Santa Cruz Things to Do Tips by Ewingjr98 Top 5 Page for this destination
Santa Cruz Things to Do: 115 reviews and 275 photos
Lighthouse from the wharf
Santa Cruz's original lighthouse was constructed on Lighthouse Point in 1868 near the site of the Abbott Lighthouse. This lighthouse was moved in 1878 due to erosion of the cliff, it ceased operations in 1941, and the original building was torn down in 1948. The Abbott Memorial Lighthouse was completed in 1967 in honor of a surfer who died near the point. The lighthouse building houses the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum which was founded in 1985.
The area around the lighthouse is preserved as Lighthouse Field State Park, a Santa Cruz city park. The park and lighthouse are on a point officially named Point Santa Cruz which is the northern boundary of the Monterey Bay. It stands about 22 miles from the southern edge of the bay, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove. Lighthouse Field State Park is actually the third most visited state park in California with about 4 million annual visitors.
The other lighthouse in Santa Cruz is called Walton Lighthouse and is located next to Santa Cruz Marina and was built in 2001.
Address: Cliff Drive
Directions: Located on Cliff Drive between the wharf and Natural Bridges State Beach.
Phone: (831) 420-6289
Aptos beach, pier and sunken Palo Alto ship
Aptos is just a few miles from Santa Cruz and offers a few interesting sites, some nice beaches, and a small town feel.
The most interesting thing here is the Palo Alto, a partially sunken ship that sits at the end of the pier at Seacliff State Beach. The Palo Alto is a concrete ship built in Oakland in 1919 as an oil tanker. Completed after the end of WWI, the ship was mothballed in Oakland until 1929 when it was purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company for use as an "amusement ship" with arcade, dance hall, and swimming pool. The ship was grounded in the sand, and permanently docked at the pier. In the winter of 1931, the ship's hull cracked and sunk in place. It was used for a time as a fishing pier, but even that is unsafe now with the condition of the hull. Perhaps in another thousand years it will be gone.
Seacliff State Beach is located at the end of State Park Drive. For a $6 fee you can park at the lot on top of the bluffs or you can drive down to the picnic and camping areas on the beach. If you are cheap like me, there are a few place near the park entrance where you can park for free then walk down a set of steps to the beach and pier. Seacliff State Beach is the sixth busiest state park in California with almost 2.5 million visitors per year.
Aptos is an unincorporated town with about 10,000 residents.
Address: Aptos, California
Directions: Just 1/2 mile from Highway 1 at the State Park Drive exit.
Phone: (831) 685-6442
Sea Lions are a type of seal, recognized by their external ears, ability to walk on land, and their barking. The sea lions are a top attraction in Santa Cruz, as people are often lining the wharf to watch them play or watch them sleep (exciting!). The California Sea Lion is distinguished from other sea lion species by the males' large forehead, hence the scientific name Zalophus californianus literally meaning "California Big Head". Sea lions can walk on land relatively easily and swim using their front flippers for propulsion.
The harbor seals are easily distinguished from the sea lions by their silvery light gray skin with dark spots. Harbor seals also do not have external ears and are much, much, much more quiet than their cousins the mouthy sea lions. Interestingly, harbor seals rarely associate with other harbor seals, but will rest on rocks and on the shore next to California sea lions, but few other animals. Harbor seals swim with their back flippers and have a tough time on land.
The best place to see the sea lions is from anywhere along the Santa Cruz Wharf. During my last visit there was a large group of sea lions at the very tip of the wharf, and another smaller group about 1/3 of the way into the wharf from the land where there is a small floating platform and step for people to view from just a few feet above the fray.
Use caution around the sea lions...they have been known to attack people along the California coast.
Misión la Exaltacion de la Santa Cruz was the 12th of California's 21 Spanish Missions. Completed in 1795, after several earthquakes caused damage, it collapsed in 1857. Only one building survives, called the Neary-Rodriguez Adobe, it was built in 1791 and it sits on top of a bluff overlooking central Santa Cruz. The modern Church of the Holy Cross and its buildings occupy much of the site of the former mission.
Shortly after the mission was completed the Spanish created a "villa" called Branciforte just across the river. This secular community made up of soldiers and criminals conflicted with the mission life, and led to its decline. When the Mexican government decided to secularize the missions in 1834, Branciforte and Mission Santa Cruz were combined under the name Pueblo de Figueroa. Many of the foreigners at Branciforte were banished to Mexico in 1840, but the city ultimately continued to grow into modern Santa Cruz, which maintains many of Branciforte's secular and slightly rebellious traditions.
Spain created 21 missions, 3 pueblos (or towns located in LA, San Jose, & Santa Cruz), & 4 presidios (at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, & San Francisco) in California. The first mission--San Diego--was established in 1769 while the final mission at Sonoma was completed in 1823.
The missions were religious centers for the purpose of converting the native population to Christianity. The presidios' main function was a strategic military fortification and barracks, primarily to prevent competing colonial claims from Britain or Russia along the California Coast. The pueblos were designed as towns to provide food & other support to the military presidios. The last piece of the intricate colonial structure of the Spanish was the ranchos which consisted of some 800 private plots of land for farming.
Address: 144 School Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Directions: From Mission Plaza, you will see the Church of the Holy Cross, the Reliquary, & the Holy Cross School. When facing the big, modern church, school street is on the right side of the plaza. At the end of school street is the mission.
Other Contact: FAX (831) 429-2870
Phone: (831) 425-5849
Santa Cruz Beaches
The area around the wharf features the Cowell Beach to the west, Santa Cruz Beach to the east, and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk with no boards to walk on along the Santa Cruz Beach. In the summer these beaches next to the wharf are very popular--even during our last visit in may there were several hundred people sunning on the beach, swimming, and playing volleyball on the city's sand courts near the boardwalk.
The Boardwalk is actually an amusement park first built in 1907 and is open in the summer. It is 1/2 mile long and contains 34 rides including a carousel from 1911. Entrance to the boardwalk is free, you only pay if you ride the rides. Beside the old boardwalk is a new Boardwalk Arcade that is open year around with a variety of indoor games.
Address: Beach Street, Santa Cruz
The current Santa Cruz Wharf, built in 1914 is the 5th wharf to occupy this site. The wharf was originally built to ensure continued shipping operations as the bay was filling with silt. This wharf had a railroad track, a few warehouses and no shops or restaurants. Today the wharf has about 10 restaurants, numerous shops offering gifts and touristy stuff, and various educational stops. This area also has an abundance of sea lions and sea otters.
On our recent visit we enjoyed the views from the wharf, but little else. The views back toward the Boardwalk and to the Abbot Lighthouse are impressive, and the sea lions are always fun to watch, especially the young pup in the late spring. The bad part of this wharf is that most of it is a giant parking lot, bigger than your local Wal-Mart. Furthermore, the restaurants seem very touristy, and surprisingly lacking outdoor seating along the water like you might see at Morrow Bay.
Other Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (831) 420-5270
The Santa Cruz Clock Tower
Pacific Avenue runs from the Santa Cruz Wharf through the center of town just below the Mission. This is the heart of the city's shopping, dining, and nightlife district with some 200 shops plus numerous bars and restaurants of all kinds. We had lunch at Rosie McCann's Irish Pub and coffee at Starbucks, both on Pacific. We also stopped at the very friendly information booth on Pacific to pick up some maps and get some ideas for things to do in town.
13 of the city's 17 downtown lots offer free parking. We used the Cathcart Lot between Cathcart and Lincoln at the center of Pacific, where there is a three-hour time limit. Metered parking is in effect seven days a week (except holidays).
Address: Pacific Avenue
Other Contact: email@example.com
The Banana Slug is not just the odd mascot for the UC Santa Cruz athletic teams. It is a real animal with lightning speed and a vicious attack. OK, that's not true, but banana slugs have some unique features:
The Pacific banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) is considered the second largest of all slugs and can reach lengths of about 10 inches. They survive by eating dirt, animal poop, and dead vegetation. Banana slugs are hermaphrodites, and they reproduce by exchanging sperm with their mate, apparently both partners of the couple can get pregnant. Amazing animals.
We saw three in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, one trying to commit suicide on a road, and two others near the main park visitors center in the Redwood Grove.
Redwoods in the popular Redwood Grove Loop
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park consists of 1,800 acres of towering redwoods, steep canyons, and chaparral-covered ridges. It features 15 or 20 miles of trails and limited access roads, for use by horses, bikes, and hikers, with the most famous trail is the short, easy 0.8 mile circular walk called the Redwood Grove Loop Trail through some impressive towering redwoods. The park also offers camping, a visitors center and store, seasonal fishing, and day-use picnic areas. The maximum elevation in the park is 802, and this point features an observation deck on top of a water tower. Animals in the park include raccoons, mule deer, coyotes, silver salmon, steelhead, and the rare but deadly banana slug.
The park is named after Henry Cowell, a Santa Cruz land baron who arrived in California in 1849. By 1865 he had made his money moving supplies during the gold rush, and he moved to Santa Cruz. By 1886 he owned 6,500 acres including what is today the campus of UC Santa Cruz. In 1930, a small section in the middle of the Cowell property was given to the county as a park, and in 1954 this county park and 1600 acres of Cowell's land were converted into a State Park.
Address: 101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton, CA
Directions: The main park entrance is on highway 9 in Felton, just a few miles from Highway 17
At the end of the trail ... Natural Bridges Beach
Like Monterey, Santa Cruz has an extensive recreation trail following the coastline. It connects many of Santa Cruz's main attractions including the Wharf, Santa Cruz State Beach, Lighthouse Park and its surfing museum, and Natural Bridges State Beach. Covering about 2 miles along West Cliff Drive, I was amazed to see how busy the trail was on a cloudy Sunday morning. There were people everywhere jogging, walking, and biking while enjoying the views over Monterey Bay. With plenty of parking the park is easily accessible to locals and out of towners.
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