Santa Cruz California – what we saw at Santa Cruz beach in the United States
Santa Cruz, California is considered one of the best beach resorts on the West Coast of the United States. It is south of San Francisco and north of Monterey on the Pacific coast. It’s an absolutely charming beach town, where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis for a couple of days to lounge on the beach or go surfing. In this article, I’ll tell you about our trip to Santa Cruz California, whose beaches we visited on our unforgettable Pacific Highway road trip. I’ll share practical information for independent travelers on what to see in Santa Cruz, show photos of the beaches, and recommend the best hotels to just stay overnight or stay for a few days if you really like it here.
Santa Cruz California
Santa Cruz is a beach town located south of San Francisco on the northern tip of Monterey Bay in California famous for its 1914 pier. Farming is well developed here, which thrives on the narrow strip between the ocean and the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is these mountains that separate Santa Cruz from Silicon Valley.
Santa Cruz on a map
At the top of the city hill is a replica of the 18th-century Mission Building, which was rebuilt in 1931. And Santa Cruz also has a university, which gives this rural town an erudite charm.
We came to Santa Cruz in the spring during the blooms!
One of the best beach towns in California.
The beach is clean, with warm and relatively calm water
The center of town is Pacific Avenue, perpendicular to the strip of beach, and Cliff Drive, which stretches along the shore. In this Santa Cruz is unexpectedly similar to Krabi’s main beach town of Ao Nang.
Diagram of Santa Cruz town.
Typical white California cabins.
And there’s a chimney! It’s a little cold in the winter.
At the entrance to the famous Santa Cruz Pier.
And around Santa Cruz there are small towns and interesting places also worth seeing, each with its own flavor.
- For example, Capitola is the oldest resort town on the coast.
- Davenport has the best windsurfing spot.
- All surfers gather at Pleasure Point. By the way, Santa Cruz is the birthplace of surfing in the U.S.!
- There is an interesting beach to the north of Santa Cruz, Nachural Bridges, where natural arches stand in the ocean.
- And Santa Cruz County is home to Henry Cowell Redwoods and Big Bazin Redwoods State Parks, where the world’s tallest trees grow. This is one of the few redwood locations south of San Francisco. Most of them grow in Redwood National Park.
How to get there
Santa Cruz is easy to get to. It’s located on the Pacific Ocean, where California Route 1, which runs through Big Sur, leads.
Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco
Here’s how long the drive is to Santa Cruz:
- From San Francisco, 70 miles.
- 340 miles from Los Angeles.
- 147 miles from Sacramento.
- 213 miles from Yosemite Park.
- Monterey – 44 miles
- From Carmel, 47 miles and 58 miles if you go through the beautiful 17-mile road
- From Santa Barbara, 270 miles.
We arrived in Santa Cruz in a rental car from the Los Angeles airport, but we drove from the San Francisco side, right after visiting the Twin Peaks Lookout.
The first thing we did was stop at Nachural Bridges Beach, because it’s up north, and then we took Cliff Drive along the ocean to Santa Cruz itself and its pier. It’s a short distance between the two, about 2.5 miles. You can stop at Pyramid Beach on the way.
Where to sleep
I recommend booking a hotel in Downtown Santa Cruz near the beach. The choice of accommodations is large, but prices are quite high due to the great popularity of the beach town (as in Delray Beach on the East Coast of the United States).
We recommend the best hotels in Santa Cruz California:
|1. Dream Inn is the best beachfront 4* hotel in Santa Cruz|
|2. Beach Street Inn and Suites – nice hotel with a pool right across from the main beach|
|3. Carousel Beach Inn – inexpensive hotel near the amusement park, 2 minutes from the beach|
|4. National 9 Motel – a motel with good reviews to just spend the night in Santa Cruz|
See all Santa Cruz hotels with descriptions and current prices here
Special deals on Santa Cruz hotels on Bookings:
Santa Cruz sights – what to see
Because Santa Cruz is located on the ocean, all of its life is centered on the beach. And it must be said that the beach is very nice, much better than the beaches of Los Angeles. In general, I noticed that Monterey Bay has the nicest beaches with white sand. In America, I would compare them to the beaches in Miami, lying along the long coastline of Miami Beach. Santa Cruz has 29 miles of beaches, imagine that!
There were a lot of people on Santa Cruz Beach this weekend!
Here we are in Santa Cruz!
If you’re in California in the winter, you can catch the whale migration. They swim from Alaska to Mexico. In Santa Cruz, gray whales are just as convenient to see at Whale Point as they are at Point Lobos Park, which is on the south end of the bay.
But we were there in April, and even though the whales might have swum back to cold Alaska at that time, we didn’t see any. But we did relax on the beautiful Santa Cruz Beach .
What to see in Santa Cruz.
Free parking lots are located along West Cliff Drive . We parked our Dodge in a small alley and headed towards the shipyard. It was about a 0.5 mile walk.
A diagram of the beach in Santa Cruz.
Our indispensable friend on the trip.
On the way we saw West Cliff Steps – the steps to the ocean. Very convenient to go down to surf in a small cove with perfect waves.
Here’s a look at the handy steps leading down to Cowell Beach from the cliff!
Learning to surf small waves
Travelers with kids, take note. The entrance to the water in Santa Cruz is gentle. Kids enjoy frolicking and swimming there. Older kids learn to surf in shallow water. That’s what these steps are made for.
This is where kids 9 to 12 years old swim.
California kids get on the board early
Surfers should visit the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, located in the Mark Abbott Lighthouse. You can learn about the century-old history of the sport in California, brought here from Hawaii. We didn’t go to the museum, we are just watching the surfers for now.
Mark Abbott Lighthouse.
On the waterfront, we saw a lot of sporting people running and biking along the shoreline that wraps around the bay.
In California, many residents live an athletic lifestyle.
And you can also rent bikes.
And fancy cars, too, of course.
Santa Cruz Pier
Santa Cruz Pier ( Santa Cruz Wharf ) is 500 meters long. There are a lot of stores and restaurants. Surfers and people who rent a boat park right at the wharf, because the entrance is shallow and they need the depth. This is the biggest marina I’ve ever seen! In fact, it’s the longest wooden dock in the U.S.! Before that, we saw the longest pier on the U.S. Atlantic Coast in Myrtle Beach.
A diagram of the pier in Santa Cruz.
View of the pier from Cliff Drive.
The pier has areas for pedestrians and the most normal road for cars
- Parking at the Santa Cruz pier costs $1 for every 20 minutes.
People hang out near the pier at Cowell Beach
People come to the beach to swim, sunbathe, or just hang out with friends.
Santa Cruz Beach on the south side of the pier, that is, Main Beach.
Santa Cruz Promenade
Along the beach stretches the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with an amusement park. The Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster more than 90 years old (opened in 1924), towers over the overall scenery. The amusement park also features the 1911 Looff Carousel.
See the video of Santa Cruz Beach:
Generally similar to Santa Monica Pier and Pier 39 in San Francisco, but without the SEALs and without the nasty smells. In Santa Cruz, however, all of these attractions stand on solid ground.
Behind the back is an amusement park.
Americans build slides like this everywhere, even in deserted Las Vegas!
The arches in the buildings remind us of the typical architectural style of California in the days of the Spanish, and especially the American Venice – Venice Beach.
Of course, the sunsets here must be phenomenal, since the shore faces west.
Natural Bridges SB
I’ll tell you more about Nachural Bridges State Beach (not to be confused with Utah’s Natural Bridges Park of the same name), where we stopped by before our visit to Santa Cruz.
- The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sunset.
- Admission is $10.
View from the viewpoint.
Natural Bridges Park is quite small. It occupies an area of tiny beach and a small grove next to the shore.
The main attraction of the park are the natural arches. Two of the three arches have unfortunately already fallen, but one can still be seen. It’s a shame when you don’t get to see a landmark in time: we were so late to the arch in Peru at Paracas Park, but we caught almost all of the arches in Utah!
The waves of the Pacific Ocean come into a small cove, rushing through the arch.
This booth is where you have to pay your visit.
There is free parking near the entrance to the park and the Natural Bridges Vista Point lookout – a view from afar. If you’re too lazy to go into the park, you can take a quick look at the arch. We did, since we didn’t have much time and wanted to get to Santa Cruz in a hurry.
There is also a eucalyptus grove in the park and a nature trail that tells the life of the monarch butterflies. The butterflies themselves can be seen in early spring.
Natural arches and flowers.
Santa Cruz in the United States – our review
Overall, the atmosphere at the Santa Cruz beach resort in the U.S. is very friendly and relaxed. We really enjoyed it and wanted to come here again, just to stay for a couple of days at least.
Watching the ocean with everyone else, taking our time and relaxing. That’s the kind of vacation we often miss in our travels in the United States. So far, Santa Cruz and Carmel appeal to us as the perfect beach town.
Santa Cruz on a map of the U.S.
I hope you enjoyed our story about Santa Cruz and include it in your California itinerary. Have an interesting trip around the United States, dear readers!