Santa Cruz on $150 or Less in a Day

Photo by dalecruse

Nature's beauty without the hefty price tag in Surf City USA

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Although Santa Cruz can be expensive, it’s possible to visit it even if you’re on a budget. Add temperate weather year round to a wealth of green spaces and budget travelers find much to adore in Surf City USA.

This itinerary showcases the highlights of the region, focusing on the experiences travelers can stitch together to craft the perfect trip, be it a day, a weekend or a month.

Eat Like the Locals in Santa Cruz

Breakfast: Grab and go morning meals are all the rage for surfers. The best places to pick up a small morning meal include Firefly Cafe, Bagelry, Kelly’s Bakery, and Davenport’s Whale City Bakery. If you prefer to sit down, join the masses at Harbor Cafe.

State Parks

Santa Cruz County has 14 state parks. Buying entrance to one state park allows access to others during that same day. Park regulars: purchase a Poppy Pass, which gets you a year of day-use access to major parks in the area for a steal. Also outside of most parks, there’s heaps of free street parking.

Parks worth a visit:

The Lunch Ticket

Santa Cruz offers some stellar places for a mid-day meal. Food trucks often line up along West Cliff drive on weekends, or at the downtown Wednesday farmers’ market. Other notable eats include burger., the vegetarian diner Saturn Cafe, huge slices of pizza at Pizza My Heart, and the hidden takeout window at El Palomar.


The beauty of visiting a beach town on a budget is that the beaches are free. Miles of coastline beckon to travelers of all palates. Here is just a handful of local faves.

Dining Without the Hefty Price Tag

Even if you are traveling on a budget, it’s possible to enjoy a fine meal. Check out Assembly’s Pop-Up window. Other destinations for reasonably priced eats include locally sourced pies at Pizzeria Avanti, Hawaiian poke bowls at Pono, and huge noodle bowls at Charlie Hong Kong.

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

After the Sun Goes Down

In summer travelers can count on free beach parties throughout the county.

  • On Wednesdays, Capitola offers free concerts by local musicians.
  • The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk screens complimentary movies on the beach on Wednesdays; and on summer Fridays expect free concerts by old school favorites like Eddie Money or Macy Gray.
  • On summer Thursdays, the Crow’s Nest throws a sunset beach dance party.
  • And on the first Friday of the month, galleries, cafes and the Museum of Art and History swing open their doors, offering wine and snacks to celebrate local artisans.

Affordable Places to Sleep in Santa Cruz

Campers can pitch a tent at many of the parks scattered throughout the county, including New Brighton State Beach, Sunset State Beach and Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA. For those wanting a bed, Pacific Blue Inn and Ocean Pacific Lodge where you can often score rates under $150 a night.

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At A Glance

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