Last weekend we spent approximately 24 hours in Santa Cruz with our family. My sister and brother-in-law were in Mexico celebrating her birthday so we were babysitting my nephew, Matix. Prior to the trip, I received a reminder of our Santa Cruz trip one year before via Timehop, where we spent time at Natural Bridges State Beach.
The nostalgia kicked in so I mentioned it to my mom when we were trying to decide what to plan for my nephews week at our house. After a quick Google search and some hotel research, our trip was booked and we were off for our overnight stay.
The drive from Sacramento to Santa Cruz is about 3 hours. Thankfully we all had naps in the car so that we were ready to go when we got into Santa Cruz. We were lucky to get great weather. It’s been our experience to visit Northern California beaches and need to wear a coat. Not the case, which we were thankful for. We had such a quick trip we had to be strategic on what we did, so I’m sharing…
5 things to do in Santa Cruz for a short weekend getaway
- Enjoy the beaches– the main reason we planned to go to Santa Cruz was for the beach. Having lived in San Diego for 8+ years (and my dad lived in Santa Cruz for work for a few years) we all have a connection with beach towns. Something about being near the ocean that feels so right and calming. There are quite a few good beaches in the area. We have a fond place in our hearts for Capitola because it’s a quaint little town. We didn’t have time to visit Capitola this trip but it’s high on our list of must visit stops. Our favorite beaches are Natural Bridges State Park (in the photo below)
and Twin Lakes State Beach (also pictured here). We made a stop at Twin Lakes State Beach after we ate lunch and then spent time at Natural Bridges State Beach after we checked into our hotel. They are both family friendly and not as busy as the beach near the boardwalk. You’d be happy at any of the beaches, we just like to stray away from the crowds.
- Indulge in some good food – Let’s be honest, that’s generally on the top of our list no matter where we go. My dad has some favorite spots from his time living in SC, so our first stop was at his favorite Mexican spot, Taqueria Michoacan. He loves the shrimp burrito. I ordered a shrimp and fish taco and Peter’s go to is always Al Pastor. My dad’s other must-have for the trip was Woodstock’s Pizza, so we had that for dinner. My dad is usually pretty laid back when it comes to traveling so for him to make a request for a specific place means we’re going there because he REALLY likes it. We’re trying to eat clean so it worked out that we used Saturday as our cheat day so we could get whatever carbs we wanted that day and we went in, as we always do on cheat day. Some other places I’d highly suggest eating at are: Aloha Island Grill (Hawaiian kine grinds – fits the surfer vibe of the area), The Picnic Basket (near the Boardwalk and a more healthy option then the fair like food on the boardwalk), Dharma’s (Vegetarian and Vegan spot), and if you prefer woodfired pizza, we liked Bantam on the Westside.
- Visit downtown – we love the downtown area of Santa Cruz. Lots a great shops, people watching and good food. We had dinner at Woodstock’s Pizza, a family favorite and then spent time walking around and indulging in some yummy dessert. If you want to shop there are some very cute shops as well as an Urban Outfitters.
- Grab some ice cream – We had to make this one it’s own to-do item because we happened to be in town when National Ice Cream Day was. We couldn’t skip this. Our fave ice cream stop is The Penny Creamery but there is ALWAYS a line so we ventured out and tried something new this trip. We went to Mission Hill Creamery and we really enjoyed it. It still had a line but not nearly as busy as the Penny Creamery. What I enjoyed the most about both spots, is the toasted marshmallow on top. I ordered the Roxy Road (Rocky Road with walnuts) and salted caramel. Peter ordered the Nutty Cookie Monster and peanut butter and jelly. We loved them all.
- Visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk –
If you think of Santa Cruz, I think the boardwalk is probably one of the first things you think of. This is a great stop for the whole family but especially for the kiddos (or the kids at heart like us). Since we had my nephew with us, we wanted to take him on some rides. Even at 3, he’s quite the little adventurer when it comes to rides. He’s definitely a pro, now that he’s been to Disneyland so many times in his short 3 years. It can add up, so I’d recommend getting the unlimited wristband if you plan to go on rides. We spent some time in the arcade and even rode on a pedicab back to our car. We always enjoy the boardwalk when we’re in SC.
We had a fun 24 hours but we didn’t fit in everything. Some honorable mentions—watch the surfers, visit the Mystery Spot, go to Capitola, hike, visit the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, and take the scenic route (Highway 1 is beautiful).
Where to stay:
There are quite a few good options for your stay in Santa Cruz. There aren’t a lot of newer hotels though, so keep that in mind when looking for a room. If you are staying for at least two nights, I’d suggest an Airbnb.
Dream Inn($169–$629*) there is an ocean view in every room, enough said
Hotel Paradox ($225–$499) With its dark and stylish décor, it feels more like a city hotel than a beach destination, although it’s less than a mile from the ocean.
Chaminade ($215—$460) We like this spot when we could find a good deal. We’ve stayed here twice and really enjoyed it. It’s not near the beach, which could be a downside but we don’t normally like staying near the beach.
Fairmount Inn & Suites ($192—402) I wouldn’t say this is luxury but it’s one of the newer hotels in town. This is where we stayed and we really liked it. It includes a decent continental breakfast and was near Natural Bridges State Park.
For something more budget conscious I’d recommend checking out this list: The 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Santa Cruz. We haven’t stayed in any of these so I can’t vouch for any of them.
Whether you plan a full weekend or just want to chill, hang out by the beach, and relax—you’ll leave Santa Cruz feeling relaxed. There is just this great vibe, I’m sure it’s also all the hippie vibes you get visiting this beautiful city.