You can’t overstate the undeniable draw of a place like Santa Cruz. Where else can you hike amidst the towering redwoods and then hop in your car and within 15 minutes catch a wave at any number of iconic surf spots? As if its natural beauty weren’t enough, this dreamy beach town offers an incredible selection of food and drink and an independent spirit that creates its own unique culture.
When you visit Santa Cruz, start your day off at The Abbey, a coffee, art, and music lounge. This cozy spot just off the highway brews delicious artisanal Chromatic Coffee (San Jose shout out!), serves homemade pastries, and offers an inviting ambiance. Consider this your pre-breakfast caffeination destination, because before it gets too late, you need to get down the street to Cafe Brasil, a tiny, bustling breakfast hotspot. Their acai bowls are a must, and everything on the menu is hearty, healthy, and so, so tasty.
Next up, a couple of gorgeous ways to enjoy the coast. Keep heading up Mission Street and you’ll hit the breathtaking open road of Highway 1, where you’ll instantly feel as if you’re miles from any big city as you take in the stunning ocean views to your left and rolling hills and farms on your right. About three miles out, you’ll hit Wilder Ranch State Park, where you can you hop on a flat coastal trail—either by foot or on bike—to take a closer look at the untouched beaches and wildlife and the endless miles of ocean horizon.
If you want to stay closer to town, you can take a walk/bike/stroll along West Cliff, where you’ll enjoy a view of the Wharf, surfers just off Lighthouse Field, and maybe even a few of the thousands of dolphins and whales who come to feed in the bay. At the end of West Cliff, you can relax on the warm sands of Natural Bridges State Beach—and if it’s the right time of year, you can also enjoy the monarch butterfly sanctuary located there!
All that activity will work up your appetite and have you ready to visit The Picnic Basket, just one of the four brilliant establishments dreamed up by the team at The Glass Jar. Enjoy their selection of healthful and delicious sandwiches and salads (we recommend The Beet sandwich and Daily Grains salad), locally roasted Verve coffee, and one-of-a-kind ice cream flavors provided by The Penny Ice Creamery (another Glass Jar creation).
From here, you have plenty of options. Of course Santa Cruz’s iconic Beach Boardwalk is right across the street—but there’s so much more to discover as well!
Downtown Santa Cruz offers a taste of our town’s eclectic style, with lots of independent retailers to explore. Buying a book off of Amazon just doesn’t compare to the experience of shopping for one at Bookshop Santa Cruz, a local institution where you can seriously get lost for hours checking out current and classic reads. Give yourself time to wander around, and don’t miss Stripe and Stripe Men, two of the best lifestyle, gift, and accessory spots in town.
You can also head up to Mount Hermon Adventures for an exhilarating aerial Adventure Tour of the majestic redwood forest. This is an unforgettable way for a group of friends or family to experience the redwoods—book ahead to ensure your spot!
Recent years have seen Santa Cruz become a hotspot for independent breweries and tap rooms. Of the many to choose from, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales should probably be at the top of your list, having won international acclaim for its barrel-aged beers. You could also invest a few hours in a Brew Cruz, where a stylized bus will drive you around to a number of local breweries to tour their facilities, learn their history, and enjoy a pint at each spot along the way.
To finish up your day, there’s a ton of great restaurant options, including Malabar, which features a vegetarian Asian fusion / Sri Lankan menu, a calming atmosphere, and way too many amazing dishes for just one visit. Try the Mango Almond Curry, Mee Goreng, or really anything on the menu!
Want to catch some live music, a festival, an art show, or a movie screening? Santa Cruz always has an event to check out: visit santacruz.com/events for all the different goings-on you can enjoy during your visit.
The inviting charm of this little beach town with a big personality has made it a popular tourist destination for decades. Lucky for our neighbors in Silicon Valley, the trip over here is short—one you’ll want to make often!
Places to Visit in Santa Cruz
Written by Brian and Kristin Jensen
Photography by Jared William Dyck
Article originally appeared in Issue 8.2 Sync