The Not-As-Touristy Guide to Santa Cruz, CA: Parks, Beaches, and Sightseeing

Santa Cruz Beaches / The Not As Touristy Guide to Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz has a little mix of everything when it comes to the outdoors. There’s no shortage of fun activities to do outside like hiking, surfing, sailing, and ziplining. I’m not toooo adventurous, so I can’t personally speak to the surfing, sailing, and ziplining in the area but I can definitely speak to the beaches, hikes, and sightseeing!


Seabright State Beach 

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a very common destination for beach-going families. With amusement park rides, ice cream, arcade, and beach all in one place, it becomes really realllly crowded. You’ll be packed like sardines on the beach. If you’re just looking to lay out in the sand, head to close-by Seabright Beach instead. The beach is actually quite large, so it never feels too crowded. There’s also a lot of waterfront area, not just sand, so feel free to walk along the water for a nice stroll. One of my favorite things about this beach is that you can have bonfires here–so bring some s’mores materials!

Wilder Ranch State Park

Up north from Santa Cruz on Highway 1, the beach is a bit hidden in this state park and actually tough to get down to. If you’re able to make it down though, you’ll see some beautiful blue water, tan sandy beaches, and plenty of wildflowers. This beach has become more popular over the years and Highway 1 can be a bit out of cell phone range, so plan your navigation before you venture to the beach. Also, be prepared to park in the dirt off Highway 1. 

Coastal Dairies State Park

Farther north than Wilder Ranch State Park is Coastal Dairies State Park. Beautiful and very similar to Wilder Ranch State Park. 

Natural Bridges State Beach

A small and cute beach often full of college students, this beach has some beautiful “natural bridges” to look at while you sit on the beach. If you walk along the beach a little further, you can see some tidepools! It can be crowded on the weekends at peak times but weekdays are usually just fine. 

Capitola Beach

Capitola’s beach is a bit small for all the crowds, but the area around it is amazing! The colorful buildings and carefree beach vibes make the area very fun. Have fun walking around the area and grab some saltwater taffy. If you’re hungry, it’s fun to get some pizza from the original Pizza My Heart location! This is definitely an area to check out if you want to go on a nice walk or grab some lunch or dinner. 


Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

A bit north of Santa Cruz in Felton, CA is where you’ll find Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. You can hike, bike, and camp in this state park, but one of the best parts of this state park is the Garden of Eden. 

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Another state park filled with redwoods, this one has waterfalls. Yep, waterfalls. There’s also more wildlife here, so this park is pretty strict about not leaving any food out in the open. Check out their policies before you head out. 

Old Landing Cove Trail

Part of Wilder Ranch State Park, this loop trail gives you beautiful views of the water and takes you to the beach. Rated as a moderate trail on AllTrails, come prepared if you want to hike this one. 

University of California, Santa Cruz Upper Campus (UCSC Upper Campus)

The University of California, Santa Cruz campus is nestled in between tall redwood trees. In the upper campus, there are beautiful trails that lead hikers through the meadows. You can start at the College Ten Trailhead and hike through the beautiful forest. It’s best hike anywhere on the UCSC campus on the weekends, when parking is free/reduced. 


Stroll Along West Cliff Drive for views of the water

Close to The Boardwalk and downtown Santa Cruz, scenic West Cliff Drive borders the ocean and beaches. You’ll see a lighthouse and dog beach along the sidewalk/trail here. Head to this area for a really nice and easy walk along the water. The views are so worth it. 

Santa Cruz Wharf

Not that many people venture out to the wharf, which is a little surprising because there is some excellent clam chowder waiting for you there. With a few restaurants, boutiques, and activities, it’s surprising more people don’t come out this way! It’s also a great spot to see whales, sea lions, and dolphins. 

Mystery Spot

I don’t know if I should list the Mystery Spot here but it’s one of the most common tourist destinations in Santa Cruz. It’s common to see bright yellow Mystery Spot Santa Cruz, California bumper stickers adorning sedans all across the Bay Area. TripAdvisor describes the Mystery Spot as a “gravitational anomaly” where the laws physics and gravity just don’t make sense. Many visitors either end up leaving the Mystery Spot as a skeptic, but it’s all in good fun. Admission is $8/person and $5/car for parking. 

That’s my list for now! What would you add to the list?

The Not-As-Touristy Guide to Santa Cruz, CA

The Not-As-Touristy Guide To Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz, California is an unofficial hippie capital and an absolutely beautiful place to spend some time away with family, friends, or significant others. Its close proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area makes it the ideal place to get away from the fast-paced city or soccer mom suburban lifestyle. While Santa Cruz is also somewhat suburban, its vibrant personality is refreshing to those from out of town. 

Santa Cruz is one of those places where you need to peel back its layers to see its true beauty and value. So many people, including Bay Area locals, only see what’s on the surface–the boardwalk, the beach, and hippies. But there is so much more to do and explore in the area.

In fact, I cringe a little when I overhear  people say, “What even is there to do in Santa Cruz?!” because my inner voice is screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!”

Having lived in Santa Cruz for a few years, I came to appreciate how this little place is able to have restaurants, parks, beaches, stores, and more for everyone. Depending on your own travel interests, Santa Cruz will definitely have something you want to see. 

For this particular guide, I will be pointing out both touristy and non-touristy places to check out. I feel by doing that, you, as a potential visitor, have the information you need to decide whether you want to go to the most popular locations or if you want to head to the spots as the locals. That’s why it’s titled the “Not-As-Touristy” Guide to Santa Cruz. 

Also, for this guide, I’m going to be breaking it out into different posts:

The reason for this is because there is a lot I’m including, and I don’t want to overwhelm you with one single post that has all the information. Organizing it this way will make it easier for you to reference, I hope. 

At the end of the series, I will also be posting a downloadable version of the guide (PDF!) that you can save to your smartphone or tablet. That way, you can search the guide with the information you need without using internet. Depending on where you are in Santa Cruz, say in the middle of a forest, you may not have cell phone service but may need to reference the guide. That’s where I’ve got your back, friend. 

I really hope you enjoy this series and if you have any places or suggestions to add, please feel free to leave them in the comments!


Why I Love My Rocksbox Subcription

September RocksboxI’m going to be honest with you–I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, nor do I change up my jewelry very often. I wear a simple pair of diamond studs every single day, and have a little cubic zirconia stud in the cartilage of my right ear. It’s a simple, classic look that I don’t have to think twice about most of the time. 

I actually like jewelry and accessorizing, but sometimes it can all be a hassle in my opinion. There are a few things that stop me from changing up my look:

I don’t like buying cheap, trendy jewelry from a fast-fashion store in the mall that’s going to go out of fashion in a few months. I did that in college and it was fine then, but I feel like I should be spending on quality pieces at this point in my life, even if they cost more than $6.90. It all adds up–becoming clutter and a waste of money. 

“I have nothing to wear.” My studs are always in reach and they go with everything. But when I look in my jewelry drawers and stands, I never see anything I want to wear. Suddenly, my collection of jewelry seems boring and I end up thinking “I have nothing to wear.” 

I don’t have time to shop for jewelry. I just don’t. Plus, jewelry is usually one of those things that’s better to shop for in person. Sometimes the images online make the bracelet, necklace, or ring look waaayyy better than they actually do. 

I don’t really want to pay crazy prices for pretty pieces. Some of the nicer fashionable pieces of jewelry at department stores can go for a lot of money. $100-$200. As someone who doesn’t switch up her jewelry enough, it’s not worth the money. 

I also don’t have time to look for what’s in style for the season. I just don’t have enough room in my brain to store what’s in style when it comes to jewelry for the season. I can keep some of the main trends of the season in mind, but remembering what jewelry is in style and then shopping for it is too much for me.

The only thing that has changed my mind about trying to wear more pretty and trendy jewelry is my subscription to Rocksbox. I just had the chance to try it out and wow, I am impressed. 

Rocksbox solves almost all of my problems when it comes to jewelry. The only thing they don’t do is come over to my house and put the jewelry on me, but everything else they do makes my life so much easier. 

By spending $21/month for a subscription, you get three pieces of jewelry from designers like Kendra Scott, Kate Spade, gorjana, House of Harlow 1960, Sophie Harper, Nakamol, and the list goes on and on. 

First, you create your style profile–a quiz that asks you questions on what kind of jewelry you like to wear and how frequently you wear those pieces.

Then, your account has been created! And you can browse all the jewelry they have available. 

Add your favorites to your wishlist by “hearting” your favorites. Pick your top 10 and then Rocksbox will send you three pieces from this list!

I received my Rocksbox about 2 business days after placing my order–pretty fast! No shipping charges, btw. 

My granted wishes included a Sophie Harper necklace ($49), Kendra Scott studs ($65), and a Nakamol wrap bracelet ($63). That’s a $177 value. 

You have the option to buy the pieces or send them back, but the pieces are yours to wear and try out while you decide. Yeah, you can wear all this pretty jewelry and send it all back. 

And there are deals if you buy the products. For my September box, I can get $10 off if I buy two pieces or $20 off if I buy three. 

This is a steal, considering everything:

I don’t have to buy the jewelry. I’ll always have something new to wear. I can go to one place online to see what jewelry I like and look at photos where I trust what the pieces look like. I don’t have to pay the crazy prices. And I don’t have to worry about whether my jewelry is in style or not, because it will be in style. 

Rocksbox really makes my life so much easier. 

If you want to try out Rocksbox for FREE for one month, (yes, at no charge), use the code “thesassylifexoxo”. 

I’m sharing all of this with you because I love it and I think if you’re a lot like me where you want to have really good style but don’t have time to do your own research, you’re going to really like it, too. 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.