Santa Cruz, California, has long been popular for its beaches and the thrills that can be found along the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk, which started as a public bathhouse ages ago, now hosts an arcade, seafood restaurants, and rides. But there's more to this seaside destination than rollercoasters and corn dogs.
Traveling along the coast, winding down into Santa Cruz (and yes, Highway 17 is very winding and, in places, narrow, despite being multi-lane), visitors can see the mountains that hug either side of the highway. In some places, the mountains almost seem to hug the road.
On the way to the beach, though, most travelers aren't looking too closely at those mountains or the redwoods that live there. But a short trip from the beach, visitors can get lost among the towering redwoods, a juxtaposition that reinforces how magnificent nature is.
Not only that but both can be enjoyed on the same day because of their proximity. Pack the surfboard and hiking shoes for this adventure.
Visit Santa Cruz, California, To Hit The Beach And The Trails
Santa Cruz feels like a small beach town, and it can be a bit rough around the edges. But tucked away throughout the city are absolute gems of local eateries, quirky hotels (a literal parrot will call out to passersby from one hotel near the Boardwalk), and surfers galore.
And it's true that surfing is a selling point in the area, but let's be honest — most visitors to the Boardwalk are there for rides, sunbathing, and splashing in the waves. For that purpose, the Boardwalk is a great destination.
Then, to replenish one's sanity and soothe the sunburn, it's off to the redwoods, a brief 20-minute drive from the beach.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Offers Sand, Surf, And Thrills
The Boardwalk itself has been an attraction since 1907, so while the beach itself (surfers love this locale) is popular, people also flock to the Boardwalk for rides, snacks, and souvenirs. An old-school candy shop (complete with taffy pulled on site), a classic carousel (it's indoors!), and of course, a Ferris Wheel with a view of the water are a few highlights.
Then there's the Mystery Spot, of course, where everyone picks up those ubiquitous Mystery Spot stickers — but doesn't share the details, and especially not the secret behind the mystery itself.
Just past the Boardwalk, heading out of town, surfers convene to wade into the surf, reminding visitors that it's not all about the rollercoasters. There are also natural thrills to enjoy, like kayaking in the Painted Sea Cave off the coast.
It's only natural to start out a trip at the Boardwalk, take a few rides and grab some cotton candy, then segue into more nature-based activities, like gazing up at a redwood tree that has outlived 15 generations of humans.
About The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- Location: 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
- Cost: Entrance is free, parking is $20 on weekdays/$25 on weekends
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Is A Short Drive From The Boardwalk
It's not unexpected for anyone who's glimpsed a map ahead of time (or, perhaps, looked out the window while driving down Highway 17), but there are gargantuan redwood trees in the mountains of Santa Cruz.
While the hills are peppered with houses and businesses (and even an RV Park), there is a more hidden area where the redwoods grow undisturbed: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
The State Park spans 4,650 acres, 40 of those a grove of redwood trees as many as 1,500 years old. The oldest tree is 277 feet tall, and visitors can step inside (no car-width passages here, though). But that's not the only amazing thing to see while exploring Henry Cowell SP.
The park is also home to banana slugs (the University of California Santa Cruz mascot is Sammy the Slug!), deer, coyotes, bobcats, and even endangered marbled murrelets (a unique bird).
About Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park In Santa Cruz, CA
- Location: 101 Big Trees Park Rd. Felton CA 95018 (day-use area)
- Cost: $10 per vehicle for the day-use area
While visitors can do both the Boardwalk and the redwoods in one day, there is so much to do in Santa Cruz that it's best visited for a full weekend (if not longer!).
The State Park is also adjacent to Roaring Camp Railroad, so visitors can take a beach train or a forest train excursion and gain an even broader perspective on this oceanside destination.