My husband accompanied me on my latest visit to California, and I knew that visiting Santa Cruz would be on our “to-do” list.
This little gem of an oceanside city can be found a quick 45 minutes south of San Jose. I’ve been here several times, but this was my husband’s first look at this lovely little place.
Our winding drive to Santa Cruz led us through redwood forests and a few laidback towns–the perfect way to start any adventure. It was early morning when we arrived in Santa Cruz, and there was plenty of parking available. We parked on W. Cliff Drive near Sunset Avenue and set off on an exhilarating nine-mile walk along the coast.
There were surfers in the water, the sounds of waves crashing onto the beaches, well-behaved dogs being walked by locals, bikes being pedaled by young and old, joggers quietly padding by, walkers brisking walking to the music playing through their earbuds, and us–the gawking visitors. Even with all of this going on, it wasn’t at all like a mob scene. We were able to walk without being jostled or disrupted. Nice!
This walk is tailor-made for photographers. There’s something new to see and photograph every few minutes. Remember to bring the best camera you own, and shoot away!
Santa Cruz Wharf
Our walk eventually led us to Cowell Beach and the Santa Cruz Wharf. It’s a long wharf–over a half-mile in length. Although you can park on it, I suggest taking the leisurely stroll that will enable you to windowshop past many restaurants, gift shops, coffee shops, apparel stores, and kayak/boat rental places. The added bonus is that, at the end of your walk, there are cut-outs in the pier that enable you to gaze down upon raucous sea lions chilling out down below. Bonus!
Although I was in Santa Cruz only a month ago, this trip marked a definite increase in fishermen casting their lines on the pier. It may be that I was here on a weekend this time, or the warmer weather is bringing on the increase of patrons to the pier. Either way, it was a welcome scene…parents and children whiling the day away in pursuit of the elusive big fish.
We finished our walk on the wharf and immediately headed to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
This is a classic amusement park–I loved it. My husband noted how it reminded him of visiting Crystal Beach amusement park in Ontario, Canada as a kid.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk stretched out before us as we walked past newer rides blended in with the best of rides from the past (including a 1911 Looff Carousel–a National Historic Landmark), games of chance, and food vendors. It was free to enter, and it was a hard internal battle to not spend money on at least one ride!
From the Boardwalk, we were able to cross the Lorenzo River via train trestle on the way to our next destination…Seabright State Beach and Walton Lighthouse.
Seabright State Beach and Walton Lighthouse
This is “the party beach”. The one where you can build beach bonfires and relax on the beach at night. We walked through the remnants of fires past, and made our way to Walton Lighthouse.
For the record, I’m a lighthouse junky. I don’t know why, but they’ve always held a special place in my heart. This is a newer lighthouse, easily accessible to everyone. It lacks the character of older lighthouses, and has seen its share of having to be repainted numerous times to conceal graffiti at its base. Yet it stands ever-stalwart against the crashing ocean waves and the stupidity of young adults.
Santa Cruz Train
On our return walk from Seabright State Beach, my husband and I made our way back toward the boardwalk and witnessed a train cutting over the city streets heading toward us. The steam engine was pulling observation cars–some closed, some open–each filled with smiling passengers. Old and young alike offloaded directly in front of the Boardwalk, ready to have a fun, sunny adventure.
I wish I’d known about this train beforehand. I would have definitely booked passage on the Santa Cruz Beach train. It takes passengers from the redwoods, across a steel truss bridge, and through a tunnel before finding its way to the boardwalk. If I find my way to Santa Cruz again, I will definitely be booking this trip!
We truly only touched on the outer edges of the fun activities that Santa Cruz offers. That being said, it was the perfect way to while away a perfect weekend day.