Santa Cruz Travel Guide


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Santa Cruz Recreational Activities

Santa Cruz, California Hotels and Resorts

Santa Cruz
Recreational Activities

Experience Santa Cruz…

With its wealth of beaches, parks, open spaces and the great Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz has a plethora of indoor and outdoor recreational activities for you to enjoy. Whether it's a day hike through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, biking down the Wilder Ranch State Park single track or riding the Big Dipper rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz is a recreational paradise. And after the fun and games are over, take a breather and enjoy one of its fine restaurants or pick out that perfect gift at one of the unique boutiques along the Pacific Garden Mall.

Click on the following items to see more.





|| Guided Tours       || Rentals       || Trails

Guided Bicycle Tours

Santa Cruz Bike Tours

Watsonville, CA 95076    (831) 722-BIKE (2453)

Shuttle Smith Adventures

Aptos, CA    (831) 234-3383

Mountain bike through the Redwoods! Shuttle Smith Adventures offers bike shuttles daily to the top of  the Forest of Nisene Marks SP, where you can ride the challenging singletrack loops of Soquel Demonstration Forest, one of the leading freeride and cross-country destinations in the world!

Bicycle Rentals

Pacific Ave Cycles

320 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz Ca 95060  (831) 471-2453

Family Cycling Center

914 41st.  Ave., Santa Cruz  (831) 475-3883
Family Cycling Center is a bike shop located on 914 41st Ave, Capitola CA. We carry Santa Cruz Bikes, Specialized, Electra Cruisers & more.

Bicycle Trails

Local Article: Wednesday Night Rides in the Forest of Nisene Marks SP

Local Article: Riding in the Forest of Nisene Marks SP & the Soquel Demonstration Forest


The Regional Transportation Commission

1523 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA   (831) 460-3200

This web site provides two very detailed city and county bike route maps.

Wheels Shall Overcome

An old article dedicated to the best biking trails in the Santa Cruz Area.

Wilder Ranch State Park

Located north of Santa Cruz, immediately west of Hwy 1  831-423-9703

The Park has 4,505 acres, with 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails winding through coastal terraces and valleys.

DeLaveaga Park

850 N. Branciforte Drive, Santa Cruz, CA

Trails are open to hikers and bicyclists. Please stay on designated trails.

Pogonip Park

333 Golf Club Drive, Santa Cruz, CA  (831) 420-5270

Pogonip features approximately 8 miles of hiking trails. In the northernmost portion of Pogonip, a multi-use trail (approximately one mile in length) is open hikers, bicyclists and equestrians. This multi-use trail provides a connection between Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Pogonip, and the upper UCSC campus. Bicycles and horses are prohibited on all other trails. Bicyclists must ride responsibly and at a safe speed.

University of California Santa Cruz – UCSC

1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA  Campus Police at (831) 459-2231

UCSC has many excellent bike trails on campus lands adjacent to the Campus Natural Reserve. Use of the campus trails, are encouraged. Riding bicycles in the reserve, on the trails or elsewhere, is prohibited

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Aptos Creek Road, Soquel Drive, Aptos, CA   831-763-7062

The park offers rugged semi-wilderness, rising from sea level to steep coastal mountains of more than 2,600 feet.  It has over 30 miles of hiking, jogging and biking trails.

Soquel Demonstration State Park

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

4750 Old San Jose Road, Soquel, CA  (831) 475-8643

Offering almost 5 miles (out and back) trails, this preserve is extremely popular with mountain bikers.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton, CA   (831) 438-2396

This park features 15 miles of hiking and riding trails through a forest that looks much the same as it did 200 years ago.

Big Basin State Park

21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA   (831) 338-8860

The park has over 80 miles of trails. Be sure and pick up a map at park headquarters before your hike and take a look at the multimedia kiosk in the Sempervirens Room (next to park headquarters). There you will find great information, photos, and video of some of the most popular trails.

Long Ridge Preserve

Located at Peters Creek trailhead on the west side of Skyline Boulevard, about 3.6 miles north of its intersection with Highway 9, and approximately 3.3 miles south of its intersection with Page Mill Road.

Since one can take short hikes or rides to scenic overlooks or longer loop trips, the preserve is very popular with hikers, cyclists, and equestrians.

Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve

Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) and Highway 9 intersection

The two mile multi-use Saratoga Gap Trail provides great opportunities for hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

See Also State Parks and Beaches…

Bird Watching

Elkhorn Slough Foundation

Box 267, Moss Landing, CA 95039  (831) 728-5939

Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. This ecological treasure at the center of the Monterey Bay coastline provides much-needed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, including more than 340 species of birds.

Docent-led tours of the Reserve are held every Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. There is also an early birding walk the first Saturday of every month at 8:30 a.m.

Santa Cruz Bird Club

The Club sponsors birding walks in and around Santa Cruz County.  For a very detailed list of the best birding locations, please review the Club's Guide to Birding in Santa Cruz County, California.

Organizations and Articles of Interest:

||   Protecting the Snowy Plover – New Rules and Regulations

||   Sequoia Audubon Society – Environmental Education and Conservation


Boardwalk Bowl

115 Cliff St., Santa Cruz  (831) 426-3324


Childrens Day & Summer Camps


Family Favorites

Day Spas


Fitness Centers




Golf Courses


Santa Cruz is home to a number of wonderful areas that are perfect for hiking and nature walks.  

To review our listings of hiking trails and nature walks, please click here for a complete list of trails.


Horse Back Riding

Monterey Bay Equestrian Center — Beach rides

19805 Pesante Rd., Salinas  (831) 663-5712

Horse-N-Around – The Mitchell Ranch

980 Travers Lane, Watsonville, CA  95076  (408) 528-5461

Horse-n-Around offers horseback riding lessons to beginner riders of all ages.  We have a unique children's Discovery Program designed to introduce children to the world of horses.  We also offer summer camps. 

See Also State Parks and Beaches…



Elkhorn Slough Foundation

Box 267, Moss Landing, CA 95039  (831) 728-5939

Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. This ecological treasure at the center of the Monterey Bay coastline provides much-needed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, including more than 340 species of birds.

For the kayak lovers, the reserve is absolutely wonderful! Click here to read how to protect the reserve and where to launch and land your kayak >>

Adventure Sports

303 Potrero, Santa Cruz  (831) 458-3648

Kayak Connection

413 Lake Ave., Santa Cruz  (831) 479-1121
2370 Hwy 1, Moss Landing  (831) 724-5692

Monterey Bay Kayaks

693 Del Monte Ave., Monterey  (800) 649-5357

Venture Quest Kayaking

2 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA 95060   (831) 425-8445
Venture Quest Kayaking of Santa Cruz offers a unique opportunity to explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary from a kayak!


Music Venues 

Parks, Open Spaces, and Preserves 

Rock/Wall Climbing

Castle Rock State Park

Along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Castle Rock State Park contains 3,600 acres of coast redwood, Douglas-fir, and madrone forest. Steep canyons are sprinkled with unusual rock formations that are popular with rock climbers, and hikers can enjoy the 32 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails.

Pacific Edge Rock Climbing Gym

104 Bronson, Santa Cruz  (831) 454-9254
Santa Cruz. 50 feet high. Leading, top-roping and bouldering. Gear shop. Parties. Courses offered.


Roller Skating

Santa Cruz Roller Palladium

1606 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz  (831) 423-0844


Sailing Schools

Lighthall Yacht Charters — Sailing School

790 Mariner Park Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95062  (831) 429-1970
Sail Santa Cruz with Lighthall Charters, We offer Private Charters, Mixer Cruises, Sailing Lessons, Burials At Sea, Ash Scatterings, Scatterings at Sea, and Bare …

Pacific Yachting & Sailing — Sailing School

790 Mariner Park Way, Santa Cruz  (831) 423-7245
Sailing instruction on Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Located in the Santa Cruz yacht harbor.

U.C. Santa Cruz Boating Center — Sailing School

Mariner Park Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95062  (831) 425-1164
Santa Cruz 27 keelboat sailing infront of the harbormouth. rowing shells leaving the harbormouth headed out to sea. Junior sailing class sailing Coronado 15s ..


Scenic Boat Tours/Rentals

Chardonnay Sailing Charters

790 Mariner Pkwy. #A, Santa Cruz, CA 95062  (831) 423-1213
Tours of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary aboard the 70' ultralight sailing yacht Chardonnay II. Charters include whale watching, wine tasting, …

O'Neill Yachts

275 Lake Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062  (831) 818-3645
Come aboard the 65' Team O'Neill catamaran and experience an adventure on the … OYC offers a smooth, stable sailing experience for all aboard, as we cruise …

Pacific Yachting & Sailing — Sailing School

790 Mariner Park Way, Santa Cruz  (831) 423-7245

Santa Cruz Yacht Club

244 Fourth Ave., Santa Cruz  (831) 425-0690


SCUBA Diving

Adventure Sports

303 Potrero, Santa Cruz  (831) 458-3648

Aqua Safaris Scuba Center

6896 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz  (831) 423-3483
Aqua Safaris has been the Santa Cruz County go-to for all things SCUBA for over 25 years. Travel, equipment sales & rental, repairs, and training.

Bamboo Reef

614 Lighthouse Ave., Santa Cruz  (831) 372-1685


Ken Wormhoudt Skate Park

225 San Lorenzo Blvd at Riverside Ave., Santa Cruz, CA

Derby Park

508 Woodland Way, Santa Cruz, CA

Among the first public skateboard tracks. A favorite of street stylists

Jim Keefe Skate Park at Highlands County Park

8500 Highway 9 Ben Lomond, CA     (831) 336-5366

Ramsay Park

1301 Main St., Watsonville, CA

Sky Park

361 Kings Village Rd Scotts Valley, CA


Theater – Live 

Theme Parks

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA Review –  The boardwalk has the prefect blend of thrill rides and beautiful beaches.  Although it's great for older teens, the park also has an area dedicated for younger visitors with tame rides and various activities. 

The best part of the boardwalk is its proximity to the beach, waves and the municipal wharf.  When the park crowds become too much, you can always break away and enjoy the beach life. 

Gilroy Gardens

3050 Hecker Pass Rd Gilroy, CA 95020 (408) 840-7100 Review –  Excellent family oriented theme park — especially for families with younger children. The rides are pretty tame and there are lots of activities gear toward the little ones. 

Although the food at the park seems to be better than most theme parks, most families opt to bring their own snacks and drinks. It's healthier and a lot more cost effective.

Gilroy can be extremely hot in the summer, so make sure to take plenty of water and sun screen!

Paramount Great America

4701 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara, CA 95054


Looking for a major theme park with really cool rides? Click here to expand your search.

Tours - Guided

Culinary and Walking TourSanta Cruz Food Tour

529 Chestnut St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (800) 838-3006

Santa Cruz Food Tour offers a 3.5-hour cultural and culinary walking tour where you taste delicious food in out-of-the-way places and explore history and architecture in hidden neighborhoods. Come hungry and leave full. Rain or shine this is a non-touristy adventure you won't find anywhere else. People who have taken our tour have made us the number 1 Santa Cruz tour on Our downtown tour is 30% off at $52.50 and includes all the food and drink along the way (enough for a full meal).

Elkhorn Slough Safari Nature Tour

(831) 633-5555
Redwood Adventures
P.O. Box 1191, Boulder Creek  (831) 338-1191


Train Rides

Train Rides

Roaring Camp Big Trees Railroad

Graham Hill Rd., Felton (831) 335-4484


Circle Trail — Santa Cruz

A walker's guide to some of the most scenic areas Santa Cruz has to offer.

Santa Cruz Mission Hill

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park 140 School Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

The Mission Hill District is the birthplace of Santa Cruz and the first permanent European settlement in Santa Cruz County.   

Walnut Avenue Downtown Santa Cruz

With its uninterrupted Victorian buildings and mature tree cover, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll down one of the most beautiful streets in the City.  Building ages range from 1870 to 1938. Click here for Walking Tour brochure (PDF)

Ocean View Avenue

Established in 1871, this street is made up of many large homes that were originally built by wealthy year-round residents of San Jose and Central Valley residents looking for fine summer homes.  Click here for Walking Tour brochure (PDF)

Beach Hill

The area's historic residences reflect changes in Santa Cruz architectural styles form sea captain's cottages to mansions to bungalows.  Click here for Walking Tour brochure (PDF)

West Cliff Drive

Explorer1 Review — Located between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Municipal Wharf at one end and Natural Bridges State Park at the other, it is home to perhaps the most scenic pathway in Santa Cruz.  The two mile drive has extra wide pathways that are wheelchair accessible and are designated "multiuse". They are perfect for cycling, skating, and walking.  West Cliff also provides visual and physical access points to surfing, tide pools, beaches, fishing, Frisbee, and skim boarding.

During the peak tourist season and various surf and sea kayak contests, the area can get extremely busy.  Also, the local surfers at Steamer Lane can get a little territorial with the waves.

When visiting West Cliff Drive, don't forget to visit the "Surf Museum" located in Lighthouse Field.

University of California Santa Cruz – UCSC

1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA  Campus Police at (831) 459-2231

UCSC has many excellent bike trails on campus lands adjacent to the Campus Natural Reserve. Use of the campus trails, are encouraged. Riding bicycles in the reserve, on the trails or elsewhere, is prohibited

Santa Cruz Wharf

Next the the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  (831) 420-5270

Home to several restaurants and shops, you can spend hours strolling along the wharf while you take in the sights and sounds of Santa Cruz. 

Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor

Santa Cruz Port Dist., 135 Fifth Ave., Santa Cruz, CA  (831) 475-6161

Along with housing boats, the harbor is also home to several restaurants and bars.   The harbor has wide walkways and a service road that boarders the harbor.  The mostly flat surfaces make it perfect for walking, jogging and biking.  Also, with the exception of the harbor's restaurant/bar area, most of the course has very little car traffic.

Also see biking and hiking links


Go to Parks & Beaches Page…


Whale-Watching Tours

Whale Watching –  Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, Half Moon Bay

From Dec-May, thousands of gray whales swim north along the California coast on their way to summer feeding grounds. Oceanic Society and others offer boat tours to view these majestic creatures up close..

Gray Whales – 20,000 Gray Whales pass by the Central Coast two times every year. During December through mid February, the whales migrate south from the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska to their winter birthing grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then from mid February through April, they return to the arctic waters to feed.  Peak viewing times are usually mid January and mid March.   More background on the Gray Whale >>

Humpback Whales – Spending the winter months off of the Mexican Coast to breed and give birth, the Humpback Whales migrate north to polar waters to feed during the summer months.  Humpback Whales are most common off the Central Coast from April through November.  More background on the Humpback >>












Wind Surfing



Wine Tasting

What's on Tap
This Fall


Santa Cruz Festivals & Events:

Santa Cruz Christmas Tree Farm Locations  Late Nov & Dec.

Christmas and Winter Holiday Inspired Events and ActivitiesExplore a list of holiday inspired events in and around Santa Cruz 

Whale Watching – Dec. through May  

Elephant Seal Watching – December is breeding season. Año Nuevo State Reserve has a large colony of northern elephant seals that assemble there each winter.

For more event information, click on our Festivals & Events page for Santa Cruz.


Top Fall Attractions:


Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Fun for all ages.  

Santa Cruz Fishing 

Fall is fishing and crabbing season in Santa Cruz!

Santa Cruz Surfing

With 11 world-class surf breaks such as Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point, it is easy to understand why the greatest surfers in the world call Santa Cruz home!  

Whale Watching – Whale Watching December through May


For more information on local attractions, click on the Attractions or Recreational Activities.



The Region's Fall Advisories:

Traffic Conditions. Rush hour traffic can be extremely challenging – especially along Mission Street and Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Capitols. It's a good idea to plan ahead and arrive early and leave late. Go to to learn about road conditions. 

Yes, it's still water, water, water! California is undergoing an extreme drought. If you are planning a lake vacation be sure to check about water levels. That rafting trip, fishing, or skiing can be impacted.

EXTREME fire danger. The drought has created a very dangerous combination of dry vegetation and no moisture in the air to help contain any fire. Please use extreme caution during your trip.