Sunny Santa Cruz

By Kate Riley July 1, 2011

Last week we were on a coastal road trip up and down the Cali coast, and one of the fun places where we played for a day was Santa Cruz.  Ever been?  This is such a fun place to stop!  Santa Cruz is south of San Francisco, and a great little beach town.  I haven’t been since I was a teenager, so we decided on Santa Cruz as a nostalgic stop and so we could visit the Beach Boardwalk.  Good times! 

ferris wheel

roller coaster view

captn jack pirate ship


The pavilion is filled with arcades, food stops and cute shops filled with beach apparel, all with a view of the sunny beach.

beach boardwalk



arches 2

fun center collage

ask the brain


Uncle Fester, there you are!  We’ve been looking for you for years!  So glad you finally found a good home. 

uncle fester


Of course, these kinds of environments are not for dieting. 

Deep fried twinkies anyone? 

deep fried twinkies


I love this soft serve.

dole soft serve stand


I apologize for this. 

french fries


My kids were all excited to ride that contraption that shoots them into the air 30 feet.  They watched the other kids screaming their faces off “having fun” and wanted to join them.  So we bought the tickets.  

The calm before . . .


Of course the mister and I are laughing the entire time watching these faces. 

doubtful riders


Mr. CG dropped twenty bucks trying to win one of those Angry Birds worth 25 cents.  What is it with dudes and amusement parks?  We never did get one.  I’m glad he never did, because of course you always need two.  Two kids, two prizes or it’s munchkin meltdown.   We appeased them with rainbow slushies instead.   

angry birds

speed ball


I can’t help but be inspired by all these summer colors too. 

citrus fence


How fresh is this raspberry and lime combo?  Love it. 

candy shack


A great perk is the adjacent sunny beach, relatively calm enough for kids to swim and play. 

beach side

girl jumping


Lots of volleyball going on too, we wanted to play, but no time that day.  Plus I’m not sure my fitness is at the same level as these California girls.  Smile 

beach volleyball


There’s a great wharf filled with restaurants and shops too where I picked up a few shells and a tees for the kids.  Love this old boat!

santa cruz boat


I particularly like this view too, it’s like something out of a movie, which one?

waves under wharf


under wharf


This guy thought he owned the place.  Not the boarder, the sea lion.

sea lion on dock

He’d bark at any surfer or kayak that got too close.  Bossy fella. 

barking sea lion

Maybe he was grouchy because he was hungry.  I identify with that. 

Keep your distance men. 

surfer boys


We have plans to come back and kayak soon.  

kayak dock sign


under water


Palm trees, summer colors, plenty of sand and sea. 

palm trees

Santa Cruz gets two thumbs up!  Or eight, if you count all of us. 

If you’ve never been, put Santa Cruz on your list of places to spend a summer afternoon if you’re ever south of San Francisco!





  1. I’ve been to Santa Cruz before and your pictures are gorgeous! I love the one of your kids on the ride! The look on their face was funny and priceless. Looks like you guys had a great time!

  2. I never realized there was such a fun boardwalk in Santa Cruz! Oddly enough, being that I have lived on the CA coast my entire life, I have yet to visit Santa Cruz. I’ve only driven through on the way up to San Francisco. Your pictures are gorgeous, thanks for sharing. I love these travel posts. Next time, make your way down to Santa Barbara and I’ll give you a list of places to visit :)

  3. Those are gorgeous pictures. I was there many many years ago. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend.

  4. I’m so glad you took your kids to the Santa Cruz boardwalk! I grew up in Santa Cruz (that was in the 1950s) and spent so much of the summers on the beaches and at the boardwalk. Definitely a place of memory-making.

  5. Thank you for sharing Santa Cruz; it looked like an awesome family day. I can’t believe you captured the “after” faces of the kids on the ride. So classic and absolutely hilarious!

  6. Is the movie Bedtime Stories? :) The bridge/pier over water looks like a few scenes from that movie. Looks like a blast!

  7. Aww you just made me all misty-eyed! We used to go there when I was a kid, then we moved to Texas and I have yet to make my way back. When we have kiddos I am insisting that the hubs and I take them out there. It’s so fun! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Back in 1984, I lived in San Jose and we’d hop over to Santa Cruz several times a month during the summer. I love it there and miss playing there. Thanks for the trip back. Great pictures.

  9. Yay! We’re going in two weeks…I spent every summer going there as a kid and always love going back. I know the kids are going to love the boardwalk. :)

  10. One of my favorite places! I love that pirate ride (: Capitola is my favorite beach…really close, too. Hooray for fun in the sun at the Boardwalk!

  11. My favourite place in the world, I spent almost four years of my life living in this beautiful town. Your pictures are great. They really took me back there for a moment. Thank you for bringing me all those memories-

  12. I love Santa Cruz! I used to live in Monterey, CA…and if you like to kayak there is a stunning channel/kayak company down there too. we didn’t want to go in the open sea route, so we chose elkhorn slough, and for kids I bet it would be just the right thing! There is so much wildlife and the little otters swim right past your kayak, it was incredible! Anyway, just a thought and I love your blog!
    Read about/get more info on our trip (and a great place to eat after) here:

  13. So fun! We don’t really have a boardwalk at “our” beach in North Carolina. Looks like a kid’s dream come true…and okay, the Dole Pineapple stuff might make an appearance in MY dreams tonight. ;) Your daughter has good fashion taste…my 5 year old (Natalie) has the same little green outfit. :) Happy summer! Counting down until our own vacay on the 23rd!

  14. When we go to Santa Cruz, we always stay at the Dreams Inn (it used to be called someting else 11 years ago I think but at my age, my memory isn’t that good anymore. lol). If you’re going to stay overnight, you have the stay AT the beach. lol Two years we skipped Santa Cruz and went to Capitola. No boardwalk but stayed at the Capitola Venetian Hotel and got a 2 bedroom home with a full kitchen. Really old but it served its purpose and had great views! You should try it. :)

  15. Hubby was reading this over my shoulder commenting about how much that area has built up, yet stayed exactly the same. Now he’s sharing his own ‘Santa Cruz memories’ with me. Um, something about Big Dipper?

  16. I live in San Jose and was just “over the hill” as we call it here in NorCal last week too! It was a lovely escape from the 94 degree heat we had (with no air conditioning on our house). Your photos make the Boardwalk look amazing and so much cleaner than I remember! Next time you visit you have to go to Marianne’s ice cream shop on Ocean St. It is simply THE best!

  17. How cool! We’re heading over there tonight to spend the 4th with hubby’s fam! Did you have time to go to Capitola? It’s the cutest little beach town! I was wondering where you went on your trip. We live in the San Luis Obispo/ Pismo Beach area and that is definitely a great place to visit too. Glad you had such a fun trip!

  18. Aww I haven’t been there since Senior Beach Day during high school (aka a looong time ago). It looks so much fun! I totally forgot!

  19. I haven’t been to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in quite a few years. It would be fun to do a little day trip down there. Your photos are amazing, Kate. My favorite is the one of your kids on the ride. Happy 4th to you!

  20. ahhh brings back memories. we went here on our honeymoon, 18 years ago. It was May so the rides were closed but the shops were open. I bought a tiny bikini……..ahhh the memories! :)

  21. OMG how funny are the faces on your babies? They are much more braver than I am. I don’t do rollercoasters. I”m a fraidy cat.

  22. I grew up in Santa Cruz and despite living in SoCal for 30+ years I still call it home. Your photos take me back…I can hear the waves crashing and smell the fries. Thanks!

  23. Thank you for this trip down memory lane. I spent my first nine years (1958-67) in Santa Clara and fondly remember magical trips to Santa Cruz. Is the Loch Ness Monster still there?
    Just to let you know, my daughter and I find you so inspirational! Cheers, Barbara Stevens.

  24. Thank you for posting your pics. I live in Ga. so my chances of getting to Santa Cruz are slim. I really enjoyed your pics and allowing us to see a day in your life. Priceless!!

  25. I have so many fond memories of going to the Boardwalk when I was growing up on the Peninsula – especially the endless runs on that amazing and historical roller coaster. And can you believe Marini’s candy shop has been owned by the same family for almost 100 years?! Not many can say that. You hit some gorgeous weather and took some great photos. I’m lucky my son goes to UCSC because it gives me a great reason to visit that gorgeous area of our beautiful state.

  26. I LOVE Santa Cruz! We’ve been there a few times and two summers ago, I remember getting on that ferris wheel with my two small children, only to discover AFTER getting on, that it wasnt really safe for children, the buckles arent enough to keep a small child from slipping out and falling down, so needless to say, it was a horrid experience, I was FROZEN with fear (I suddenly got fear of heights) and I was gripping my kids for dear life. As soon as we went round twice and were letting someone off, I yelled to the operater to PLEASE let us OFF! He did and we were safely back on ground. NEVER again will I do something so foolish!

  27. I loved this post! My oldest son, Will, spent last summer in Santa Cruz. He was there for 10 weeks on a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ. All the kids work full-time at the Boardwalk. Will worked at Barnacle Bill’s, which is in one of your photos–the striped building right across from the fried twinkie booth! I got to go visit one day last July, and it was such fun to be in SC–a beautiful, fun spot, for sure.

    This year Will is in Washington, DC, interning for a congressman. I think he’s really missing California. Looking at these photos, I can’t say I blame him!

  28. Grew up in bay area, but when I took the hubs there to show him over 10 years ago, the boardwalk seemed really run down….looks like its had a facelift with paint since then? Lookin good, hope I can show my kids someday…

  29. My family had a beach house in Santa Cruz that my dad sold as we all got older……… I miss it terribly. Thank you for the trip down memory lane!!

  30. Venture Quest kayaking is a good group! You really should go do that with your husband (and/or fam). We went on a sunset paddle with a group. It was really fun. Great guide with us too. Gave so much information. The local wildlife was amazing….. breathtaking to have the seals and otters right at the tip of our kayak!

  31. Funny how you miss Santa Cruz when you actually move out of state!! :) I grew up in San Jose and visited SC maybe every few years or so. Now, when we go back to visit family…Santa Cruz is on our “bucket list” of places we just have to see! There’s so much energy there!

  32. thanks for sharing ur trip, but the kids on the ride stole the show, I can’t stop scrolling up and giggling. priceless.

  33. Love Santa Cruz, it was our “go to” summer beach destination! The pier pix remind me of the movie “Lost Boys” that was shot there in the late “80’s (rent it for some vampire action!)

  34. I love beaches, and I love California! That’s why I moved back to San Diego. I haven’t been to Santa Cruz, but plan to visit. This summer I am stuck studying. Thus, I love taking a break and browsing your blog. It always cheers up my day. :)

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