5 Family Activities in Santa Cruz

Kids at the beachWith its kid-friendly beaches, community parks, children’s museums and epic weather, Santa Cruz County offers endless opportunities for some good ol’ family fun.

If you’re looking for fun things to do with your kids this summer in Santa Cruz, then look no further.

Here’s a list of my top five family activities that will keep you and your children stimulated, engaged, challenged and surely out of trouble!

Roaring Camp Railroad

Roaring Camp Railroad

Photo Credit: Josh Hallett, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a ride into the past on a 19th century steam train at Roaring Camp Railroads.

Depending on how much time you have you can choose between two routes.

The first route (Redwood Forest Steam Train) will have you traveling over trestles, through towering redwoods groves and up a winding narrow grade to the top of Bear Mountain. The conductor will keep you entertained as he/she narrates the history of the railroad, roaring camp and the forest. There’s a great picnic area at Railroad Camp, so be sure to pack a sack lunch!

The second route (Santa Cruz Beach Train) departs from the Santa Cruz mountains, travels through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, down the San Lorenzo River Gorge, across a 1909 steel truss bridge and through an 1875 tunnel before arriving at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Reverse roundtrip departing from the beach in Santa Cruz to Roaring Camp and back are also available and can be purchased from the conductor on the train departing from Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Beaches

There are several awesome beaches in Santa Cruz, but the following three are really great for families.

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural BridgesWith its famous natural bridge this beach offers lots to do for kids.

View the shorebirds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing off in the ocean. Catch a glimpse of sea stars, crabs, sea anemones and other colorful sea life during low-tide.

If you plan your visit to Natural Bridges during late fall to early winter the you’ll be able to experience the site of thousands of Monarch butterflies amidst the eucalyptus trees.

Seacliff State Beach

Seacliff Beach, AptosMost noted for the cement ship at the end of the pier; Seacliff Beach offers a long stretch of sandy beach backed by bluffs.

Kids can walk on the pier, go fishing, build sandcastles or just run wild on the beach. It’s also a great spot for swimming in the ocean and boogie boarding, since the waves are usually quite small.

Moran Lake Beach

26th Ave Beach, Santa CruzI like to think of Moran Lake Beach as more of a locals beach (shhh… please keep this little secret to yourself).

This 9.2 acre regional park provides beach access, picnicking, surfing, skim boarding opportunities and abundant space for kids to play on the sand.

If you are feeling a bit adventurous, take a short walk on the hiking trail that meanders next to the lake. Continue on this trail and you will encounter a wooden swing dangling by rope from a eucalyptus tree. Your kids are bound to enjoy this little private treasure.

Lighthouse Park and West Cliff Drive

Lighthouse Park Westcliff Drive

With its scenic setting, Lighthouse Park is home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, inside the iconic lighthouse perched above Steamer Lane, the county’s most famous surfing spot.

Have a picnic while viewing the surfers, cyclists, runners and walkers, or take a family bike ride along West Cliff Drive and soak in the sites of Monterey Bay.

This multi-use paved trail along West Cliff Dr. is roughly 2.5 miles long.

Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab

Blue Whale Skeleton Seymour CenterAt the Seymour Center, kids will be able to touch a shark, marvel at a whale of a skeleton, and dive into the latest discoveries in ocean science.

There are two different tours available depending on how much time you have or how old your children are. The lab wide tour is a 45-minute guided exploration and the family tour is limited to only 30-minutes specifically designed for younger children. I’ve done the shorter tour with my kids, and it was the perfect amount of time. Anything longer than 30-minutes may have resulted in whining, and no fun for mom or dad.

Santa Cruz Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum Santa CruzExplore exhibits on native peoples, geology and local wildlife at the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum. Enjoy the tide-pool touch tank, live beehive, and the life-size whale sculpture outside which kids absolutely love to climb on!

Still looking for something else to do? Walk across the street and spend some time at Seabright State Beach.

I know, I know, you’ve noticed a couple things missing from this list. Well, yes, I realize I left out the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Mystery Spot, and there is a reason for this.

The Boardwalk is usually quite crowded, noisy and over-stimulating, but if you’ve never been there and your kids are begging to go, you may have to bite the bullet and take them there at least this once.

The Boardwalk does not charge an entry fee which means that all sorts of interesting characters make their way into the park–makes for some really good people watching. Kids love the boardwalk, and it’s fun as a parent if you can manage to go when it isn’t terribly crowded. Just be prepared for some big crowds if you go during peak season.

The Mystery Spot is pretty cool, but not so great for little kids under 5. Went there with my three kids when they were 12, 11 and 4. It’s fun for the older kids and adults, but the little one’s can get bored pretty quickly. There is a lot of standing around waiting and listening to the tour guides.

I have to say though, the tour guides all crack a lot of jokes, and they had me laughing out loud quite a bit. My take – great for older kids and adults.

There you have it – my top five picks for fun things to do in santa cruz with kids.

Now it’s your turn. Share your favorite local family activity in the comment section below.

About Aracelly Macko

Aracelly Macko is teacher and fitness enthusiast who enjoys building friendship and community through exercise.