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Build a sand castle on one of the many beaches along the coast from Half Moon Bay to Capitola


 

Scenic Drives  · Santa Cruz Coast

Santa Cruz Coast - Half Moon Bay - Capitola - Aptos

The Santa Cruz Mountains separate much of Santa Cruz County from the millions of people living nearby in San Francisco and San Jose – take this scenic drive to see the lovely results of a solid buffer zone. The coast has something for everyone from lonely lighthouses to wild roller coasters on the beach. From Half Moon Bay to Capitola, exploring the beaches to picnic or watch the surfers, this is a magical coastline. Santa Cruz is big enough to be called a city but just outside the limits are endless trails into county and state parks.
 
With a mix of sandy beaches, redwood forests and quaint cottages along the coast, who wouldn’t want to explore this stretch of the coast? Surfers flock to the area and families enjoy the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk but the surrounding mountains offer quiet solitude, friendly wineries and miles of biking and hiking trails.  
 
The area is close to the San Francisco Bay Area, especially Silicon Valley and San Jose, as well as Monterey Peninsula to the south. Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Aptos is so full of interesting places to stop, it is tempting to blow right by Santa Cruz, but do some exploring in both to experience this gorgeous section of California’s coast. 
 
Sleepy beach towns grow up – and so has Santa Cruz. The unhurried calm and relaxed atmosphere attracts adults but the kids will definitely enjoy the Boardwalk where all the action is. Surrounded by heavily wooded Santa Cruz Mountains, the area offers both off-the-beaten track hiking and biking as well as the small town atmosphere of a beach town serving a major California university above the town – UC Santa Cruz.  Santa Cruz County is a major destination for cyclists looking for adventure.

Santa Cruz Coast Scenic Drives

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San Jose Santa Cruz
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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 winter weekends.

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 butterflies.  

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 more scenic.  
 
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).

   


 
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Surfing is popular (and challenging) along the coast but wetsuits are worn most of the year

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