Visiting Santa Cruz

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Parent Reviews

RE: Fun overnight trip with teens? ()

Your idea sounds fun. I would also suggest Santa Cruz, stay walking distance to the boardwalk and get the teens all day passes (buy one membership and get two free day passes along with it, I think?). They can alternate between rides and beach as they wish; set some geographic boundaries and then let them be free range. At both Santa Cruz and Old Sacramento, bike rental would also be fun.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Nov 2009

I'm looking for some recommendations on Santa Cruz. We are going for three nights just before Christmas. We are four adults (two from the East Bay and two from Illinois), a 2 1/2 year old and a 1 year old. We would like recommendations on: 1. A great cake. It's the baby's first birthday and I'd like to get a really delicious cake for us to enjoy. I love Crixa and La Farine cakes, so I'm looking for something like that. 2. Activities for the kids. Also, suggestions for adults too. 3. Restaurants that are kid-friendly, inexpensive, good and interesting for out of town guests. Any other recommendations and suggestions are appreciated too! anon.

It depends on where you are staying in Santa Cruz, but here are a few suggestions: For cakes: Kelly's bakery or Gayle's bakery are both great, but are near Capitola. Emily's bakery is in Santa Cruz and it's pretty good. For activities: Long Marine Lab Seymour Center is great for all ages: have fun!

For bakeries: Gayle's bakery in Capitola or Kelly's French Pastry in Santa Cruz. Both are excellent! For kid-friendly dining: Carpo's in Capitola. For activities: if it's not raining the beach is your best bet. We usually end up going for a beach walk on Christmas Day. from Santa Cruz

August 2009

Hoping to stay one or two nights on a weekend with my 8 year old daughter. Looking for recommendations for hotels/motels, restaurants and fun things to do (besides Boardwalk). Thanks! Nancy

We just visited for the first time the Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz -- I'd highly recommend it. Our kids are 6 and 2.5, but it could appeal equally to older kids as well (including the grown-up kind). The center is not too big, so it's manageable for those easily distracted. It has hands-on opportunities, interesting aquarium displays, and amazing whale skeletons - all overlooking the beautiful Monterey Bay.

My favorite place to stay in Santa Cruz is actually a little off the beaten track--it's called Chaminade. It's a resort/conference center with beautiful landscaping, an outdoor pool and hot tub, spa services, fitness center, walking trails, etc, and surprisingly affordable for such an elegant place. It's about a 15-20 minute drive from all the action (boardwalk, beach, downtown, etc). It's not the place to stay if you want to tumble out of your room and right onto the beach, but it's very lovely and relaxing. We were just there this summer. We didn't eat breakfast at Chaminade but rather followed local tips to the nearby Silver Spur (I think that's what it's called--Silver Something) where the yummy food was worth the long wait.

The Mystery Spot is a good place to go. Also, Rolling Camp Railroad in Felton, just 10 mins away. Henry Cowell State Park is nice too. There is a train that takes you from the park to the railroad. kr

March 2008

Re: Good local beach vacation
Oh you simply HAVE to go to Santa Cruz for your vacation. Last July, to celebrate our son's second birthday, we took a week off and had the most beautiful time. Here is what we did. Maybe some of these ideas will work for you:
* Camp for 2 nights in the redwoods at the San Mateo Memorial Park; * Drive down to Monterey for a night, visit the aquarium; * Drive back up the coast to Santa Cruz -- spend a night and hit the beach and boardwalk amusement park; * And the BEST THING OF ALL, on your way from Santa Cruz back to the Bay Area, visit the Roaring Camp Railroad in Felton. Our boy loved riding the big, loud steam trains so much. I guarantee your kids will love it.
Have a wonderful time! Lisa in Oakland

We have vacationed along the California coast many times. One of the best times we had was renting a house in Santa Cruz. It was a little ways south of the Boardwalk area ( a couple of freeway exits) and in a private community that had their own steps down to the beach. It was a fantastic location. We were able to get to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Boardwalk quite easily, but then we had the beach and a very quiet community to retreat to when we just wanted to take it easy. My brother rented the place, so I can't send you to the rental company, but just search on ''vacation rental house santa cruz'' and you'll get a ton of rental agencies and rental by owner places.

May 2006

Can anyone recommend a place to stay in Santa Cruz for a summer weekend? Two adults, two teen girls. Ann in Oakland

Rent a house! The hotels in Santa Cruz are notoriously crummy and very expensive. We just came back from a birthday weedend for my 15 year old son and two of his friends. My husband and I rented a house through (vacation rentals by owner)and it was fabulous! The house was on the east side (the west side is where the boardwalk is) on a charming little street just a couple of blocks off the beach. We had a two bedroom , three bath house with a giant yard for less than it would have cost us for two hotel rooms. It was spotlessly clean and came equipped with everything we needed (even a gas BBQ). no more hotels

Re: One-night getaway with a girlfriend (May 2004)
What about Santa Cruz? There are lots of little hotels and B there and in the surrounding cute towns. (I'm sorry but I can't give you a specific recommendation. I did used to live in Aptos and that's a nice quiet area.) For fun, there are parks to hike in and downtown Santa Cruz has some nightlife and restaurants. It is about 1.5 hours from the Bay Area, but might have everything you want. Just a thought. Anon

Jan 2005

Hello, we are looking for a fun place to stay in Santa Cruz with our almost six year old boy. He loves the boardwalk and we are taking him there for his birthday weekend. Have checked the archives, which have some good recommendations, but there is nothing more recent than 1999. Does anyone have any suggestions from recent trips for fun, family-friendly lodging? We are going next weekend! (Jan 28th) Gail

In 2002 I stayed at the Carousel Motel, across the street from the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. I liked it so much that I kept the brochure and took notes on it! There's a AAA discount, they have good rooms with good prices. Our room #301 had a fridge and microwave and view of the parking lot, Big Dipper, ocean, Neptune's Kingdom, and a little balcony. Room 302 is on the corner with windows on 2 sides. Rooms 303-304 face the beach. The website is Winter weekend rates in 2002 were $69-109, depending on the room. sue

June 2001

RE: amusement parks for 4-year-old
Santa Cruz has rides for kids and adults. You have the option to pay as you go or buy a day pass. (Sometimes, if we are passing by, we stop in just to ride the Big Dipper!)There's also the beach and indoor miniature golf, etc. It is a pretty long drive to get there, especially if you are just going for the kids. Lissa (6/01)

Two places to stay that are not listed on the parents website already are The Darling House B -$90 and up. Right on Westside Dr. overlooking the SC Pier and Steamer Lane. Telescope in one room! Beach access is near the lighthouse or by the pier. The Babbling Brook ( ) We never stayed at the Babbling Brook but it's highly recommend by locals and is usually full, so call ahead. This is not on the beach, but about 5 minutes by car to the pier.
Scott (2/00)

From: Andrei (Jan 1999)

I recommend going to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk at this time of the year as a very cost-efficient way to entertain your kids on a weekend. We went there last Saturday and had lots of fun. They currently have about 10-15 rides open. There is an option of paying for single ride, or you can purchase a daily pass to nearly all attractions for about $12-$13. Since the Boardwalk is not a theme park in the sense that there is no fence around, the entrance itself is free, i.e., you do not have to pay anything if you just want to hang around. We bought a pass for our child and paid for a couple of rides which were most appealing for us, so the whole fun was for less than $20. However, the most wonderful was the complete absence of lines to the attractions: you can ride any attraction as many times as you want, and you do not have to wait! This definitely will not be the case in summer, so I recommend going there now! Santa Cruz is in about 80 miles from Oakland/Berkeley.

13th Birthday Party

July 1996

My little girl turned 13 years old in June. I took a couple of days off from work and took her and 4 of her closest friends to Santa Cruz Boardwalk . We rode the rides and enjoyed swimming. It was a beautiful day for me and the acccompaning parent. I rented a van to make the drive down much more comfortable. Food consisted of breakfast on the way down, snacks during the day, and concluded with a nice dinner at a moderate restaurant. The children did pay for thier own ride bands but I took care of the transportation, food, cake, and surprises. It turned out to be a very happy birthday. Pamela July 1995

I stayed at a small hotel that had tiny kitchens in the rooms and was several blocks from the beach, but that was years ago. I would recommend calling UCSC Women's Resource Center (408) 459-2072, or Re-Entry Services (I used to hang out in their office before teaching my sections) at (408) 459-4968. They may be able to direct you to someplace inexpensive, child-friendly and close to the beach.

I have stayed at the Rio Sands Motel in Aptos 3 times over the last 2 years and each time was very enjoyable. It's about a 15 min. drive down hiway 1 towards Monterey. The rates are reasonable (about $100/night including sep. bedroom and kitchen. The kids loved it cuz they have a nice pool and hot tub. It's one block from the beach in Aptos which is about 3 miles long. You can rent boggie boards, etc., and there is a huge ship stationed as a fishing pier on the water.

It's far enough away from the Boardwalk so the kids don't drive you crazy about going there. We've gone there for 3 or 4 days and spent 1 or 2 days at the boardwalk and the other days right there is Aptos. It's really a beautiful spot. Lot's of animal life too - my sister and I had a great view of the dolphins playing last year!!! We're going back in late Aug. I think they have lower rates mon-thurs also. If you go, let me know what you think. Continetal breakfast is also included.

You may want to check out what is available on Capitola also. Its very near Santa Cruz. Capitola Chamber of Commerce 408-475-6522

We stayed at a place called the Riverside Garden Inn two summers ago and it was reasonable, clean, had a pool and spa, and was not far from the Boardwalk (although we drove back and forth since my mom was with us and there was a dicey neighborhood to pass through before reaching the Boardwalk). Their number is 800-527-3833.

Oooh, and since you're going to S.C., I just remembered a tip I got recently and am planning to do soon with my own kids--if you haven't been to the Mystery Spot (a place in a redwood forest with strange gravity), it's supposed to be worth the price of admission for both kids and adults. Have fun! \t

Re: the Mystery Spot, think carefully before going there. My family, friends, and I had a better time on the drive there than actually inside. The Mystery Spot only costs $2-4.00/person to get in but we didn't like it. They try to tell you its a place where the earth's magnetic field was/is warped somehow and that allows trees to grow in strange shapes/directions, and things that appear to defy nature's laws are possible within this magnetic field. We thought it was a big well-planned and organized hoax. Might be worth it to you just for shear entertainment, and young children may go for the explanations given for why this tree twists around at a strange angle/why this house is tilted on this hill at an odd angle/etc. but don't expect to see the 8th wonder of the world. With regard to a place to stay, I can direct you to a place that was nice, comfortable, within walking distance of the Boardwalk without the rates of being right on the beach, but I can't remember the name. Its a blue and white colored hotel on the right side of the street. If you stay on the main street into Santa Cruz after coming off the fwy, that street will lead straight to the Boardwalk. It goes through a bunch of lights and such and then appears to narrow down and go into a neighborhood. At that point you'll hit a stop sign where you HAVE to turn right, go one block, and turn left again. Once you make this left, within 1 block is the motel and its 1/2 block before a stoplight that will take you up-and-over a small bridge toward the beach. They have single rooms, 2 rm suites, and indoor pool. I'll see if I can find their name at home this weekend and let you know if I do.

I don't know if you've made your plans yet as far as a motel but I couldn't get the name of that place. But I do know now that you come into Santa Cruz off the fwy straight onto Ocean St. Follow that straight to Barson where you turn right, and left at Riverside which takes you past the motel I talked about. There's also a Comfort Inn Right off the fwy on Ocean St. and Plymouth St (you see, Santa Cruz is one of my favorite cities for overnighters or just a day). I stayed there with wife and friends last year and it was nice. Whatever you do, have a good time.