by Kimberly Hickok
As summer peeks around the corner and pandemic restrictions begin lifting, the urge to get out of the house and go do something fun is stronger than ever. Fortunately for Santa Cruz area residents, there’s no need to travel far for enjoyable, exciting activities with little and big kids alike. Here are 17 of our favorite Santa Cruz area “staycation” ideas:
- Ride roller coasters and play games
The historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk hosts a plethora of fun rides for kids of all ages – from a kiddie train to the classic Giant Dipper roller coaster. After enjoying the rides, check out the large arcade, pirate-themed miniature golf course, or classic bowling alley for some family-friendly competition.
- Find little sea creatures
Summer in Santa Cruz means plenty of beach time, but don’t overlook the tidepools. Natural Bridges State Park is a great place for kids to discover small sea creatures hiding in nooks and crannies of the rocky outcropping. While you’re there, take the Monarch Trail for an easy hike among giant eucalyptus trees and check out the nature displays at the visitor’s center.
- Hike among giants
Gaze up at some of the tallest, oldest trees in the country on a hike through the redwoods. You can find stroller-friendly and dog-friendly hikes at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Henry Cowell State Park, Mt. Madonna County Park, and Pogonip.
- Shred some dirt (or asphalt)
Enjoy a family-friendly bike ride on the easy trails at Pogonip and Henry Cowell State Park, or let the kids test their skills at one of the various pump tracks in the area. Check out Harvey West, Chanticleer, West Side, or Depot Park pump tracks in Santa Cruz, or visit the Scotts Valley pump track in North county or the Ramsay Park pump track in South county.
- Cruise up the slough
Birds, otters, and seals, oh my! Take a short trip down to Moss Landing where the whole family can enjoy a wildlife-packed nature cruise up Elkhorn Slough aboard an electric catamaran with Monterey Bay Eco Tours.
- Ride a steam-powered train
Explore the historic pioneer village of Roaring Camp where kids can get their face painted, pan for gold, and watch a real blacksmith shape steel. Then take an hour-long ride in an open-air train car through the redwoods and up into the Santa Cruz Mountains or down to the Beach Boardwalk.
- Play in a museum full of giant toys
At the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery, kids can explore and play with interactive displays such as a giant rope spider web, an air wall that shoots balls through hamster tubes, and a horizontal climbing wall.
- Pretend you’re a sea otter
Take a short kayaking tour to experience the bay from a sea otter’s perspective, or rent kayaks and paddle around at your leisure. You can rent kayaks and book tours at Venture Quest on the Santa Cruz Wharf or Kayak Connection, located just above the Santa Cruz Harbor.
- Learn about native plants and animals
Kids can learn about our region’s diverse plant and animal life at the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum. Life-like dioramas, historical artifacts, and a touch pool will delight kids of all ages.
- Reel it in
Try to catch a big one by going fishing from the Capitola or Santa Cruz Wharf. Fishing from either wharf doesn’t require a fishing license, and you can rent all the gear you need at the Capitola and Santa Cruz Boat Rental shops, located in the middle of both wharfs.
- Make art
Let kids get creative at the Petroglyph Ceramic Lounge in downtown Santa Cruz, where they can make a beautiful piece of ceramic art. Kids can use their Petroglyph studio pass to also visit Glow Candle Lounge to craft a personalized candle. Or, let your kids make whatever their heart desires (almost!) at Crooked Beauty Maker’s Space in Felton.
- Picnic on a freshwater beach
Fish, hike, boat, and picnic (but no swimming) at Loch Lomond, the only drinking water reservoir for the City of Santa Cruz, tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains. On Saturdays and Sundays during the second weekend of each month, visitors can sign up to take a free, hour-long nature tour aboard a pontoon boat.
- Watch live theater
Catch a live performance at one of the many community theaters in the area. Shows are put on by local kids and teens and produced by nonprofit theater companies such as All About Theater, CYT Santa Cruz, and Little People’s Repertory Theater in Ben Lomond.
- Fly through the forest
Take adventure to new heights at Mt. Hermon Adventures. Older kids and thrill-seeking adults will enjoy flying between the tops of redwoods on the zip line tour, or carefully traversing the suspended ropes course.
- Spot the whales
Take a boat ride around Monterey Bay and look for whales and other charismatic marine life on a half-day whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz Harbor. Book locally with Santa Cruz Whale Watching or Sea Spirit Ocean Safari.
- Do some farming
There’s not much that tastes better than ripe and juicy fresh-picked berries. Take the kids to pick their own at one of the many “U-Pick” berry farms in Davenport or Watsonville, such as Swanton Berry Farm, Gizdich Ranch, Crystal Bay Farm, or Live Earth Farm.
- Satisfy the need for speed
Take in the thrill and excitement of the stock car races at Ocean Speedway every Friday night during the summer. Races run continuously from 6 pm to 10 pm. Consider bringing ear protection, especially for younger kids, because these race cars can get pretty loud.