Beaches, Hiking & Fishing in Santa Cruz
One of the few old-fashioned amusement parks left in the world, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (tel. 831/423-5590; www.beachboardwalk.com) draws more than three million visitors a year to its 30 rides and arcades, shops, and restaurants. The park has two national landmarks -- a 1924 wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster and a 1911 carousel with hand-carved wooden horses and a 342-pipe organ band. It's open daily in the summer (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day) and on weekends and holidays throughout the spring and fall, from 11am (noon sometimes in winter). Admission to the boardwalk is free, but an all-day "unlimited rides" pass is $30. Visit www.beachboardwalk.com for discounts, concerts and events, and up-to-date schedules, which can often vary.
Here, too, is Neptune's Kingdom, 400 Beach St. (tel. 831/423-5590; www.beachboardwalk.com), an enormous indoor family recreation center with a two-story miniature golf course. Also on Beach Street is the shop- and restaurant-lined Municipal Wharf (tel. 831/420-6025), a beachfront strip serenaded by the sea lions below. You can also crab and fish from here. Most shops are open daily from 7am to 9pm; the wharf is open daily from 5am to 2am. Stagnaro's (tel. 831/427-2334; www.stagnaros.com) runs fishing and whale-watching trips year-round, and hour-long narrated bay cruises ($16 for adults, $10 for kids 13 and under).
Farther down on West Cliff Drive, you'll come to a favorite surfing spot, Steamer Lane, where you can watch pro surfers shredding the waves. If you want to learn more about surfing, practiced here for more than 100 years, go to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, at the lighthouse (tel. 831/420-6289; www.santacruzparksandrec.com), open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm in the summer, Thursday through Monday from noon to 4pm in the winter. Antique surfboards, videos, photos, and other memorabilia depict the history and evolution of surfing worldwide.
Continue along West Cliff and you'll reach Natural Bridges State Beach, 2531 W. Cliff Dr. (tel. 831/423-4609; www.scparkfriends.org), a large sandy beach with nearby tide pools and hiking trails. It's also home to a large colony of monarch butterflies that cluster and mate in the nearby eucalyptus grove.
Other Santa Cruz beaches worth noting are Bonny Doon, at Bonny Doon Road and Hwy. 1, an uncrowded sandy beach and a major surfing spot accessible by a steep walkway; Pleasure Point Beach, East Cliff Drive at Pleasure Point Drive; and Twin Lakes State Beach, which is ideal for sunning and also provides access to Schwann Lagoon, a bird sanctuary.
In addition to cultural and sporting events, the University of California at Santa Cruz features the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at the Long Marine Laboratory, 100 Shaffer Rd., at the northwest end of Delaware Avenue (tel. 831/459-3800; www2.ucsc.edu/seymourcenter), where you can observe marine scientists at work with aquatic species, in tide-pool touch tanks and aquariums, and learn how marine research aids ocean conservation. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm; admission is $6 for adults; $4 for students, seniors, and children ages 4 to 16; and free for kids 3 and under (free admission the first Tues of each month).
The Santa Cruz Harbor, 135 Fifth Ave. (tel. 831/475-6161; www.santacruzharbor.org), has boat rentals, open-boat fishing (cod, shark, and salmon), and whale-watching trips.
Bikes -- mountain, kids', tandem, hybrid -- are available by the hour, day, or week from various bike-rental shops in convenient locations around town. For a list of shops, call the Santa Cruz Visitors Council at tel. 800/833-3494 or see www.santacruzca.org.
The Pasatiempo Golf Club, at 18 Clubhouse Rd. (tel. 831/459-9155; www.pasatiempo.com), is rated among the top 100 courses in the U.S. Greens fees are $220.
Kayaking is also an option. Outfitters include Kayak Connection, 413 Lake Ave., No. 103 (tel. 831/479-1121; www.kayakconnection.com); and Venture Quest Kayaking (tel. 831/427-2267; www.kayaksantacruz.com), which rents single, double, and triple kayaks at Building No. 2 on the wharf and at 125 Beach St. Classes, wildlife tours, and moonlight paddles are also available.
You can rent surfing equipment at Cowell's Beach Surf Shop, 30 Front St. (tel. 831/427-2355; www.cowellssurfshop.com), and from the Club Ed Surf School (tel. 800/287-SURF  or 831/464-0177; www.club-ed.com), on Cowell Beach in front of the West Coast Santa Cruz Hotel. Both offer lessons: Club Ed's are $85 for a 2-hour group session and $110 per hour for private lessons (equipment included); Cowell's are $80 for 2-hour group lessons, including a board and wet suit.
A Walk Among the Redwoods -- The perfect antidote to an overdose of pavement is a walk through the redwoods at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Only a few miles from downtown Santa Cruz on Highway 9, this 1,800-acre park has 15 miles of trails through thick, cool forests and golden meadows. Top pick for a leisurely walk is the 3/4-mile Redwood Grove Trail, a wide and flat loop around an ancient stand of giant redwoods. On summer weekends docent-led tours of the Grove Trail start from the Nature Center, but call ahead first. (Secret Tip: About 1 1/2 miles south of the main entrance on Highway 9 is the Ox Road Parking Lot. Park here free, then take the short trail down to the locals' favorite swimming hole, the Garden of Eden.) Dogs are welcome in the park but must be on a leash at all times.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.