Cruise Through the Cruz: Santa Cruz in a Day

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Surf, hike the redwoods and cruise through the Cruz

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Wondering what to do with a day in Santa Cruz? On summer weekends, Bay Area residents clog the roadways leading to Santa Cruz eager to take on Surf City USA in a day. And while it is advisable to budget more time to explore the county’s natural abundance, it’s possible to cruise through the Cruz in 24 hours, or less.

Breakfast in Santa Cruz

Get into town early and line up with the masses at Cafe Brazil for the west side’s favorite acai bowl. For those who prefer a more upscale breakfast experience, downtown’s Assembly slings sustainable brunch fixings on weekends.

Prefer coffee? The local roasters and coffee geeks at Verve are known for pricey individual drip brews, house-made kombucha, and Manresa Bread’s pastries.

Mid-Morning Hike

Redwood trees spill down the Santa Cruz Mountains, offering plenty of great hikes. The easiest (and closest to downtown Santa Cruz) is in Aptos. Motor over to the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park for short treks along the creek, swimming holes (often with makeshift swings dropping into the water) and miles of trails to explore.

For a more active hikers, the ten-mile stretch of the Skyline to Sea Trail is a crowd-please. From Big Basin to Waddell Beach pass wildflowers, a gushing waterfall, creeks and redwoods to cool off in the sea.


With two locations, one on the west-side and one in Aptos, Burger makes a fine choice for folks wanting innovative burgers (a buffalo patty on a donut bun?!) with local micro-brews.

The jury is outon the best taqueria in town, but many vote that Palomar (either to the restaurant, or the take out joint hidden next door) slings excellent tacos. Over by the Boardwalk, Picnic Basket slings hearty sandwiches, locally-churned ice cream, and organic salads.

Afternoon Beach Break

With dozens of beaches to explore, how does a day tripper chose just one? Easy. There’s a beach for most interests.

Surfers should head over to Steamer Lane to catch the swells with the dolphins. Walkers meander along West Cliff drive to Natural Bridges State Park’s monarch butterfly habitat and tide pools. Families can spend a day at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Cowell’s Beach.

Ice Cream Treat

For a tried and true post-beach sweet, join the masses at Marianne’s for scoops of young coconut, banana, or traditional faves like rocky road. Those a touch more finicky about their sweet cream will appreciate the farm fresh flavors at Penny Ice Creamery—favorites include their mint chip, mushroom, and lavender.

===> Explore more local itineraries via the RELATED links below.

Evening Stroll

As the sun sets, take a meander along downtown’s light-strewn Pacific Avenue. Favorite stops include Artisan’s Gallery, Home/Work and NorCal’s best independent bookstore, Bookshop Santa Cruz. Pop into 515 Kitchen & Cocktails for a pre-dinner drink, or head back to the Boardwalk area for a sunset martini at the Jack O’Neill Lounge.


The highlight of dining in Santa Cruz is getting to sample produce grown so darn close. For consistently good plates of pasta and meats, gobble up homey Italian dishes at Ristorante Avanti.

In downtown, Laili wins hearts for its flavorful Mediterranean cuisine on a lovely patio. Families and cocktail lovers love Hula’s Island Grill for rice bowls topped with fresh seafood.


When the sun sets, Santa Cruz residents up the ante. Music venues and bars line Pacific Avenue. Check the listings to see which rockers or rappers are playing the Catalyst and Moe’s Alley. Alternatively, for over 40 years Kuumbwa has featured some of the world’s best jazz performers in an intimate setting. If a day doesn’t feel like enough time to do it all (and it isn’t), book a room at the oceanfront Dream Inn.

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