Santa Cruz is a laid-back beach town with year-round sunshine, family-friendly beaches, great restaurants and diverse attractions. Whether you are just spending a night on your way to Big Sur, Monterey and other destinations along the coast, or planning to spend a weekend, Santa Cruz offers plenty to see and do.

Learn about marine conservation at the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center, take a romantic walk through the University of Santa Cruz Arboretum, go kayaking, zip lining and enjoy Pacific Ocean views from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

1. Wilder Ranch State Park

Wilder Ranch State Park
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Located on the northern coast of Santa Cruz overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Wilder Ranch State Park offers beautiful natural scenery and an array of outdoor activities to enjoy. Formerly the main ranch that supplied the Santa Cruz Mission and later a dairy farm, many of the ranch buildings, homes and gardens have been turned into museums and displays for the public to explore. The park boasts a network of trails that wind through coastal terraces and valleys, which are ideal for walking, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The coastline of the Wilder Ranch State Park is a marine protected area known as the Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve, and is home to a fascinating array of ocean tidal zone wildlife and marine ecosystems.

2. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
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Boasting fun amusement rides and fun-filled activities, great places to eat, a rich history, and a spectacular beach setting, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been the beating heart of the seaside city for more than 100 years. Founded in 1907, the Boardwalk stretches along a beautiful sandy beach alongside the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is home to schools of dolphins, packs of sea lions, playful sea otters and pods of whales. The seaside amusement park features exhilarating rides and heart-stopping adventures, including two rides which are National Historic Landmarks - the Looff Carousel's exhilarating ring toss and the renowned Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, built in 1924 – both of which still thrill crowds today. Indoor arcades offer the latest video and redemption games, a two-story miniature golf course, laser tag, pinball machines and a vintage game collection. There is also a large family-friendly bowling center across the street from the park.

3. Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Seymour Marine Discovery Center
© Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Explore the underwater world of the ocean at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Overlooking Monterey Bay, the Discovery Center is part of the University of California’s Long Marine Laboratory and provides a fun-filled way of learning about the ocean for children of all ages. The center features an impressive aquarium teeming with species from across the globe, an invertebrate pool where you can touch sea anemones, sea urchins, starfish and hermit crabs, and a large shark pool providing a close-up view of these incredible creatures. A massive blue whale skeleton leaves visitors in awe, and a range of educational programs and workshops are available for children who are interested in learning more. Guided tours of the center occur three times a day, with a special 30-minute tour for families with younger children. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is one of the top attractions in Santa Cruz.

100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-459-3800

4. La Posta Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California

La Posta Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California
© La Posta Restaurant

La Posta is a charming neighborhood restaurant that brings the soul of traditional Italian cuisine into the heart of Seabright. The restaurant has a simple interior with dark wood and 1930s-style office lights. With the focus on delicious Italian fare, the menu features mouthwatering, super-thin pizzas, homemade bread straight from the wood-fired oven, cured meats, and fresh pasta. Inspired by organic products provided by local farmers, foragers, and fishermen, Chef Katherine Stern delivers a contemporary, market-driven menu of authentic Italian food, complemented by an diverse wine list of Italian vintages.

538 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, California 95062, Phone: 831-457-2782

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5. UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California
© UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum is a research and teaching facility that is committed to plant conservation and educating the public on its importance. The Arboretum is home to a rich and diverse collection of flora with more than 300 plant families from the floral kingdom, including rare and threatened species.

Located on the west side of the University campus, the Arboretum features a variety of displays and gardens showcasing shrubs, trees and flowers from across the world, including world conifers, primitive angiosperms, and bulb-forming plant families. Docent-led tours are a fantastic way to explore the arboretum and are available on request. The facility also hosts various educational events throughout the year to engage and educate the public on plant diversity and the importance of conservation. Romantic Weekend Getaways in California

1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, California 95064, Phone: 831-502-2998

6. Solaire Restaurant and Bar, Santa Cruz, California

Solaire Restaurant and Bar, Santa Cruz, California
© Solaire Restaurant and Bar

Escape the hustle and bustle of daily life with a cocktail at the poolside bar or a sublime meal created by Executive Chef Ross McKee at the elegant Solaire Restaurant + Bar. In a setting that is cool and classy, with white dining booths and creamy sage chairs encircling a central fire pit, Solaire serves a seasonal farm-to-table menu made from organic and locally-sourced ingredients. Entrées include juicy tenderloin strips and crab firecrackers with mains such as arctic char and prime-cut filet paired with a selection of Santa Cruz Mountain wines and several local micro-brews. End the evening with a cocktail or nightcap at the poolside bar, with its candlelit cabanas, hot tub and crackling fire pit.

611 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-600-4545

7. Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
© Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Founded in 1905, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is home to a vast collection of Native American and archeological artifacts and natural history specimens of the past, the museum aims to inspire and encourage exploration and education of the natural world. Housed in the Carnegie Library, the museum features a wealth of exhibits, both transient and permanent, which highlight particular aspects of the natural world, such as ‘The Ohlone People’, ‘Geology of Santa Cruz’ and ‘Wildlife and Habitats.’ Collections include a selection of scientific illustrations on the nature of art, as well as thousands of biological, ethnographic, and historical artifacts. An outdoor exhibit kiosk on the Santa Cruz Wharf was added in 1984, displaying the wharf's history and surrounding marine life. Don’t miss a visit to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, which features fantastic old surfboards and historical photographs. Things to Do in California

1305 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, California 95062, Phone: 831-420-6115

8. Oswald Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California

Oswald Restaurant, Santa Cruz, California
© Oswald Restaurant

Oswald is a stylish and sophisticated eatery in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz that has been serving California comfort food and craft cocktails since 1995. Minimalist décor allows for the restaurant’s exhibition kitchen to take center stage, along with the patrons, creating a lively, vibrant atmosphere in this upscale, urban eatery. A superb wait staff makes you feel right at home, and a lively bar adds to the convivial ambiance as you tuck into a menu that offers tried and tested signature dishes such as the seared ahi appetizer. Perfectly prepared mains range from crispy duck to sea-smacking scallops with garden-fresh vegetables, and the wine list provides an excellent choice of vintages, beers, and spirits.

121 Soquel Ave. Front St., Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-423-7427

9. Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center

Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center
© Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and just steps away from the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center celebrates the spectacular Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, its diverse ecosystems and plethora of marine inhabitants. Featuring an array of engaging interactive and multi-media exhibits, the center aims to not only enable visitors to explore the sanctuary's remarkable marine environment, but also to educate them on the importance of marine conservation and their role in its preservation. Interpretive exhibits are the heart of the center, using state-of-the-art audiovisual media in conjunction with several touchable displays, films, and interactive video kiosks. Main exhibits include an introduction to the sanctuary and its inhabitants, ‘Where Does Your Water Go’, an informative presentation that explains the path that ground water takes and where it ends up, and an attractive Intertidal Touch Pool, where visitors can touch and feel different animals of the sea.

35 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-421-9993

10. Lago di Como, Santa Cruz, CA

Lago di Como, Santa Cruz, CA
© Lago di Como

For a taste of Italy in the heart of Santa Cruz, head to Lago di Como on East Cliff Drive. Owned by Giovanni and Mary Ellen Salciccia-Spanu, Lago di Como has a warm and inviting atmosphere, with slate tile floors, dark gray and creamy ivory walls, and well-placed mirrors that create an illusion of space. The eatery serves a mouthwatering menu of traditional Northern Italian fare, from homemade pastas and sauces to wood-fired pizzas and a range of authentic meat and fish dishes, such as the fresh salmon with lemon glaze or the veal scaloppini with mushroom sauce. An impressive variety of wines and Proseccos is the perfect accompaniment to every dish.

21490 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, California 95062, Phone: 831-454-8257

11. Beach House Rentals - Vacation Rentals in Santa Cruz

Beach House Rentals - Vacation Rentals in Santa Cruz
© Beach House Rentals - Vacation Rentals in Santa Cruz

Beach House Rentals is one of the best providers of vacation rental properties in the Santa Cruz area, offering a range of beach houses in various sizes and styles to suit all needs and budgets. The advantage of working with Beach House Rentals is that this company fully specializes in Santa Cruz and the neighboring areas of Aptos and Capitola, so you’ll only be dealing with people who know this city better than anyone and can truly help you find the dream property. Since this company has such a large number and variety of properties in its portfolio, it can find the right one to match your needs. You’ll find a lot of variety, from simple town homes and condos to larger and more luxurious oceanfront homes, with options available to match up with all budgets.

What is Santa Cruz known for? What to do.

What are the top attractions to visit in Santa Cruz?

The top attractions to visit in Santa Cruz according to local experts are:

Wineries near Santa Cruz

When it comes to wine in the United States, few regions rank as highly as the Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation area. This part of California is known for producing some of the very best American wines, with the area's unique microclimate helping to provide the perfect conditions for grape growth. The days around Santa Cruz are often warm, with a lot of sunshine, while the nights are moist and cool. The soil is particularly rich in minerals and nutrients too. In short, this area was made to make wine.

Therefore, it's no surprise that the Santa Cruz region has dozens of different wineries and a long list of high class, great quality bottles being produced every single year. The full region covers an area of more than 800 square miles, and there are Santa Cruz wineries all around this area, so wine connoisseurs and appreciators often have a lot of fun traveling around and visiting some of the best wineries. What's more, the Santa Cruz region retains the laid-back, friendly attitude that so much of California is known for; you won't find many wine snobs or pretentious tasting rooms here.

This means that everyone, from a sommelier-in-training to a casual wine fan, can visit a Santa Cruz winery and have a great time, feeling completely welcome and tasting some of the best wines the region has to offer. There are plenty of excellent wineries to be found all around the Santa Cruz region. Here are some details on a few of the very best.

Nicholson Vineyards

Situated on a lovely stretch of land down in the Corralitos foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Nicholson Vineyards has been owned and operated by the same family for many generations now. Producing some especially delicious and elaborate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Nicholson Vineyards also makes an excellent olive oil. The friendly family staff will only be too happy to welcome you onto their land for some tastings and stories about the vineyard and local area.

This Santa Cruz winery opens up every Saturday for guests, with tastings taking place outside on the lawn, looking out over the land. The tastings are aslo very nicely priced here; for just $10, you can try five specialty wines, or increase that price to $15 for five estate/reserve wines. If you happen to buy a couple of bottles, you'll fee will be refunded entirely.

2800 Pleasant Valley Rd, Aptos, CA 95003, Phone: 831-724-7071

MJA Vineyards

You'll feel like you've been transported to the shores of Honolulu as you step inside MJA Vineyards, one of the Santa Cruz area's best rated and most beloved wineries. This winery is named after its owner, Marin John Artukovich. MJA used to live and work in Hawaii, growing coffee, but decided to bring that same love and passion, as well as a little 'Aloha spirit' into the creation of wine.

More than 8,000 cases are produced every single year and the wines here are priced very fairly and attractively. Not only that, but MJA offers one of the strongest selections of any Santa Cruz winery, with everything from Bordeaux blends to Sauvignon Blanc wines and dessert wines. You'll want to sign up for wine club membership and order yourself a 'Big Kahuna' package once you've tried some of these wonderful wines.

328 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, Phone: 831-421-9380

Beauregard Vineyards

Beauregard Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in Santa Cruz, having first been established in 1945. The same family have owned and operated this winery for many decades know and they know the ins and outs of the land better than anyone else. There's no real specialty at Beauregard as this winery excels with many different grapes and wines including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. You'll even find Orange Wine and Apple Wine here if you're looking to try something different.

A visit to this winery can be enjoyed on any day of the week, with the tasting room being open from 10am to 5pm. You only have to buy a single bottle to bypass the tasting fee, so it's definitely worth taking at least one of Beauregard's creations home with you. You might even choose to sign up for the wine club, which offers a lot of great packages and some excellent benefits.

10 Pine Flat Road Santa Cruz, CA 95060, Phone: 831-425-7777

Ridge Vineyards

One of the best-known names in the California wine industry, Ridge Vineyards made its first vintage back in 1962 and has only gotten better and bigger over the years. The 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon won international awards, and the winery's Chardonny and Zinfandel wines have been hugely popular over the years as well. This is a very well-established Santa Cruz winery and an example for all others to try and emulate.

Ridge Vineyards is one of the very best wineries in all of North America, so it's a must-visit location for anyone in Santa Cruz. Tastings are organized on Saturdays and Sundays, but you can call up and make a private weekday reservation if you wish. There are three different tasting experiences, starting at $10 and going up to $25, with the more expensive option including a tasting of the winery's finest creation, the Monte Bello.

17100 Montebello Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014, Phone: 408-867-3233

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