This Northern California town is unlike any other destination in California. While it’s a quintessential California beach town in many ways, with its dramatic coastline and popular beach boardwalk, it’s also vastly different in terms of its distinctive vibe. Santa Cruz is arguably best known for its modern hippy atmosphere, and in this town you’ll see everything from surfers jumping out of the water in wetsuits to young college students sporting Rastafarian dreadlocks. I’ve heard quite a bit about this famous beach town over the years, yet I had never actually visited. So when I recently had the chance to plan a spontaneous getaway to Santa Cruz, I jumped at the opportunity.
Since I wasn’t planning on traveling to Santa Cruz until the very last moment, I used HotelTonight to book my last-minute hotel room in Santa Cruz. After opening up HotelTonight’s app, I was able to book a great Santa Cruz hotel within minutes, so I was all prepared to see what this funky beach town was all about.
I started my Santa Cruz adventure at the Boardwalk, which is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in the city. While the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a popular spot for tourists, I found that it’s equally as popular among locals looking for a fun day out. The Boardwalk is considered one of the best coastal amusement parks in the country, and there are numerous rides and activities in this historic hotspot. In addition to all of the entertainment and attractions, the Boardwalk also boasts a great selection of restaurants and shops, so it’s all too easy to lose track of time and spend all day enjoying the fun and infectious energy of the Boardwalk.
I walked to the edge of the Boardwalk to the Wharf, where you can watch the surfers catching waves or the seals playing in the water. The Wharf embodies the spirit of the town, blending old-world charm with modern touches. The Wharf features a number of popular dining options, so I sat down for a quick bite to eat at an outdoor café. While sitting, relaxing and enjoying my food and the beautiful ocean view, I spotted a whale just off the coast. As I hurriedly reached for my camera, a few nearby locals told me that the Wharf is a good spot to catch glimpses of marine life like whales, otters and, of course, seals.
Since I was staying at a hotel in downtown Santa Cruz, I checked into my hotel and dropped off my bags before wandering the streets of this charming neighborhood. This area is compact and very walkable, making it the perfect place to stay for visitors who want to meander past cute shops with artisanal goods, grocery stores teeming with organic produce, and local musicians playing on street corners. The laidback, feel-good vibe of downtown Santa Cruz is impossible to ignore, and just taking a quick walk through the downtown streets is a great way to experience the true flavor of the city.
This state park provides breathtaking scenery that will make you feel as if you’re in a postcard. The Natural Bridges State Beach is famous for its natural rock bridge and its abundance of tide pools. After talking to some locals, I knew I had to visit this beach at sunset, as the locals claimed it’s one of the best places to catch the sunset in the entire country. After witnessing the jaw-dropping sunset, I had to agree with them. The dramatic rocky outcroppings and sparkling Pacific Ocean made for one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, and it was definitely a great way to end a relaxed, sun-soaked day on the California coast.
The next morning, I checked out of my hotel room and headed out on one last Santa Cruz adventure. I drove to the Wilder Ranch State Park, a beautiful state park located on the northern coast of Santa Cruz. While this park used to be a ranch and a dairy farm, today it is a public park that boasts great hiking and walking trails, miles of stunning coastline and a marine protected area. I spent a few hours hiking through the trails and wandering along the remote beaches of Wilder Ranch State Park before getting back in my car and driving back home. Experiencing the vast natural beauty of Wilder Ranch was the perfect way to wrap up my fun – yet relaxing – Santa Cruz getaway.
Santa Cruz is unlike any other city in California, which is why it’s a must-visit for both local Californians and out-of-state visitors. This beautiful, laidback beach town has a style and flavor of its own, and it’s the perfect spot for an impromptu weekend getaway. The next time I have another chance to escape to this hippy beach town for the weekend, I’ll be sure to use HotelTonight to book a last-minute hotel in Santa Cruz.