Santa Cruz, California: Fun on the Boardwalk and Beyond

Oceanside fun, tasty eats, and California history converge in Santa Cruz.

Summer visitors flock to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on the Fourth of July.
Since 1907 the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been the place to go on the West Coast for summer fun.
David Litman / Shutterstock

Northern California’s classic beach destination pairs a carefree ocean-side scene with a bustling downtown brimming with tasteful restaurants and shops.

Riders squeal as their cars spin 360s and take drops at 40 miles per hour on Undertow coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. There’s also an arcade and a pirate-packed, two-story miniature golf course, and live bands perform on the boardwalk Friday evenings starting in June. 

At neighboring Main and Cowell Beaches, sea lions bark under the wharf and surfers slice the waves. Swing by a game of beach volleyball, but stick around for sunset photo ops—and great views of the pier, as well.

Peace fills the vine-covered patio at Laili Restaurant, serving Afghan and Mediterranean food. Try the apricot-chicken flatbread, topped with Parmesan, dates, and pomegranate seeds. 

The wooden door of the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park in Santa Cruz, California.
Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park.
yhelfman / Shutterstock

When the Spanish arrived in the late 1700s, this area was home to some 50 American Indian groups. On a bluff overlooking downtown, Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park preserves a long adobe structure that housed the subjugated Indians. It now displays a wood-and-sheepskin cradle and other artifacts. 

A 250-gram brick of pu-erh, at Hidden Peak Teahouse can run $155, but it could last a year. The shop offers delightful options to sip on the garden patio.

At the homey Penny Ice Creamery, ginger plum shortbread, Verve coffee, and other inventive flavors keep folks lined up out the door. 

The mix of handmade artworks and crafts at Artisans & Agency includes cheery jewelry boxes papered with dogwood blossoms, owls, and other motifs.

This article was first published in May 2014 and was last updated in August 2022.