Central Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk - Beach Boardwalk (popular with families since the 1860's) has something fun for all ages. Little ones will enjoy the old-fashioned Looff carousel, little speedboats, cars, planes, and sea dragon. For bigger kids, soar above the waves on the wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster, Sky Glider, Typhoon, Tsunami, Cliff Hanger, Logger's Revenge (prepare to get wet), Pirate Ship and more. Also, miniature golf, laser tag, arcade games and bowling for everyone in the family.
There's also a flat sand beach in front of the Boardwalk, shops have sand toys and beach accessories, if you need to stock up.
A visit to the Boardwalk can be a day in itself (don't forget to bring your suits and towels).
Read our blog post: " Last weekend in Santa Cruz "
Boogie boarding and surfing - Santa Cruz has beaches that are great for kids to boogie board, or learn to surf. Club Ed, at Cowell Beach, just beyond the Santa Cruz Wharf, has surf lessons (wet suit and boards are provided). Rent boogie boards and wet suits at the O'Neill store (plenty of kids sizes) at 41st Ave in Capitola.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center - The Exploration Center is a super introduction to the ecology of Monterey Bay. There are no live animals here, but exhibits are completely hands-on (we learned a lot before heading out to the tidepools at Natural Bridges). Don't miss the excellent 15 min. movie about the bay. Exploration Center is open Wed. - Sun. and is free.
Santa Cruz wharf - Walk out onto the Santa Cruz wharf next to the Boardwalk. On the east side of the pier is a deck for sea lions to "haul out" - lolling around in groups. In the water, look for harbor seals (spotted chubby seals) and more sea lions swimming, it's fun to see them twirling and "porpoising."
Rent kayaks - Also at the wharf, rent kayaks, and go out in the water in front of the Boardwalk.
Whale watching - Monterey Bay is a super locale to go whale watching year round - in winter, there are gray whales in migration, in summer, humpback and blue whales come to eat plentiful krill in the bay. On a cruise, you may also see harbor seals, sea lions, dolphins, and adorable sea otters. Cruises are available from Stagnaro's on Santa Cruz wharf.
Tip: Cruises typically last 3 - 4 hours, and the boats really aren't suited for toddlers to run around. Even if the day is sunny, be sure to bring warm clothing as it's much cooler out on the water.
Beaches - For swimming in the water and a long sand beach (bring your sand toys) is Twin Lakes Beach- Seabright State Park , right near the Santa Cruz Harbor. There are also fire rings, so bring your picnic supplies, and roast hot dogs or marshmallows at the beach.
Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History - If the weather isn't sunny and warm, check out this charming little hundred year old museum, with displays about the animals local to Santa Cruz. Nifty dioramas of animals that live in chaparral (bobcats, jackrabbits, hummingbirds), wetlands (great blue herons) and redwoods (yellow banana slugs, raccoons, squirrels, owls), plus local amphibians (toads and tree frogs) a touch tide pool. The museum is located on 1305 East Cliff Dr., closed on Monday.
Santa Cruz Beach Train - Take a trip back in time, to 1875, when this train transported passengers from the beach at Santa Cruz to Roaring Camp the redwoods. Get on the train at the Boardwalk, chug through the redwoods, and get out at Roaring Camp, once a rip-roaring logging camp in the 1880's. You can run around for several hours, then return on the train to the Boardwalk.