Santa Cruz California – Dude! Santa Cruz, is on the West Coast of the United States.
It is, they claim, the surfing capital of the world, which we all know is not true. But it does have great waves and great beaches. They have been designated as a World Surfing Reserve as of 2012, which almost puts it on par with Australia - but they don’t have to worry about sharks, so where’s the challenge. (Just kidding).
Santa Cruz also has a huge Boardwalk, which has something for every member of your family – from the youngest right up to your hard-to-please teenagers. And anyone who does not want to participate in the wild rides can just hang out on the beach.
The closest airport is in San Jose, California (SJC). It is actually called the Norman J Mineta San Jose International Airport – a really long name for such a small facility. But the beauty of this airport is that it is so small. It’s fast to get in and out of, and it’s generally cheaper to fly in there than San Francisco or Oakland, so keep that in mind. After landing, get your rental car and just head out over the Santa Cruz Mountains on Highway 17. It’s just about 30 miles, and it’s an easy and really pretty drive.
Things to do in Santa Cruz
Well, first of all, there is the Boardwalk. The best thing about this mile-long entertainment strip is that it has both classic and modern rides and arcades. The Giant Dipper wooden roller-coaster was built in 1924, and it’s a National Historic Landmark. The wonderful Looff carousel has been there since 1911. Yet the Boardwalk has the only spinning roller coaster in Northern California (the Undertow) and a super-fast Ferris wheel (the Tsunami). Trust me, there are plenty of rides to make everyone lose their lunch, so best not to eat too much junk food before taking a ride. There are also the “regular” rides, like bumper cars, and plenty of video arcades if your kids are too cool for the House of Horrors. Your family can play mini-golf or go bowling as well. The Boardwalk is open every day from April through September, then only weekends and holidays for the off-season. In the summer, there are free concerts on the beach on Friday nights, though these might not be the best choice for the little ones in the family. Sometimes they get a bit rowdy.
The beaches in Santa Cruz are just great. Surfing tournaments are held here each year. The best thing is that you can choose the beach that best suits the swimming or surfing needs of your family. Streamer Lane Beach and Cowell’s Beach, for example, are where the big waves can be found. They are where the tournaments are held, and they can be dangerous. Main Beach and the Boardwalk Beach, however, have nice, gentle waves, and lots of warm sand. No danger here. The two State Parks – Natural Bridge and Twin Lakes – are both great for picnics, scenery and investigating tidal pools. The State Parks have an admission fee, but you can buy a day-pass that covers everyone in your car for only $10. It’s worth the price.
The pioneer-themed town of Roaring Camp is just up the road in the foothills, and it has two steam trains – one that goes through the redwood forests, and one that goes into Santa Cruz. The town itself is great fun, with a blacksmith’s and old west shops, but the trains are fantastic, especially on a summer’s day in the open carriages. You can take the short trip though the woods or the longer trip from the depot right down to the Boardwalk. If you take the Santa Cruz run, you can take the train down in town, play at the Boardwalk or the beach, and take another train back.
Other places in Santa Cruz that the kids will enjoy are the Municipal Warf (food, fishing boats, shops, and lots of seals and pelicans) and the Surfing Museum (Dude – what can I say?). If you are lucky, you’ll be able to see a surfing competition when you are there!
James is the founder of Little Nomads a family-focused travel site where he shares his experiences about travelling with kids. You can have a conversation with James on twitter @littlenomads or via his Facebook page.