Activities in and around Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is ideally situated along the Central Coast of California. The university is only a few miles from the Monterey Bay and Pacific Ocean. San Jose and Silicon Valley are "just over the hill", about an hour away. San Francisco is just under two hours north; and only a little further if you drive up the scenic Highway 1, California's famous costal highway.

In Santa Cruz:

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Beach Boardwalk is situated on the north shore of the Monterey Bay. It is California's oldest amusement park and a State Historic Landmark. Two of its rides are landmarks in their own right: the 1911 Loff Carousel and the 1924 Giant Dipper roller coaster, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the USA that is still in operation. Admission is free, you pay only for the rides.
Surfing
If you've never been surfing, this could be your summer to learn! Santa Cruz has several beaches that are excellent for beginners, as well as big swells for the established surfers. Those looking for a bigger challenge can drive just an hour up the coast to the world famous Mavericks surf spot in Half Moon Bay. If your passion is wind surfing, UCSC School of Engineering Professor Alex Pang has compiled information about the local wind surfing scene.
Ocean Kayaking
Those who want to get out on the water, but aren't interested in surfing, can visit the Kayak Connection in the Santa Cruz Harbor. They rent open and closed top kayaks and are able to schedule group kayaking tours of the Santa Cruz beachfront.
Beaches
Santa Cruz county is home to many beautiful beaches. For a full list and information see the County Beach List. At many of the beaches in and around Santa Cruz, you can find surfing, para surfing, wind surfing, ocean kayaking, and barbeque pits. You can also explore the Natural Bridges State Park, with its tidal pools and rocky shore. Of course, there are other ways to explore the "natural" setting of Santa Cruz beaches...
Hiking and State Parks
UCSC is bordered by two state parks with excellent hiking and biking trails: Henery Cowell Redwoods State Park and Wilder ranch State Park. A little further afield, nestled in the Santa Cruz mountains, is Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest state park, with ancient redwoods and hiking trails that go all the way to the ocean. Just minutes north of the Big Basin beach is Año Neuvo State Reserve where you can take guided tours of sand dunes that are home to the northern elephant seals.
Downtown Santa Cruz
If you're feeling more metropolitan, visit Downtown Santa Cruz — home to art galleries, unique dining establishments, local shops, and a great night life.

In Monterey (90 minutes south):

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Today's Monterey Bay Aquarium is the culmination of efforts going back to the turn of the century. The current site was purchased in 1978 a group of marine biologists (including David Packard's daughter and granddaughter) who formed the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation. The aquarium opened to the public in 1984 and is marking its 20th anniversary with new exhibits and special events all year round.
Cannery Row
Home to a world renouned aquarium, art galleries, dining, shopping and ocean vistas, Monterey's historic Cannery Row is a great place to visit while you're in the area. The street was made famous by John Steinbeck's book based on life in the area.
17 Mile Drive and Pebble Beach Golf Course
If you are an avid golfer, or simply love the natural beauty of coastlines, don't miss the 17 Mile Drive, home of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. You can easily spend the afternoon exploring this area of the California Coast.
Carmel
Just south of Monterey is the town of Carmel, a coastal town reminiscient of European retreats. It features more of California's beautiful coast line, shopping, and dining.
Big Sur and Highway 1
The Big Sur coastline south of Monterey is amoung the most photographed coasts in the world. Highway 1 winds along the cliffs here from Carmel all the way down to Morro Bay (a journey of several spectacular hours by car). The stretch of highway between Carmel and the town of Big Sur is home to the Big Sur International Marathon. If you start feeling hungry, be sure to visit the Rocky Point Restaurant where you can walk on the paths worn into the cliffs by past visitors.

In San Jose and Silicon Valley (60 minutes north):

San Jose Tech Museum and IMAX Theater
San Jose's Tech Museum pays hommage to the driving force behind Silicon Valley: Innovation. During this year, the gallary is free on the second sunday of every month (August 8). New this year is a genetics exhibit that explores the technology and social changes brought about by this field.
Winchester Mystery House
Construction began on this unique house in 1884, funded and designed by Sarah Winchester (widow of the Winchester Rifle Company's founder). Construction did not end until Sarah's death almost fourty years later. A Victorian mansion with over 150 rooms, it also has some of the strangest design features ever included in a house, including doors to nothing, and stairs to the ceiling.
Intel Museum
Explore the history of transistors, memory, and microprocessors at the Intel Museum in Santa Clara. Admission is free!
Stanford University and SLAC
Many people believe that without Stanford University, Silicon Valley would not be where it is today (literally). Visit the campus and downtown Palo Alto. You can also take a tour of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (registration is required in advance).
Great America
If you enjoy roller coasters, you'll love Paramount's Great America. The park has eight different coasters, ranging from the wooden Grizzly, to the suspended coaster Top Gun. The park also has water rides (including a new Australian themed ride), and more traditional amusement park rides.
NASA's Ames Research Center
NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field is home to the largest wind tunnel in the world, as well as projects related to air transportation, astrobiology, information technology, the Earth Observing System, nanotechnology, and supercomputing, just to name a few. This year, the NASA Ames Visitor Center is moving to a new location; it will reopen in July, and tours will be available (registration is required in advance).

In San Francisco (90 minutes north):

San Francisco has so many attractions they can (and do) fill entire travel guides. Some of the sites you may want to visit include: