Things to do on your next Santa Cruz Vacation
There's ton of things to do in Santa Cruz, California. From miles of quiet sunny beaches to majestic redwoods along a mountain stream theres plenty of amazing outdoor activities that Santa Cruz offers. Once the sun goes down, things light up around town with lively nightlife, amazing local brews, and even free concerts that will surely make Santa Cruz a favorite vacation destination!
Ride the Giant Dipper at the Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beah Boardwalk is the primere attraction in the area. The oceanfront amusement park features all manner of attractions. Featuring an indoor minigolf course, laser tag area, and over 35 roller coasters and rides, all open for free admission everyday!
The famous Giant Dipper roller coaster is a historic wooden roller coaster that dominates the Santa Cruz skyline. Originally opened in 1924, it goes to a height of 70 feet and reaches speeds of 55 mph, it still stands as one of the most popular wooden roller coasters in the world with over 60 million people riding as of 2012. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and It still uses its original 70 horsepower motor provided by Santa Cruz Electric to this day!
Visit Walton Lighthouse
For over 50 years, the Walton Lighthouse has guarded the entrance to the Santa Cruz Harbor. The lighthouse stands over 40ft tall and is built to withstand over 250,000 pounds of wave energy.
This structure is a much more elegant looking lighthouse that replaced an earlier "Water Heater" looking structure in 1999. It was dedicated in 2002 by benefactor Charles Walton, whos late brother, Dereck, served in the merchant marines.
You can find the entrance to the Walton lighthouse by driving south on Seabright Ave then turning left on Atlantic Ave. Park at the end, you will find a trail going off at the end of the street, next to Aldo's Harbor Resturant leading to the jetty and lighthouse.
MONARCH BUTTERFLIES VIEWING AT NATURAL BRIDGES
Every fall, Natural Bridges State Beach fills with thousands of monarch butterflies. This eucalyptus grove nestled just north of Santa Cruz is the monarchs winter habitat after their long migration from colder areas to escape freezing temperatures (the monarch is a tropical species afterall). The eucalyptus grove is the only monarch preserve in California, which is an idea location for the butterflies because theres little wind in the canyon, which fills with sunlight and keeps the monarch warm. The eucalyptus trees also conviniently flower in the winter, giving the butterflies a source of food.
Ideal obsevation is from late-November to early-December, with guided tours offered at 11am and 2pm. However, the monarch migration times can vary so its encouraged to call the park first.
RIDE THE RAILS THROUGH REDWOODS AT ROARING CAMP
The Santa Cruz mountains are filled with pristine redwood trees, which no doubt inspired business tycoon Norman Clark to establish the Roaring Camp Railroad in 1963. Its purpose, in keeping with his family tradition, was to "bring the romance and color of steam railroading back to America".
The original steam engine Dixiana was found by Clark abandonded near a coal mine in the Appalachian Mountains, and still operates today. The railroad was laid out through twisting switchbacks and tressles situated amonst giant redwoods and was designed to cut as few trees as possible. The steam engines and narrow gauge tracks are considered some of the most authentically preserved tracks and the Beach Train regularly goes straight though Santa Cruz town to the Beach Boardwalk!
Paddleboard Supping in the Bay
Santa Cruz is a prime vacation spot for water activies, with paddleboard being expecially popular in the calm bay. You can spot all manner of fish, seals, sea lions, otters, dolphins, even whales! Many of these creatures congregate around Santa Cruz, Seacliff, and Capitola Piers. Rentals are availible nearby from many local companies, which can provide more tips on how to safely use your gear.
When floating around piers, be sure to pay attention to people above. There can be fishing lines, people casting below that are not aware of people in the water. Keep an eye out for other boaters and pay close attention to the currents and waves, never turn your back to the ocean!