Santa Cruz has long been a popular vacation destination for Central Valley residents. Located less than three hours northwest of Fresno, there is plenty to do and see in this quirky beach town.
If you’ve never been, or haven’t been to Santa Cruz in a while, here are 10 reasons why you should go this summer.
1. The Boardwalk is 110 Years Young
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a seaside amusement park that mixes modern-day fun with old-time charm.
Typhoon and Shockwave are two new rides that will test your bravery. Park favorites like the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller-coaster that dates back to 1924, and the 1911 Looff Carousel (a National Historic Landmark) are must-rides.
The carousel’s unique ring toss game makes it extra special. Riders want an outside horse, so they can toss metal rings into the clown’s mouth.
There are all kinds of beach-side foods and desserts. My personal favorite is an ice cream sandwich on a stick. It’s two chocolate chip cookies with ice cream in the middle, dipped in chocolate and nuts. Longtime visitors know it as a “Sandae.”
Learn more about the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk including ways to save at BeachBoardwalk.com.
2. The Dream Inn Has a New Look
The Dream Inn is Santa Cruz’s only hotel on the beach. It’s on the pricey side, but the view is hard to beat. The hotel just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. The rooms, lobby, and pool deck got a new retro-chic look.
Another nice thing about the Dream Inn is its walking distance to the Boardwalk, wharf, and downtown.
Learn more at DreamInnSantaCruz.com.
3. It’s a Relief to Beat the Valley Heat
With average temperatures in July and August in the mid-70s, Santa Cruz is usually 30 degrees cooler than Fresno on any given summer day.
Expect overcast skies in the morning that give way to sunshine by early afternoon.
4. You Can Honor Surfing Legend Jack O’Neill
Jack O’Neill, the inventor of the wetsuit, passed away in June. He called Santa Cruz home. You can visit one of his surf shops or watch folks hang ten at Pleasure Point or Lighthouse Field State Beach in his honor.
Surfing is a big part of Santa Cruz culture. Lighthouse Field State Beach is also home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
5. Downtown’s Pacific Avenue is a Unique Destination
People-watching is a sport along Santa Cruz’s Pacific Avenue. You will no doubt encounter a few people who think they are still living in the 1960s.
In addition to the characters on the street, you’ll discover unique shops that offer local flair. Favorites include Pacific Trading Co., a boutique with sophisticated style, Paper Vision, home to a wide variety of greeting cards, posters, and retro children’s toys, and Bookshop Santa Cruz, which celebrated 50 years in 2016.
Downtown Santa Cruz is full of restaurant and coffee shops. Walnut Avenue Café, El Palomar Restaurant, Pizza My Heart, and Verve Coffee Roasters are just a few standouts.
Plan your visit at DowntownSantaCruz.com.
6. Marini’s Candies is Good Stuff
Since 1915, this family-owned candy company has been turning out delicious treats.
Their salt water taffy is made with an old-fashioned recipe by founder Victor Marini. Marini’s fudge, candied apples, caramel corn, and gummi treats also have a huge following.
To learn about Marini’s three stores and historic Boardwalk location, visit MarinisCandies.com.
7. There Are Beaches, So Many Beaches!
Santa Cruz County has 29 miles of beaches. Each one is a little bit different.
Check out this list of Santa Cruz’s beaches broken down by categories such as camping, family beaches, kayaking, fishing, picnicking, and romantic sunsets.
8. Sailboat Races Happen Wednesday Nights
Santa Cruz has a large sailing community. There’s even a weekly regatta at Santa Cruz Harbor.
Have dinner at the Crow’s Nest Restaurant or a drink at their upstairs bar and watch the boats come into the harbor on Wednesday evenings.
Details can be found at SantaCruz.org/sailboat-races.
9. You Can Experience a Working Wharf
Santa Cruz’s Municipal Wharf is over a century old. Called the Gateway to the Monterey Bay, the wharf is a ½-mile long.
Santa Cruz’s wharf is unique in that you can drive on it. It’s lined with restaurants and shops, and you’ll likely spot a sea lion, dolphin, otter or whale from it! It’s also a great place to fish.
10. Casa de Fruta is a Great Rest Stop
Located along the Pacheco Pass, two miles east of the Highway 152 and Highway 156 junction, Casa de Fruta isn’t your typical rest stop. There’s fruit and nuts to purchase, activities for kids (like a train ride), and great food and wine.
Learn more at CasaDeFruta.com.