Seaside Amusement and More!

Santa Cruz is a sleepy beach town with a rich and unique history.

  Santa Cruz emits a definite beach vibe. It’s a surfing hotspot, its pier is still active and attractive, it’s close to Monterey and the San Francisco area — which means beer and wine country — and it was recently awarded the top spot in California in the Gallup- Healthways Community Well-Being rankings. Santa Cruz really needs to be experienced with all five senses.

Boaters approaching Santa Cruz Harbor will spot a classically designed lighthouse greeting them on the breakwater. This is the Walton Lighthouse, named after local businessman Charles Walton, who contributed much of the construction costs in honor of his late brother, Derek, who was a merchant seaman.

Guest berths are available on a firstcome, first-served basis, and overnight rates range from $0.75/foot to $2/foot, with a $35 minimum. Head to the harbor office, which is next to the fuel pier, to register and pay. The harbor authorities warn boaters to pay extra heed between November and May, because the entrance to the harbor is prone to shoaling and heavy surf.

Another famous lighthouse boaters might spot coming in from the northeast is Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse atop Lighthouse Point, a popular surfing spot. Inside the lighthouse building is the world’s first surfing museum, which opened its doors in 1986. The lighthouse was built as a memorial to surfer Mark Abbot who died at the nearby Pleasure Point surf break. Inside the lighthouse visitors can learn about the history of surfing, starting with its origins in ancient Hawaii and how it evolved and traveled to Santa Cruz. Surfing is a big part of the culture in Santa Cruz.

As visiting boaters make their way from the marina toward the famous boardwalk, a great pit stop is the charming Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. It’s situated right off the beach, and guests will know they’ve arrived by spotting the giant blue whale sprawled out underneath a tree out front. Inside, visitors can learn more about the local area’s history and evolution. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is also a place where sightseers can get up close and personal with another whale model — this time just a skeleton that greets visitors outside. Touch a friendly swell shark in the shark pool and see all types of native sea creatures up close and personal. Patrons of the center are contributing to conservation efforts at the center while learning about their importance.

On the boardwalk is fun for the whole family, as well as a dose of history. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk 4 is among the last major seaside amusement parks remaining on the West Coast of the United States. It is the oldest amusement park in California, operating since 1907. Relive the retro heyday of a simpler time, with the sights, sounds, smells and thrills that have been there for more than a century.

Between the months of October and March, there’s a good chance butterflies will be in the reserve. Monarch butterflies migrate to Natural Bridges Beach 5 for the winter and huddle together in the eucalyptus — a sight to behold. Natural Bridges Beach is about three miles west of the boardwalk, so folks arriving by boat will need to find a ride if they want to see the monarchs. At Natural Bridges Beach, there are plenty of tidepools to explore, so visitors should check the tide charts before going and bring a camera and some waterproof shoes.

There are a lot of great restaurants in Santa Cruz, something for most any culinary mood. Some of the most popular restaurants near the marina include Tramonti, a casual dining Italian restaurant that specializes in salads, pastas and great pizzas. For a romantic evening, Johnny’s Harborside offers marina views and Asian fusion food that is artfully arranged on the plate. For something more casual, The Dolphin Restaurant — on the Santa Cruz Pier since 1963 — is a great place to get seafood fast. It even has a to-go window, so a clam chowder bread bowl or a burger can be ordered and delivered in a hurry. While visiting the Santa Cruz pier, visitors should keep an eye out on the waves, because they will likely spot a playful sea otter, a whale or a sea lion romping in the bay.