Santa Cruz, California: Fun on the Boardwalk and Beyond

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

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 oceanside scene with a bustling downtown brimming with tasteful restaurants and shops. For discounted boardwalk attraction tickets, visit a AAA branch.

Riders squeal as their cars spin 360s and take drops at 40 miles per hour on Undertow, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s newest roller coaster. 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. 

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 $125, but it could last a year. The shop offers classes and free samples. 

At the homey Penny Ice Creamery, brown-butter spiced pecan, black licorice pear, and other inventive flavors keep folks lined up out the door. 

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

Some taste spicy, some buttery; others come infused with porcini or herbes de Provence. At the True Olive Connection, shoppers can sample some two dozen olive oils on tap and balsamic vinegars laced with everything from espresso to mango.

Spend less on entertainment by using your AAA discount at movie theaters, sporting events, and popular attractions.

This article was first published in May 2014 and was updated in February 2018. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.