach areas supply the perfect outdoor activity for anyone. Not only is the sand here incredibly soft and debris-free, the views of the Pacific, historic Boardwalk and Wharf prove the Santa Cruz courts as some of the most sought-after locales in the country. While the courts are open to the public, they can be reserved for a small fee for parties or tournaments. Between the months of April and November, there are tournaments every weekend so snagging a court may be hard to do. If that happens, head north of the opposite side of the pier to Cowell Beach and see if there’s any availabilities there.
#7: Dip Your Toes in the Pacific at Cowell Beach
While Santa Cruz’s Beach Boardwalk lines up to a stretch of sandy beach, on the opposite side of the Wharf is an even more stunning piece of paradise, Cowell Beach.
#8: Watch the Sunset at Shark’s Fin Cove
Since Santa Cruz sits within a cove on the northern part of Monterey Bay, the view from the Boardwalk actually ends up facing south, not west. Because of this, if you want to catch a good sunset, the best thing to do is to drive along Highway 1 to the north to place yourself directly on the west coast. About 11 miles north of Santa Cruz is one of the most gorgeous settings you could watch a sunset from– Shark’s Fin Cove.
Thousands of years ago, the small island that resembles a shark fin, was part of the cliff that encloses the beach here. With crashing waves, heavy winds and storms, that cliff slowly eroded into what is standing today.
Another amazing feature of this area is the Sea Cave. At times, the tides roll back far enough that you can run through to the other side, catching a glimpse of the Shark’s Fin. Be careful though, as the cove is very narrow; you may think you have enough time to get back through the cave then before you know it, an entire wave has enveloped you. (Hint, hint: See pics below!)
Whether you get soaked or stay dry, I still maintain that this is one of the best places to watch the sunset!
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