Fun things to do in Santa Cruz?
October 14, 2009 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Fun things to do in Santa Cruz?

We are a married couple with three kids aged 6 3 and 1. We are looking for fun things to do in Santa Cruz, California. We have a beach house until Monday and will be spending a lot of time just watching the waves. Any recommendations on good sushi, Mexican, museums, etc?
posted by Mr. Justice to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Drive down about an hour to the Monterey Bay Aquarium! it's excellent, assuming you haven't been there. Monterey is a bit of a tourist trap, but no worse than Santa Cruz. The aquarium has some areas specifically designed for smaller kids and interactive learning.

Other than that you noticed the boardwalk, right? Just on the off chance you missed it.
posted by GuyZero at 1:01 PM on October 14, 2009

Response by poster: P.S. We already went to the Monterey aquarium and to Dennis the Menace park.
posted by Mr. Justice at 1:04 PM on October 14, 2009

Watch the Surfers from Lighthouse Peak. Check out the Surfing Museum.
posted by Duffington at 1:06 PM on October 14, 2009

Check out Capitola

Also want to check out the Mystery Spot (kids should dig it).

Also the kids might dig Roaring Camp Ride on Trains!
posted by bitdamaged at 1:16 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Natural History museum is tiny but worth a visit and right by the beach.

Some people like the Mystery Spot (it's child-safe but probably not child-enthralling optical illusions.)

The place my family like best for sushi is I Love Sushi on Front Street (at Soquel). Mobo is possibly better quality if you're a purist, but I Love Sushi is more friendly.

For Mexican try La Hacienda on Laurel St. It's cheap but quality is good. Taqueria Vallarta on Pacific and on Soquel (near Branciforte) and now on Mission too is also pretty good cheap Mex. The Palomar on Pacific Ave is upscale Mexican.

The Museum of Art and History on Front St has a room where kids can dress up in period clothes (or used to -- it's a few years since our kids were small enough) and a good display of local historic artifacts. MAH also sometime has good art exhibits.
posted by anadem at 1:20 PM on October 14, 2009

If you have a car (or if you ride the train from the Boardwalk) you could go to Henry Cowell State Park in Felton, where a short walk takes you through some full-size redwoods. Take a flashlight and at the far end of the walk there's a hollow tree which your kids will (probably) love to go inside of. There's a sign beside the tree mentioning John Frémont's exploration of the area (useful as a marker for finding the tree); it's close to the restroom at the west end of the walkway.

Walking a little further takes you to the San Lorenzo river, though it's not really usable after all that rain.
posted by anadem at 1:30 PM on October 14, 2009

If you like big breakfasts/brunches, I highly recommend Zachary's.

The previously mentioned Roaring Camp Railroad is a great place to take kids if they like trains -- might be pretty soggy following yesterday's storm, but it's worth the brief drive from Santa Cruz proper.

Also, Marianne's Ice Cream, on Ocean St., is absolutely great and well worth a visit.

Wilder Ranch State Park, about 15 minutes north of town on Hwy 1, has some nice trails for walking in the woods. They also have (or used to have) a hands-on farm demonstration where kids could get their hands dirty.
posted by mosk at 1:38 PM on October 14, 2009

Food! Cafe Brasil on Mission for breakfast is a must (be warned that there will be a line... it shouldn't be more than, say, 30 minutes unless it's a Sunday).

Go for a small hike at the UC. Santa Cruz is all about exploring, so wander around a bit. Go rent some bikes if it's not too cold, and bike around near the beach or down to Pelican Point. Seabright beach has this small cliff jutting out that separates it from the boardwalk area -- it's one of my favorite spots in that town.

The actual Mission Santa Cruz is neat, most notably because they've preserved the small adobes used by the indigenous "workers." The city's also got a fascinating and uncharacteristically violent history which the guides there will be happy to tell you about.

If you've got a car, the drive north up highway 1 is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful drives in California. There's a small beach north of bean hollow near Davenport just south of a huge cliff -- that beach is incredibly beautiful and sparse.
posted by spiderskull at 1:48 PM on October 14, 2009

Food choices in this town are pretty dismal. I love sushi is a good place for sushi. The place next door, Malabar Cafe, also has ok food.

For Mexican I like Tacos Morenos. Cafe Brasil is good but insanely crowded. Go explore the beaches along hwy 1.
posted by special-k at 2:17 PM on October 14, 2009

Elkhorn Slough! You can see all manner of otters, seals, and birds. The tour I linked to is especially kid friendly. It's about halfway between Monterey and Santa Cruz, in the shadow of a massive power plant.

The Steinbeck museum isn't too far either, but it's not really age appropriate.
posted by Xalf at 2:54 PM on October 14, 2009

Chocolate for some fantastic and very sugary hot chocolate.
posted by chairface at 3:58 PM on October 14, 2009

I recall a coffee house with a deck that jutted out over the water. Don't (alas) recall the name. The combination of brisk sea breeze and great piping hot coffee pretty much made it my favorite place on earth. It was utter bliss.

/Indeed, I'd still be there if Captain Picard hadn't pulled me out to help fight the evil Dr. Soran, but I digress.
posted by RavinDave at 4:40 PM on October 14, 2009

I believe the coffee house RavinDave mentions is Mr. Toots Coffeehouse.
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:39 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Natural Bridges.

Point Lobos is about 45 minutes from there.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 8:03 PM on October 14, 2009

I came in here to say Cafe Brasil and Chocolate for food. So, I second those! Also, Rivas on the wharf. Speaking of the wharf, watch out for the pelicans (they are evil). There are sea lions out there, too.

Also, Pacific Avenue has lots of fun shops. I personally love the Santa Cruz Bookstore.
posted by ainsley at 8:47 PM on October 14, 2009

How fun! I live in Santa Cruz!

For recreation: it's all about the water and the forest. Elkhorn Slough is a great idea. Ride bikes along west cliff drive - its really beautiful, and stop and watch the surfers by the lighthouse. Go for a hike through the redwoods at Felton or Henry Cowell State Park. Drive up just before davenport by Last Chance Rd. -there's a little beach, with another keyhole beach accessible through a tunnel in the cliff, but only at low tide! Definitely drive up the coast - its jaw-droppingly beautiful.

There's several companies that offer sailing trips into the bay - I don't know how it would work with kids, especially young ones. I'd offer to take you dinghy sailing on Saturday or Sunday, but the dinghy only fits 3, and I don't know how rough the weather is supposed to be.

For food: I don't really love any of the sushi here - its not a sushi town, really. You have better luck with Mexican. Taqueria Santa Cruz on Soquel is Great, Tacos Morenos on Water is good. If you want cheap, filling burritos that are the size of an infant, go to the La Esperanza grocery store on Mission at Laurel - they have a hot food section at the back.

Zachary's is classic for brunch, but I prefer Linda's Seabreeze cafe in the Seabright neighborhood. Walnut Cafe is pretty good too. I haven't been to Cafe Brasil. All of these places have lines.

Memail me if you like - I moved here for grad school last year, and I'm sure there's things I'm forgetting about.
posted by foodmapper at 9:05 PM on October 14, 2009

I lived in downtown Santa Cruz for 10 years, until very recently (sadly). The only good thing about not living there anymore is that this weekend is Band Review so drumlines and marching bands would warm up outside my house at 6am on a Saturday. Ugh.

I feel very strongly about this place. I love it.

You don't say where your vacation house is. A lot of people here are suggesting that you get in the car and head somewhere else. You may not need to.

If you're on the westside / West Cliff / close to downtown:
Mexican: Jalapeno's at Pacific & Laurel has good burritos and salsa; Vallarta at Pacific & Cathcart is a good value. The margaritas at Tampico (Pacific & Maple) are pretty good. Prices are higher but the drinks and food at El Palomar (Pacific between Walnut & Church) are good. Any of these places are kid-friendly.

Sushi: Mobo in the shopping center on River St. No one has mentioned Shogun on Pacific between Cathcart & Lincoln -- I like it there and if you go at lunch they're pretty chill about kids and such. The yam maki is not on the menu but is really good.

Other stuff downtown: Walnut Ave cafe is kid-friendly and good breakfast; check out the Seared Ahi Benedict.

If your house is more on the eastside / Pleasure Pt / or all the way in Capitola:
Others have mentioned some good Capitola stuff. On this side of town, get sushi at Pink Godzilla (41st ave near Portola Dr); if there's a wait, walk a long block down to the ocean while you wait. Can be more kid-friendly if you manage to snag one of the little rooms (are they called tatami rooms?).

In general:
Seconding Bookshop Santa Cruz; Take the kids to Marini's downtown (Pacific ave) and get some ice cream made with cookie dough from the Pacific Cookie Co (which is down the street and also great). It's worth checking out the Saturn Cafe (Pacific & Laurel) which is a vegetarian restaurant with loud music and crazy/fun/wacky decor. Might be a little rowdy later but any reasonable pre-kiddo-bedtime it will be fine.

If you are considering getting a sitter and having a grown-up day, you can do a bunch of wine (and gin!) tasting at several places in walking distance from one another in the Swift St area. Afterward, sober up at Kelly's Bakery.
posted by secretseasons at 9:12 PM on October 14, 2009

I am absolutely and in no way condoning this type of thing, but...

There are places on the wharf in both Santa Cruz and Monterey where the sea lions congregate in great numbers, often pressed up against the fences, which you can (carefully) reach a hand through.

There's truly nothing quite like giving a giant snoozing sea lion a sharp slap on the ass and watching what happens next.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:42 AM on October 15, 2009

go to the pinball / video game arcade at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! it's especially quiet in the off-season.
posted by kuppajava at 9:51 AM on October 15, 2009


"I believe the coffee house RavinDave mentions is Mr. Toots Coffeehouse."

Dang ... you nailed that! My memories of it go back to before Coffee Houses hit the mainstream and anyone outside of Seattle ever even heard of Starbucks. The website brings back a rush of memories. So glad to see it still exists -- and that my recollections were not embellished by the years.
posted by RavinDave at 11:14 AM on October 15, 2009

Hey Mr Justice, please report back on what fun you had! I really miss Santa Cruz.
posted by secretseasons at 8:33 AM on October 18, 2009

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