Santa Cruz is the biggest and best-known town in Santa Cruz County but
most visitors come for the laid-back, low-key outdoor life on the
beaches and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. University of California at
Santa Cruz is tucked into the hills above town. Families flock to the
historic Santa Cruz Boardwalk where arcade games, thrill rides and
surfers overlook the Pacific Ocean.
© Mike Brake
Natural Bridges State Park has a beach that is perfect for wading in the surf.
The coast from Half Moon Bay to Aptos is a great drive with many
places to explore along the way. Santa Cruz County promotes
biking with numerous trails and bike lanes. Some of the best State
Parks in California are in Santa Cruz County for those who want to
mingle with redwoods and quiet trails (home to banana slugs).
Some of the highlights of this destination include:
Attractions: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Ano Nuevo State Reserve Elephant Seal breeding grounds, Pigeon Point Light Station
Towns: Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Felton, Boulder Creek, Capitola, Aptos, Pescadero, Soquel
Beaches: Half Moon Bay State Beach, Pescadero State Beach, Natural Bridges State Beach, Seacliff State Beach and many others
Forests/State Parks: Castle Rock State Park, Big Basin Redwoods State
Park, Wilder Ranch State Park, The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park,
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Special Event: Off Pillar Point, north of Half Moon Bay, the world's best extreme surfers compete in theMaveriscks Surf Contest
- held when waves top 50' in height. Surfing fans hike miles to
reach vantage points to observe these athletes for this rare
event. Waves peak in late winter.
SCENIC DRIVES: Starting in Half Moon Bay – choose a beach or, in October, check out
the Pumpkin Festival in town or go to the harbor from December through
March to take a whale watching tour from a fishing boat.
SIDETRIP: Head away from the coast briefly to Pescadero, a tiny
inland town famous for Duarte’s Restaurant for the artichoke soup.
Stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse or go on to Ano Nuevo State Park for a
chance to see the unbelievably huge and raucous elephant seal colonies
from December through March. These beasts spend the rest of the
year out in the ocean so it is a rare opportunity – tours book up on
Follow Highway 1 (or, head inland at Big Basin Redwoods State Park for
dose of redwoods grandeur). Stop at Natural Bridges State Park to
see the beach and, in the rainy season, hordes of migrating monarch
In Santa Cruz, start at the main beach where the Santa Cruz Beach
Boardwalk dominates – rides, arcade games and fun for the whole
family. The nearby beaches are seasonally swimmable but the
surfers are there all year – a great show from shore.
Explore the coastside town – plenty of places to stay and dine –
influenced by UC Santa Cruz students, faculty and family from the
fog-shrouded campus above the town. A tour of the campus is a
worthwhile, too – the mascot is famous for its originality – a banana
slug (very, very big, but fortunately slow moving slug).
Continue to the beach town of Capitola where you can get out and stroll
the beach, find a quiet restaurant, or stay in lodgings within view of
the Pacific. Summer is very busy here so book ahead. The
faster choice for this stretch is Highway 1 but the shoreline route is
If you are ready for redwoods, you can find them at The Forest of
Nisene Marks or take Highway 9 in Santa Cruz and enjoy the drive up to
Felton (turn off here to see Henry Cowell Redwood State Park or
continue pas Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek. Hiking and biking
trails in these deep forests are easy to find and yet you’ll feel like
you have stepped off into another world far from civilization.
Take Highway 35 to cruise the ridgeline of the Santa Cruz mountains all
the way back to Highway 92 (take it back to the Bay Area to cross the
San Mateo Bridge).