Santa Cruz

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For nearly a century, Santa Cruz has been synonymous with “beach and boardwalk,” as if this seaside city of 50,000 exists solely to sustain what is now the only major beachside amusement park left on the Pacific Coast. Considering that the annual number of boardwalk visitors is 62 times greater than the city’s population, it’s no surprise that Santa Cruz’s other highlights are all but ignored by the hordes of thrill-seekers who head straight for the waterfront each year. ↓

Popular Destinations

What it all comes down to, of course, is money. Tourism is the big draw here: some 3 million annual visitors help fill the county’s coffers, which in turn is doing everything possible to make Santa Cruz a respectable, safe place to bring the family.

The result? A little of everything. Walk down gilded Pacific Avenue and you’re bound to see the homeless mix it up with the alternative lifestylers within a sea of yuppie shops and shiny cafes. The cultural dichotomy is painfully manifest, but nobody seems to mind; rather, most locals are pleased with the turnout. As one resident put it, “Anything but Carmel.”

Not that the boardwalk (now a cement walk) isn’t worthy of the limelight. Ranked among the top amusement parks in the nation, with a higher attendance than either Marine World or Paramount’s Great America, the privately owned amusement park has cleaned up its once-tarnished act by pouring a pile of money into improvements and security; the boardwalk is truly safe and clean these days.

Then, of course, there’s the legendary Giant Dipper, considered by those-who-would-know to be the greatest roller coaster ever built, and the hand-carved horses of the Looff Carousel, the last bona fide brass ring merry-go-round in North America. These two rides alone are worth a walk down the boardwalk.

Yet even without its celebrated amusement park, Santa Cruz would still be one of California’s top coastal destinations. Where else can you find a vibrant, cross-cultural (remember, this used to be the LSD capital of the world) college town perched on the edge of an immense bay teeming with marine life, ringed by miles of golden beaches, and backed by dense redwood forests?

Remove those boardwalk blinders for a day and you’ll find out that there’s a whole lot more to Santa Cruz than boardwalk cotton candy and arcades.

So much to see and do

Power Shopping
Sea Kayaking
Redwoods State Park
Marine Laboratory
Music & Dancing
Bike Rental
Surfing Museum
Beach & Butterflies
On the Wharf
Coastal Walk
Roaring Camp Train Rides
Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
Capitola
Aptos

 

Map of Santa Cruz