Spotlight on Santa Cruz. It's one of my favorite spots to frequent with my kids. It's not too close, that it feels like you're slightly out of the Bay. But it's not too far that it takes hella long to drive there. So here are some things you can do if you're gonna take a little day trip there...
Land of Medicine Buddha:
Land of medicine Buddha is located just outside of Santa Cruz in Soquel. 5800 Prescott Rd. They are open to the public for outdoor recreation/ hiking every day 7am-5:30pm. The gift shop is open Fri-Mon 12-5pm. The gates close at 5:30 so you need to be mindful to be out before then. This is a monastery w residents & yurts & people staying on the grounds so you should be mindful of that and keep voices low. I kept telling my kids to maintain low tones lol & not scream. Easier said than done w a 2 year old. There’s a few different hiking paths that you can take. The initial hill up to the main hikes is really steep! But don’t get discouraged it evens out. We took the loop trail & it seemed like it was about a mile total but we were also walking w little feet so everything takes a little more time. There’s a ton of prayer wheels & gongs- it is ok for your kids to touch them but just be mindful. I encouraged my kids to just hit them once & then stop to listen to the sound of the reverberations. Practice saying the posted prayer, you’ll be saying it a lot! Bring cash & other offerings! There are so many places to leave offerings (I wish I had known before we went) but we used all the coins in our pockets & ran out halfway through the loop. Bring offerings: cash, coins, shells, small fruit, feathers, meaningful items, etc. I encourage parents to have kids wear rain boots, there were a lot of puddles for my daughter to jump in.
Leo's Play Haven Park:
Leo’s Haven in Santa Cruz is an all inclusive playground for children of all abilities. Located at 1975 Chanticleer Ave. This playground is super cute! It had so much space, the play structures are big & all connected, lots of slides, swings, spinners, a tractor slide, all with a farm theme going on so there’s also sculpture farm animals & a fruit stand. Like I said it’s super cute and very engaging. We stayed about an hour and a half and my kids did not want to leave at all. The grounds surrounding the playground have two enclosed dog parks, a garden, & a bike park. The bathrooms are clean & open.
Roaring Camp Railroad:
Roaring Camp Railroad is located just outside of Santa Cruz in Felton. 5401 Graham Hill Road to be exact.
They have daily departing trains that you can ride with your family in socially distanced open air cars. There are 2 different trains you can take; the Beach train which takes you to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or the Redwoods Steam Train that takes you up to Bear Mountain through the Forest. Tickets of course must be purchased online & in advanced. Tickets for the beach train are $35 for adults, $27 for children, Free 2 & under. Tickets for the forest train are $33 for adults, $24 children, 2 & under are free. They have different themed days & celebrations if you check the calendar like we went around Halloween but they also have a holiday train, Mothers Day specific & more. Roaring Camp itself is not as open as it once was but they still have an open snack bar, picnic benches, & outdoor store area to pick up souvenirs at. Also right next door to Roaring camp is Henry Cowell Redwoods. I will post more about that in the next few posts. But you can literally walk right through the train grounds to get there- so you can hit two fun things in one day. I’ve taken both the trains & I think I like the the Redwoods steam train better. It was a beautiful ride through the redwoods which are gorgeous & peaceful. Plus you learn a ton of history & about root systems along the way. Like did you know trees communicate with each other via underground root systems?
Henry Cowell Redwoods:
Henry Cowell Redwoods is right through a pathway from Roaring Camp Railroads (see previous post). So you can do 2 in one day. Or you can just visit the redwoods themselves. Parking is $10. There are a few different paths you can take but my favorite is the loop trail. It’s about 1 mile total, flat, & easy enough to do with kids. It is stroller friendly or scooter friendly mainly. We brought ours one time & the girls could mainly ride through although they claimed it was bumpy. If you don’t have hella kids like me you can probably get around it in 20 mins, with my 3 it’s more like an hour or 2. You can bike around the park as well but some of the trails are closed due to the CZU fire.
Camping is open again, the visitor center is closed, but bathrooms are open. The loop has many beautiful ancient redwoods. Many of them are numbered & you can use an app on your phone to look up which they are since they no longer have paper pamphlets. I love these redwoods so much, I’m so thankful they didn’t burn down. Big ups to all the firefighters who worked tirelessly to put out all the CA fires!
Felton Covered Bridge Park:
Felton covered Bridge Park is on the outskirts of Santa Cruz right next to Roaring Camp Railroads & Henry Cowell Redwoods. The Park is a decent sized park with a pretty big play structure, swings, a toddler structure, & of course the main draw which is the covered Bridge. We of course brought scooters & rolled through the bridge several times. There’s also a paved path that goes around the edge of the park that my daughter used for a path.
This Park was nothing fancy but it was the perfect stop to get some extra energy out on our day out in Santa Cruz. & I thought the bridge was cute too.
Santa Cruz Boardwalk Drive in Movies:
They still have their drive in movies going at the Boardwalk. In the Summer they had movies Thursday- Sunday now it's only on Saturdays. The movies start earlier in the winter at 6:30 which is better if you have to drive back to the Bay afterwards. They will move showtimes back to 8pm after daylight savings time. The cost is $35 a car. Bring blankets & snacks. They have a concessions stand there as well & open bathrooms. You can also just park your car on the other side of the fence & watch the movies for free by tuning your radio to 93.3 - you’re welcome. Going to the drive in makes me feel like I’m supporting the Boardwalk which is a childhood icon so close to my heart- I pray it survives & I get to see the day it reopens.
Twin Lakes State Beach:
Twin Lakes State Beach is a cute beach in Santa Cruz with a lighthouse cascading out of a log rock wall along the shore. The rock wall is on two sides and great for older kids to climb on. I like the beach, it's pretty long and has various entry points. There is a paid parking lot as well as free street parking. We were there for 2 hours and I only paid $3 so the lot is not expensive. The main highlight is that there are multiple outdoor dining options available right along this beach.
The Crow's Nest:
The Crow's Nest has multiple dining options along Twin Lakes. They have a covered heated outdoor dining patio (which looks super cute), they also had what appeared to be indoor dining, and then they have their market. While the covered outdoor dining looked very nice it was on the expensive side for our family of 5, so we opted for their market place. This is no ordinary market place it had great food: pizzas, salads, soups, eggplant sandwich, beers, wine, desserts, etc. We had a great meal for under $50 for 5 of us. The Market itself is super cute- omg they had so many things I wanted to buy! Earrings, books, crystals, plant hangers, astrology chapstick, kids toys, shirts- it was sooo cute. There is also picnic benches in the back to sit at but no heaters so wear a puff coat if it's at night. Me and my girls were happy and warm in ours but my husband was freezing with just a sweatshirt.
Natural Bridges Beach:
Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz is one of the best places to go tide pooling & one of my personal favorite beaches. The whole middle of this cliff is comprised of tiny tide pools. It’s a little climb to get up there but I’ve done it with a 4 year old, so not difficult. But do wear water shoes or something up there because the rocks are not smooth! The first time we ever climbed up our feet were screaming! Parking is $10 or you can find street parking for free. Natural Bridges is also the only State Monarch Preserve in Cali. The monarchs migrate to their grove there every year. Usually mid October to February. So now is the perfect time to visit. We have been a couple years in a row & seems like there’s less & less butterflies every year. The Monarch Grove is filled with Eucalyptus trees which provide food & shelter for the butterflies. The grove is wheelchair accessible & it’s a cute bridge to walk down with your kids regardless of how many butterflies are down there. The bathrooms at the park have reopened. The visitor center sadly has not.
Swanton Berry Farm:
One of my favorite things about being on the coast along Highway 1 is all the farm stands you can stop at along the way. I’ve hit up a handful over the past couple years & I’ve been blown away by the quality & freshness of the food each time! When we were there in June we hit up Swanton Berry Farm. They weren’t doing their normal U-Pick berries this year but the farm stand was open & it was EVERYTHING! They has fresh berries by the basket, jams, fresh vegetable soups you could take home & reheat, pies, scones, drinks, veggies, chocolate dipped strawberries, cobblers, & the best strawberry shortcake! Everything was paying on the honors system- no touch paying & such. So keep your math skills handy lol. They are located at 25 Swanton Road in Davenport. Hours very by season. Winter hours are 8-5, Summer 8-8, Fall & Spring 8-6. This is a unionized farm, fair justice certified farm, & all organic. I do have to say even though we didn’t have much contact with their workers they seemed happy. When we drove up some of them were dancing & laughing in the fields. I don’t wanna assume but maybe they were happy to work there because of all of the above certifications. People happily work where they feel appreciated! Their produce can be found in Farmers Markets around the Bay Area including ones in Berkeley, Aptos, Menlo Park, & SF- check their website for the full line up! I do wanna take a sec to acknowledge another stand we loved Pie Ranch who I know did not make it through the CZU fires love & prayers to all the people who put so much love & hard work into the land there.
Wilder Ranch State Beach:
Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz is so beautiful!!! Old Cove Landing Trail is about a 2 mile trail that leads you along the bluffs of the cliffs of the crashing ocean, beautiful views! Lots of great stops to take pictures. You can also see sea lions sunning themselves on the beach. The hike is generally flat & you can bring strollers or bikes. There is a marker for Fern Grotto Beach where you take a little cutty path down to the beach. The beach is small, the sand is soft, there’s an actual Fern Grotto there which is cool plus a few caves to explore if you dare! Parking is $10, there’s bathrooms at the entrance. We saw lots of animals along the way like sea lions, gulls, beetles, & bunnies. Really fun day! Worth the walk!
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Waddle Creek State Beach
Ano Nuevo Beach
Shark Fin Cove