Things to Do/See
Beaches and Coastline
Seabright (on the east side of the river) is usually less crowded than the beach right by the boardwalk
the area along West Cliff Drive has a nice, paved promenade overlooking the ocean
Natural Bridges Park - has some beautiful vistas and a nice beach...also certain times of the year you can see Monarch butterflies
Wilder Ranch State Park - has nice trails overlooking the ocean; don't miss the "fern grotto beach", which is pretty cool)
Henry Cowell Redwoods - not far from Roaring Camp / Felton
Pleasure Point - popular with surfers
Bonny Doon Vineyard -->?
Santa Cruz Boardwalk - a bit toursity but has some "old fashioned" games/rides/etc.
the Wharf is pretty touristy but has some nice views from the end (and an old-school candy shop that Adam loved)
Roaring Camp Steam Train - this company runs two different trains:
Beach train - runs on weekends, leaves Boardwalk at noon, arrives Roaring Camp (Felton logging camp) 1 PM, 2 PM departure, back at 3 PM
Redwood Forest train - ~every day, 75 min round trip up/down Bear Mountain
...you can also explore Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park from their station
Swanton Berry Farm U-Pick in Pescadero
Pie Ranch - nice farm with a pretty elaborate "farm stand" that also runs events
Harley Goat Farm - nice spot if you like goats
Slow Coast - a nice shop (also a bigger one in Davenport that has a garden, etc.)
North of Santa Cruz
Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park
Pigeon Point Lighthouse (also a hostel)
Places to Eat
*** = especially recommended
***Laili - great, California-fresh, upscale Afghan food...don't miss the boranee (roasted butternut squash) and lamb kabobs. Mediterranean plate is so-so (we found the hummus a bit bland and the babaghanoush too roasted garlic-y).
***Copal - great Oaxacan food in the "Westside"; our favorite was Molotes (corn wrapped around potatoes). Also good mole negro and tlayuda ("Mexican pizza")
***Mutari Chocolate - bean-to-bar single-origin chocolate (similar to—and we like it better than— Dandelion in SF). Great drinking chocolate & truffles. Brownies are the rich, slightly gooey kind. --> unfortunately they closed their shop but you can still order online to pick things up!
Steamer Lane Supply - a to-go (although they have picnic tables) spot with fusion-y casual food overlooking the ocean; we liked their pork (in carnitas tacos and kim chee rice) but it looks like everything is good
East End Gastropub in Capitola - closer to Pleasure Point/Capitola; kid-friendly place but pretty good food with eggplant, pizza, burgers, sandwiches, salads, spaghetti with meatballs, etc
Abbot Square Market - nice food hall downtown; we especially liked the fancy burgers at Belly Goat Craft Burgers but there are lots of other good options
want to try:
Pretty Good Advice - vegetarian place in Soquel, ex-Michelin chefs make things like quinoa bowls
HOME - another interesting place in Soquel
Barceloneta - tapas & more to go, various GF options
Trestles Restaurant - looks really nice, relatively new, in Capitola
Bantam - wood-fired pizzas and more, most non pizza dishes (including fried chicken) can be made GF...rec'd by neighbors
Companion Bakeshop - organic bakery; Eater SF rec's for sourdough, also other pastries?...one branch in Westside, one in Aptos
?Zameen at the Point - Mediterranean food near Pleasure Point (also a branch in Aptos)
?Cafe Brasil - looks like nice breakfast / açai bowls?
?Shogun Japanese - has good reviews, sushi + more
?Vim Dining & Desserts - lots of GF on menu, looks pretty nice (but also more expensive than most Santa Cruz places, not for SF though)
?Lupulo Craft Beer House - Spanish/Mexican stuff on the menu, casual atmosphere, not sure about GF?
recommended with reservations:
Penny Ice Creamery - *great* ingredients but not the best texture (a bit icy)
Places to Stay
See notes from our wedding website
Our favorite place is Babbling Brook Inn, which is far from the water but super-romantic and cozy (and with a good breakfast)
Also worth checking out:
Dream Inn - really nice spot with a fantastic location; as of 2021 they kept their pool a bit cold though?
Beach Street Inn & Suites - it's a bit of a "motel" vibe but they have a nice (albeit small) pool that they keep reasonably warm, and it's a great location right by the pier/boardwalk (not far from the Dream Inn)
Chaminade - nice resort up in the hills with a great view, big pool
Hotel Paradox - nothing special but they often have good deals; nicer than the generic Holiday Inn/Comfort Inn up the street