When traveling to the San Francisco Bay area or nearby Monterey Bay area, a day trip to Santa Cruz might just fit the itinerary. Known for its surf culture, there are no shortage of delightful beaches. While the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk may not be the best beach for swimming or surfing, the other attractions make it a must see. Between fun amusement park rides, a delightful wharf with lots of sea lions, and plenty gorgeous views, you won’t be disappointed!
Location and Parking
Santa Cruz is roughly 45 minutes over the mountain from San Jose in the San Francisco Bay Area, though traffic can impact this. It’s also about 45 minutes from Monterey, along the coast. Once you’re there, the closest public parking lot is just across the street from the beach:
400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
The cost of parking in the lot currently ranges from $5-$25, depending on the day/season. However, if you are only going to be there a couple of hours and there appears to be a chance of open spots, try to circle around the outside of the parking lot, snag a metered parking space, and save yourself some money! The last time we were there, the meters had both a coin option and a phone app (ParkMobile) option of payment.
The boardwalk is free to walk on, but if you want to ride the rides, you will need to purchase either individual ride tickets or get an all-day unlimited ride wristband. An all-day ride wristband currently ranges from $30-$60, depending on the day of your visit and individual tickets vary by ride. There are also many other attractions available for purchase!
When we visit, we typically will exit the boardwalk and stroll down the beach to the wharf.
Note that while we have swum at this beach (food and bathrooms are very conveniently located), the locals consider the water to be dirty and choose other beaches instead. If you are looking for an alternative, one of our favorite beaches for swimming is Natural Bridges State Beach.
As you get closer to the wharf, you will begin to hear the “urps” of the sea lions. If you look into the water, there is a good chance that you will see them swimming around!
Once you reach the end of the wharf, make sure you get a good look at the sea lions fighting for rights to a beam to rest.
There is also a nice ship to admire.
The wharf has some shops (with a more peaceful atmosphere than the boardwalk), as well as a few restaurants.
Beyond that, just around the corner from the wharf is the route along Cliff Drive (which is also on the way to Natural Bridges State Beach). There’s a lighthouse, often some surfers, and it’s a nice place to take a walk along the path. Here’s a picture from a few years back: