Santa Cruz is like a line from a Beach Boys song… Oh wait, it is a line from a Beach Boys song! This place is where California dreams come true.

Growing up in the midwest on a steady diet of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, California seemed to be this oasis of awesome beaches, beautiful people, surfers, funky shops, and endless summers. Of course, we knew things had probably changed since the 1950s, but still, we clung to that California dream.

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Then we went to California for the first time- LA to be specific. Sure, it had some great beaches and Venice Beach was just as eclectic as people said, but somehow it just didn’t feel like California from our dreams. Traffic, smog, and the trappings of a giant city seemed to drown out the good vibrations we’d been dreaming of.

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Thank God we finally made it to Santa Cruz.

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Sure, we had to fight a little traffic to get to the boardwalk, but after ditching the car, Santa Cruz proved to be everything we’d hoped for in a California beach town. Surfers surfed, fishermen fished, volleyball players volleyed. Kids screamed from the boardwalk amusement park while adults dined beachside.

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Just as “California” as the boardwalk and wharf is downtown Santa Cruz. Families stopped for ice cream while window shopping at high-end art galleries while young kids lined the sidewalks for a concert by some band way too cool for us to have heard of.

Put simply, this place just seems to be that California melting pot you think of when someone says they’re living a California lifestyle. Per usual, we didn’t have a fraction of the time we needed to really explore the area, but here are a few must-see and must-dos on your trip:

Santa Cruz Wharf

Nothing makes a beach come alive more than a thriving pier or wharf, and the Santa Cruz Wharf is a prime example. Walking along the wharf, you’ll find young children with parents baiting their hooks, trying to catch a little dinner while making memories. If the fish aren’t biting, no worries, there are plenty of places to grab some surf and turf. If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch a glimpse of some sea lions playing around under the pier.

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For us, there’s no better place to grab a bite at the wharf than Stagnaro Bros.. Toward the end of the pier, the restaurant not only serves up some of the freshest seafood imaginable, it’s also a Santa Cruz institution celebrating over 70 years of serving the community.

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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Ok, let’s call a spade a spade… If you have children, you won’t be able to visit Santa Cruz and not stop by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. All those rides right by the beach- what kid can resist? It’s your classic beachfront amusement park, and it’s delightful.

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Making people smile, laugh, and giggle since 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is regarded as THE best seaside park in the world with its 2 landmark amusements: the 1924 Giant Dipper roller coaster and the Loof Carousel dating back to 1911.

If you’re not a thrill-seeker, no worries. between their food and beachfront location, it’s still not a bad way to spend the day.


One part funky, one part chic, one part hip, and all parts California, downtown Santa Cruz proved to be our bonus reward for our time in town. Sure, it’s tough to compete with, well, an entire ocean, but downtown Santa Cruz shouldn’t be overlooked. Grab some ice cream at Mission Hill Creamery and walk Pacific Avenue before grabbing dinner and drinks or catching a live show. We’d try to give more recommendations, but there’s just so much packed into this area, it’s really whatever kind of day or night you want to make in downtown Santa Cruz.

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Like we said, we’re just scratching the surface here. Don’t be knuckleheads like us… give yourself plenty of time to explore the area. Check out Santa Cruz online to find all the stuff we missed. In the meantime, keep sending us those good vibrations.

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