1 . Unleash your inner adrenaline junkie
Santa Cruz: the birthplace of mainland surfing in the US. It’d be a crime not to try your hand at this quintessential Californian sport – and at the Richard Schmidt Surf School they guarantee you’ll be catching a wave on your first lesson. That’s not to say you won’t also be falling off your board. But if falling into the waves repeatedly isn’t your thing, don’t fret: with over 14 state parks and beaches, thrill seekers can also mountain bike, hike and camp their way through the county. A highlight is Mount Hermon Adventures, set in the mountains just 7 miles outside Santa Cruz, where you can zip-line through redwood trees almost 90 metres high and over 1,800 years old. How’s that for a sense of perspective?
2. Hit the Santa Cruz Beer Trail
Santa Cruz is fast becoming California’s most pioneering craft beer community, with 11 craft breweries, 6 tap houses, and 4 more breweries in the pipeline. Make the most of it by touring scenic Santa Cruz and taking in all these hot-spots for yourself – as well as ‘taking in’ some beer of course! Scrap the hire car and let the Brew Cruz – the original brewery tour – give you the ride of your life on their beautifully restored, retro-chic 1989 school bus, ‘Betty Jane’. Enjoy a pint at each brewery, tours with the brew masters and great music as you travel round the county. They’ll pick you up from your hotel, too.
3. Feast like a king
It’s no surprise to us that Santa Cruz has been named the Number Two Foodie City in the United States. After sampling the local eateries and craft food shops, you’ll be wondering why it hasn’t been crowned Number One. At The Cremer House, you can taste locally crafted beers, meats and jams – not forgetting, of course, deliciously fresh fruit and veg, kissed by the California sun. The food is even served on ceramic plates created by a local Davenport artist. How’s that for supporting local talent? We’re also obsessed with the Penny Ice Creamery, which makes scrumptious ice cream in-house, completely from scratch. Using ingredients and produce sourced from local, organic farms, they create impossibly intriguing – and delicious – flavours such as Cardamom Pistachio Chocolate Chip and Honey Yoghurt Walnut Jam.
4. Take a road trip
Admit it – you’ve got a secret yearning to cruise round the California coast in a convertible, sunglasses on, wind in your hair, re-living every road trip movie you’ve ever seen. Now’s your chance. Highway 1 is the most famous scenic drive in California, and the legendary route travels directly through Santa Cruz County. As you journey down the highway, you’ll pass green fields of coastal farms, rugged sea stacks and the ever-blue Pacific Ocean. Make sure to take a small detour through the Santa Cruz mountains: home to over 70 family-run vineyards and wineries that specialize in small yield, handcrafted wines, this is one of California’s best-kept secrets.
5. Ride the Giant Dipper
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a classic Santa Cruz attraction. After some wholesome culture (ok, a beer cruise isn’t exactly wholesome, but still) the appeal of the boardwalk and its legendary rides and yummy food stalls will be substantial. Wander down the beach and shamelessly have a go at every duck shooting gallery, try some deep-fried artichoke hearts from Surf City Grill and marvel at the surprisingly scrumptious chocolate covered bacon at Marini’s Candies (it’s not weird, we promise). Finally – or perhaps beforehand – ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster: a local legend and featured in many films, this classic coaster is also a National Historic Landmark. With its easy-to-spot red and white signature paint-job, spectacular views of the Monterey Bay from the rails and speedy successive dips and fan curves, this coaster is pretty unbeatable.