Santa Cruz is known for its remarkable beach bluffs, coves, picturesque waterfront shops and restaurants, but Santa Cruz is also ringed by redwood forests and mountains that attract hikers and mountain bikers. The region also offers delicious dining, wineries, and breweries. Best of all, you can enjoy these dining experiences in an exquisite Southern California landscape. It's a stunning place to work, play, or even learn, as the city is also home to the University of California, Santa Cruz.
If you're seeking the ultimate romantic dining experience, Santa Cruz's Shadowbrook Restaurant at Soquel Creek does not disappoint. Guests to this elegant restaurant take a hillside cable car, then make their way through lush gardens and waterfalls to an early 20th century chalet for romantic dinner and cocktails in front of a stone fireplace or enjoy the river view from Shadowbrook's greenhouse-like terrace.
The sand and surf in Santa Cruz invites exploration and fun, from surfing to stand-up paddle-boarding. Discover the numerous tide pools of its coves or relax and set off for a sunset Chardonnay cruise. For the nature lover, the socialite, the foodie, the beach bum, and hikers, bikers, and nature lovers, Santa Cruz offers entertainment experiences of all kinds.
When to Visit Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz's Mediterranean-like Southern California climate begs visitors and residents alike to get outdoors, year-round. Winters are temperate, in the mid to lower 60s, with higher rain fall, and summers warm up with clear skies and temperatures in the balmy mid-70s. The climate is conducive to hiking, biking, walking, and even surfing, almost year-round. However, summertime is when Santa Cruz, CA really heats up, in terms of entertainment and events.
There are numerous opportunities to enjoy free summer concerts and outdoor movies on and around the beach from May through August. Santa Cruz's Main Beach hosts throwback concerts featuring favorites from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, every Friday, as well as classic movies on Wednesday nights from mid-June to the end of August. Esplanade Park at Capitola Village also hosts a free Wednesday Night Twilight Concert through June and August, as well as free Friday night movies all summer long. If you're a movie buff, you can't miss the classic movie nights on Wednesdays, from late June through mid-August.
Nature lovers like to visit Santa Cruz in the off-season for a chance to spot monarch butterflies in migration at the craggy shoreline of Natural Bridges State Beach, from October to early February.
Below is a chart of the current pricing seasonality of hotels and motels in Santa Cruz, CA:
Santa Cruz, CA: Prices by Star Rating Class
Below we've posted 3 graphs illustrating avg. nightly cost patterns by star rating class in Santa Cruz, CA. Browse these illustrations to calculate the most cost effective time period to book in Santa Cruz for upcoming travels.
Luxury Hotels in Santa Cruz, CA
4 Star Average Prices: $157.53
When you visit Santa Cruz, California, you'll have no shortage of luxurious hotels from which to choose, from intimate boutique bed-and-breakfasts to conference resorts and wellness retreats.
The Inn at Depot Hill welcomes guests to an intimate four-star bed-and-breakfast, convenient to Capitola and the University of California. Each guest room in this hotel features bespoke décor and haute finishing, including a mantelpiece, window banquettes, and lush upholstery. During your stay, you will enjoy both a complimentary daily breakfast and a guest reception.
For a quiet retreat that's still convenient to Santa Cruz center-city, choose the Chaminade Resort & Spa. The idyllic property is surrounded by woods, affording privacy for guests enjoying their terrace or swimming in the outdoor pool. This hotel's full-service spa earns high marks for its facials, massages, and wellness services.
If you need to accommodate a large party for a wedding, conference, or family reunion, the luxurious Seascape Beach Resort is ready to accommodate you. This sprawling beach-side property welcomes guests with 250 spacious guest rooms and suites and a host of amenities, from a restaurant and lounge to an outdoor pool. The property is known for its beach-side banquets, generously spread out next to a roaring beach fire.
Affordable Hotel Options in Santa Cruz, CA
3 Star Average Prices: $133.36
Quality Inn Santa Cruz is a welcome respite for guests seeking an affordable Santa Cruz hotel. It's a classic roadside hotel, with rooms facing out toward an outdoor pool. Every day, guests enjoy the added value of a free breakfast reception. Guest rooms are very spacious and comfortable. Soft bedding and clean, well-kept furnishings, and free high-speed internet round out an affordable yet comfortable stay in Santa Cruz.
Guests also love the modern styling and amenities at Comfort Inn Santa Cruz. This affordable hotel is located just over two miles from Main Beach. From in-room coffee-makers to free Wi-Fi, you'll find every convenience here and more, including free breakfast and pool and spa access.
2 Star Average Prices: $100.45
Santa Cruz: Real Discounts
Guests love the mission-style vibe of Hampton Inn Santa Cruz, California, and its convenience to Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park and the Boardwalk. This affordable hotel also offers discounted hotel rates to AAA members. A stay at this Hampton Inn property includes indoor pool access and a free daily hot/cold breakfast, plus internet connectivity, soft bedding, and entertainment via an LCD television.
The Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites Santa Cruz also welcomes AAA guests with extra discounts. Customers rave about the hot/cold breakfast, which includes fresh fruits and unexpected treats like cinnamon rolls and fresh muffins, along with breakfast staples like scrambled eggs. Business travelers also appreciate the express check-out services, laundry services, business center, and meeting space. Be sure to take advantage of the property's sauna and outdoor pool before you depart.
Best Value Hotels in Santa Cruz, CA
For a world-class boutique hotel experience at an approachable rate, consider the Hotel Paradox, Autograph Collection in Santa Cruz. This hotel's modern design draws inspiration from the landscape of Santa Cruz, with exposed wood planks and elements of redwood. Be sure to dine at Hotel Paradox's Solaire restaurant, enjoy an open-air dining experience next to the pool, and take in the unique sculptures on the grounds outside. A shuttle bus from the hotel will get you to all the sites of Santa Cruz, within minutes.
The Babbling Brook Inn in Santa Cruz offers a quiet escape to those who prefer traditional décor in a bed-and-breakfast setting. Guests get the opportunity to mingle during the free daily breakfast buffet, adding value to an already affordable room rate. The West Santa Cruz location makes it a convenient spot, while its quiet gardens and elegant guest rooms make this property a sweet escape.
Take a Stroll in Santa Cruz, CA
From the cliffs and beaches to the redwood-forested hills and mountains beyond Santa Cruz, California, the best way to take in the landscape is to set out on foot. Sedate, paved footpaths and more strenuous hikes offer options for families with small children as well as seasoned hikers who prefer a challenge.
Favorite walking paths include the promenade at West Cliff Drive, affording incredible beach cove views, and you can spot surfers and sailboats from East Cliff Drive in Pleasure Point. Don't miss Walton Lighthouse at the western edge of Santa Cruz Harbor, and if you want to get closest to the beach, Seacliff State Beach's paths offer long, relaxing strolls on the beachfront. For a water view that's closer still, the Santa Cruz Wharf takes you 2,745 feet onto the water for up-close views of sea lions, playing below. Capitola Wharf and the wharf at Seacliff State Beach also present great views and excellent fishing.
The diverse ecosystem of Neary Lagoon Wildlife Refuge is both convenient and calming. This wildlife sanctuary is situated right in the middle of town, but you'd never know it, as you take a serene mile-long stroll down its floating walkway, observing birds in their natural habitat. The nearby USC Arboretum is a Zen escape of succulents, exotic plants, and hummingbirds.
For a livelier scene, a stroll through Pacific Avenue's nine-block dining and shopping district pleases the eyes and the palate. The Capitola esplanade's colorful shop facades and tasty dining venues invite guests to linger until sunset, for unparalleled views over the Pacific.
If you haven't gotten your fill of walking yet, there are several popular trails and scenic stairways to explore up and down the coastline, offering less foot traffic and more privacy. Meanwhile, seasoned hikers love the challenge of Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin State Park. This 11-mile trail ascends 1000 feet, affording incredible views of an old-growth redwood forest and the canyons below.
Whether you're looking for a romantic weekend away or a family-friendly beach vacation, Santa Cruz offers endless options to entertain you on your quintessential Southern California vacation.
Carlos Santana, one of the most famous residents of Santa Cruz and often considered to be among the best guitarists in the world, is quoted as saying, 'The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.
If we consider these words and ponder over them, it is not too difficult to see how they reflect the way Californians seem to think. California, as a state, is considered to be very liberal and accepting, and love is perhaps the strongest emotion in California. Santa Cruz, quite pleasantly, embodies that fact. Situated by the Pacific, not too far away from San Francisco and San Jose, Santa Cruz is one of the best known cities in the world as far as surfing and beaches are considered. Beach Boys, the most famous Californian band to date, have also sung paeans of praise for the Santa Cruz beaches and their gentle waves.
Santa Cruz is also a university city, housing University of California at Santa Cruz “ one of the top research oriented institutions in America.
Book a Hotel Room While Saving Money
Unlike many surrounding cities like San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego, it is not too difficult to find cheap hotels or budget hotels in Santa Cruz. This has primarily to do with the fact that Santa Cruz is not a tourism center in the region. It is more of a laidback country place that people visit during summer months to make the most of its beaches and its waves. Apart from these, however, there's not much to see in or around Santa Cruz.
This is the prime motivator and reason of the fact that most establishments found in Santa Cruz are of budget kind. This works well with surfers and other travelers as they can lodge in Santa Cruz instead of lodging in more expensive cities like San Francisco or San Jose.
Enjoy a Stay in Santa Cruz to the Maximum
After having stated that there is an abundance of budget Santa Cruz hotels, it should also be said that the city is not at all without its luxury hotel establishments. In fact, the Los Tajibos Resort and Hotel in Santa Cruz is considered to be among the very best that are present in the state of California.
These luxury hotel buildings are usually high rises, equipped with the best imaginable resources and facilities like indoor tennis courts, spas, gyms, heated swimming pools, rooftop bars and free flow of drinks for their loyal patrons.
Boutiques and Independent Hotels in Santa Cruz
If you are the sort of traveler who doesn't appear to fit quite well in the affordable settings of cheap motels or the opulence of intimidatingly good luxury establishments, it is perhaps for the best that you turn to boutique and independent options in Santa Cruz.
There are a quite a few boutique and independent hotel establishments in Santa Cruz that specialize in customizing what they have to offer in order to streamline their service to best suit the needs of their guests.
Most of the boutique and independent establishments of lodging and boarding kind in Santa Cruz include beach houses, beach shacks, temporary studio apartments and summer houses. As one can guess, these places are typically rented out on short terms and are perfectly suitable in terms of convenience and affordability for tourists and surfers who wish to spend a month or two in Santa Cruz. These boutique and independent establishments can be considered as not only viable but very positive alternatives to cheap hotels, as they provide safe and convenient accommodation at relatively lower prices.
What Should I Know Before Sightseeing in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, at its core, is a city that's best experienced through its people. So, if you are visiting Santa Cruz, make it a point to hire a local guide or a knowledgeable person who can show you around with passion.
All things said and done, Santa Cruz is a city that revolves around its beaches, its waves and its exquisitely laidback lifestyle further accentuated by authentic Californian and Mexican food. So, before sightseeing in Santa Cruz, you should have at least a semblance of idea about where you are going to find the best food that is both locally sourced and authentic. Like most Californian cities, Santa Cruz has its share of food trucks and street side food joints that can put the best of luxury restaurants and hotels in Santa Cruz to shame in terms of the authenticity and popularity of their food.
The most popular tourist destination in Santa Cruz happens to be the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This sizeable stretch of pristine sand and boardwalk is unique to the city and cannot be found anywhere else in California. Another beach that is quite popular among surfers is the West Cliff Drive. Arguably, the waves here are harder to surf on and ever more difficult to rule. But that very reason attract many a bunch of experienced surfers from around the world to feel and take on the challenge of West Cliff Drive. Inexperienced surfers should, however, stay away from surfing at West Cliff Drive.
The Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz is one of the very first of its kind in the United States. Those who are interested in learning more about marine biology and what efforts are being done to identify newer species of marine life can find a short trip to the Center edifying as well as interesting.
Best Time to Travel to Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, being a Californian city, is more often than not sunny. It's only during October to December that the city experiences a season that can remotely resemble winters. Otherwise, traveling to Santa Cruz is a great prospect all year round. Many Santa Cruz hotels provide express deals and discounts during winter months. So, if you wish to make your trip more economical, winter months can be the best time for you to travel to Santa Cruz!