Here is what all you I could do in a short day trip to Santa Cruz from San Francisco.
Hello everyone! Here I am again, this time with a post from Santa Cruz, California. After last Thanksgiving day in 2021, I could finally get out and drove down (from SF) to this little, cozy Southwest Bay city called Santa Cruz. Reaching this city of little over 60k population took around about 2 hours car ride from San Francisco by the pacific coast. Watching the Pacific waves, surfers, riding in my little roadster while dashing the windy roads of the bay itself was absolutely staggering.
Parking in Santa Cruz
The most popular spot in Santa Cruz is by far Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Parking is not too much of a big issue in case you are willing to pay $15 day flat rate to the open parking lot right in front of the boardwalk. There are options available on the street for parking as well, for me it was just not worth it and parking lot was super convenient.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
It’s by far the most popular and crowded place in all Santa Cruz. Inside you can find 40 different rides, tons of different shops with souvenirs as well as a huge arcade saloon. In front there is a huge, sandy beach in case you don’t mind swimming in the cold Pacific water as well. Rides differ from $29 to $89 from day pass to unlimited season pass. Though it was super crowded as I was there on a Saturday after Thanksgiving day and combined with me having no interest in taking the rides, I rather spent my day wandering around exploring the area.
There are a lot of different beaches along the coast of Santa Cruz, but the boardwalk opens to the one called “Main Beach” and people sunbath, play volleyball, kayak, paddle board as well as swim there. As I went with more of a quantity over quality mindset when I hit Santa Cruz in contrary to my usual view of life, I just walked around briefly, browsed the shops as well as observed what people were doing.
While trying to explore the boardwalk and in search of something interesting, I found myself in a big arcade room, which probably feels like getting locked out in a candy shop for most kids and teenagers. To be honest, even for me it was sort of tempting to grab a seat and race till they close the place for the day. At the end I did not.
Santa Cruz Wharf
Once you are out of the arcade room, on the left you will see this huge wharf where there are nice restaurants that you can either take out some good seafood or sit and enjoy day drinking along with great ocean smell.
As a Bay Area classic, this wharf also has a ton of sea lions sitting below the dock and giving an amazing roaring show to all the visitors.
Once I was done wandering in downtown – mainly the boardwalk and wharf area – I wanted to see the arc shaped rocks which I had seen on some blogs/vlogs before I hit Santa Cruz. Frankly, I had some idea on what to do before I went there, though I had no significant agenda. Right on the wharf, I pulled up my phone and googled what to do in Santa Cruz again. Apparently the arc rock was in a park called Natural States Beach. Looking at the directions from Google Maps, it was 54 minutes walk. Interestingly I was reluctant to drive there but not to walk.
I thought this could be a chance to explore the city. I put my headphones, listened to my favorite songs and started walking. The walk itself with beautiful views was fun, but not walking in Vans. So the top tip here for you is that if you want to walk, make sure you get some comfy shoes.
Natural Bridges State Park
To be completely honest with you, the park itself wasn’t so much of a surprising views with mind blowing scenery sort of spot. Yes, I will admit, that arc shaped rock and the beach itself looks good, but that’s all about it. There are way too many people on the beach playing music chatting whatnot and you can’t just enjoy the pure beauty of the place with a bit of silence. It’s a bit too noisy. That doesn’t take anything from how picturesque it is, if you can get the shot at the right time though.
Apparently there was a lot of space to park there without having so much of a big trouble, meaning I could have easily drive here. Though having thought of the only way of exploring a city in a very limited time is walking around instead of driving around is what I thought and I simply don’t regret it.
The Mystery Spot
Santa Cruz is popular with its redwoods as well as great forests with some sort of railway going around. Though if you don’t book these ahead of time, there is very slight chance that you can get the tickets. Speaking of spots that require buying tickets in advance, another one was this popular tourist spot called The Mystery Spot.
This mystery place as they put it is a couple of miles to the north of Santa Cruz Beach. You have to book it a day in advance at least for something like $8 and go inside before your tour start time to check in. In a nutshell, a tour guide comes over and explains why it is called mystery spot along with very basic and cheesy tour guide jokes and tricks and takes you up the hill to show a crooked house which apparently was build decades ago and slid down the slope to create a shady place for Santa Cruz tourist. You go in do some natural Michael Jackson tricks inside due to the slope, try not to throw up and get out. On the way in, and on the way out they keep explaining how interesting and special it is. It is nothing crazy for sure, but a bit of interesting taste before you call it a day at Santa Cruz.
The tour itself is around 30-45 minutes and at the end as you can guess they agitate with the lines along “oh tips are the only way we survive” and they politely show the tip box to the guests. Don’t get me wrong, tour guides are nice and I did give them a tip; though I just wanted to point out the cliche. Lastly they give you a bumper sticker for the Mystery Spot, which most of the tourists stick on the old car outside.
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Till next time!