Santa Cruz California is a medium sized beach town on the north side of the Monterey Bay. Around Santa Cruz you can find some excellent public beaches with great access and a variety of recreation. You can also find affordable entertainment, hotels, dining and fun in the town.
The population of Santa Cruz is around 50,000 and is home to the University of California. It is a liberal town with a lot of politically active liberals and protest groups. In the 1960s, it was a good environment for hippies to migrate to. Santa Cruz is close to the Bay Area, has a university, and has plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities. Many of the hippies stayed and continue to give Santa Cruz a more progressive and liberal environment. In the 90s when Silicon Valley flourished and boomed, Santa Cruz grew along with it. Many corporate tech people found it a good place to live and commute to work from. This influx of corporate and tech people raised the cost of real estate dramatically, and most of the less funded hippies and artist were forced to leave and were replaced with custom homes, BMWs and their owners.
The real treasures of Santa Cruz are the beaches and the outdoor recreation. Just a short walk from town you can find some very nice public beaches that offer swimming, boogie boarding, tide pools, and just about everything from family fun to open water kayaking and surfing.
The Main Beach in town and Cowell Beach are the most popular and sometimes crowded beaches. They are both family vacation friendly beaches with swimming areas and a good-sized sandy area for sun bathing and general playing on the beach. Just behind the main beach is the Boardwalk with rides, games and roller coasters.
Just off the point, near the lighthouse, there is a kelp forest that can offer some good wildlife watching as sea otters, seals and other ocean animals frequent it. You can rent sea kayaks or get on a tour boat for a closer look. Off of the lighthouse point, you can also see a nice variety of birds sometimes pelicans and other fish eating birds. Some nice public beaches that are less crowded than the Main Beach and Cowell Beach can be found just a short walk north of light house point.
A few miles north of Santa Cruz is Natural Bridges State Beach. This is a nice family beach with tide pools and informative ranger-guided tours at certain times. The tide pools are quite large and at low tide you can see an abundance of life and creatures in them. Near the parking area is a large beach that is good for sun bathing, flying kites and other activities.
A short drive north of town also has some nice beaches. The water can be rather strong and they are not the best beaches for swimming, but are great places for beach combing, wildlife watching and relaxing away from the crowds. A couple of these beaches attract nude sun bathers so don’t be too surprised to see some naked people.
The Santa Cruz area also has some great hikes in the surrounding mountains. Big Basin Redwoods State Park has nice old growth redwood trees with a nice variety of hiking trails from short walks for families to long all day hikes. Just outside Santa Cruz is Henry Cowell State Park. This park is easy to get to and offers some nice hiking trials. There are also many smaller, less known trails and public spaces scattered around the Santa Cruz area. If you spend some time exploring you can find some nice little hidden gems.
Compared to most of the surround area, Santa Cruz still offers fairly affordable deals for travelers. If you look around, you can find good prices on dining and lodging, and the recreation is very nice and plentiful.