20 Summer Activities for Kids & Families in Santa Cruz


Looking for some fun family activities this summer?

Santa Cruz has no shortage of fun family and kid-friendly activities to keep you and your little ones entertained all summer long.

Here is a list of 20 kid and family friendly activities for the summer.


The Museum of Art and History, located conveniently in the heart of downtown, features a variety of activities and attractions during the summer months. Exhibits are fun for the whole family and change every few weeks.  In addition, adults and teens can volunteer as docents, and kids can enjoy the many summer camp options offered each week.

Santa Cruz Roller Palladium

Grab your skates and get ready for some good old fashioned fun!  The Santa Cruz skating rink is located midtown on Seabright Ave.  You can bring your kids for a few hours of skating or reserve the whole space for birthday parties and special events.

Natural History Museum

Want to do some learning with your family this summer?  You can stop by the museum to learn about native wildlife and local history.  The museum boasts thousands of animal specimens as well as rocks and minerals.  In addition, they often host lectures and storytimes for families.  Once you’ve seen it all, just walk across the street for a fun afternoon at Seabright beach!

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Take your family on a tour of a real marine research facility.  You can pet sharks, see moon jellies, and admire a life size sculpture of a gray whale.  The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is dedicated to raising awareness about how to care for the world’s oceans.  In addition, the center seeks to preserve the ecosystem of the Monterey Bay, which is often called “the Serengeti of the Sea,” for the amazing diversity of creatures that call it home.

Simpkins Swim Center

The Simpkins Swim Center features the largest swimming pool in Santa Cruz County.  They offer swim lessons for kids, water aerobics for adults, and even stand up paddle board yoga.  The entry fee is just six dollars for adults and four dollars for kids.  They also offer a junior lifeguard summer camp.  Each camp runs for three weeks and teaches kids the skills of saving lives in a fun and interactive way.

Whale Watching

Jump aboard a 60 foot luxury charter boat and get ready to look for sea creatures in style.  From May to November, look out for humpback whales, which make the Monterey Bay their feeding ground.  December through April, be prepared to see gray whales.  The likelihood of spotting a gray whale during that time of year is almost ninety percent!  The tours last three to four hours and are narrated by the ship crew.

Redwood Canopy Tours

If your family has an appetite for adventure, then check out the zipline tours at Mt Hermon.  The Redwood Canopy Tours include a zipline over a third of a mile long and two sky bridges at a height of one hundred fifty feet!  This is one adventure that is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.  All children must be over the age of ten and meet the height and weight requirement.

UCSC Arboretum

The UCSC Arboretum is home to hundreds of plant species from all around the world.  In fact, it has more species from Australia and New Zealand than anywhere outside the countries themselves!  Take a stroll through Eucalyptus groves and admire flower species from Asia to South America.  The kids will love exploring the many trails that wind through the gardens, maybe even spotting a lizard or two.

Wilder Ranch State Park

Explore a historic coastal ranch, complete with horses, goats, and miles of hiking trails.  Wilder Ranch State Park is located just off highway 1, about a mile north of Santa Cruz.  The ranch equipment and buildings are preserved for visitors to see.  You can also stop by the visitor center to learn more about the history of the ranch.  Choose between miles of flat coastal walking trails, or hike up the mountains toward UCSC.

Roaring Camp

Located up in the mountains of Felton, Roaring Camp is a fun adventure for the whole family.  You can ride authentic steam locomotives that date all the way back to the late 1800s.  The trains take two main routes, one through the redwood forest and one that goes all the way to Santa Cruz.  Special events are also offered during the summer like the saw music festival and the fourth of July celebration.


Does your family have an artistic side?  Petroglyph, a ceramics lounge in downtown, is a haven for creative expression.  Choose from their many ceramic pieces and then create your own design.  They provide paints, palettes, brushes and when you are done painting they will glaze your finished product.

Santa Cruz Derby Girls

Santa Cruz isn’t exactly known for its sporting events, but the Santa Cruz Derby Girls are doing their best to change that.  If you’ve been to a Derby bout then you know just how much fun it is.  If you haven’t then you owe it to yourself and your entire family to buy tickets to the next bout.  Your kids are sure to come away with a favorite Derby Girl or two, and may even be inclined to try it out themselves by trying out for the Santa Cruz Derby Groms, a program of 10 – 17 year old derby hopefuls.

Santa Cruz Parks & Playgrounds

No matter where you live, chances are there is a park nearby.  An afternoon at a local park is a free and fun way to keep your kiddos entertained.  A couple local favorites are West Lake Park, Anna Jean Cummings Park (also known as Blue Ball Park), and Jade St. Park.

Gilroy Gardens

At Gilroy Gardens you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and keep the kids happy with endless rides, games, and attractions.  You can also learn about native animals like honey bees and monarch butterflies, through interactive exhibits.  If the weather is hot, go for a boat ride or jump on into one of the parks many water features.

Mystery Spot

Be amazed by the strange gravity-defying phenomena of the Mystery Spot.  Balls will appear to roll up hills and people look like they are standing on slanted ground.  You can take a 45 minute tour of the Mystery Spot, led by an entertaining guide who will give you all the details about the history and supposed cause of the phenomena.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Roller coasters, bowling, mini golf, arcade games, laser tag.  How can you go wrong?  At the boardwalk, you can find awesome games and activities for every member of the family.  Play a family game of mini golf or let the kids entertain themselves with the many arcade games.

Monterey Bay Strawberry Festival

Celebrate strawberry season with the city of Watsonville on the first weekend of August at the Monterey Bay Strawberry Festival.  There will be live music, carnival rides, water slides, and of course, strawberries!  Previous festivals have been known for their creative use of strawberries like putting them on hot dogs and pizza, as well as classics like waffles and shortcake.

August 3rd & 4th in Historic Downtown Watsonville
10:00am – 7:00pm

Aloha Celebrity Races and Polynesian Festival

Participate in an outrigger canoe race, designed for beginners.  Or, if boating isn’t your thing, check out the dancing, crafts, and amazing food.  The Polynesian festival is dedicated to bringing the community of Santa Cruz together to celebrate Polynesian culture.

Sunday, August 18th on the Santa Cruz Wharf
Races start at 9:00am
Festival starts at 11:00am

Begonia Festival

Join the city of Capitola for the 61st annual Begonia Festival.  The festival is an entire weekend full of parades, art events, sand castle building contests, and much more.  All events are absolutely free to the public.  The festival is put on every year by a hard-working group of volunteers, who strive to provide a rockin’ festival with no charge for admission.  The festival also features concerts, chalk art, and a movie night.

August 30 – September 2 in the Capitola Village

Summer Camps

In case the first 19 items on the list weren’t enough, #20 should keep you and your youngsters busy all summer long.  Below is a partial list of summer camps available this summer:





Day Camps

Performing Arts

Residential Camps

Top photo credit: Anita Ritenour

About Lindsay Shaffer

Lindsay Shaffer is a writer, teacher, and peak performance coach. She is also a former technology-phobe turned blogger. When she is not blogging or doing research, she still happily avoids all use of technology and heads for the outdoors.

  • Ethan Oates says:

    With so many great activities available in Santa Cruz it’s inevitable that we missed some good ones in this post. Please share your favorites below!

  • Ethan Oates says:

    Here’s another great kid-friendly activity from one of our readers: Santa Cruz Public Libraries Summer Reading Program – Free activities and performance all over the county!

  • summer says:

    That link for Redwood Riding adventures takes you to a link that lists a phone number that doesnt work. Can’t find a viable contact for them anywhere online. If you find a way/working number somehow, please list. Sounds fun.

    • Ethan Oates says:

      Hi Summer, thanks for pointing that out. I found a couple different numbers for Redwood Riding Adventures, but ran into the same problems.

      For now we’ve removed this item from the list. If anyone knows of great horseback riding programs for kids in Santa Cruz then please list it here in the comments.

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