Weekend getaways come in two flavors: action-packed and chill. Visit Santa Cruz and you can do both, but the town really excels at chill. This Santa Cruz weekend getaway offers the perfect mix of eating, strolling, beach combing and chill time.
Why Visit Santa Cruz?
Santa Cruz was founded in 1769 by the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola and was further established with the development of a mission 22 years later. Its early industries included timber, gunpowder, lime and agriculture. Early in the 19th century, Santa Cruz began to establish itself a beach resort town. And then in 1965, the University of California/Santa Cruz campus was founded bringing a young vibe and hippy culture. So given this history, why should you visit Santa Cruz?
This history has created a mash-up of culture which offers you a great Santa Cruz weekend getaway. The city celebrates it’s agricultural history with great food and then offers up a vigorous left-leaning hippie vibe surrounded by protective layer of laid back nature-loving surfer dude. Perfectly chill.
The Perfectly Chill Santa Cruz Weekend Getaway
We lit out for Santa Cruz after our business was concluded for the week. We arrived around 7:30, dropped our stuff at the inn and headed downtown. The downtown district offers an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and bars. It makes a great introduction for your visit to Santa Cruz.
We chose to eat at the Surfrider Cafe. It’s a funky surf-themed place slightly off of the downtown strip. The cafe was well populated with locals, the service was friendly and the dinner was great.
Not quite done yet, we headed over to Pour. Pour is taproom concept that allows you to pour your own beer. They give you a chip-enabled bracelet which unlocks the tap. You can pour as much or as little as you like and at the end of the evening, you just pay by the ounce.
They have approximately 4 million different beers available so you can certainly find something that you like. It’s a great way to be able to taste 4-5 different beers while still managing to stay upright. Pour also has locations in Ashville, NC and Greenville, SC. Our friend George likes to both eat and drink in Santa Cruz and he also recommends: Canteen Wine Pub, West End Tap & Kitchen, Lupulo and Soif.
Time For Bed
We chose to stay at the Rio Vista Suites. It’s a nice inn conveniently located between the downtown district and the Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk. We were up for a chill Santa Cruz weekend getaway after all, and so we wanted chill lodging too. You can read my Rio Vista Suites review here.
As mentioned in the lodging review, the Rio Vista did offer a continental breakfast. But a truly chill weekend in Santa Cruz wouldn’t be complete without brunch. For this, we took George’s recommendation and went to Walnut Ave Cafe. Hmmm…is a gigantic egg scramble with vegetables and a whole bagel too much to eat for brunch? Apparently not for me.
Downtown Shopping Stroll
We waddled out of the cafe and started strolling the shopping district. Pacific Ave offers a wide selection of boutiques, music stores and hippie paraphernalia. And you cannot visit Santa Cruz without being astonished by how many shoe stores crowd the downtown area. I counted 12 stores selling all manner of shoes, boots, flip flops and crazy socks with goofy sayings.
Of course, I bought myself some of those crazy socks and then moved on to Bookshop Santa Cruz. It’s one of those great independent bookstores. It is amply stocked with staff recommendations and helpful booksellers. (And if you love to visit bookstores during your travels, check out these other great bookstores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Denver.)
Shoot for the moon. If you hit Mars, bonus.”
—anonymous quote on my crazy socks
We headed out of downtown, ready to hit the beach. The surf was up and so we stopped first at Mitchell Cove to watch the surfers. The surfing in Santa Cruz is world class. It’s just like Hawaii…except for the cold water…and the great white sharks. Santa Cruz surfers are a very intrepid sort. But remember, we wanted a chill Santa Cruz weekend getaway…so no great white sharks for us.
Instead we headed north to Natural Bridges State Beach Park. This beach park has a nice wide beach, fairly gentle water and great sunsets. While there, we chilled out in our lounge chairs, witnessed the construction of an elaborate sandcastle and watched the sun melt down into the Pacific. Perfectly chill.
George also likes a lot of restaurants that aren’t downtown. He recommends: Lillians, Tramonti, Avanti and Hindquarters Bar & Grill. We chose the latter, and discovered that it’s an old school steak and martini joint. It was hopping on our Saturday night and we enjoyed our meal on their covered patio.
For our nightcap, we headed back downtown to Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Room. Beware the devil’s rum. ‘Nuff said.
We enjoyed brunch so much on Saturday that we did it again on Sunday. This time at Zachary’s, where I opted for a slightly smaller egg scramble but still somehow managed to fill up. For other breakfast options, George also recommends: Cafe Brazil, Silver Spur, The Batter and the Harbor Cafe. After brunch, we strolled a few used book and music stores and then headed over to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
The boardwalk is an oldy-timey amusement park with arcade games, rides and fried food that will kill you. I channeled my inner Mary Poppins and thoroughly enjoyed a ride on the carousal. You could spend a whole day at the boardwalk and the adjacent beach. But we moved on because we had a hike in mind.
Hiking in the Redwoods
Santa Cruz used to be a timber capital for good reason. The nearby hills are stocked with old growth redwood trees. Fortunately some of the larger groves have been preserved in the Nisene Marks State Park. The park boasts 30 miles of hiking trails through the fragrant groves. Because we were going for chill, we chose an easy 3 mile hike on the fire road and wandered through the groves and past some of the old logging sites.
You’ll find a lot to do when you visit Santa Cruz. You can take this itinerary as is. You can amp it up with harder hikes and more water sports. Or you can further chill it down with afternoon tea and a massage. Either way, enjoy your Santa Cruz weekend getaway and happy trails.
Visit more California
- Uniquely SF: Unusual, Weird & Cool Things to Do in San Francisco
- The Best Area to Stay in San Francisco: Your Neighborhood Guide to Choosing a Hotel
- 11 Best Photography Spots in San Francisco: A Photo Lover’s Guide to Galleries, Museums and Shooting Locations
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