Santa Cruz – Ocean to the Redwoods
Things to Do in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz might be the “best kept secret” on your Northern California Route 1 trip or weekend getaway.
My first trip to Santa Cruz was on a Highway 1 roadtrip a few years ago. Like many, I had seen the images of the great Big Dipper wooden roller coast on the Santa Cruz sand, a throwback to vintage scenes of the early 1900’s summer vacations. The boardwalk had been my only stop with a quick view of the ocean. Oh what I missed!
On my return trip to Santa Cruz, I quickly found there is so much more to this beach town. Santa Cruz might be the “best kept secret” on the Northern California Route 1 trip due the variety of activities, farm-to-table eats, and a hip & trendy vibe throughout the town without the overcrowding of other Northern California hot-spots.
Santa Cruz Boardwalk
First thing to do upon arriving to California is to always take a look at that beautiful ocean and feel the cool ocean air. Santa Cruz also offers up a classic boardwalk.
The Santa Cruz Boardwalk, dating back to 1907, is California’s oldest surviving amusement park. We had a classic afternoon with bumper cars, the old arcade including a visit to Zoltar, and of course the big wooden roller coaster – The Giant Dipper.
Ziplining through the Redwoods
Main Street & Farmers Market
Santa Cruz’s main street and downtown area has all the elements of the Santa Cruz vibe. Many of the buildings date back to the early 1900’s so there is a great Art Deco vibe to the downtown area. The walkable downtown is an active area for the community with local eats, boutiques, upscale restaurants, and a farmers market on Wednesdays.
NHS Skateboard Museum
The skateboard culture exploded in the 1960’s in California with Santa Cruz brand, NHS, at the forefront. NHS, named after its three founders Richard Novak, Doug Haut, and Jay Shuirman, is the oldest continuous skateboard company in the world.
The skateboard manufacturer is still here in Santa Cruz and they have now opened a small museum for a look back at the skateboard evolution. What might have been the most amazing sight at this museum was the collection of skateboard “decks”. I have several friends who buy both old & new skateboards sans wheels for the detailed artwork on each and have them proudly displayed on their walls at homes. Throughout the museum you will see a history of these decks by legendary artists including the manufacturing area with dozens of them displayed – a $1,000,000+ collection.
Ready to surf! Santa Cruz is one of the California towns where surfing gained its popularity in the 1950’s. Today, it is regularly voted one of the top surf towns by many publications including Surfer Magazine. Santa Cruz County’s 40-mile stretch of coast is home to more than 70 noteworthy surf spots including the legendary Steamer Lane.
First time surfing or ready to up your game? Hotel Paradox offers a unique experience to learn from the local surfer, Robert Weaver (aka Wingnut), in a one-on-one surf session.
Best known as a costar in the 1994 surf movie Endless Summer II, Wingnut has been surfing for 35+ years with a passion for the Santa Cruz and longboards. He is now a high-end instructor sharing his love of the ocean & surfing with Silicon Valley execs in private surf lessons both in Santa Cruz and around the world.
I had the chance to have breakfast with Wingnut and talk all things surfing from his adventures around the world. This surfer truly embraces the surf culture and you will be immediately sucked in with his laid back vibe. I was truly impressed when he detailed that he has a 100% first-timer stand up rate for his surfer newbies. I spent many weekends surfing in my 20’s in Southern California. A good MANY of the early weekends, I spent actually falling off the board… aka not standing. If only I had learned from Wingnut as you WILL be surfing with a lesson from him.
This might have been my favorite adventure while in Santa Cruz. I had no idea that the Redwoods were just 15 minutes away from downtown Santa Cruz.
After gearing up, a safety lesson, and a run down the “bunny slope” zipline where the ground is just 3 feet below you, we walked through the gates to explore the the Redwood canopy. We zipped through both slow and fast ziplines to different platforms wrapped around the Redwood trees with views of the forest below. It’s a mixture of emotions of the calm of being in nature, the exhilaration of the ziplining in between, and a bit like being in a storybook or movie (I kept looking for the Star Wars Ewoks.)
Now I admittedly try anything & everything on my travels, but sometimes have mild anxiety with heights. However, being clipped in the entire time of this adventure, I had zero “heights” anxiety and loved zip-lining through the forest feeling completely safe. It’s a beautiful way to explore the forest and see things from a different point of view.
So many reasons why Santa Cruz is Northern California’s best kept secret.
Santa Cruz: Ocean to the Redwoods
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