Set alongside a pretty stretch of Pacific coast, the city of Santa Cruz is both surfing mecca and alternative retreat, more relaxed than nearby Capitola, more eclectic than Monterey and less tech than Silicon Valley - in short, a popular escape in close proximity to redwood forests, secluded beaches and flourishing wineries. In addition to reliable swell, which lures in long and short boarders alike, Santa Cruz boasts the oldest beach boardwalk in the West, which still draws a crowd with its wooden coasters and cotton candy.
Head a few streets inland and exchange boardwalk kitsch for the city's renovated downtown, a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined stretch that sports an assortment of shops and galleries, first-rate coffee shops and sidewalk performers - all in keeping with Surf City's offbeat personality. If you're looking for cultural or educational sights to see around town, consider a cruise through the Museum of Art & History, a detour out to explore tidal pools or the Seymour Marine Discovery Center near Natural Bridges State Park and a stroll around Santa Cruise Mission State Historic Park. With more time to check out local attractions, add the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and a wander around the University of California, Santa Cruz campus, located just northwest of the city center, to your relaxed agenda.
If neither boardwalk nor museum going appeals, consider instead an extended hike in local redwood forests, pack into the car for a scenic spin through inland farm country or spend a lazy day wine tasting your way around Santa Cruz Mountain vineyards.
Santa Cruz is situated on the northern part of Monterey Bay about 74 miles south of San Francisco and 30 miles from San Jose.