How to spend 36 hours in Santa Cruz, with Chaminade Resort & Spa as your base camp.
5 p.m. | Cruise West Cliff Drive
The four coastline-hugging miles between the wharf and Natural Bridges State Beach are arguably the most dramatic in town, overlooking a historic lighthouse, beaches, surfers paddling out at the Steamer Lane break, and whales breaching in Monterey Bay. Roll the windows down, or get out and stretch your legs on the paved walking and cycling path.
5:30 p.m. | Eat and Drink at Swift Street Courtyard
Once a Brussels sprouts packaging plant, this two-acre complex on the city’s west side provides one-stop shopping for locavores, with a French bakery, butchery, microbrewery, boutiques and clothing outfitters for men and women, and other retail enterprises sharing a single space. It’s also a must for oenophiles, home to Surf City Vintners’s tasting rooms, a family of a dozen different boutique wineries.
10 a.m. | Shop in Capitola
Fifteen minutes west of Santa Cruz, this seaside burg is home to a walkable collection of galleries, boutiques, wine bars, coffee shops, and restaurants that borders the streets that branch off the beach-adjacent Esplanade. Leave your car in the Capitola Beach lot, hop the free shuttle into the village, and shop until your heart’s content.
1 p.m. | Sample Santa Cruz’s Craft Beer
The Golden State’s craft beer boom is alive and well in Santa Cruz, with more than 20 craft breweries in the area, from New Bohemia Brewing Company on 41st Avenue to Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola. Book a bus tour with Brew Cruz for on-site tastings at a few of them, as well as clear-headed transportation in between.
5 a.m. | Play at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Like Coney Island’s West Coast twin, this seaside amusement park on Monterey Bay features 35 rides for all ages, including mini-golf, bumper cars, an arcade, and a 125-foot drop tower called the Double Shot. It’s also home to the Looff Carousel merry-go-round, an early twentieth-century relic that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Admission to the park is free; rides are priced à la carte.
7 p.m. | Head Downtown
Downtown Santa Cruz is your one-stop destination for shopping, live music, and some of the best restaurants in the area. From nightclubs to vintage record stores, this bustling walkable district has something for everyone. We suggest dinner at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails and a show at the iconic Catalyst, a fabled nightclub that brings in big-name acts, such as Cold War Kids, Big Boi of Outcast, and Ben Harbor.
10 a.m. | Brunch at Sunset Restaurant
Start off your last day with a feast at Chaminade’s casually elegant restaurant, offering expansive ocean views. Their Sunday brunch buffet is outfitted with stations where chefs prepare omelets and Belgian waffles to your specifications as well as carve up meat like prime rib and grilled salmon. Beyond the bottomless mimosas, the real treat is enjoying your meal on the bayside patio overlooking the redwoods.
1 p.m. | Hike and Picnic in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
With a tree canopy that climbs to 125 feet tall, the 10,000 thick acres of this state park offer dramatic changes in elevation and scenery throughout its 30 miles of trails. To make your introduction, fuel up at the tables of Porter Family Picnic Area, and trek down the Aptos Creek Fire Road, a route through the second-growth redwoods in the park’s central canyon.
The best food artisans, farms, and local markets.
Everett Family Farm
This farm’s stand on Soquel San Jose Road offers an in-season glimpse of what’s growing on the neighboring 45 adjacent acres. Expect dozens of vegetable varieties, fruits, and flowers, and honeycrisp and heirloom apples that are the farm’s signature. In recent years, the owners began dabbling in hard cider, making what they call Soquel Cider, available for purchase around Santa Cruz.
Behind the taste-tempting turtles, caramels, and other sweets from this Scotts Valley chocolatier is a staunchly artisan approach: handmade and organic and local when possible, like the Monterey Bay sea salt that adorns the salted caramels or the area lavender used in the Meyer lemon lavender truffles. Stop by the retail shop in downtown Santa Cruz for a gift box.
Using organic cabbage vegetables, California salt, and tried-and-true lacto-fermentation techniques, this Watsonville company makes small batches of vitamin- and probiotic-rich sauerkraut in five flavors. From smoked jalapeño to ginger beet to the zesty original, they pair with burgers, salads, and the culinary spectrum in between. Find them at the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market.
With a craft-brewer-turned-spirit-maker at the helm, this small-batch Santa Cruz distiller uses organic ingredients, imported copper alembic stills, a 15-barrel brewhouse, and oak barrels to make whiskey (bourbon, rye, and single-malt), Scandinavian aquavit, tequila-esque blue agave spirits, and gin. The latter spirt took consecutive honors at the 2015 and 2016 national Good Food Awards.
When simply “seeing” a destination just won’t do.
Feature Adventure: Secret Sea Cave
With five-plus hours spent on open ocean and undulating kelp beds, paddling out to the eroded sandstone on the shores of Wilder Ranch State Park isn’t for the weak of stomach or out of breath. But the guided trip with Venture Quest Kayaking, which follows seven downwind miles from Four Mile Beach to Santa Cruz Wharf, rewards fitness with the thrill of sneaking through what’s known as the “Hole in the Wall” cave – more like a 150-foot-long tunnel the width of two Dodge vans – that’s sheltered from the swells. Afterward, you’ll have lunch on the secluded Fern Grotto Beach, not far from nesting seabirds and hauled-out harbor seals.
Zip Lining through the Redwoods | Mount Hermon Adventures
A zip line eco-adventure
A guided zip line tour through the mountains, just 10 minutes outside of Santa Cruz, will reveal 150-foot views of towering old-growth timber. Each group of eight zip liners is led by two certified guides with extensive ecological knowledge of the forest. Watch your surroundings come to life before your eyes.
Wine Maker Charter | Chardonnay Sailing Charters
Watch the sunset and raise your glass
Two-hour sunset sail through Monterey Bay while tasting vintages from a cast of local vintners. Every Friday evening over the summer, Chardonnay Sailing features a new local winery sampling world-class wines paired with delicious hors d'oeuvres.
Surf Lessons with Bud Freitas | Surf School Santa Cruz
Surfs Up in Santa Cruz
Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned surfer, a two-and-a-half-hour session at Pleasure Point with a Santa Cruz–bred pro is sure to elevate your surfing. Surf School features some of Santa Cruz's top pro surfers, including Sabrina Sahlstrom, Max Nunes, Kala Buthman, James manss, Brad Shalton, and Bud Freitas.