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Top Family Activities in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California Hotels and Resorts

Top Picks for Family-friendly Activities in Santa Cruz  — From exploring local beaches to strolling along West Cliff Drive to building sandcastles on the local beaches, Santa Cruz has many family-friendly activities that can cater to just about any age.   

To review our top picks for family activities, please scroll down the page or click on year round or seasonal activities.
   

 

Top Year Round Family
Friendly Activities

Building sand castlesSanta Cruz State Beaches is our #1 pick

Picnicking, swimming, building sandcastles, and kite flying are just a few of the activities that you will find at Santa Cruz State Beach. Click here to learn more Half Moon Bay's outdoor recreational areas.  

Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab is our #2 pick

100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, CA  (831-459-3800

Although the facility is only a fraction of the size of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it is just big enough to keep families with smaller children engaged through exhibits, aquariums, and especially the touch tanks.  The very low key environment allows children to explore and learn without becoming overwhelmed.  Other activities include touring the marine mammal research overlook, and taking in the beautiful views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  Also, between 1 to 3:00 the Center offers craft projects for children.  Adults and older children (10 years+) may enjoy the Marine Mammal Research "behind-the-scenes" tour.  The 75-minute tour starts at 2:15 on selected Thursdays and Sundays of each month.  Be sure to call for information and to reserve your spot on the tour!

West Cliff Drive / Lighthouse Field is our #3 pick

The wide paved path that parallels West Cliff Dr. is ideal for walking, strolling, biking and skating.  You can also just sit, relax and and take in the sweeping Monterey Bay views from the bluff top benches or watch the surfers at Steamer Lane next to the historic lighthouse.

Gilroy Gardens is our #4 pick

3050 Hecker Pass Rd Gilroy, CA 95020 (408) 840-7100

Excellent family oriented theme park — especially for families with younger children. The rides are pretty tame and there are lots of activities geared 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! bring their own snacks and drinks. It's healthier and a lot more cost effective.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is our #5 pick

Yes it is a big tourist attraction with a lot of big scary rides.  But they've also done a pretty good job of developing a number of activities for younger children too.   And 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. 

Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad is our #6 pick

The Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Railway Company operates the train between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Roaring Camp.  Although, the beach train ride is enjoyable, our favorite train is the narrow-gauge steam locomotive that operates from Roaring Camp and travels into towering redwood groves, over trestles, and up a winding narrow-gauge grade to the summit of Bear Mountain. 

Hidden VillaHidden Villa is our #7 pick

Located in the Los Altos Hills, it's worth the drive to visit this real working farm.  Its mission is to educate, and that it does with its organic gardens and animals.  Children love to get up close and personal with chickens, cows, pigs and much more.  Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the afternoon….

 

Family Favorite Seasonal Activities

Christmas Tree CuttingChristmas Tree Cutting

During the Holidays, you can create a cherished family memory by cutting your own tree at one of the Christmas tree farms located in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
  

Santa Cruz Pumpkin PatchesSanta Cruz Pumpkin Patches

A great Fall activity is to take the whole family out to a Santa Cruz or Half Moon Bay pumpkin patch and select the perfect pumpkin.  Most of the larger farms have other activities too that range from gigantic hay labyrinth to petting pens to pony rides and haunted houses.

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival 

The Pumpkin Festival has plenty of activities designed specifically for younger attendees.  From face painting to pie eating and pumpkin carving contests, there is something for just about everyone!
 

Berry PickingBerry Picking

During the Spring and Summer, many local farms between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay open their fields to the public for berry picking.  This can be fun, educational, and yummy activity for the whole family!

 

 

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What’s on Tap

Events

Santa Cruz Festivals & Events:

Thunderbirds on the Santa Cruz Wharf! Sept. 30, 2017 at 9am to 3pm.

Featuring the classic 1955-1957, the 1958-1965 vintage and the retro, 2002-2005 Thunderbirds.

Open Studios Art Tour – First 3 weeks in Oct. 2017

Welcome Back Monarchs Day – Oct. 8, 2017 11am – 4pm.

Annual Monte Foundation Fireworks Extravaganza! – Oct. 8, 2017

Santa Cruz Pumpkin Patches—Oct. 2017

MORE Santa Cruz Halloween Celebrations—Oct. 2017

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival—Oct. 14 & 15, 2017

Main Street, Half Moon Bay, CA

 

 

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

 

Attractions

Top Santa Cruz Attractions:

 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Fun for all ages.

Santa Cruz Campgrounds

Ocean views or Redwoods? Over 27 campgrounds and RV Parks

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.

 

 

Advisories

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 www.caltrans.com 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.