Santa Cruz is made for fun, a fact you'll realize as soon as you hit the beach and see the Santa Cruz Beach Boadwalk, California's only full-scale seaside amusement park.
But that's just for starters.
Take a ride through towering redwood forests on a vintage steam train, take surfing lessons, stuff yourself silly, shop till you drop.
Golf, explore sea critters and tidepools, go windsurfing, boogie boarding, mountain biking or hiking. Rent a skiff, board a fishing charter, or try your hand at surf kayaking.
Sounds like fun? Ok, let's take a closer look.
Santa Cruz is blessed with a mild climate and low humidity. Rainfall is actually a bit high by California standards, 31 inches a year. Just enough to keep the majestic redwood forests happy. Most of the rains come in the winter months, between November and April.
During the summer months, occasional fogs drift in, primarily in the mornings and evenings. Temperatures are in the mid 70's. In the spring and fall, you can expect pleasant weather and warm, sunny days.
With 29 miles of beaches, there's a bit of something for everyone here. Fun lovers will want to head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where you'll find both vintage and high-tech rides, arcade games, laser tag, miniature golf, and more food and fun than you'll know what to do with. The 1911 Looff Carousel and the 1923 Giant Dipper roller coaster have both been designated National Historic Landmarks.
Surfing is big here, for pros, beginners and those in between. To take surfing lessons, head to Cowell Beach, where the gentle waves go easy on beginners, and local surfing schools ensure you'll learn safely.
Expert surfers can head to Steamer Lane, between Cowell Beach and Lighthouse Point. This is where the famous O'Neill Cold Water Classic surf competition is held each fall. The Santa Cruz Longboard Invitational is also held off Lighthouse Point each May.
Onshore, you'll find the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum at Lighthouse Point on West Cliff Drive. The museum houses surfboards, photos and artifacts from over 100 years of Santa Cruz surfing.
To the north, Waddell Beach is famous for its windsurfing and hang gliding. At Natural Bridges State Park you can explore the tidepools and enjoy the last remaining natural arch. During the winter months, you'll be treated to the spectacle of thousands of monarch butterflies overwintering in the eucalyptus groves.
The redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains provide plenty of opportunities for adventure or relaxation. You'll find numerous parks, with an abundance of trails for mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians.
You can explore the majestic redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the oldest of the California State Parks. Big Basin offers 18,000 acres of redwood forest with over 80 miles of trails.
One of the most scenic trails in the park is the Skyline to the Sea Trail, which begins at Castle Rock State Park, winds past old-growth redwoods, spectacular vistas, and refreshing waterfalls, ending at the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach. The trail is 33 miles long, but you can also hike shorter segments of it. There are primitive trail camps available.
On the coastal side of Big Basin State Park lies Rancho Del Oso State Park. You'll enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, a variety of trails, and camping. The park includes the Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve, a coastal freshwater marsh and Waddell Beach, which is world-famous for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
To the north, off Highway 9, Castle Rock State Park features unusual rock outcroppings that make it a favorite with rock climbers. The forest here is wild and natural, with 32 miles of trails and primitive campsites for backpackers.
Loch Lomond Recreation Area offers fishing, boating, picnicking, and hiking in the mountains. The lake provides drinking water for the city, so swimming and other body-contact water sports are forbidden.
In Felton, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers some 20 miles of hiking trails through pristine redwood forest. The Redwood Grove, with its wheelchair accessible nature trail, is one of the most popular areas in the park. You'll find a campground, picnic areas, and a nature center. You can go fishing in the San Lorenzo River.
You can also tour the redwood forests on a vintage steam train at Roaring Camp Railroads, located in Felton, next to the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
Fall Creek State Park is the northern area of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. You'll find about 20 miles of hiking trails, but there are no camps, and no facilities.
Forest of Nesene Marks State Park offers 10,000 acres of regenerated redwood forest and over 30 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. You'll also find picnic tables and barbecue pits, and a trail camp.
The City of Santa Cruz offers a variety of parks and greenbelts.
Wine lovers will find the wine country here a bit different than the larger, more touristy California wine regions. In true Santa Cruz fashion, winegrowers here are a bit more laid-back, and many of the county's 50 some wineries are small family-owned enterprises.
You'll also find unusual wines here, including organic and herb-infused varietals. Many of the wineries have tasting rooms, but you can also enjoy the local wines at many area restaurants.
The area boasts a variety of golf courses, many of which offer outstanding scenery. Here are a few favorites:
Pasatiempo Golf Club enjoys an international reputation, and offers spectacular views of the Monterey Bay. Golf Digest ranks it among the nation's top 100 golf courses. The course was designed by the renowned golf architect, Alister MacKenzie.
DeLaveaga Golf Course is located in the hills surrounding Santa Cruz. This championship par 72 course is known for its challenging layout and beautiful scenery.
Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club offers a challenging 18 hole golf course, located amid the majestic redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You'll also enjoy six swimming pools, six tennis courts, restaurant and banquet facilities, and more.
In Scotts Valley you'll find Valley Gardens Golf Course, an executive 9-hole golf course.
In Aptos, Seascape Golf Club offers 18 competitive golf holes and a pro shop.
In Watsonville, you'll find two golf courses. Pajaro Valley Golf Club is playable for all levels of golfers, and offers beautiful views of the wildlife reserve at Elkhorn Slough. Spring Hills is a challenging 18 hole course set amid rolling countryside.