I have always seen bumperstickers with the Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz but never really knew what it was. Finally, I went and was quite impressed. It only cost $5 for people over 3 years old. There is a guided tour that explains why this particular area is gravity defying. Balls were rolling uphill, people were slanted all sorts of ways. Well, I can't give too much away otherwise you won't go but it was worth the 5 bucks. At the end of the 1/2 hour tour, everyone leaves with a bumpersticker! Pretty cool & clever advertising! Oh, parking is limited so go early.
We visited the lighthouse park, a lovely lighhouse situated in an open green field. Unfortunately we missed the Surfer Museum. Along the way, we did manage to watch quite a few surfers which was even better ;)
7 am to 10 pm year round
Museum open Noon to 4 pm, Wednesday - Monday (closed Tuesdays)
There are buses you can catch from downtown that will take you to the beach with the Natural Bridges. It's not far at all and a beautiful spot just outside of town. I don't remember having to pay one, but the website says that there is a $5 entrance fee.
October is a great time to visit if you like butterflies. The park is home to thousands of Monarchs during the migration season!
Open daily 8 am to sunset
Just north of Santa Cruz along Hwy 1 is the Natural Arches State Beach. This area is a great place to walk the dog or bicycle. While the native vegetation of bunch grasses and wildflowers more typical of Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the south side of the Monterey Bay have long since given way to uniform iceplant, a lot of people would consider this view beautiful. Watching surfers and waves break is a pastime, and there's a lighthouse on a point.
This is the Well Within Spa probably the most popular spa in Santa Cruz. They have a wide variety of services to choose from and discounts during off peek hours.
Tub Rooms open 11 am to Midnight Daily
Massage Appointments begin at 10 am
This was once one of the original Hot Tub houses in Santa Cruz. Now called the Tea House, this is the former location of the Well Within Spa which has since moved almost kitty corner from this location. See The Well Within in my other tip for things to do.
Very good prices here, better too during the week before 6 p.m.
If you're a wine lover that hasn't been to Bonny Doon Winery in Santa Cruz, shame on you. Randell Graham has been on the cutting edge of California wine for decades and his innovative philosophy of wine is a welcome change from the Chardonnay/Merlot culture.
The tasting room here is free and you can try most of the Bonny Doon wines. There is a picnic area outside but no food is available at the tasting room.
Their website is an adventure all its own.
The Big Dipper is a Santa Cruz landmark. Built in 1924, this wooden rollercoaster will give you a ride with magnificent views of the beach and ocean. Well, that is provided you keep your eyes open.
Rides can be purchased individually or by using the all day pass.
The boardwalk is famous for it's role in "Lost Boys" as well as other movies.
Until the late 19th Century, much of the transportation between San Francisco and Santa Cruz was by sea, and the lighthouse at Point Santa Cruz was considered a priority as early as 1852. However, funding and property purchase were delayed, and the first lighthouse structure wasn't completed until 1870, becoming the 12th beacon along California's coast. The original wooden structure on brick foundation was taken from plans used to build the Ediz Hook Lighthouse in Washington. In 1878, the lighthouse had to be moved on rollers to a new location further from the coastline when it was feared that storm battered surge caves might undermine the structure. The lamp was changed a couple of times, particularly as city lights began to compete with it. A United State artillery divisioni occupied the property during WWII, and in 1948, the lighthouse building was auctioned and hauled away by the new owner. In 1965, 18 year old body surfer, Mark Abott, drowned off-shore and with the life insurance proceeds, his parents arranged to build the current Mark Abott Memorial Lighthouse structure. The lantern room from the decommissioned Oakland Harbor Lighthouse was used atop the new lighthouse, and Mark’s ashes were buried at the base of the tower. However, the lantern room had to be replaced in 1996 as part of a restoration project in this building which has, since 1986, been also devoted to being a surfing museum. The links below provide much more detail that I can include here. It is very popular to walk the dog, jog, or bicycle past the lighthouse.
Aptos is just a few miles from Santa Cruz and offers a few interesting sites, some nice beaches, and a small town feel.
The most interesting thing here is the Palo Alto, a partially sunken ship that sits at the end of the pier at Seacliff State Beach. The Palo Alto is a concrete ship built in Oakland in 1919 as an oil tanker. Completed after the end of WWI, the ship was mothballed in Oakland until 1929 when it was purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company for use as an "amusement ship" with arcade, dance hall, and swimming pool. The ship was grounded in the sand, and permanently docked at the pier. In the winter of 1931, the ship's hull cracked and sunk in place. It was used for a time as a fishing pier, but even that is unsafe now with the condition of the hull. Perhaps in another thousand years it will be gone.
Seacliff State Beach is located at the end of State Park Drive. For a $6 fee you can park at the lot on top of the bluffs or you can drive down to the picnic and camping areas on the beach. If you are cheap like me, there are a few place near the park entrance where you can park for free then walk down a set of steps to the beach and pier. Seacliff State Beach is the sixth busiest state park in California with almost 2.5 million visitors per year.
Aptos is an unincorporated town with about 10,000 residents.
Misión la Exaltacion de la Santa Cruz was the 12th of California's 21 Spanish Missions. Completed in 1795, after several earthquakes caused damage, it collapsed in 1857. Only one building survives, called the Neary-Rodriguez Adobe, it was built in 1791 and it sits on top of a bluff overlooking central Santa Cruz. The modern Church of the Holy Cross and its buildings occupy much of the site of the former mission.
Shortly after the mission was completed the Spanish created a "villa" called Branciforte just across the river. This secular community made up of soldiers and criminals conflicted with the mission life, and led to its decline. When the Mexican government decided to secularize the missions in 1834, Branciforte and Mission Santa Cruz were combined under the name Pueblo de Figueroa. Many of the foreigners at Branciforte were banished to Mexico in 1840, but the city ultimately continued to grow into modern Santa Cruz, which maintains many of Branciforte's secular and slightly rebellious traditions.
Spain created 21 missions, 3 pueblos (or towns located in LA, San Jose, & Santa Cruz), & 4 presidios (at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, & San Francisco) in California. The first mission--San Diego--was established in 1769 while the final mission at Sonoma was completed in 1823.
The missions were religious centers for the purpose of converting the native population to Christianity. The presidios' main function was a strategic military fortification and barracks, primarily to prevent competing colonial claims from Britain or Russia along the California Coast. The pueblos were designed as towns to provide food & other support to the military presidios. The last piece of the intricate colonial structure of the Spanish was the ranchos which consisted of some 800 private plots of land for farming.
Periodically through the summer, Santa Cruz hosts surfing competitions and awards prize money. The most likely spot for this is near the lighthouse where there are good views of the water and a good break against the cliffs. Unfortunately, during the day that we happened by, it was an overcast day with poor surf conditons. But, there was plenty of food and folks had a good time socializing as they watched the surfers ply the waters.
Like Monterey, Santa Cruz has an extensive recreation trail following the coastline. It connects many of Santa Cruz's main attractions including the Wharf, Santa Cruz State Beach, Lighthouse Park and its surfing museum, and Natural Bridges State Beach. Covering about 2 miles along West Cliff Drive, I was amazed to see how busy the trail was on a cloudy Sunday morning. There were people everywhere jogging, walking, and biking while enjoying the views over Monterey Bay. With plenty of parking the park is easily accessible to locals and out of towners.
Santa Cruz's original lighthouse was constructed on Lighthouse Point in 1868 near the site of the Abbott Lighthouse. This lighthouse was moved in 1878 due to erosion of the cliff, it ceased operations in 1941, and the original building was torn down in 1948. The Abbott Memorial Lighthouse was completed in 1967 in honor of a surfer who died near the point. The lighthouse building houses the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum which was founded in 1985.
The area around the lighthouse is preserved as Lighthouse Field State Park, a Santa Cruz city park. The park and lighthouse are on a point officially named Point Santa Cruz which is the northern boundary of the Monterey Bay. It stands about 22 miles from the southern edge of the bay, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove. Lighthouse Field State Park is actually the third most visited state park in California with about 4 million annual visitors.
The other lighthouse in Santa Cruz is called Walton Lighthouse and is located next to Santa Cruz Marina and was built in 2001.
The area around the wharf features the Cowell Beach to the west, Santa Cruz Beach to the east, and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk with no boards to walk on along the Santa Cruz Beach. In the summer these beaches next to the wharf are very popular--even during our last visit in may there were several hundred people sunning on the beach, swimming, and playing volleyball on the city's sand courts near the boardwalk.
The Boardwalk is actually an amusement park first built in 1907 and is open in the summer. It is 1/2 mile long and contains 34 rides including a carousel from 1911. Entrance to the boardwalk is free, you only pay if you ride the rides. Beside the old boardwalk is a new Boardwalk Arcade that is open year around with a variety of indoor games.
The Quality of this lodging is that it's rooms have patio's overlooking the beach and ocean. They...more
Yes, it's expensive. But if you want to be directly on the beach, with a swimming pool overlooking...more
Very friendly and rooms are lovely. Area looks a bit rough by the boardwalk but all seemed well...more