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Best things to do in Santa Cruz

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Where in the world: USA  /  California  /  Santa Cruz

Top 15 things to do in Santa Cruz

1. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey

Located on the site of a former sardine cannery on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Monterey Bay Aquarium features an 8.5 m (28 ft) viewing tank that was the first in the world to grow giant kelp. The aquarium also holds thousands of plants and animals representing more than 600 different species. You can inspect the creatures of the kelp forest from several levels in the building. Visit the largest tank in the aquarium--with one of the biggest single-paned windows in the world--for a rare chance to observe a population of ocean sunfish in captivity. Other highlights include exhibits of stingrays, bluefin tuna, jellyfish, and sea otters, viewable from above and below the waterline.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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Tours including Monterey Bay Aquarium:

2. 17-Mile Drive, Monterey

A scenic road winding its way over the Monterey Peninsula, 17-Mile Drive runs along the Pacific coastline and passes several well-known golf courses and private mansions. Serving as the main road of a gated community, this drive features several scenic overlooks where you can take in unobstructed views of the region's mountains and beaches. Once inside the community's gates, follow the posted signs and red lines painted on the pavement to stay on the route. For street views and a list of nearby attractions, check out the interactive map provided on the official website.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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3. Point Lobos, Carmel

Appreciate the pristine natural landscape and thriving habitat of the California coast at Point Lobos. The nature reserve is home to hundreds of native animal and plant species on and off shore, and is an ideal location for hiking, diving, and bird watching. Enjoy panoramic views from the shore of the Pacific coast as you spot sea lions, harbor seals, and orcas, or hike through the lush vegetation on one of the reserve’s many foot trails for sightings of forest animals and local birds. On your way out, stop by the Whaler’s Cabin Museum to learn more about the history of whaling on the Monterey Peninsula.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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Tours including Point Lobos:
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4. Dolphin & Whale Watching

Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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5. Monterey Bay Food Tours, Monterey

Discover...the hidden gems of the Monterey Bay

Taste...food and beverages from the Central Coast's finest

Enjoy...the sights and sounds of Monterey Bay as we stroll through the most unique eateries and restaurants
Suggested duration: 4 hours
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6. Boat Tours & Water Sports

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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7. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California’s oldest surviving amusement park, offers classic funfair attractions in a seaside setting. Ride on the Giant Dipper, a world-famous wooden roller coaster that has thrilled visitors since 1924. Make sure to keep your eyes open to catch superb views of the beach. For more vintage fun, take a spin on the Looff Carousel, a hand-carved merry-go-round that dates back to 1911. Try your luck on carnival games, play old favorites in the video arcade, or swing a round of mini-golf. Refuel with boardwalk classics, such as corndogs, pretzels, cotton candy, and saltwater taffy. If you are in the mood for something more upscale, head to Fisherman’s Galley.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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9. Dolphin & Whale Watching, Moss Landing

Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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10. Pacific Grove Oceanview Boulevard, Pacific Grove

Offering sprawling views of the ocean, Pacific Grove Oceanview Boulevard is an easy stroll that stretches south of Monterey Bay all the way to Lovers Point Park. This wide scenic path passes beaches and picnic tables, offering plenty of street parking along the way. Fill up a picnic basket, find a bench or a rock with a view, and gaze at the waves and harbor seals enjoying the ocean breeze. The trail is wheelchair accessible.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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11. West Cliff Drive

West Cliff Drive features wide ocean views and sandy beaches, natural rock bridges, dramatic cliffs, a small light house, and bicycle and pedestrian paths. Teeming with wild birds and marine life--which sometimes include whales, dolphins, and sea lions--the area provides a plethora of photography opportunities. Have a coffee and a doughnut at one of the numerous cafes along the way, visit popular surfing spots, or explore the colorful tide pools. You may even stop for a picnic at the beach or in one of the parks. The path is approximately 5 km (3 mi) long, and fairly flat.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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12. Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, Monterey

A coastal trail with access to major local attractions, Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail offers miles of ocean views. The 28.9 km (18 mi) trail, which runs along the former tracks of the Southern Pacific railroad, is shared by bicyclists, rollerbladers, and walkers. You can rent bicycles and surreys, or quadricycles. Keep a lookout for wildlife along the way, such as otters, seals, sea lions, and birds. To do more than look, try some of the water activities right off the trail, such as kayaking and paddle-boating.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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13. Elkhorn Slough Safari, Moss Landing

Fully guided boat trip with a naturalist onboard telling stories about wildlife and natural history. Tour includes refreshments on the trip back. as featured in Sunset magazine, Via magazine, and many more.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Learn more about Elkhorn Slough Safari

14. Wilder Ranch State Park

Wilder Ranch State Park is open every day, 8am to Sunset.

The Interpretive Center and Park Store are temporarily closed until further notice due to COVID-19. When they reopen, they will be open Thursday through Sunday. We are excited for the time in the future when you can come on out to the park for a hike, guided hikes on Saturdays, Living History Demonstrations on special days (call for times), or a cultural history tour: weekends 1pm, Saturdays & Sundays.

We hope to see you back at the Ranch real soon!

Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about Wilder Ranch State Park

15. Santa Cruz Wharf

Check out the sea lions that hang out underneath Santa Cruz Wharf, cast a fishing line into the water, and dine on local seafood. Whale-watching and fishing expeditions depart from here too, and you can rent a kayak to get out on the water under your own power. If you arrive in late afternoon, bring your camera and wait for the sun to set behind the lighthouse.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about Santa Cruz Wharf
Tours including Santa Cruz Wharf: